But the Greatest of These is Love: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is the best known proponent of nonviolent social change in America. King believed deeply that Jesus’ admonition to “love one’s enemies” was absolutely necessary for building the community and rejected the use of violence in the U.S. civil rights movement. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark:12:30

“So I say to you, seek God and discover Him and make Him a power in your life. Without Him, all of our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest nights. Without Him, life is a meaningless drama with the decisive scenes missing. But with Him we are able to rise from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. With Him we are able to rise from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy. St Augustine was right – we were made for God and we will be restless until we find rest in Him.”

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.”

“But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven,” Matthew: 5:44-45

“Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.”

How do we love our enemies?

“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

“Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in his being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.”

“Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

Why should we love our enemies?

“The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies,’ he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

“Another reason we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Modern psychology recognizes what Jesus taught centuries ago: hate divides the personality and love, in an amazing and inexorable way, unites it.”

“A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.”