The last few weeks we’ve been looking at the parable of the Samaritan. We talked about what it meant in context, some reasons we don’t stop to help others, what some of the church fathers thought of it, and the implications for us and how we navigate cross culturally.
One of the things that is clear throughout is that we are called to love everyone. Which leads us to today’s scripture. Matthew 5:43-48. Jesus is working His way through the sermon on the mount.** He says:
43 “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 [a]be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and theunrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?48 Therefore [b]you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
On its surface this idea does make sense, at least theologically. After all we are called to love everyone. God loves everyone. God loves your enemy. The one who persecutes you was created in God’s image. Jesus died for your enemy. Jesus prayed for and loved His enemies while He was here, even while they were crucifying Him. We’re supposed to follow Jesus.
But even if it makes sense in our head, it can be real hard to see how to flesh this out. Sometimes it isn’t too hard. For example let’s say that a loved one turns on you and “hates” you. Maybe a family member or someone who you’ve discipled. I know there are people that hate me that I actually love and would be reconciled with tomorrow if they were willing.
But what do we do with those who we see as an enemy of the gospel? What about those who seem to be leading people in a bad direction? What about someone who severely hurts someone you love? What about those you don’t even know who hate you?
Let’s start with a couple of important points. In fact I’d suggest that if we don’t get these two things right then we will be in utter confusion and/or chaos trying to follow this command. And make no mistake. It’s a command – love your neighbor as yourself – and everyone is your neighbor including your enemy.
Point one is this: That person, regardless of what they’ve done or what they believe, are created in God’s image. The person that hates you. The person that hates the gospel and works against it. The person you view as Hitler. Heck Hitler. The man on death row. Your political enemy. Every.Single.Person. I believe that how we view people, (be they near us or far from us, public official or personal acquaintance, living in the past, present or future,) matters. If we don’t start with this premise then we can’t possibly love our neighbor.
The second important point is that loving someone does not mean agreeing with them. It doesn’t mean allowing them to hurt you or others. It doesn’t mean not standing up to them. It doesn’t mean not standing up for truth, justice, and the gospel. Jesus shows us this. I have zero doubt that Jesus loved the pharisees and teachers of the law. He loved the Romans. He loved the chief priest. He loved Pilate. He loved the soldier that drove the nails. He loved Judas. But He didn’t agree with them, give in to them, or go along with them.
In fact if you look at Jesus, He brutally calls out these people. In Matthew 11 Jesus calls out entire cities. In Matthew 23 Jesus blasts the pharisees and scribes. He tells them that they are hypocrites. He asks them how they plan to escape hell. He calls them the descendants of murderers. But understand this: He does it without an ounce of hate in His heart.***
Jesus does not command us to give in to or agree with our enemies. But He does call us to love them. So what does that look like?
I’d like to suggest a starting point. In 1st Corinthians 13 Paul tells us what love is. He says:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 [b]bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never fails…
Maybe, and this is just a suggestion, we could start with this checklist in our heart. When it comes to my enemies am I being patient? Am I kind? Am I arrogant? How am I acting? Am I enduring? In other words what is going on in my heart? Could this be the starting point to what it means to love my enemies?
** It is important to note that we should read the whole sermon on the mount together. We are pulling one thing out today which is great. And it’s good to look at each thing Jesus says. However all of it must be taken in context of what He says before and after and the overall point of the sermon as a whole.
*** For an incredible picture of this story watch this video starting at the 3:01:00 mark or so through 3:11:12.