We have read some pretty tough statements by Jesus over the last few weeks and they certainly aren’t getting any easier. Today’s passage must be one of the hardest things to do. It’s not always easy loving the ones closest to us, but loving our enemies is one of the hardest things to accept and actually do. It is just not natural. Our normal nature (the sinful one) wants retribution. It wants to fight back and get even with all those people that oppose us. But if we want to be followers of Jesus and true children of our father in heaven, then love we must, even the most unlovely.
Let’s just start with the passage before us today. Notice that Jesus states “You have heard that it was said” This is important. He is not talking about what is written, i.e. scripture. He is once again addressing the Pharisees and exposing their man-made traditions. They loved to add bits to scripture and make it different to what was intended. God had plans for dealing with Israel’s enemies at the time of the occupation of Canaan, but His long term goal was that His people’s enemies would be won over by love and not hate. The first part of the phrase is from the bible. In Leviticus 19:18 it says “love your neighbour as yourself.” The Pharisees were so narrow minded that they assumed God was talking about other Israelites as their neighbours. He surely couldn’t be speaking about the Gentiles. Surely they were to be hated and discarded. They had not even bothered to read on for another 16 verses of the same chapter in Leviticus where it said “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). God’s plan has always been all encompassing. He has an expansive heart and He wants His children to be like Him and have one too. He wants us to reach out to the foreigners, the despised, the unlovely, the sinful. In fact, people just like we were before He got hold of us!
This is especially true at this moment in history, as thousands of precious souls are being driven from their countries and have become refugees. The father is sending them to our countries so that we can bless them and show them His love.
Let’s examine who our enemies actually are. They are very rarely now people from a foreign country, but people we live and work with. People who have hurt us in some way, or people we don’t see ‘eye to eye’ with. They could be people that oppose us because they don’t like what we stand for or even just the way we are. They could be jealous of our lifestyle or our intelligence or anything that they might consider a threat. We probably all have people we take an instant dislike to and oftentimes we have no real idea why. There are hundreds of reasons why we have enemies, the main reason being we live in a ‘sin sick’ world. They could range from people we have a mild dislike for to people we absolutely hate.
We should all have enemies, even the most virtuous of us. In fact the most virtuous will have more enemies than most! Jesus was perfect and He had enemies, very real enemies, those that were desperate to kill Him. Don’t get me wrong, He never hated anybody, but living the life he did, He naturally attracted people who hated Him. The Apostle Paul knew this more than most as he sought to spread the gospel with boldness and without fear. From experience he said “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)
If we have no enemies or opponents, we probably are not living the gospel out as we should be. Again, we are not looking for trouble, but a Holy lifestyle should naturally invite opposition. In fact Jesus said “Woe to you when all people speak well of you.” (Luke 6:26)
So how are we to love our enemies?
This is the hard part. Even forgiving people is easy compared to this. In some cases you can forgive and move on. It’s dealt with, you don’t necessarily have to encounter that person again. Loving someone who hates you is a commitment. You may work with them on a daily basis and have to show love to them in the face of constant antagonism and hatred.
Often the only way we can love our enemies is to pray for them, simply because we can’t get close enough to them to do anything else! They may hate you so much that they won’t even speak to you. Praying may be the only way you can fulfil this command, but a committed heartfelt prayer for your enemies proves that you love them.
How do we pray?
This is an important question because we could just pray “get them Lord, pay them back for how nasty they have been to me!” I don’t believe that is the way Jesus is telling us to pray. In His radical kingdom, Jesus is asking us to pray a blessing over our enemies, a heartfelt one. How would you feel if you prayed a blessing over your enemy and God actually answered it? That is the test, that is what will reveal what is really in our hearts. That is what Jesus is demanding of us and that is why it is so difficult. Jesus gave us the perfect example at the cross where he prayed “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) That sort of prayer is so powerful that we could well see the very people who crucified Jesus in heaven!
This subject is so important that I’m going to explore it some more over the next few weeks. I’ve said it before, that this subject is one of the hardest things to do in the Christian life, but if you can overcome the resistance you are probably feeling right now and do what Jesus is asking you to do, you will receive release and freedom in your life more than you had ever thought possible.