Let me begin today’s devotional with a question: “Do you have any enemies?”
Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t really have any enemies.” Okay, so let me rephrase the question: “Do you have people that make your life difficult?” You may not think of them as enemies, but, functionally speaking, if they aren’t showing love to you, then you might feel like they are enemies. If so, these words of Jesus are especially important.
Matthew 5:43–48 – “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 who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
These words of our Lord not only tell us that we need to love even our enemies, but He also tells us the method of how to do this.
I. The Principle
Jesus begins his teaching in v.43-45 with a contrast between what the hearers of Jesus had heard or been taught by the religious teachers of the day, and what Jesus was teaching them. His hearers had heard it taught “to love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (v.43). The first part of this quote, ‘to love your neighbor’ was a quote from Leviticus 19:18. But the second part of the quote can’t be found in the Old Testament! ‘To hate your enemy’ was a twisted teaching of the rabbis and teachers of the law in Jesus day. The issue was that they had a narrow definition of who your neighbor was. They said that it was people of your own kind; fellow Jews, and people like you. But, they said, those of different ethnicities or religions, like Gentiles, weren’t your neighbor. Therefore, went the reasoning, you didn’t need to love them. In contrast to this twisted view, Jesus says, “But I tell you: Love your enemies!” (v.44). Our Lord is saying that even if they are different from you, they are still your neighbor whom you are to love.
You may remember there was this one time where Jesus was talking with an expert of the law, and he asked Jesus directly, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).In response to that question Jesus told the famous parable of the good Samaritan. A Jewish man was travelling and was mugged, beaten, and left for dead by some thieves. A priest happened to walk by, but he did nothing. Then a Levite passed by, but he too did nothing to help that man in need. Finally, a Samaritan showed up. Samaritans and Jews were enemies. Yet, this Samaritan stopped and helped the man. He bandaged the man’s wounds. He put clothing on him and brought him to a safe place and paid for his medical care while he was there. He was a true neighbor. The point of the parable was to show that your neighbor isn’t necessarily someone of your own kind. It’s anyone in need that you come to know about.
When you put that parable together with this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, what you see is that the command to love your neighbor and the command to love your enemy aren’t two separate unrelated commands. They are one and the same.
Love your neighbor … even if he/she feels like an enemy.
II. The Method
How do we go about doing this?
1. Talk to them
Matthew 5:47 – And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Something as simple as a greeting or conversation with your enemy is one way that you show love to them. Is there anyone that you are not talking to right now? You might not think of them as your enemy. But, if you’re not talking to them, then you’re certainly treating them as one.
2. Show them kindness
We see this idea in verse 45 where it describes how God himself loves his enemies.
Matthew 5:45 – He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
God gives sunshine and rain to the unrighteous. Sunshine and rain are two things everyone in the world has need of. Without the sun and the rain crops would not grow and be harvested. Without the sun and rain we would not survive. These are practical needs. So, learning from God’s example with us, whenever we help meet someone else’s practical needs, we show them kindness and love.
3. Pray for them
Matthew 5:44 – But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
Praying for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love because you can do nice things for someone but not really want good things for them. Yet, when we pray for them it means that we are really wanting good things for them. We can pray for their salvation. We can pray for them to obey God’s will. We can pray for them to become an instrument of blessing.
Now let me just mention where a misunderstanding could arise. I don’t think Jesus in telling us to love our enemies means that we must be friends with our enemies. Especially if that enemy was formerly a friend and hurt you, it may not be wise to try and befriend them if their heart has not changed or if they haven’t acknowledged the wrong they did to you. Loving your enemies doesn’t mean pretending they never hurt you or harmed you. Sometimes it may not be wise to speak to an enemy at least for a period of time because speaking to them might just open you up to a barrage of more opposition and harm.
You don’t have to be friends with everyone. But you do have to love everyone.
This might seem like an impossible task.
Where does the power to live like this come from? If you’re thinking that you don’t have that power, then you’re right. You don’t, but God does. God demonstrated the ultimately act of love to his enemies. He came down to earth himself in the person of Jesus and died for them. We were like enemies to God. Yet, Jesus laid down his life for us, in love.
Romans 5:10 – For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
When Christ died for us, this verse says we were like his enemies. We were in enmity to God because of our sin. And yet, in that condition, God showed us love by dying for our sins to pay their penalty. Christ even prayed for his enemies as he was being crucified and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
When Christ becomes our Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit indwells us, and God’s love is poured out into our hearts.
Romans 5:5 – God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
The same God who loves his enemies indwells us by his Holy Spirit. That’s how we can love our enemies. That’s the transforming power of the gospel.