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MLKs ‘Love Your Enemies’ Speech Remains One of His Finest

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“I Have a Dream” is by far the most famous and quoted of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.

However, as a lifelong preacher and teacher, it certainly wasn’t King’s only one.

And although it’s hard to name his next greatest, “Love Your Enemies” might be a close second.

It was delivered in November 1957 as a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama – King’s home for six years during the ‘50s.

Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society (CC BY-SA)

Fresh off the heels of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and firmly entrenched upon America’s national consciousness, King appeared on the cover of Time magazine earlier that year.

By that point, when King spoke people really listened.

“So I want to turn your attention to this subject: ‘Loving Your Enemies,’” King then said. “And over the centuries, many persons have argued that this is an extremely difficult command. Many would go so far as to say that it just isn’t possible to move out into the actual practice of this glorious command.”

King acknowledged that some considered Jesus’ command as “impractical.”

King knew that even Jesus realized it’s hard to love your enemies, to love the persons who defeat you and say evil things about you.

But King made that phrase – love your enemies – as the foundation of his leadership and the very heart of the civil rights movement.

“We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command,” King said.

Saying this is one thing, and doing it is another.

So King offered us a blueprint. He suggested that in order to love enemies, “you must begin by analyzing self.”

We must admit to our own sins and faults. He insisted that we discover the good in our enemies. Rather than hating someone, we should realize there is good in that person and the good points “will over-balance the bad points.”

Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil, he said:  “If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on…it just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person.”

King leaves us with a final reason to love our enemies, because love has a redemptive power to transform people.

If we hate our enemies, we have no way to redeem and transform our enemies.

But if we keep loving them – even though they’re mistreating us – it will save our world.

“This command is an absolute necessity,” he said, “for the survival of our civilization.”

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