Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48
Part ten in my discussion on the Sermon on the Mount is one of the more challenging messages…from the perspective of our human nature. How do we love someone when that person is anything but loveable, or they are outright antagonistic towards us?
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those whopersecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (HCSB)
Jesus begins with His now familiar phrase, “You have heard that it was said.” Once again, Jesus is going to correct faulty thinking regarding Scripture and teach His followers the true meaning.
The first thing to note is that the phrase, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” is not entirely from Scripture. The first part comes from Leviticus 19:18b, “but love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the second part does not appear in the Old Testament. Some scholars point to various passages of Scripture as an implicit allowance for hating an enemy (Blomberg):
- Deut 23:3-6 3 No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the Lord’s assembly. 4 This is because they did not meet you with food and water on the journey after you came out of Egypt, and because Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram-naharaim was hired to curse you. 5 Yet the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam, but He turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. 6 Never seek their peace or prosperity as long as you live.
- Deut 25:17-19 17 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you on the journey after you left Egypt. 18 They met you along the way and attacked all your stragglers from behind when you were tired and weary. They did not fear God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.
- Psalm 139:21 Lord, don’t I hate those who hate You, and detest those who rebel against You?
When we succumb to our sinful, human nature, it is easy to believe and follow the second part of the quote.
What can be understood from Jesus’ stating, “You have heard that it was said,” is that the practice was accepted in Israel at that time.
However, a correct understanding of the term “neighbor” undermines the belief that “hate your enemy” is a proper attitude. Let’s look at three points to support this.
- God loves all people. At the same time, it is true that God will judge and punish the wicked, but that is not His first choice. God would prefer that all surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and be obedient followers.
- A proper understanding of Luke 10:25-37 will lead us to conclude that every person we come in contact with is our neighbor. There are no enemies.
- Matthew 22:34-40 We are to love others the same as we love ourselves.
The proper conclusion is that we are to extend love to everyone.
But what kind of love is Jesus talking about? There are four different Greek words for love found in the New Testament.
- Eros – sensual or romantic love
- Storge – love for family members
- Philia – love that unites fellow believers
- Agape – God’s love for humanity
Jesus is talking about agape love here. This is an unexplainable love that exists entirely apart from the possibility of being loved back. Where do we see this love? Where is it demonstrated? The answer is that we see it only in Jesus Christ and in His sacrifice on the cross. A review of New Testament passages will reveal that in almost all instances that talk about God’s love, there is also an explicit or implicit reference to the cross.
- John 3:16 God’s love and the sacrifice on the cross.
- Galatians 2:20 Paul being crucified with Christ and Jesus’ love.
- 1 John 4:10 God loving us sending Jesus to atone for our sins.
- Romans 5:8 God demonstrating love for us and Jesus’ death on the cross.
What is so amazing about Jesus’ sacrifice is that He did it for sinners like me and you, true agape love.
Looking at verse 45, we see that God provides common grace to all people. All of His creation is worthy of care. God desires the evil and unrighteous, the tax collector, and the Gentiles (understood as pagans) to become children in the spiritual family of God. This doesn’t take away from the fact that each of us will stand before the throne of judgment and be held accountable for their life.
Verses 46-47 present a bridge from the beginning of the passage to the final verse. In essence, if we love those who love us and treat us well, we are no different than any lost person in the world. If we act like that, nobody will discern that we are followers of Jesus.
Verse 48 presents a challenge. How are we to be perfect just as God the Father?
Jesus used teleios, a Greek word that means “having reached its end, mature, complete, perfect.” The goal for the kingdom servant is to behave like his Father, and to reach the mature level of supernatural transformation (Weber). To put it in another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed, and made. A thing is teleios if it achieves the purpose for which it is intended; human beings are perfect if they achieve the purpose for which they were created and sent into the world (Barclay).
As we reflect on our journey to perfection, we should examine Philippians 1:6, I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
When we think about what this passage says, we must remember that God’s Word is true, and He never changes. God will complete what He has begun. All true believers of Jesus will undergo a process of perfection, although it won’t be complete until we are resurrected in our new bodies.
Jesus is saying that the Law has never pointed to legal restraints, shortcomings from our hardened hearts, or even the law of love. It has always pointed to God’s perfection, as demonstrated by this first part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the perfection that followers of Jesus must obey if they are true disciples.
We enter into Christ’s perfection when we learn to forgive as God forgives, unconditionally, and learn to love as God loves, unconditionally.
How do we apply this passage to our lives?
- As hard as it is, and it is, we are called to love all people. When I look around me, and at the news from around the world, it is clear that mankind, including many Christians, fall far short of this standard. At times I am as guilty as anyone. Do we really love others regardless of how different they are from us? It doesn’t matter our skin color, country of origin, ethnicity, gender, social status, wealth, I could go on and on. Jesus is weeping over the hatred on prominent display around the world. We can either get sucked up in this spiral of hatred, or we can be a vehicle for change. Which will you be?
- Are we really different from the lost in the world? If someone who didn’t know you could observe you secretly for one or two weeks, would they come to the conclusion that you are a Christian? Do an honest assessment of yourself. You may not like what you discover. But, discovering it means you can work on fixing it. Not in your strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Look back on the early church, especially the Book of Acts. Walking in the strength of the Holy Spirit was the difference. Let’s do the same.
- Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. At the same time, don’t give up in despair. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus, God will complete the work He started in you.