Love your Enemy

Mercy and love are the defining characteristics of the disciple and reflect the true nature of his Father – Matthew 5:43-48. 

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exhorts his disciples to become “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But how can anyone hope to achieve the perfect righteousness of God? His answer is clear - by performing acts of mercy for your enemy.

Self-sacrificial love and showering mercy on others, especially an enemy, goes to the heart of the Nazarene’s message and mission. After all, he is the one who gave his life willingly for others even when they were still the “enemies of God.”

In fact, that is how the disciple “fulfills the law and the prophets,” and achieves a level of righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

  • (Matthew 5:43-48) – “You have heard that it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Be loving your enemies and praying for them who are persecuting you that you may become sons of your Father who is in the heavens because He makes his sun rise on the evil and good and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward have you? Are not even the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you salute your brethren only, what more than common are you doing? Are not even the Gentiles doing the same thing? You, therefore, shall become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

LAW AND PROPHETS

In this passage, the conjunction rendered “therefore” connects the exhortation to what preceded it (“THEREFORE, become perfect”), namely, the summons to love one’s enemy. In doing so, the disciple becomes “perfect like his heavenly Father.”

Moreover, the paragraph concludes the larger literary unit that began with his declaration that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. What was germinal under the Mosaic law comes to fruition in the life and teachings of Jesus.

But now, in the messianic age, unless the disciple’s “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” he will not enter the kingdom of God - (Matthew 5:17-20).

The declaration concerning the “law and prophets” is followed by six examples of how one’s “righteousness” surpasses that of the “scribes and Pharisees.” In each case, Jesus does not simply reaffirm a statute of the Mosaic Law - he pierces through to its true intent. And this especially comes to the surface in how his disciples treat others.

For example, he extrapolates from the prohibition against murder that one should not even harbor anger toward another man. Hatred leads to murder, and instead of simply refusing to kill the disciple must seek reconciliation with the one who offended him, including one’s “enemy.” EVIL IS OVERCOME BY TAKING POSITIVE ACTION - (Matthew 5:21-26).

Likewise, the disciple must do more than simply abstain from adultery, theft, or murder, the minimal requirement of the Torah. Life in his kingdom demands something more than the letter of the regulations handed down at Mount Sinai.

Jesus turns the law of an “eye for an eye” into the moral principle of “turning the other cheek.” He repudiates the popular interpretation that added the clause “and hates his enemy” to the original love commandment.

Since the book of Leviticus explicitly commands love to fellow Israelites but omits any mention of the Gentiles, so the legalistic logic goes, hatred of enemies is permissible - (Leviticus 19:18).

MERCY

But Jesus rejects that wrongheaded interpretation. Since the commandment prohibits any act of vengeance, the Law does not allow the disciple to hate anyone, whether Jew, Gentile, friend, or foe.

The man with a mind conditioned to think as the world does takes vengeance against someone who acts against his interests. In contrast, the disciple of Jesus is summoned to love his enemy and to pray for anyone who abuses him.

Does God not send His rain on the just and the unjust? This statement is derived from the final clause of Leviticus 19:18. After commanding Israel not to take vengeance, God stressed His identity - “I am Yahweh.”

Giving mercy to the deserving and the undeserving is fundamental to the nature of the One who revealed Himself as “Yahweh,” the one “who is” and who keeps His covenant promises.

If the disciple limits his love to friends and family, how is he any different from the tax collector or Gentile, let alone the scribe or Pharisee? All of us naturally love those who do good for us. However, loving our mortal enemy is something altogether different and foreign to our impenitent nature. It is contrary to the “wisdom of this age.”

L0ve is much more than an emotion or abstract idea. It is demonstrated in concrete acts of mercy. As Paul writes to the Romans, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him to drink.” Likewise, John declares, “let us not love in word, but in deeds.”

And Jesus engaged in the ultimate act of mercy when he “gave his life a ransom for many,” and this included his friends as well as the “enemies” of God – (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 12:20, 1 John 3:18).

Righteousness is not demonstrated by restraining ourselves from committing sin. Instead, it is manifested by the good we do for the benefit of others, especially for our opponents and persecutors.

And the simple command of Jesus to love our enemies demonstrates eloquently and decisively that in his realm there is no place for hatred, violence, or retaliation.


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