What Is the Hardest Command?

by Jefferson David Tant

From time to time, we see articles written about love. We remember a lawyer asking Jesus a question, "trying him: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:35-39).

We may have also memorized the characteristics of love that Paul described in I Corinthians 13, concluding with: "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13).

"Well and good," you might say. "I really try to have a loving spirit, so what do you mean by 'the hardest command?'"

There's another aspect of love that God has also commanded, and that is found in Matthew 5:43-48: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Some may not think this is the hardest command, but it certainly ranks near the top in anybody's list. We might think the best way to deal with our enemies is to avoid them, but Christ went way beyond that. He said we are to love our enemies and pray for them. And Luke quoted Christ as saying "But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you" (Luke 6:27).

Can we really do that? If God wants it, then it can be done. Let me give you an example. My wife and I were returning from a wedding in the Baltimore, Maryland area, and stopped in Fredericksburg, Virginia. While there we visited some historic sites, some going back to the 1600s. One site was Fredericksburg Civil War Battlefield, where there were some 18,000 killed and wounded in the battle that raged December 11-15, 1862. A touching monument was erected on the battlefield in honor of a young soldier, Richard Rowland Kirkland.

"While the civil war entailed immense destruction and tragedy, it did not always engender hate. For two days following the battle, wounded Union soldiers, caught between the lines, cried out for water. Though exposure to enemy fire for even a moment meant almost certain death, Sergeant Richard R. Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers tried to help.

Filling several canteens with water, the young Confederate stepped over the stone wall to care for his wounded enemies.

When Union soliders understood Kirland's purpose the ceased firing at him and cheered. For nearly two hours he continued his ministrations. Kirkland has since been known as "The angel of Marye's Heights." He died in battle at Chickamanga, Georgia, in September 1863. He was 19 years old."

But we have examples long before this. We remember that when Stephen was being stoned after his message in Acts 7, this is recorded: "When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:58-60)

And even before the event with Stephen, the greatest "love your enemies" act was the crucifixion of the Son of God — Jesus Christ. We remember that he was spit upon, cursed, tortured, and finally nailed to the cross. We have been told death by crucifixion was possibly the cruelest means of putting someone to death that man has invented. "When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

So, how do you treat your enemies, besides avoiding them? Some might say, "Well, I'm not Christ." Neither was Stephen. Neither was Richard Kirkland.

How do you treat your brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you may have had some differences? Do you suppose God will have some separate places in heaven where we can go to avoid having to deal with them? Perhaps it would be good to learn to get along with them now while we have the opportunity.

Do you "love your enemies," and "do good to them that hate you?" Yes, sometimes that's hard to do. But if Christ told us to do it, it can be done. And someone has said, "The best way to overcome your enemy is to make him your friend."

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