I am forced to preach under something of a handicap this morning. In fact, I had
the doctor before coming to church. And he said that it would be best for me to stay in
the bed this morning. And I insisted that I would have to come to preach. So he allowed me
to come out with one stipulation, and that is that I would not come in the pulpit until
time to preach, and that after, that I would immediately go back home and get in the bed.
So Im going to try to follow his instructions from that point on.
I want to use as a subject from which to preach this morning a very familiar subject,
and it is familiar to you because I have preached from this subject twice before to my
knowing in this pulpit. I try to make it a, something of a custom or tradition to preach
from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop
along the way out of new experiences as I give these messages. Although the content is,
the basic content is the same, new insights and new experiences naturally make for new
So I want to turn your attention to this subject: "Loving Your Enemies."
Its so basic to me because it is a part of my basic philosophical and theological
orientationthe whole idea of love, the whole philosophy of love. In the fifth
chapter of the gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, we read these very arresting words
flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: "Ye have heard that it has been said,
Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love
your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them
that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in
Certainly these are great words, words lifted to cosmic proportions. And over the
centuries, many persons have argued that this is an extremely difficult command. Many
would go so far as to say that it just isnt possible to move out into the actual
practice of this glorious command. They would go on to say that this is just additional
proof that Jesus was an impractical idealist who never quite came down to earth. So the
arguments abound. But far from being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the
practical realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from
being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for
the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our
civilization, love even for enemies.
Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he
wasnt playing. He realized that its hard to love your enemies. He realized
that its difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who
say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he
wasnt playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of
Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic
philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus
wasnt playing; because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral
responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can
live out this command, and why we should live by this command.
Now first let us deal with this question, which is the practical question: How do you
go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your
enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And Im sure that seems strange to you,
that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a
look at self. It seems to me that that is the first and foremost way to come to an
adequate discovery to the how of this situation.
Now, Im aware of the fact that some people will not like you, not because of
something you have done to them, but they just wont like you. Im quite aware
of that. Some people arent going to like the way you walk; some people arent
going to like the way you talk. Some people arent going to like you because you can
do your job better than they can do theirs. Some people arent going to like you
because other people like you, and because youre popular, and because youre
well-liked, they arent going to like you. Some people arent going to like you
because your hair is a little shorter than theirs or your hair is a little longer than
theirs. Some people arent going to like you because your skin is a little brighter
than theirs; and others arent going to like you because your skin is a little darker
than theirs. So that some people arent going to like you. Theyre going to
dislike you, not because of something that youve done to them, but because of
various jealous reactions and other reactions that are so prevalent in human nature.
But after looking at these things and admitting these things, we must face the fact
that an individual might dislike us because of something that weve done deep down in
the past, some personality attribute that we possess, something that weve done deep
down in the past and weve forgotten about it; but it was that something that aroused
the hate response within the individual. That is why I say, begin with yourself. There
might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other
This is true in our international struggle. We look at the struggle, the ideological
struggle between communism on the one hand and democracy on the other, and we see the
struggle between America and Russia. Now certainly, we can never give our allegiance to
the Russian way of life, to the communistic way of life, because communism is based on an
ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. When we
look at the methods of communism, a philosophy where somehow the end justifies the means,
we cannot accept that because we believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the
means. But in spite of all of the weaknesses and evils inherent in communism, we must at
the same time see the weaknesses and evils within democracy.
Democracy is the greatest form of government to my mind that man has ever conceived,
but the weakness is that we have never touched it. Isnt it true that we have often
taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes? Isnt it true that
we have often in our democracy trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet of
oppression? Isnt it true that through our Western powers we have perpetuated
colonialism and imperialism? And all of these things must be taken under consideration as
we look at Russia. We must face the fact that the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of
discontent from Asia and Africa is at bottom a revolt against the imperialism and
colonialism perpetuated by Western civilization all these many years. The success of
communism in the world today is due to the failure of democracy to live up to the noble
ideals and principles inherent in its system.
And this is what Jesus means when he said: "How is it that you can see the mote in
your brothers eye and not see the beam in your own eye?" Or to put it in
Moffatts translation: "How is it that you see the splinter in your
brothers eye and fail to see the plank in your own eye?" And this is one of the
tragedies of human nature. So we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that
hate us whether in collective life or individual life by looking at ourselves.
A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover
the element of good in his enemy, and everytime you begin to hate that person and think of
hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points
which will over-balance the bad points.
Ive said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic
personality. Were split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of
a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul
revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the
very structure of every individual life. There is something within all of us that causes
us to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, "I see and approve the better things of
life, but the evil things I do." There is something within all of us that causes us
to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong
horses, each wanting to go in different directions. There is something within each of us
that causes us to cry out with Goethe, "There is enough stuff in me to make both a
gentleman and a rogue." There is something within each of us that causes us to cry
out with Apostle Paul, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil
things I do."
So somehow the "isness" of our present nature is out of harmony with the
eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts us. And this simply means this: That
within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good.
When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who
hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in
it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point
that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls
"the image of God," you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does,
you see Gods image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff
off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the
center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.
Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for
you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a
time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused
you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false
rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat
that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of
helping that person to make some move in life. Thats the time you must not do it. That
is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that
we talk about. Its not merely an emotional something. Love is creative,
understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you
rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil
systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to
defeat the system.
The Greek language, as Ive said so often before, is very powerful at this point.
It comes to our aid beautifully in giving us the real meaning and depth of the whole
philosophy of love. And I think it is quite apropos at this point, for you see the Greek
language has three words for love, interestingly enough. It talks about love as eros.
Thats one word for love. Eros is a sort of, aesthetic love. Plato talks about
it a great deal in his dialogues, a sort of yearning of the soul for the realm of
the gods. And its come to us to be a sort of romantic love, though its a
beautiful love. Everybody has experienced eros in all of its beauty when you find
some individual that is attractive to you and that you pour out all of your like and your
love on that individual. That is eros, you see, and its a powerful, beautiful
love that is given to us through all of the beauty of literature; we read about it.
Then the Greek language talks about philia, and thats another type of love
thats also beautiful. It is a sort of intimate affection between personal friends.
And this is the type of love that you have for those persons that youre friendly
with, your intimate friends, or people that you call on the telephone and you go by to
have dinner with, and your roommate in college and that type of thing. Its a sort of
reciprocal love. On this level, you like a person because that person likes you. You love
on this level, because you are loved. You love on this level, because theres
something about the person you love that is likeable to you. This too is a beautiful love.
You can communicate with a person; you have certain things in common; you like to do
things together. This is philia.
The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape.
And agape is more than eros; agape is more than philia; agape
is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love
that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; its what theologians would
call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level,
you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look
at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst
person youve ever seen.
And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, "Love
your enemy." And its significant that he does not say, "Like your
enemy." Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot
of people that I find it difficult to like. I dont like what they do to me. I
dont like what they say about me and other people. I dont like their
attitudes. I dont like some of the things theyre doing. I dont like
them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding,
redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You
refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in
your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil
deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says,
"Love your enemy." This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents
itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
Now for the few moments left, let us move from the practical how to the theoretical
why. Its not only necessary to know how to go about loving your enemies, but also to
go down into the question of why we should love our enemies. I think the first reason that
we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus
thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in
the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go
on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends.
Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and thats the strong person. The strong
person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the
tragedy of hate, that it doesnt cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of
hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to
cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful
element of love.
I think I mentioned before that sometime ago my brother and I were driving one evening
to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the
drivers were very discourteous that night. They didnt dim their lights; hardly any
driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D.
looked over and in a tone of anger said: "I know what Im going to do. The next
car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, Im going to fail to dim
mine and pour them on in all of their power." And I looked at him right quick and
said: "Oh no, dont do that. Thered be too much light on this highway, and
it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this
Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble, isnt
it? That as all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many
civilizations, having looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, and
they decided to refuse to dim theirs. And Toynbee tells that out of the twenty-two
civilizations that have risen up, all but about seven have found themselves in the
junkheap of destruction. It is because civilizations fail to have sense enough to dim the
lights. And if somebody doesnt have sense enough to turn on the dim and beautiful
and powerful lights of love in this world, the whole of our civilization will be plunged
into the abyss of destruction. And we will all end up destroyed because nobody had any
sense on the highway of history. Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see
that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a
descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must
have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil
in the universe. And you do that by love.
Theres another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate
distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the
individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic,
it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating
somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You cant see straight when you
hate. You cant walk straight when you hate. You cant stand upright. Your
vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is
filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case. For the
person who hates, you can stand up and see a person and that person can be beautiful, and
you will call them ugly. For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly
becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes
good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true.
Thats what hate does. You cant see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost.
Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater. And this is why Jesus
says hate [recording interrupted]
. . . that you want to be integrated with yourself, and the way to be integrated with
yourself is be sure that you meet every situation of life with an abounding love. Never
hate, because it ends up in tragic, neurotic responses. Psychologists and psychiatrists
are telling us today that the more we hate, the more we develop guilt feelings and we
begin to subconsciously repress or consciously suppress certain emotions, and they all
stack up in our subconscious selves and make for tragic, neurotic responses. And may this
not be the neuroses of many individuals as they confront life that that is an element of
hate there. And modern psychology is calling on us now to love. But long before modern
psychology came into being, the worlds greatest psychologist who walked around the
hills of Galilee told us to love. He looked at men and said: "Love your enemies;
dont hate anybody." Its not enough for us to hate your friends
becauseto to love your friendsbecause when you start hating anybody, it
destroys the very center of your creative response to life and the universe; so love
everybody. Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your
life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective
center of your life. So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It
is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that
eventually transforms individuals. Thats why Jesus says, "Love your
enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to
transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very
root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them,
even though theyre mistreating you. Heres the person who is a neighbor, and
this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to
that person. Keep loving them. Dont do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving
them, and they cant stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning.
They react with bitterness because theyre mad because you love them like that. They
react with guilt feelings, and sometimes theyll hate you a little more at that
transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will
break down under the load. Thats love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why
Jesus says love. Theres something about love that builds up and is creative. There
is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
I think of one of the best examples of this. We all remember the great president of
this United States, Abraham Lincolnthese United States rather. You remember when
Abraham Lincoln was running for president of the United States, there was a man who ran
all around the country talking about Lincoln. He said a lot of bad things about Lincoln, a
lot of unkind things. And sometimes he would get to the point that he would even talk
about his looks, saying, "You dont want a tall, lanky, ignorant man like this
as the president of the United States." He went on and on and on and went around with
that type of attitude and wrote about it. Finally, one day Abraham Lincoln was elected
president of the United States. And if you read the great biography of Lincoln, if you
read the great works about him, you will discover that as every president comes to the
point, he came to the point of having to choose a Cabinet. And then came the time for him
to choose a Secretary of War. He looked across the nation, and decided to choose a man by
the name of Mr. Stanton. And when Abraham Lincoln stood around his advisors and mentioned
this fact, they said to him: "Mr. Lincoln, are you a fool? Do you know what Mr.
Stanton has been saying about you? Do you know what he has done, tried to do to you? Do
you know that he has tried to defeat you on every hand? Do you know that, Mr. Lincoln? Did
you read all of those derogatory statements that he made about you?" Abraham Lincoln
stood before the advisors around him and said: "Oh yes, I know about it; I read about
it; Ive heard him myself. But after looking over the country, I find that he is the
best man for the job."
Mr. Stanton did become Secretary of War, and a few months later, Abraham Lincoln was
assassinated. And if you go to Washington, you will discover that one of the greatest
words or statements ever made by, about Abraham Lincoln was made about this man Stanton.
And as Abraham Lincoln came to the end of his life, Stanton stood up and said: "Now
he belongs to the ages." And he made a beautiful statement concerning the character
and the stature of this man. If Abraham Lincoln had hated Stanton, if Abraham Lincoln had
answered everything Stanton said, Abraham Lincoln would have not transformed and redeemed
Stanton. Stanton would have gone to his grave hating Lincoln, and Lincoln would have gone
to his grave hating Stanton. But through the power of love Abraham Lincoln was able to
Thats it. There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus
discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but
most men and most women never discover it. For they believe in hitting for hitting; they
believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they believe in hating for hating;
but Jesus comes to us and says, "This isnt the way."
And oh this morning, as I think of the fact that our world is in transition now. Our
whole world is facing a revolution. Our nation is facing a revolution, our nation. One of
the things that concerns me most is that in the midst of the revolution of the world and
the midst of the revolution of this nation, that we will discover the meaning of
History unfortunately leaves some people oppressed and some people oppressors. And
there are three ways that individuals who are oppressed can deal with their oppression.
One of them is to rise up against their oppressors with physical violence and corroding
hatred. But oh this isnt the way. For the danger and the weakness of this method is
its futility. Violence creates many more social problems than it solves. And Ive
said, in so many instances, that as the Negro, in particular, and colored peoples all over
the world struggle for freedom, if they succumb to the temptation of using violence in
their struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of
bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless
chaos. Violence isnt the way.
Another way is to acquiesce and to give in, to resign yourself to the oppression. Some
people do that. They discover the difficulties of the wilderness moving into the promised
land, and they would rather go back to the despots of Egypt because its difficult to
get in the promised land. And so they resign themselves to the fate of oppression; they
somehow acquiesce to this thing. But that too isnt the way because non-cooperation
with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
But there is another way. And that is to organize mass non-violent resistance based on
the principle of love. It seems to me that this is the only way as our eyes look to the
future. As we look out across the years and across the generations, let us develop and
move right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of
love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We
will be able to make men better. Love is the only way. Jesus discovered that.
Not only did Jesus discover it, even great military leaders discover that. One day as
Napoleon came toward the end of his career and looked back across the yearsthe great
Napoleon that at a very early age had all but conquered the world. He was not stopped
until he became, till he moved out to the battle of Leipzig and then to Waterloo. But that
same Napoleon one day stood back and looked across the years, and said: "Alexander,
Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have built great empires. But upon what did they depend? They
depended upon force. But long ago Jesus started an empire that depended on love, and even
to this day millions will die for him."
Yes, I can see Jesus walking around the hills and the valleys of Palestine. And I can
see him looking out at the Roman Empire with all of her fascinating and intricate military
machinery. But in the midst of that, I can hear him saying: "I will not use this
method. Neither will I hate the Roman Empire." [Radio Announcer:] (WRMA,
Montgomery, Alabama. Due to the fact of the delay this morning, we are going over with the
sermon.) [several words inaudible] . . . and just start marching.
And Im proud to stand here in Dexter this morning and say that that army is still
marching. It grew up from a group of eleven or twelve men to more than seven hundred
million today. Because of the power and influence of the personality of this Christ, he
was able to split history into a.d. and b.c. Because of his power, he was able to shake
the hinges from the gates of the Roman Empire. And all around the world this morning, we
can hear the glad echo of heaven ring:
Jesus shall reign wherever sun,
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spreads from shore to shore,
Till moon shall wane and wax no more.
We can hear another chorus singing: "All hail the power of Jesus name!"
We can hear another chorus singing: "Hallelujah, hallelujah! Hes King of Kings
and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah, hallelujah!"
We can hear another choir singing:
In Christ there is no East or West.
In Him no North or South,
But one great Fellowship of Love
Throughout the whole wide world.
This is the only way.
And our civilization must discover that. Individuals must discover that as they deal
with other individuals. There is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree
hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that
that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a
telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity, and see the love of
God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that
love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation depending on nuclear and
atomic energy, a generation depending on physical violence, that love is the only
creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.
So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in
Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, "I love you. I would
rather die than hate you." And Im foolish enough to believe that through the
power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And
then we will be in Gods kingdom. We will be able to matriculate into the university
of eternal life because we had the power to love our enemies, to bless those persons that
cursed us, to even decide to be good to those persons who hated us, and we even prayed for
those persons who despitefully used us.
Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes, to work out this controlling
force of love, this controlling power that can solve every problem that we confront in all
areas. Oh, we talk about politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic
civilization. Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve the
crisis and solve these problemsthe international problems, the problems of atomic
energy, the problems of nuclear energy, and yes, even the race problemlet us join
together in a great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this
strong determination. In the name and spirit of this Christ, we pray. Amen.