As children of God, we are called to love. But one kind of love is especially challenging, and stretches our self-control as perhaps nothing else in our faith does.

God made it clear early on: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:18).

Jesus reiterated it in the Sermon on the Mount: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:44)

Love your enemies – talk about tough love. Paul and Peter had some things to say about this that can help to clarify why this kind of love is so important. This is one way to think about the message of some pertinent passages:

Romans 12:14-21 – Here’s something that will make your jaw drop: bless those who persecute you. The very fact that this is so hard, so contrary to our human tendency, so rarely experienced, is exactly what makes it so effective.

Solomon said it in Prov. 25:21-22 – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heaping burning coals on his head.” This isn’t about scorching someone’s scalp, but burning into their conscience the truth that hate doesn’t work; love does. And love that isn’t deserved burns deeper than anything else. It sears the mind and leaves the brand of God’s mercy to be recalled and mulled over and wondered at. It makes an impression that can’t be erased. Be eager to make this kind of impact whenever you can.

Friend or foe, treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Hug those who have something to celebrate; hug longer those who need arms to support them in their grief. Be the grace note that enhances the melody of life lived in community. Don’t be proud; you have nothing God hasn’t given you. He loves the vulnerable every bit as much as you, and provided for you so you could benefit from loving and helping them.

People are always watching you, so choose carefully how you respond to others. As much as you can, avoid quarrels. Don’t let the idea of revenge take hold; only God knows what is the right response, and you can trust Him to take care of it at the right time and in the right way.

Remember, don’t be tempted to try to overcome evil with more evil. That’s Satan’s way, and he wants you to take that path. Don’t fall for it. Instead, get revenge on Satan by returning good for evil – nothing makes him madder than that.

Colossians 3:12-14 – You have the incredible privilege of being chosen by God as His own dearly loved child, set apart by, and for, Him. He has taken off the filthy rags of your sin and shortcomings, and given you His own righteousness to wear. He walks with you everywhere to guide, guard and strengthen you.

Because He’s always beside you and you belong to Him, He will enable you to show compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience with everyone – especially with those who disappoint, irritate and even enrage you with their irresponsible, selfish and offensive behaviour. Whatever your gut reaction, you can choose to respond to them as God has done with you by forgiving you for the very same things. If you’re honest with yourself, you know that you’ve let God down, have often been more concerned about yourself than about Him, and offended against His Word many times. Yet He forgave you when you repented. In fact, loving forgiveness is the only thing that glues us together; without it, we all fall apart.

1 Peter 2: 18-23 – So do the right thing, even for people who are wrong in their thoughts or actions. If you have a belligerent boss, do your work as well as you can, keep showing respect, and be a good witness that you’re a servant of Christ. Anyone can lash out, complain bitterly, or do the minimum. But if you maintain God’s standards and put up with unfair treatment with the character that comes from maturity in Christ, it will speak volumes to those around you. Jesus is the ultimate model when it comes to unjust suffering: He didn’t retaliate or make indignant threats, but trusted in His Father absolutely.

People fail; love never does. Love is tough, but only love triumphs.