Matthew 5:43–48 (ESV): Love Your Enemies
In a continuation of the sermon Jesus has been giving for the last few passages, he now instructs the Israelites (and us) to love our enemies. He tells his listeners that even though they have heard it said that we should love our neighbour and hate our enemy, that is not actually the case—he says that we should actually love our enemies, too, and pray for those who persecute us.
… so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. (verse 45 (ESV))
Further to this, Jesus asks what good we’re doing if we only love those who love us back—everyone does that! Christians are supposed to be different; we’re supposed to be better than that. In fact, according to verse 48 (ESV), we are to be perfect—as our heavenly Father is perfect.
In some cases, Jesus is starting his points by saying, “you have heard that it was said,” and then correcting a misconception with the way a believer really should behave. Usually he’s quoting something from the Old Testament, and then illustrating how people have been misinterpreting what was really said. In this case, though, when he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” he’s not quoting the Old Testament—the command for people to hate their enemies is not there. The ESV Study Bible posits that the Israelites had probably overgeneralized God’s hatred of evil into a commandment to hate their enemies; I wonder if Jesus is just addressing what seems like common sense (to the Israelites and to everyone else). Of course you should hate your enemies—after all, they hate you. Right?
But no. Jesus instructs us that we are actually to love everyone—those who love us back, as well as those who are our enemies. (I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that we should also love people who neither love us nor hate us, but are just “there.”)
And Jesus’ reasoning, as to why we should love our enemies, is interesting. He says that we should do it so that we should be sons of our Father—and then he reminds us that the Father takes care of both the evil and the good; the just and the unjust. When Jesus says this, he’s not just being poetic, he’s making a point: We’re supposed to be like God. God loved us, even though we were His enemies. He loved us enough to send His Son to die for us; if He hadn’t we could never have escaped His wrath. We didn’t love Him. We hated His ways. We wanted to be our own gods. But He loved us anyway—and we should be thankful that He did!
And how should we be thankful? One manifestation of that should be our love for our enemies; it should be one of the ways that we’re conformed to His image. Jesus gives us a commandment that no human has ever lived out, except for himself:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (verse 48 (ESV))
Perfect?!? I’m not even good—I’m a far cry from being perfect! But Jesus says that I must be perfect; how can that be? The whole theme of this passage is not really about us at all; it’s about God, and what He has done. When my earthly life is over, and I stand before Him, he won’t see my sin; Jesus has taken that upon himself. He’ll see Jesus’ perfection, which has been granted to me through his death. When I stand before God, it will be as if I am perfect—as my heavenly Father is perfect.
That’s not to say that this passage is only about final judgement; obviously this Grace should flow over into my day-to-day life, as well. Because of God’s undeserved love for me, and because He is making me more and more like Himself day by day, I should also be loving my enemies.
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