Ever wanted to even the score with an enemy? Jesus’ teaching on enemies is the stuff of which “yeah rights” follow. Matthew 5:43-47 reads:
“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 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Talk about culturally abrasive! Jesus does several things here. First, he corrects a misuse and misunderstanding of the Old Testament. Second, Jesus radically readjusts the separation between friends and enemies by connecting the issue to the nature of God whose benevolence extends to all via common grace. Third, Jesus says you’re no different than a white-collar tax cheat (1st century tax collector) or a gutter level scumbag (the way Jesus’ Jewish audience viewed Gentiles).
Why should I obey Jesus’ command to love my enemies? A Christ-follower should love his or her enemies because it showcases the radical difference Jesus has made in his or her life. In a culture that says you should either hate enemies or throw them on the trash heap of ruined relationships, sort of like George Strait’s All My Ex’s Live in Texas, Jesus teaches extending love to one’s enemies. One thing we see Jesus repeatedly doing is giving a strong dose of “here’s what you’ve heard…but I say to you…” reverse brainwashing.
For starters, one will look in vain to find a command in the Old Testament to hate one’s enemies (Leviticus 19:18, 34 and Zechariah 7:10 teach quite the opposite). Not only that but Jesus’ hearers had been duped by a curious Pharisaic omission… “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To speak of loving someone is often about as clear as the tax code. Yet when you tag it with “Love them as yourself,” it comes into sharper focus. We’re great at loving ourselves. We give ourselves what we want to eat, only take good selfies, untag pictures on social media that we don’t feel do justice to our own awesomeness, and give ourselves excuses that we feel we almost certainly deserve. Loving others as I love myself requires dying to myself. Jesus hammers out loving only your friends is a sign that you’re in love with yourself; loving your enemies is a sign you’ve died to yourself (v.46-47). This. Is. The. Gospel.
So what does it mean to love enemies? It doesn’t mean enabling them to do wrong. Truly loving a person is doing what is best for them which may require cutting off financial support for a harmful addiction, or requiring a chronically lazy son to find a job or move out. Enabling a person to indulge in what is destroying them is the farthest thing from love. True love, or, in the words of the priest on The Princess Bride, “true wuv,” is doing whatever is in your power to point enemies to Christ. Not only that, Jesus takes it a step further in commanding His followers to pray for persecutors. It’s simple: when they’re trying to make your life a living hell…pray they don’t go there. Pray for their repentance. How do you even the score with an enemy? Love them by praying the best thing for them: brokenness over sin and repentance towards God. Not only does this release you from the chains of bitterness but it also allows you to, in a small way, catch a glimpse into the Gospel as Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”