Following Jesus

Love my enemies?

January 4, 2021 by

When I was fifteen, my family travelled to the United States from South Korea to visit a Bruderhof community. That was the first time I heard that if I want to follow Jesus, I cannot use violence against another, or ever be a soldier. I protested. South Korea recognizes military service as a civic duty for every man; during my childhood, every man I knew had served in the military. I never thought it could be wrong.

Yet as I read the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, I became uncomfortable. One line echoed in my heart: “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:44) I had heard and read that line many times before but this time, it was different. It bothered me. I prayed, “Dear God, do you really want me to love my enemies? How about the Japanese who invaded Korea and abused so many of my people? You want me to love them as I love my dad and mom? How can I?”

Then an answer came in my heart. “Yes, love them just as I love you. You are my enemy because everyone who sins is my enemy. I suffered and died to save my enemies. The people at whom you are pointing a finger, they too were once innocent children. What made them grow up to be cruel? It’s because they have not experienced true love. Love your enemies. Pray for those who harm you, and bless them. Do not repay evil for evil, but do good to those who hate you.”

This was the turning point for me, and I’m still on my journey. Since I started this journey, I have received many encouraging words from others, but also many questions. I would like to address two of the most common questions here.

The first question often put to me is this: “Cornelius, the first convert from the Gentiles, had been a soldier and he was baptized. Doesn’t that show us that it is OK to be a soldier and a Christian at the same time?”

This is how I would answer: In a vision Cornelius was instructed to send for Peter (Acts 10). While Peter was preaching to them, the Holy Spirit came upon those who were listening. When Peter saw that they received the same Holy Spirit as he did, he baptized them. Baptism symbolizes new birth, dying to one’s old self and rising with Christ as a new creation. The early Christians were bound together by the covenant of baptism, and it is said they were of one mind and one heart. They shared everything they had together as well. This was the kind of baptism Cornelius received, which is very different from what we are used to now; in most churches baptism does not seem to require much commitment. But in the beginning, everyone who followed Jesus had to leave behind what they were before. When Matthew was called to follow Jesus, he stopped being a tax collector. Peter, James, and John left their nets and boat and even their father to follow Jesus. Jesus said, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). After reading the New Testament, I find it impossible to believe that Cornelius stayed a soldier after his conversion.

Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36). Jesus prayed when people were mocking and abusing him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Likewise the first martyr, Stephen, also prayed to God to forgive his enemies. The apostles were beaten because they spoke about Jesus and his message. They rejoiced that God had counted them worthy to suffer for his name. In short, they were like lambs. Cornelius received the same Spirit as these men. Violence, human honor, and worldly power could not have stayed in Cornelius when he received the Holy Spirit.

The second question I often hear is, “If someone attacked my loved ones, I would be compelled to protect them. Wouldn’t you?”

painting of swords on a stoneThree swords. Painting on the stone, 1932, by Nicholas Roerich. Public Domain.

I take my answer from the Hutterites, who answered this five hundred years ago: That kind of physical aid is what Peter wanted to give to Jesus when he was arrested (Matthew 26:51–52). But hear what Jesus did. He rebuked Peter and said “all who take the sword, will perish by the sword.” Jesus healed the man whom Peter injured out of his love for Christ. So strongly did Jesus reject any type of love by which others might be harmed or hated, as he still does today. Out of Christ’s love come forbearance and love. We are not to injure anyone, even out of love for another. Otherwise we abandon love for our enemies, and miss the way of Christ.

Sometimes pacifism is misunderstood as a lack of respect for governing authorities. I respect the government authorities as ordained by God, and remain obedient to them as long as what they require of me does not contradict the teachings of Jesus. I respect those who serve in the armed forces; although I could never join, because of my love to Jesus and fellow men, yet those in service are also my fellow men whom I love.

In Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov confesses to Sonia that he had committed a terrible murder. But Sonia shows him love and wants him to confess publicly. Raskolnikov is surprised and asks her, “Why do you love me?” She answers, “Aren’t you suffering too?”

We are all suffering. I have witnessed a few times that those who have suffered much are able to love much. Sometimes people think violence is a way to prevent suffering but the opposite is true. Violence always cause suffering, both to those who harm and those who are harmed.

We are called to love one another. Yes, even our enemies.

May God’s light break through in this suffering world! May his peaceable kingdom come on earth!

Hee Tae Kim lives at Bellvale, a Bruderhof in Chester, New York.


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