I have spent a few days writing this study and I think that this morning God decided that I needed to be put through a test of my own on this subject. You know that feeling when you get to work and the first thing you read in your inbox is a hateful email from someone and then you spend the rest of the day stewing about it? Yes, that’s what happened and this study kept going through my mind as I thought about it. I probably could of handled the whole situation with a little more grace, however God uses these moments in our lives to refine and grow our hearts to totally depend upon him. My prayer for you through this study is to, “continue to love one another, for love comes from God.” (1 John 4:7)
Matthew 5:43-48, “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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Loving your enemy sounds like an oxymoron. Those words shouldn’t even go in the same sentence together. The Greek word for “enemy” is echthros which means to be hateful, hostile toward, at enmity with or adversary of someone, hating and opposing another. But Jesus gave us a direct command:
Love your enemies. Love your adversary. Love those you hate. Love those who oppose you.
What kind of love? The Greek word for “love” here is agape. This means our love should be sacrificial or unconditional just as the Father’s love is toward us. Barclay describes agape love as, “not a feeling of the heart, which we cannot help, and which comes unbidden and unsought; it means a determination of the mind, whereby we achieve this unconquerable goodwill even to those who hurt and injure us.” To love your enemy is not an emotion but an action. Christ is a true example of loving us by his actions. 1 John 4:11, “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.”
Jesus also tells us that we should pray for those who persecute us. Those who persecute us do not understand the love of God, therefore they try to get rid of those who portray it. We were once the persecutor before we accepted God’s love as truth. This is why we should pray for them. We should pray that God will use our persecutions for his glory and that the one persecuting us will come to know him. It will also help us as well. It moves us to love them. Kent Hughes explains further, “When you pray for someone while they are persecuting you, you are assaulting the throne of God on their behalf: ‘God, help this person.’ That is supernatural! If you do that, you are walking in the heavenlies with Jesus. One of the benefits of praying for our enemies is that it changes us. It is impossible to go on praying for another without loving him or her. Those for whom we truly pray will become objects of our conscious love.” How can we pray for someone without loving them? It is important that we love and pray for our enemies because that shows we are true Sons of the Father. Lord, may our hearts love those who persecute us so that we may be able to intercede on their behalf. 1 John 5:2, “We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments.”
Jesus goes on to explain that when we love others, we aren’t called to love only those who are easy to love. We are called to love the unlovable. Those who don’t know Christ will love those who love them back so how does that prove anything? It all comes down to this, “If you love me obey my commandments.” (John 14:15). If you love God’s creation, it will prove that you love God.
Wiersbe gives us 3 reasons for Jesus’ command:
1. This love is a mark of maturity, proving that we are Sons of the Father, and not just little children.
2. It is Godlike. The Father shares His good things with those who oppose Him. Matthew 5:45 suggests that our love “creates a climate” of blessings that makes it easy to win our enemies and make them our friends. Love is like the sunshine and rain that the Father sends so graciously.
3. It is a testimony to others. God expects us to live on a much higher plane than the lost people of the world who return good for good and evil for evil. As Christians, we must return good for evil as an investment of love.
The very last verse of Chapter 5 brings the whole chapter together and is the reason we are to love. (v. 48) “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This verse is not implying to be sinlessly perfect, but we are to strive to live a life that is pleasing to our Father. We can aim to be perfect in character, holiness, maturity and love. We cannot attain perfection ourselves but through love of the Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The NLT Study Bible explains that, “Christ calls all of his disciples to excel, to rise above mediocrity and to mature in every area, becoming like him. Those who strive to become perfect will one day be perfect, even as Christ is perfect.” To reach for perfection, we have to keep pressing on like Paul says in Philippians 3:12 & 14, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Christians, let’s accept the challenge that Jesus has laid out before us. Don’t just love your neighbor, but love your enemy. Pray for them, that they might realize their need for a Savior. Then we can be perfect just as the Father is perfect. Amen.
“You never so touch the ocean of God’s love as when you forgive and love your enemies.” – Corrie Ten Boom