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Love Your Enemies

John Piper, former Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota is a man of vigor, wit and profound wisdom. Prolific in the number of books he has written, this book entitled Love Your Enemies: Jesus' Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and The Early Christian Paraenesis is Piper's doctoral dissertation at the University of Munich which he wrote in 1974. A work of erudition and insight, this dissertation does not have the popular flavor of most of his books, but packs a punch with its well-reasoned argument about the nature of enemy love.

One of the fascinating things about this book is Piper’s transparency in seeking to go where the texts that speak of enemy love go but still remaining alert to speculative critical assumptions. In seeking to understand what Jesus taught concerning enemy love, Piper is wary of gross speculation by saying, “The attempts to penetrate behind the evangelists have become ever more complicated….It is even more questionable when an author ceases to insert the guarded ‘probably’ or ‘supposedly’ and instead presents as facts what are only guesses” (50). Piper is referring not only to NT scholars quest in developing ‘Q’ (Quelle), but also to the conjectures that scholars seek to make regarding the layers of tradition behind the text. Why is this point in Piper’s dissertation so important? For one, Piper is readily willing to engage such critical scholars as Jeremias and Bultmann on their own lines of thought. However, he is only willing to go so far when scholars pawn off as fact their critical imaginations that stray away from original intent of the text. As Piper goes onto indicate, “Even if we are dissatisfied with the information available to us, it is still more valuable to utilize that to the full than to spend our time and energy supposing what we do not know” (51). In other words, beginning and ending with the text that we have in front of us is of greater value than coming up with fanciful creations of our own thinking.

Doctoral dissertations are usually labors of love that bear out little practical value for their readers. Yet, this dissertation brings out the evangelical faith of a man who is well acquainted with the gospel. Piper writes, “When Jesus calls for a man to love those who do not love him, he is not calling for heroes who, by the sheer will to self-surrender, act for the good of others. He is calling for insecure and self-indulgent children to trust their Father and thus find the security and gladness which will enable them to take patiently whatever pain or humiliation may come from loving their enemies” (60). Earlier on this same page Piper reiterates the fact that is the forgiveness and love of God that precedes the servant’s forgiveness of their enemies. The satisfaction of knowing God’s acceptance leads to the desire to love one’s enemy, not the other way around. You hear reverberations of Piper’s focus later on in ministry that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. For Piper, loving one’s enemies starts from a posture of grace, being forgiven by the forgiving God and being restored to a right relationship.

Another key point that Piper raises in his dissertation is the Jesus brought with his ministry an entirely new era or epoch, therefore, changing the way one looks at the OT view of lex talionis. This inbreaking of the kingdom of God in his person and ministry was for Jesus a fulfillment of the prophetic voice of the OT in connection with the removal of the heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26; Piper 90-91). Rather than pick and choose what OT laws were to be abrogated, Piper makes an evaluative claim by saying, “What he denounced was not the perfect will of God which he also saw in the Old Testament (Mark 7:8,9), but rather any compromise of this will of God for the sake of man’s hardness of heart” (91). The eschatological program that came with the coming of Jesus reordered and turned upside down the former ways of thinking about the law, making concessions for man’s sinfulness. No longer was there room for concessions because Jesus would soon make bear the full weights man’s hardness of heart in sin upon his body, therefore freeing man from being killed by the law.

This book is a mighty work that encompasses great learning, keen exegetical insight, and powerful assertions. Piper does not fail to engage the most critical of scholars, showing his skill in wading through the voluminous literature on the subject of enemy love. For those wanting a technical and robust investigation of enemy love in the NT, this is the book for you.

Thanks to Crossway Publishers for the review copy of this book.


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