"Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you." - Matthew 5:44
Institutes Book 3, Chapter 7, Section 6, Part b
"Now if someone has also provoked you by unjust acts and curses, not even this is just reason why you should cease to embrace him in love and to perform the duties of love on his behalf...Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches (Matt 5:44). It is that we remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them."
Calvin turns from consider love for our neighbor in general to the difficult challenge of loving our enemies. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus commands that his followers love and pray even for those who persecute them. This is one of the hardest commands in Christianity. How can we hope to do this?
By remembering that even our enemies are made in God's image. Of course, this is not the only thing that the Bible says about people. It also says that we are fallen into sin and rebellion and are prone towards wickedness. So, it should surprise us when someone treats us poorly. We are fallen and distorted image bearers. We are capable of profound evil and we can do great harm to each other. When we are sinned against we have a choice. We can treat our enemies as they deserve and perpetuate the cycle of violence and sin. Or we can follow Jesus, look to the Image of God in our enemy and for the sake of God - seek to love them.
This is certainly not easy. But as we seek to love our enemy we will quickly see our own need. If we cry out to God for mercy and help - he promises to meet and empower us. In the hard walk of obedience and dependence we grow to know Jesus more intimately. As we share in the fellowship of his suffering, we remember that on the cross Jesus cried out, "Father, forgive them they know not what they do." And we remember that Jesus not only loved us when we were his enemies (Rom 5:8,10), he died for us!
What difficult people in your life, is God calling you to love and pray for?