Posted by: sean | April 19, 2007

Matthew 5.43-48

Matthew 5:43-48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This text is chief among many which ordain love as the policy for the Christian to adopt towards his or her enemies. The quotation comes from Leveticus 19.18 where it says “love your neigbor as yourself,” to which it must have been common in Jesus’ day to append “and hate your enemy.” Naturally, a people under Roman occupation would see nothing wrong with hating the oppressing Gentile nations. However, Jesus flips this common dictum on its head by commanding his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. It is one thing to be nice towards an enemy (while secretly resenting them) but to pray for one who is actively persecuting you is radical and it requires a heart filled with love.

What is the reason for this radical love? Doing this demonstrates that we are indeed the children of God. In other words, acting in this way is acting like our Father acts, which makes us his children. This is the usage of the word children in the sense of those who imitate or reproduce the behavior of someone else in his own life. To see this principle in action, consider the interchange that Jesus had with the Pharisees:

John 8:39-45 39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41 “You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.

To be a child of God, the Father, one must adopt God’s policies and desires. In regards to the evil, God sends upon them rain even though they deserve drought. We are to be the sons of our Father in heaven by loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. There is no reward in loving just those who are loving towards us. We must live above this age’s standards for love and enter the realm of the divine, only then are we truly human. The “scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back” mentality is at direct cross-purposes with how we are to live. Jesus is breaking the cycle of violence at the start for his disciples. He points to his heavenly Father as the one to imitate in regards to this (it is interesting that he did not chose some great patriarch from the Hebrew Scriptures as the example). He is bringing humanity to a whole new level. What has been said (you have heard it said) is no longer how we are to carry out our lives. This is the new wine which needs to be in a new wine skin. This is new covenant Judaism, it is radical, it is supra-mundane, it is what is required of all who say “Jesus is Lord.” We cannot stop short with love when it comes to our enemies. We need to be perfect, not just love those who are easy to love, but be like our Father who truly loves all.

Ezekiel 18:23, 31-32 23 “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? 31 “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

God does not want any to perish. He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. The most vile person who murders others just to prove that there is no god, our God will pardon if he repents. I’ll conclude with a series of questions.

  • Is it loving to speak bad about someone behind their back?
  • Is it loving to say mean things to someone’s face?
  • Is it loving to physically harm someone?
  • Is it loving to kill someone?
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Responses

  1. loving ones enemies extends to many different aspects of life. It is not loving to speak about someone behind their back – even your enemy. It is not loving to say mean things to someone’s face – even your enemy. It is not loving to beat anyone up – not even your enemy. It is not loving to kill anyone – not even your enemy.

    You know we should love our enemies in situations where someone cuts us off in traffic. I am also not going to try to gather up all sorts of weapons and bomb the heck out of a nation that bombs me – let the Gentiles fight the Gentiles – in the meantime, go preach the gospel of peace and help reconcile them back to God.

    A Christian is known by their love…even for their enemies. Amazing.
    -VG

  2. To really UNDERSTAND what LOVE IS, ONE must know God & who He is, because God IS love. that’s not to dismiss what bad people do & the realm in which we live in, Remember Eph ch 6.


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