Matthew 5:43-48 – Love Your Enemy

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Common English Bible)

A few rhetorical questions: Have you ever had someone not like you? Offend you? Purposely say or do things that upset you? 

I once had a next door neighbor that was just plain mean. Once, when my dog accidentally strayed into her yard and left a package, she picked it up and placed the package directly in front of my backdoor. 

When stuff happen, it’s easy to respond in kind. Many of us have sly passive aggressive tendencies toward people we don’t like. One of my professors once admitted that he responded to a woman who was bragging to him about how many children she had by saying, “Oh, we don’t place such an emphasis on sex in my house!”

That sort of stuff is rather benign. It’s altogether a different thing whenever someone has deeply hurt us with malicious words or actions. We naturally seek to defend and respond by hurting the other back. 

So then, this is no trite saying of Jesus to proclaim that we are to love the enemy. It cannot be done apart from the God’s grace.

Jesus knows what he is asking of us. And he does not ask of us anything that he himself has not done.

We are often pleased with ourselves if we love our family and friends, because even that is a struggle, at times, for many people. 

Yet, our love needs to expand much further than family. We must treat all people with respect and kindness, even active love, because this is what God does. And if followers of Jesus don’t do this, Christianity is shown, at best, to be just another religion out of many, and at worst, the Church is presented to the world as a fraud.

Those who are poor in spirit, mourn over sin, and display meekness, are those who understand they are no better than anyone else, including their enemies. 

They seek to be right and to do right by:

  • Showing mercy instead of judgment
  • Displaying purity of heart instead of making plans to get back at others
  • Seeking peaceful solutions instead of looking to pick a fight 
  • Accepting insults, persecution, instead of hating (Matthew 5:3-12)

With God’s righteousness as their breastplate, the Christian loves the enemy and prays for those who persecute them.

The Old Testament clearly says to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Yet, nowhere in the Bible does it say to hate your enemy.

Over the centuries, people began to draw the inference that if we are told to love our neighbor, that therefore, we must hate our enemy, who is not our neighbor. 

From that popular understanding, it was inevitable that Jesus would get asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Christ’s answer to that question was to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The conclusion to that parable is that everyone I come into contact is my neighbor, and so must be shown mercy when they are in need.

It is not for us to judge whether someone is unlovable. It’s not our call to deem another person as unworthy of receiving love. Neither you nor I gets to decide if a person or group of people are too obnoxious or evil for any sort of love.

Nobody can love God by being hateful to another person. Love of God is not measured by zeal against God’s enemies; it is measured by treating all persons with respect and love.

Jesus clearly tells us how we can love our enemies: Pray for them. It is difficult to hate a group of people when we are devoted to praying for them. It’s really hard to call somebody a monster when you are using their name in prayer.

So, if you are struggling with a person or a group of people, pray! If someone is giving you a hard time and doesn’t like you, pray for them. Pray they will see the error of their ways. Pray the Spirit to open their eyes and grant them self-awareness. And, at all times, leave the judgment to God, for that is his business, not ours. (Romans 12:17-19)

Why love “those” people?… Because God loves them.

Loving those who offend us emulates God’s benevolence. Whenever we love our enemies, we are not expecting anything in return.

Since you are God’s dear children, you must try to be like him. Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice that pleases God. (Ephesians 5:1-2, GNT)

Love gives life meaning. And love always suffers. There isn’t any love apart from suffering. That’s because it requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears to love. Jesus is asking us to suffer for the enemy, just as we suffer for our children and our friends.

If Christians have no love for their enemies, then they are no different than the haters of this world. Followers of Jesus are distinctive because of the way we treat people. We are to model our lives after God’s love, not by the standard of niceness to those who are nice to us. 

God doesn’t expect us to live only through reciprocity, that is, simply giving back to those who already have given something to us. Christians are to give even when persecuted. That’s because God shows no distinction in how he distributes the sun and the rain. 

Showing basic respect and goodness to all people, no matter who they are, is God’s rain showers and sunshine toward others.

I have observed that every church believes they are friendly (even the cold ones) because the members are friendly with their friends. They greet everyone who greets them. This is neither spectacular nor noteworthy. 

Genuine love keeps an eye open for the quiet, the awkward, and the friendless, and seeks them out.

“To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine. To love as God loves is moral perfection.”

Alfred Plummer

Most English translations has Jesus saying to be “perfect,” because the heavenly Father is perfect. That is an unfortunate translation because a lot of people think “perfectionism.” But that’s not what Jesus was talking about. Christ was referring to being spiritually mature, morally sound, and personally whole and integrated.

“Maturity is looking at every person we meet and saying to yourself, ‘I will never, God helping me, do anything to harm you: not by angrily lashing out at you, lusting over you, faithlessly slipping away from you, verbally hitting back at you, or even justifiably disliking you.’”

Frederick Dale Bruner

So, how do you treat people, all people, even those you don’t like and have hurt you in some way? 

The ability to love the enemy comes from God. Grace is not something we can just conjure up, as if we might will ourselves to love our enemies. It is not natural – it is supernatural, and so must come from a supernatural Being. 

Human relationships easily become subject to verbal violence, bitterness, and destruction, whenever we treat our own life and the lives of other people as properties to be defended, instead of precious gifts to be received. 

We have died to hate. So, how can we live in it any longer? Selfishness, pride, and seeking to control others has been crucified with Christ. 

If we have nothing to defend, then we have no enemies who can harm us.

Jesus, Prince of Peace, you have asked us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, enable us to do just that. Give us the courage, strength, and grace to love those who harm us so that we may shine as beacons of Christian light in a world of revenge, retaliation, and darkness.

May all people learn to work together for the justice which brings true and lasting peace.

Let us pray for our enemies and persecutors:

We pray for those who have hurt us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who hate us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who insult us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who have stolen from us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord.

We pray for those who will not hear us.
Bless them always and in every way, Lord. Amen.

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