“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. That’s a sentiment that is easy to get behind. It is, after all, what comes naturally to us. And one could support it from the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18; Dt. 23:6; Ps. 139:21-22). But Jesus, as he so often does, turns conventional wisdom on its head.
But I Tell You
Jesus tells us that rather than hating our enemies, we should love them and pray for them. And that has to be one of the more challenging things that Jesus taught. It is so contrary to our human nature, that many just dismiss it out of hand. Others give lip service to it, but ignore it in actual practice.
But Jesus is not offering this as a suggestion. Rather, he explicitly tells us this is something we should do. Why? So that we can be children of our Father in heaven. I do not believe that Jesus is specifying a requirement for salvation here. But he does tell us that, as a child of God, it is something that we will do. So, if I refuse to love my enemies, it should be a warning to me that I am not a child of God. I will, and do, struggle with this. And I suspect that as long as I live in the tent of this flesh, I will continue to struggle in this area.
The Sun and the Rain
After Jesus talks about us being children of the Father, he describes what kind of love the Father has for the world. This is not the love he has for those who have accepted his offer of salvation and come into his family. But he does make provision even for those who are his enemies.
Jesus says that the sun rises on good and bad alike. And the rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike. All that we need to live in this world is provided to us by the Father. And it does not matter what kind of person you are. This world and what it contains is an ongoing act of love from God to us.
I believe this also tells me something about the love I am to have for my enemies. That love will be different than what I have for my family or for other believers within the body of Christ. That is a personal and intimate love. A love that I do not believe I am expected to have for everyone. But, I can show a level of love for my enemies, and others in the world, by expressing and demonstrating concern for their well being. For acting toward them in a way that benefits them. Just like the Father sends sun and rain to the unrighteous, I can also seek their welfare.
Be Perfect as God is Perfect
Jesus calls on us to not be like the people in this world. They love those who are like them. We are to love those who are not like us. To rise above the level of the pagans.
To be perfect. Just like our heavenly Father is perfect. If you are like me, your immediate reaction to this is wonder. How can I be as perfect as God? In the way we normally use that word, I cannot. But, given the context here, I can be like him in loving the people I encounter, including my enemies. That is still a challenging goal. And one that is likely unattainable in myself. But fortunately I do not have to do it in my own strength. I can trust in the Father to help me with this. I just need to be willing. And that in itself is a big enough hurdle.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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