The early promise of social media is that it would help us make friends. But as it has matured, it seems better suited to help us make enemies. Long gone are the happy days when it was all about connecting with others around shared interests. Today it seems to major in beating down others others over differences. If our social media world has given us new ways of making friends, it has also given us new ways of making enemies.
Jesus once addressed the ways we relate to our enemies and his teaching is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. It’s as relevant to the people who tweet evil as the ones who speak it to our faces, as relevant to the people who try to shame us virtually as the ones who do so in our presence. Those who become Christians accept his challenge to live according to a new ethic, to a new way of life. We learn that whenever we feel a “natural” response to a situation, we need to examine it in the light of the Bible to ask, Is this the kind of behavior that marks a follower of Christ? Or does Christ call his followers to respond in a different way, a new way?
Here is what Jesus says to us when we face online enemies. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). He’s establishing a way to live that is extraordinary. It is extra-ordinary, beyond the ordinary instinct and experience of human beings. It’s a way to live that can seem impossible or even ridiculous. Maybe we see this even clearer when we shift the word order a little. “Your enemies, love them; your haters, do good to them; your cursers, bless them; your abusers, pray for them.” It’s worth taking a quick look at each of those four commands to consider how they apply to us as we venture online.
Love your enemies. What’s the ordinary way of responding to your enemies? That’s easy! Hate your enemies! They hate you, so you hate them back! But what’s the extraordinary way Jesus calls you to relate to your enemies? You are to love them. You are to love those who hate you. This is the kind of love you extend to a person who is unworthy of it. It is love that does not need to be returned in order to be genuine. And this love is to be extended to your enemies, to those who make your life difficult, to those who make you miserable. What do you do when that person online treats you like an enemy. Love him. Love her. Jesus isn’t calling you to feel love for them; he’s calling you to do love for them—to take actions that are for their benefit. When that person treats you like an enemy, you need to respond as if they are a friend.
Do good to those who hate you. What is the ordinary way of responding to those who hate you? You hate them back! They do evil to you, so you do evil to them. What’s the extraordinary way of responding to those who hate you? It’s to do them good. When people act out their hatred against you through evil words or actions, you are to respond by taking good actions toward them. All the effort they put into bringing you misery, you put into bringing them joy. When Paul wrote to Titus he said Christians are to be “zealous for good works.” You are to be a good works zealot, a good works extremist! And the object of these good works is not just the people who love you, but even the people who hate you.
Bless those who curse you. What is the ordinary way of responding to someone who curses you? It’s to curse them right back! If they invoke God against you, you invoke God against them. If they call down judgment on you, you call down judgment on them. But what’s the extraordinary way of responding to those who curse you? It’s to bless them. It’s to be willing to absorb their hateful words, and to respond with words that are kind. If they want to see misfortune befall you, you want to see blessings upon them; if they want you to be abandoned by God, you want God to pursue them and embrace them. They wish the very worst for you, but you wish the very best for them.
Pray for those who abuse you. What’s the ordinary way of responding to online abuse? It’s to return abuse with abuse. If they say bad words to you, you’ll say bad words right back. If they cut you down, you’ll cut them down. What’s the extraordinary way of responding to abuse? With prayer. It’s to commit that abusive person to the Lord, to ask God to pour out his blessings on them. It’s ultimately to ask God to save them and sanctify them.
Jesus tells you how to relate to people who harm you or who want to harm you, and his instructions provide crucial guidance as you relate to online enemies. He gives you a collection of verbs, a collection of actions to take: Love, do, bless, pray. Their verbs are hate, curse, and abuse; yours are love, do, bless, pray.
In your online Christian life you will encounter enemies, haters, cursers and abusers and you are to respond by loving them, doing good to them, blessing them, and praying for them. This is truly an extraordinary kind of love—the very kind of love Jesus showed to us, for while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5:10).