"The Christian principle, 'Love your enemies' is good....There is nothing to be said against it except that is is too difficult for most of us to practise [sic] sincerely."- Bertrand Russell
As far as understanding goes...I very seriously doubt I need to write anything about this passage. It's not difficult to understand at all. The difficulty lies completely in the application of it. How can I possibly love someone who is hateful and spiteful toward me? Of course, the first obstacle that needs to be cleared is what it means to love. We should probably state first, that it absolutely does not mean warm fuzzy feelings toward someone. If it did, then loving enemies would simply be impossible. No, love is an action, not an emotion. I think deep down, most of us get that. But it is a truth that still needs to be pounded into our heads and our children's heads over and over again as we and they are bombarded with Hollywood versions of "true love."
And because love has everything to do with what you do and nothing to do with how you feel, Jesus tells us to do for our enemies the greatest act of love we could do for someone. He tells us to pray for them. Why? First of all, because doing good for those that are evil toward us, makes us more like our Father in heaven. Second, because doing so sets us apart from the rest of the world. Jesus said that our love for one another is what will prove to the rest of the world that we are his disciples (John 13:34-35). However, Jesus obviously meant more than just our friends and family when he said "one another" in that passage, because otherwise, the world would only see the same thing it could already see in the gentiles, tax collectors, mafia members, drug cartels, and immoral, yet close-knit families.
But let's not leave this command out in the generalities like we usually do in order to keep our conscience comfortable. Let's make it real.
Pull to the front of your mind the images of the Tsarnaev brothers. In case that name doesn't register, they are the ones responsible for the Boston Marathon bombers. Picture the face of Osama Bin Laden. Picture the family member or co-worker or friend that betrayed you or ripped you off. Picture that person who seriously damaged your children physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Now you have the faces of some of your "enemies" in mind. Can you follow Jesus' teaching for that person? Have you ever said a prayer for a terrorist? Have you ever prayed for an enemy to be blessed?
Listen to Dallas Willard's response to Bertrand Russell's comment that I opened this article with:
He (Russell) was, of course, right as he understood it, for he was thinking of himself and others remaining what they were inwardly and nevertheless trying to love their enemies as occasion arose. Of course, they would fail, at least most of the time. As for Russell personally, some of long acquaintance with him and Russell himself knew he was filled with hatred. No wonder he found love difficult.
Russell's fallacy is the fallacy of the Pharisee. By now it should be recognizable. The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law. Jesus knew the human heart better than Bertrand Russell did. Thus he concludes his exposition of the kingdom kind of goodness by contrasting the ordinary way human beings love, loving those who love them, with God's agape love. This is a love that reaches everyone we deal with. It is not in their power to change that. It is the very core of what we are or can become in his fellowship, not something we do. Then the deeds of love, including loving our enemies, are what that agape love does in us and what we do as the new persons we have become.I believe this is exactly what John meant when he said, "we love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
I remember hearing my brother-in-law passing on advice he had been given to one of my brothers who was very frustrated with a misbehaving brother in Christ. Barry said, "do you know what you need to do? You need to pray for him. Not that he will change, but just pray that God will bless him." And I can't remember the exact words after that, but Barry made it clear that the real reason to pray for God to bless the other person was because praying that prayer changes the pray-er.
How can we ever learn to love our enemies? We learn how God loves us. The heart that is truly touched by that agape love of God is stripped of pride, defensiveness, and selfishness and is freed to truly love others no matter what they have done. And so the child becomes more like the Father.