Love for enemies (Matt 5:43-47)

In Monday’s post, we looked at Jesus’ confronting command, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). Is Jesus calling us to do the impossible? And what did he mean by saying that he’d come to “fulfill” the law (5:17)?

So far, we’ve seen how Jesus calls us to go beyond the letter of some Old Testament laws and obey the spirit behind it. Yesterday, we saw that the OT law of “an eye for an eye” was intended to limit the scale of revenge. Jesus calls his followers to go further and forego revenge altogether. Today we look at a related idea: love for enemies.

Love for enemies

5:43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’

Hang on, where’s that in OT? It isn’t, but there’s that legalistic, Pharisaic mindset at work again. You can imagine the Rabbis thinking: “if I’m meant to love my neighbour, then it means that I don’t have to love those who aren’t my neighbours. Those would be my enemies. And hate is the opposite of love. So I should love my neighbour and hate my enemy. Q.E.D.” And they would have found some support from passages like Ps 139, which talks about hating those who are enemies of God.

But again, Jesus rules out a legalistic interpretation that plays around with the letter of the law but ignores the spirit of the law:

5:44  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

In doing so, he appeals to God the Father’s example:

5:45  that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

loveforenemiesIn the first century, sons followed in their father’s footsteps – particularly first-born sons were generally expected to take over the family business. And they had a special status as the father’s representative, being able to transact business on his behalf, standing in for him in his absence. Jesus calls us to love our enemies so that we might be “sons” or “true representatives” of our Father in heaven.

And how is it that God shows love to his enemies? Although humanity deserved to be destroyed because of sin, God shows his love by continuing to provide for us. He sends sun and rain – the two vital requirements for survival in an agricultural society – on all, without distinction. He continues to care for those who seek after him and those who live in active rebellion against him. It’s what theologians call God’s “common grace.”

Jesus then appeals to a negative example at the opposite end of spectrum:

5:46-47 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

What credit is it to show love to those who are like you and who show love back – even the worst in society do that! The mark of a follower of Jesus is in being radically different. It’s copying God in showing love even to our most bitter of enemies.

How does our society say we should view our enemies? Hate them, of course. “Nuke them all,” as the talkback caller said (yesterday’s post). A typical example of how the world treats its enemies is seen in the reaction of the victim of an horrific gang rape a few years ago. The Sydney Morning Herald recorded her reaction to the final verdict of what was a highly publicised trial:

“As the eldest brother… stared her down and repeatedly mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ from the dock of the NSW Supreme Court, [she] laughed and gave him the finger. When the court adjourned, she stood up, faced him and said: ‘F— you! Go to hell, mate.’ ‘I’ve been waiting four years to do that,’ she said… Outside court, she said: ‘I’d like to say, have fun in prison, boys. I won.'”

Hatred, defiance, revenge. That’s what society expects. And do you blame her? I think her reaction is perfectly normal for someone who’s had to endure such suffering. I’m not picking on her; I use her example only because it encapsulates how our world expects someone to react, and sets Jesus’ teaching in stark contrast.

Because for Jesus’ followers there is a call to act differently. To be ab-normal. To be radically different – to actually show love to our enemies, and pray for those who hurt us. That’s hard. That’s costly. And yet – that’s what God has done for us.

To think about

Do you find it hard to show love to your enemies? Why?

Be intentional today: even if it’s just a “little enemy” (a hostile or obnoxious co-worker), decide to show them love as an abnormal response. Note how they respond.

If there’s something big that you need to forgive, don’t put it off. Deal with it today.

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