Loving Your Enemies

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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Jesus clearly implies that citizens of His Kingdom will have enemies. It is an honor to have friends. Perhaps, it is a bigger complement to our Christian life that we have enemies. Theodore Roosevelt said a man who has no enemies is a man who does nothing. Perhaps, he was on to something. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:18-20). Some of these enemies will come out of a Christian’s own family. Jesus also warned, “for I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’” (Matt. 10:3). In fact, if you claim as a disciple that you have no enemies, such may not be something you want to brag about. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). To be sure all of God’s enemies should be everyone of His sons’ and daughters’ enemies. So, if you do not have enemies, perhaps it is time to go out and get you some.

Once you find yourself some enemies, what should you do with them? Jesus’ standard of righteousness teachings us to love and do good to them. The Pharisees came up with a whole different set of rules on how to regard their enemies.

The Pharisees’ View on Loving Enemies

  • Perversion by Misapplication

The Pharisees were familiar with the Law’s commandment to “love thy neighbor as thy self” (Lev. 19:18). But if you interpret “neighbor” to mean those who are faithful Jews your love is limited. Enemies would be excluded. A Pharisee could see no command to love a Gentile or sinner. In fact, if he were to keep this law it meant you could not love his enemy. A neighbor is merely someone who is near to you. In this case a Gentile or sinner or enemy could classify as a neighbor. The scribes and Pharisees also despised and looked down on the common people (Jn. 7:48-49). There was enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans. “Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (Jn. 4:9). They counted publicans as their enemies because they collected taxes for the Romans. When Jesus was asked, “who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:25-27). He did not directly answer it but provided the parable of the Good Samaritan instead. He showed that the real questions to be asked is: “am I a good neighbor?” He implied even a Samaritan can be a neighbor. And a neighbor is anyone who is near and anyone who is in need of you to be near them.

  • Perversion by Omission

Notice the Pharisees tradition left out “as yourself.” While disqualifying their enemies from the command to love, they also omitted the standard of how to show love to one’s neighbor.

  • Perversion by Addition

No translation or version of this passage in the Law of Moses mentions anything like “hate thine enemy.” Perhaps, Rabbinic Tradition tried to justify this addition on the basis of the imprecatory psalms (Ps. 69:22-24). Even the Essenes at Qumran prescribed hatred for the outsider in their Manual of Discipline.

The Mosaical Law on Loving Enemies

The Law of Moses in several passages did teach repulsion of pagan perversions and heathen habits (Deut. 7; Josh. 23:12,13). Some nations were noted in particular due to the high national threat level they posed to Israel (Deut. 23:6). They were forbidden by law to make peace with the Canaanites (Ex. 34:11f).

Moses taught the children of God to give a proper treatment of strangers in their land “`And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. `The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:33,34). Furthermore, the term “neighbor” is used in the Old Testament to include those who are not of the stock of Israel. They were encouraged to help not just their own countrymen, but also enemies (Deut. 22:1-4). In fact, the Old Testament is filled with examples of love for one’s enemies. Job did nothing himself to harm his enemies and he did not rejoice when harm came to them from any other source (Job. 31:29-30). David in a cave near Engedi, had opportunity to destroy King Saul while he slept but did him no harm though the king sought to kill David (1 Sam. 24:13). Even later when one of Saul’s relatives, Shimi, threw rocks and hurled insults at David, David would not retaliate (2 Sam. 16:5-10). Some of David’s prayers in the Psalms represent loving concern for even his enemies ( Ps. 7:4,5; 35:12-15).

Jesus Teaching on Loving Enemies

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” was oft repeated by Jesus throughout His ministry (Mt. 19:19; 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Luk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Js. 2:8).

Love Them

Did Jesus required the impossible of His disciples? It sounds like a part of a utopian dream where everyone can just love each other and get along. Can a saint really love the unholy? What about loving rapist, murderers, pornographers, child molesters, etc.? Even Jesus disciples struggled with showing hate toward those who were the enemies of Christ. The “sons of thunder”, James and John, wanted Jesus to call down fire upon the cities of the Samaritans who rejected Jesus (Lk. 9:51-56). When Jesus was about to be arrested Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of Malchus (Jn. 18:10).

First, we must keep in mind that in the Greek there are different words for love. Sexual love is represent in the term eros. Storge refers to love for family members. Phileo is the love one has based on friendship and emotion. These first three types of love are too limited for the love of enemies. However, agape is love which is not founded on friendship, emotion, physical relations or an act of the flesh. It is a love that seeks and works to meet the needs of another no matter what your current attitude may be toward them or how you feel and conversely how they feel about you. Agape love is need-oriented. One can show this love to their enemies by understanding there is good in everyone, none of us are perfect, God is the Ultimate Judge of the wicked, and God has set a perfect example. Jesus loves his enemies. The best way to get rid of our enemies is to love them to the point they are turned into our friends, brothers and sisters, and fellow-lovers of God.

Bless Those Who Curse You

While the mob was gathered around the cross, they were hurling insults at Jesus while He hung on that cursed tree, Jesus blessed those who cursed Him. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What greater blessing can be bestowed on our enemies than to seek their eternal good rather than their eternal damnation.

Do Good to Those Who Hate You

Agape is an active good-will toward our enemies. This goodness is not earned by our enemies, anymore than we earned the love of Christ. It is not easy to give love when you are the object of someone’s hate. By doing good one can open up the lines of communication and perhaps begin to end the enmity. Wrongs can finally be righted. Misunderstandings can be resolved.

Pray For Them

Instead of balling up your hands into a fist to fight your enemies, fold you hands in prayer and face the Lord on their behalf. Jesus is not talking about us praying for our enemy to get run over by a truck. Your prayers for your enemies can actually serve as a tool to keep you from being destroyed by bitterness and anger. No matter how much they hate you, they cannot keep you from praying for them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany, wrote of Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:44, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium the prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God” (The Cost of Discipleship, 1960, 166). Stephen even prayed for his enemies while being stoned to death (Acts 7:60).

– Daniel R. Vess

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