Love Your Enemies
[Mat 5:43-48 NASB] 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.
Matthew 5:44 gives us a most fantastic call. It is the call to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This is to anyone an extremely challenging idea.
In a culture that has both misdefined love as well as prayer, we're often left scratching our heads as to what Christ really meant. When love means "that which leaves all are positive emotions intact," loving our enemies seems to indicate lay down and roll over. And when prayer is defined not according to biblical categories but rather as well-wishes, positive vibes, or good thoughts; praying for those who persecute us seems irrational at best. And the reason it feels this way is because it is. This is not at all what God intended by His instruction.
Loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us can and will never be void of communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or displaying the unrivaled love of our heavenly Father, which are offensive and convicting respectively.
This morning, what I'd like to do first is address our section of scripture verse by verse, and then I want to tackle the terms love and prayer in context. Studying what other parts of scripture communicate regarding loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. And all of this because getting this right is both needed and freeing!
Matthew 5:43 begins with the statement "You have heard that it was said, You should love your neighbor and hate your enemy." Leviticus 19:18 is where we get "love your neighbor." It speaks of neighbors as "the sons of your people" which means a fellow Israelite. A case can be made in the New Testament that our neighbor is a fellow member of the body of Christ.
But we shouldn't push too hard on this because the story of the Good Samaritan communicates that our neighbor is either anyone who is in need or that we should be good neighbors to all. However it's understood, the corrective here is not in how we are to treat our "neighbor." Instead, Jesus is teaching us how we are to treat those who have set themselves up as our enemies.
Before we get there, let's finish the last half of verse 43. The Israelites were explicitly instructed to love their neighbor, but they were never commanded to hate their enemies! In Deuteronomy 23:3-6, which is the reference most often used for this idea, Moses tells God's people that the Ammonite and the Moabite have already been judged for their actions and that they (the Israelites) are not to seek "their enemies peace or prosperity all their days." In other words, they were to let God's justice play out.
(If we're reading "between the lines" we will no doubt understand that they were to let God's justice play out no matter how ugly it got!)
Too often this is what is lacking in the modern Christian life. We fail to trust that vengeance is, in fact, God's or we think it wrong. So we either take it upon ourselves (in human anger), or we love people in such a perverted way, we lead them to believe no wrong has even been committed.
We would do well to remember that vengeance is not wrong! It solely belongs to God. Likewise only God's love is transformative, all others fall grossly short.
Over time the Israelites translated this refusal to seek their enemies prosperity to mean "hate your enemies." This is why Jesus says "you have heard that it was said." They were taught on the one hand, through the oral tradition, to love their neighbor; and this was correct. But they had also been taught (by men) to hate their enemies, and no such words were ever uttered by God.
So to "hate your enemy" became common in the lexicon of the day. But Jesus in verse 44 corrects this erroneous idea. Jesus says, I know what you've heard, but I say, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." I can't stress this enough, Jesus did not trade in an old command for a new one. Jesus didn't give the God of the OT a makeover. God has always been slow to wrath. (Psalm 145:8) Jesus is merely correcting what the Israelites had misapplied.
TAs we move forward, the "why" behind this correction shows us the very heart of God. Verse 45 states, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," "SO THAT you may be sons of your father who is in heaven." What is God like? He must be like what He instructs. As Christians we must remember that sons act like their fathers; there's always a family resemblance. So what is God like? He is compassionate toward His enemies. He was with you and me. Therefore we are to do the same!
[Rom 5:8-10 NASB] 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
[Col 1:21-23 NASB] 21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, [engaged] in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach-- 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
Our most explicit example of this love and prayer comes from our Lord Himself while on the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
So God, in Jesus, has commanded and modeled love for our enemies and prayer for those who persecute us. If we are going to be like our heavenly father, we will love those who hate us, our enemies, those who are not our brothers. In doing this, we will be perfect or complete as the term is defined. Complete as our Heavenly Father is complete. We will display our family resemblance.
So let's start with loving our enemies and then we can tackle praying for those who persecute us.
The word for love here is Agapao. It's simply the verb tense of the all to familiar word agape. In 1 John 4:8 when we read that God "is love" we are reading that He is agape. This is His nature. But in that same verse when it says "the one who does not love does not know God," this speaks of our action; Agapao. The word means a preferential love, one that is chosen, a love acted out by the will. C.S. Lewis defines it in his book "The Four Loves" it is a love not based at all on the goodness of the Beloved. It is what many in the modern world would call unconditional love.
There are four main words used for love in the New Testament. The first is Eros; this is erotic love. A kind of love shared between a husband and wife in Covenant marriage. This is not what we are called to when loving our enemies. The second term is Storg; this is a love of affection. CS Lewis refers to this love as being rooted in warmth and familiarity. This is also not what we are called to do when Jesus says love your enemies. The third form of love is Phileo; this is the love of a friend. Where Agape is a matter of benevolence or duty or commitment, Phileo is brotherly love. It's also the word used to communicate a kiss in Greek. This also is not what Jesus means by loving your enemies. So what does Jesus mean? Quite simply, He means what He says. More profoundly He means who He is. Agape as C.S. Lewis defines it is charity.
In Matthew 5:45 Jesus communicates this charity as allowing the sun to shine on the evil and the good, or the rain to fall on the righteous as well as the unrighteous. Would you open the door for a known enemy? Agape would. Verse 46 and 47 Jesus points out how we can demean the nature of Agape when we show it only to those who show it first to us. "I'll love them when they prove themselves." "I'll love them when they show they can love me in return." And finally, in verse 48, the bar is set "completeness and maturity." A.K.A. Perfection. This is attained when Agape or love is given to those who don't deserve it. And who better fits the bill of undeserved love than our enemies?
There's not a passage in scripture that says You must be warm and affectionate or good old Pals with your enemy. Instead, you're called to charity of the highest order. If you want to grow in this kind of love, remember it's defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 "Love is..." This list of how you are to love applies yes even to our enemies!
Okay, so what about prayer? What are we praying for; concerning our enemies? Well, the word for prayer which is pronounced pros-uk-o-my appears several times in this sermon of Jesus. He talks about how we pray, in our room, behind closed doors, not so people can see us, and also that it should be a prayer void of meaningless repetition. Jesus goes on to model this prayer in Matthew 6:9 our Lord's Prayer.
I want to draw your attention specifically 2 verse 12. Jesus says forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. I believe this models how to pray for our enemies. Think about what we're actually saying when we pray these words. Father forgive us in the same way we forgive others. Father pay us back in kind. You forgive us the same way we forgive others.
Micah 6:8 teaches us that we are to be a people who do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our god. Do you know how different it is to love and pray for an enemy or someone who is persecuting you when you live this way? When you walk humbly, that is knowing that the love you walk in is not based on your being lovable? When you love Mercy remembering that he who is forgiven little loves little Luke 7:47 the less forgiveness you think you need will show itself in the lack of love you display. And to do justly which is to proclaim the gospel and to Bear the image of God at all times in this life.
Praying for our enemies is not about the well-wishes or positive vibes of today's world. Neither is it the meaningless rambling of the modern Church. The Bible speaks of intercessory prayer Our request for another this we should do for our enemies. The scriptures Define prayers of consecration prayers to set something apart this to should be a prayer that we pray for those who have persecuted us. Again we read of prayers of justice and even imprecation. These are prayers that God would destroy his enemies. As I've heard it said, God could destroy his enemies one of two ways. The first is to simply destroy them. But the second is by making them a friend.
In so much as that we remember our mission is to call the lost to be found or the dead to be raised or an enemy to join us at the table, we should pray prayers intercession, consecration, justice and yes even imprecation.