When I do something nice for an unsaved person, I am saying, “I love you. But I have another motive too. I desperately want to bring you to the cross so that you will escape hell. That’s my deepest desire.” Our aim is love, welling up from a pure motive: “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
The Christian life establishes a pattern of good works, a lifestyle of doing good that can be seen by the ungodly. In Acts 7, we see that Stephen loved his enemies—the religious leaders in this case—even though it cost him his life. When we deal with the “religious”—those whose worldview is steeped in self-righteousness and rooted in idolatry—we are dealing with those who would kill us while thinking they were doing God a service (John 16:2).
The most manipulative opponents to the Gospel are often those who profess to speak for God yet disbelieve the Bible. Their form of godliness gives lip service only: “. . . the poison of asps is under their lips” (Romans 3:13). Essentially, we are stepping on rattlesnakes when we confront the self-righteous in love.
Snakes can turn on you in a second. As the religious leaders struck out at Stephen with deadly force, love poured from his lips: “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59–60).
Love those who oppose you because we are commanded to love our enemies. Love them because it is a witness that glorifies God. And who knows, in their midst may be a lone bystander: “Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57–58).
Stephen witnessed to Saul by dying. Saul became Paul and wrote half of the New Testament. You don’t know who is standing on the sidelines of your own testimonies, so always witness boldly, even when the outcome is unknown.
Loving an enemy is counterintuitive apart from the gospel. Ask God to shape your understanding of love through knowledge of His Word.