“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
I can only speak for myself, but this is one of the most challenging — and influential — passages of scripture I have ever read.
It has helped flip my world completely upside-down.
In my humble opinion, this section of Matthew helps us understand who God is, why he came to earth and why he died.
Loving an enemy goes against everything I “naturally” believe in. The definition of an enemy itself requires that person to be actively opposed or hostile toward me. They are openly trying to undermine my health, wealth and/or prosperity.
An enemy is the very definition of the person (or group) whom I am permitted to take defensive action against and wish/pray their plans will fail and I will be victorious.
And yet … here is this passage in Matthew telling me not just to ignore my enemy, but to:
Love my enemy.
Pray for them, which means to seek their good, blessing and prosperity.
To not resist their efforts to oppose me (turn back a few verses to v.39).
And the reason given for this … ?
It’s not that it will succeed. It’s not that it will work and I will emerge victorious.
It’s because this what God is like!
If we are to be his children (having his DNA; the stuff he is made of) we will act this way. He sends the sun and rain for everyone. He blesses without any consideration of what we have done to him; whether we are for him or against him. In fact, it is in this that we will be made perfect as he is; his perfection is found in the fact he actively seeks the good of the very people who wish him harm.
I can’t think of a single command in the bible that is followed less than “love your enemies”.
We like to create tribes, groups, labels and other ways of distinguishing who is in and who is out. Who do we need to show respect to and who can we demonize.
We, like the religious expert in Luke 10, ask “And who is my neighbour?” or try to define what limits can be placed on the definition of an “enemy”, but Jesus (and Paul after Him) doesn’t leave any wiggle room.
Loving our enemies; doing good for people who mean us harm; never seeking revenge; responding to attacks with love — even if it means our own suffering … these are not things we can choose or not choose. These are the “primary traits of those who claim to follow a crucified God.” (1)
This is what it means to be citizens in the kingdom of God — a God who allowed himself to be sentenced to death by the people he came to save. And while experiencing the worst torture we could dish out, cried “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
While it makes no sense whatsoever to us, suffering is not something we are told to avoid. We are told to endure suffering, to not resist someone who mistreats us and to submit to punishments handed out by authorities even when they are unjust.
This is what it means to love our enemies — and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that … but I guess that doesn’t matter if I am to be a child of God.
Throughout the New Testament we see enemy love heralded as a key component of what it meant to be a follower of the way. The same was true for the first 300 (ish) years of the early church. (According to Tertullian, loving enemies was the ethical heartbeat of the early church and what separated Christians from everyone else).
In fact, it wasn’t until Christianity became the official religion of Rome that people began to become seduced by power and used it to enforce their will (read: morals and beliefs) on people instead of serving them with love. Tragically, we continue to believe that if we can just enact godly laws we will improve our nations. Or if we can simply force people to obey our moral codes the world would be a better place.
What if we truly believed and obeyed what Jesus said and started to love our enemies?
What if we actively sought the good of people living in ways we disagree with and/or who seem to openly oppose us or the things we stand for?
What if we sought to humbly serve those people we deem as undermining the “moral fabric” of our countries?
What if we were once again known for our love — not just of the people in the pews next to us, but to our neighbours, our families, our enemies, those people we despise the most and the people who are seeking the destruction of everything we hold dear.
What would that look like?
God only knows!
1. Preston Sprinkle; Fight