Jesus is in full swing now in the Sermon on the Mount. We read in Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
As we begin to dig into this text, the first thing to note is Jesus’ quote. He has been quoting from the Old Testament frequently in this section of His sermon, but this time it is a bit different. The closest quote to “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” is found in Leviticus 19:18. This verse reads: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Hmmmm. Where is the whole “hate your enemy” thing? It appears that this idea crept into the minds of the people from another place than Scripture. Jesus makes the perfect setting for what He is about to say. He affirms the command to love our neighbor, and possibly to the hearer, displays the lack of “hating your enemies” in Scripture. He now issues the seemingly dreadful command to love our enemies, and He follows with a command to pray for those who persecute or pursue us. He is really good at preaching.
In my opinion, this text has been vastly misinterpreted. I don’t view this passage as a “let’s all hold hands and sing around the campfire” passage, because that’s not what it says. The implicit meaning of the word enemy displays opposition. When we are living righteously there will be opposition. There always has been and there always will be until Christ fixes this problem once and for all. We must remember that Jesus was crucified by men who opposed His good news message. Jesus preached about the individual person being held accountable for their actions before a righteous God who has laid down moral commandments for His people to follow. The entire Bible teaches us that men and women woefully fail in this mission to live by God’s commands, and the fact that judgment comes is not hidden in the text. It is actually quite a focal point. If this is a “let’s all hold hands and sing around the campfire” verse than we have misunderstood moral incompatibility. If I believe human life is sacred and created in the image of God, and another believes that he can take this precious life at his whim, than we are enemies. We are morally incompatible. This exists in our world today, and always has. We can’t sit around the campfire with people who tell us they want to slice our throats as it is morally right in their minds, because they will slice our throats. That would be bad because the worst cut I want to receive is from an occasional shave.
It is vastly different to understand this verse for what it says than what could be a public opinion interpretation. Enemies of Christianity will exist. They exist because people are taught things that are not right according to our God, and we stand as a beacon of His light in this dark and dying world. Jesus is commanding us to not hate these people, but love them as people who need to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to love them as people who have lost their way, and are yearning for fulfillment in their lives through things that are not true and real. We are to love them enough to pray for their souls, before they meet their Maker that they persecute. This is what this verse commands. This is what Jesus Christ commands us to do. He commands our thoughts to be noble and true, because he knows that noble and true actions will follow. As we read the last part of this passage, we see the reason for these commandments. Jesus says: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is His desire for you and me. Even in conflict, even when evil men pursue us we are to love them as God loves them, because He will forgive them instantly if they truly confess, repent and make Jesus Christ Lord of their lives. Let us be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus didn’t command us to pretend our enemies don’t exist. He commanded us to love and pray for them.
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Matthew 5:48 – “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”