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Sermon on the Mount: Love your Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:43-48 NASB1995
The last verses in Chapter Five of Matthew and the last “you have heard it said” command statement in the Sermon on the Mount is concerned with loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. The original Old Testament admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18 had slowly evolved over the years to really meaning loving only those who loved you back or were considered socially acceptable, while calling everyone else (especially outsiders or Gentiles) an “enemy”.
Jesus tells us that by loving and praying for those who don’t love us back or even persecute us, we may be like sons of our Father in heaven, harking back to the Beatitudes (poor in spirit, peacemakers). Saving our love only for others that we like does nothing to make us righteous or expand the Kingdom of God. God sends rain to the just and unjust and the sun rises every day on every person that is living on Earth, whether they are good or evil. What sets us apart as followers of Christ?
We live in a society that is more and more divided, with an “us versus them” mentality and an out-of-control cancel culture. You can see it everywhere - in our political parties, social media discussions, confrontations of believers against unbelievers (and even many believers of one denomination against believers of another denomination) and sports team rivalries. One side is convinced that their beliefs and values are just, right and rational while the other side thinks that those beliefs, values and rationales are wrong, insane, stupid or downright evil. I’m obviously not saying you can’t have firmly held beliefs, but when you are praying, Jesus wants us to pray for those who would consider YOU to be their enemy because you voted the “wrong” way or you are one of those “bigoted Bible thumpers”. We’re not seeking to understand or agree through these fervent intercessory prayers for our enemies but to love.
I have no magic formula for that love, other than trying to look at each person as a unique human created in God’s image, regardless of whether they believe in God or what their opinions have been. The Holy Spirit is our helper and guide for working towards our righteousness and sanctification, which admittedly is a life-long journey. I am a notorious back-slider needing repentance quite often when it comes to this command to love my enemies, especially when I read or hear something that just ticks me off and my tendency is to immediately insult or denigrate that person.
Turning again to David Guzik from Enduring Word commentaries, here is what it means to be “perfect” like our Father:
a. Therefore you shall be perfect: If a man could live the way Jesus has told us to in this chapter, he would truly be perfect.
· He would never hate, slander or speak evil of another person.
· He would never lust in his heart or mind, and not covet anything.
· He would never make a false oath, and always be completely truthful.
· He would let God defend his personal rights, and not take it upon himself to defend those rights.
· He would always love his neighbors, and even his enemies.
We all fall woefully short of this perfection, all of the time. That’s why prayer is vitally important to our faith and hope and cultivation of true Agape (God-breathed) love for others.
Next for the Sermon on the Mount series, we move into Matthew Chapter Six. Jesus talks about being secretive and humble about our giving, as found in Matthew 6:1-4.
Commentary from David Guzik on Enduring Word used with written permission.