Love My Enemies?
Matthew 5:43-48: “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘You will love your neighbor,’ and ‘You will hate your enemies.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become sons of your Father Who is in heaven. Because He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and He sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t the tax collectors do the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what are you doing more (than others)? Don’t the heathen do the same thing?
You then are to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect!”
Appropriately this section of the Sermon follows that on vengeance (see previous post) and carries similar themes.
The first line of Jesus’ quote is from Leviticus 19:18, which He quotes frequently, “You will love your neighbor,” though here He leaves off “as yourself,” apparently because He was more concerned here with contrasting it with the second line.
When Jesus was questioned elsewhere as to what the first and great commandment of the Law was, he replied: “’You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it. ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; see also Matthew 19:19).
Jesus was quoting, of course, from the Old Testament Law. The commandment to love the Lord was from Deuteronomy 6:4, 5. The commandment to love one’s neighbor came from Leviticus 19:18.
The second line saying, “You will hate your enemies,” is found nowhere in this form in the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament is filled with Psalms calling down curses on the Psalmist’s (and God’s) enemies. See for instance Psalm 5:10; 10:15; 31:17, 18; 58:6, 10, and especially 119:113; 139:21, 22. Also see Deuteronomy 23:3-6. It’s easy to see how these quotes could be taken as prescriptions by rabbis of Jesus’ day, as they did with the teachings on divorce and vengeance.
We should note that in the same chapter in Leviticus that Jesus quotes, there is another commandment: “The stranger (or alien) who resides with you shall be to you as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Both verse 18 and 34 conclude with “I am the LORD!”
And later, when a lawyer (teacher of the Law) tried to find a loophole by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus told him a story of how one about whom the lawyer held racial and religious stereotypes (a Samaritan) behaved as a neighbor, and then told the lawyer to do likewise (Luke 10:25-27).
So then, our neighbors include not only those who look, behave and worship like us, but also aliens, and people of different races and religions.
And here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are to love those who hate and persecute us, and we are even to pray for them! I don’t see how this excludes anyone. There are no loopholes!
We will have enemies; we’re not told that we won’t. The New Testament is filled with promises and examples of persecution and conflict. But I don’t believe that we are to choose our enemies, nor to consider those with whom we simply disagree as our enemies. Nor are we to pray for their demise. We can’t prevent some people from being our enemies, but we should leave the choice to them. And we are to love them.
And the reason given for loving indiscriminately is “That you may become sons of your Father Who is in Heaven.” I don’t believe Jesus is speaking here of that sonship that we have through faith in Him, but rather He’s referring to a concept found throughout the Bible.
To be “the son of” someone meant to be characterized by the same traits as that person. Paul says in Romans 4:11, 12, that Abraham was “the father” of those who believe, even though not physically related. Jesus accuses the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:31 of being “sons of the murderers of the prophets.”
In similar fashion we show our family relationship to our Heavenly Father when we love and do good indiscriminately.
The word translated “perfect” (Teleios), does not mean “without fault or defect” as our English word might imply, but “complete,” “having attained the end or purpose.” Though God is without fault, Jesus is not telling his hearers that this is the way they are to be. We are to be loving beings, perfect in the sense that we fulfill the purpose for which our Father designed us.
Also see: THE SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT.