Martin Luther King on Love (and Loving the Enemy)


The meaning of love is not to be confused with some sentimental outpouring. Love is much deeper than emotional bosh.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” We should be happy that he did not say, “Like your enemies.” It is almost impossible to like some people. “Like” is a sentimental and affectionate word. How can we be affectionate toward an enemy—toward a person whose avowed aim is to crush our very being and place innumerable stumbling blocks in our path? How can we like a person who is threatening our children and bombing our homes? That is impossible. But Jesus recognized that *love* is greater than *like.* When Jesus bids us to love our enemies, he is speaking neither of eros nor philia; he is speaking of agape—understanding and creative and redemptive goodwill for all men.

We are to love human beings not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some type of divine spark; we are to love every person because God loves him.

Hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we will win our freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

(adapted from “Loving Your Enemies,” in “The Strength to Love” by Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 52-7)

About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in Agape, Difficulty, Martin Luther King Jr., Real Love, Spiritual Growth, The Examined Life, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Martin Luther King on Love (and Loving the Enemy)

  1. Biocadence says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing!

    Annie at Biocadence

  2. Kozo says:

    Love the last paragraph. Going to have to look up that MLK essay. My favorite line from your post is “we are to love every person because God loves him.” That is reason enough. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

  3. John says:

    That line really resonated with me, as well, Kozo. So much is made nowadays about “namaste” ( a word/concept I very much like) and loving others because they have a divine spark, so it was very interesting to see MLKjr just blow by that whole line of argumentation and go right to the real heart of the matter–we are to love each other because God, Love himself, loves each of us. And Jesus (for those of us who are Christians, or with Christian leanings, or even who are interested in what he had to say and his take on Love) said as much too: There’s no one we’re not supposed to love–enemies, poor, prisoners, sick and elderly, ill; everyone is to be loved. And yet most Christians will find people to exclude, or will remain ignorant of what seems to me to be the most basic principle of Christianity: Love. (Just like in the words of Fulton J. Sheen in the post above this).

    Thanks for reading and for commenting and for the hug 🙂 Kozo,

    Kindest regards, and {{{hugs}}} to you as well,


  4. Melissa says:

    Absolutely my favorite post!! I was almost swept in tears. MLK is one of my favorite heroes of all time (him and Lincoln) loved it! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • John says:

      Hello Melissa,

      Always good to hear from you! MLKjr is one of my favorites as well. And, yes, inspiring and soulful to the point of tears for me too sometimes.

      I plan on sharing more excerpts from his sermons in the future.

      I hope all is well with you and yours.

      Warmest regards,


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