Enemy Love: The Test of Christian Faith

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On the 16th of September in 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a sermon titled “Levels of Love” which outlined five different levels of love. He concluded by explaining that agape is the highest level of love that exists.

Romantic love is the kind of love where we love because of our affection and attraction for another person.

Motherly love, a higher level of love, is the kind of love that causes a mother to care for and nurture her children.

Friendship, an even higher level of love, is the kind of love where we voluntarily include others in our lives as we come to strive together after the same goals.

Humanitarian love is a love even higher. Humanitarian love is a love that is all inclusive, a love for all humanity.

Agape love is, however, the highest kind of love. Humanitarian love is a love for all humanity, but in a way that is abstract. You may love all humanity in a philosophical, idealistic way, and yet still have very little love for your neighbors–and especially your enemies. Agape love, on the other hand, is both universal and contextual, both broad and focused. Like God’s love, Dr. King argued, agape “is big enough to love everybody and is small enough to love even me.”

Agape, he argued, is what makes Christian love unique. While the other levels of love are “need loves,” only agape is a “give love.”

This is the distinction that I want you to see this morning. And on all other levels we have a need love, but when we come to agape we have a gift love. And so it is the love that includes everybody. And the only testing point for you to know whether you have real genuine love is that you love your enemy (Yeah), for if you fail to love your enemy there is no way for you to fit into the category of Christian love. You test it by your ability to love your enemy.

Enemy love, then, is the kind of love that we practice as a gift from God through us, not just to all humanity, but specifically toward individuals. And if we fail to love our enemies, King argued, then we have failed to practice the greatest love of all. In other words, the test of our Christian faith is our ability to put in place concrete practices that show love toward those who the rest of the world assumes we should hate: our enemies.

The full text of Dr. King’s Levels of Love can be read online here.
His handwritten notes that outline the sermon can be found online at the King Center, here.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jon Bauman says:

    Awesome post! So few people actually know of Dr. King’s theological contributions. It was an actual of his on Mithraism that really helped me during a deep period of doubt in college.

    If you are looking to delve deeper in this subject – I would recommend “Fight” by Preston Sprinkle, “Farewell to Mars” by Brian Zhand, and a few other books.

    If interested, I am writing a Blog series on Nonviolence at http://www.lambtheology.com

    1. Thanks Jon. I am familiar with both of those books. And I’m quite a fan of Zhand, myself. I’ll check out your blog!

      Peace,
      Michael

      1. Jon Bauman says:

        I just picked up two John Howard Yoder books as well. Trying to build up my library.

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