Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The first part of the old commandment, to love your enemies as yourself, is in the Scriptures (Leviticus 19:18), preceded by several illustrations. But the second half, to hate your enemies, is not only NOT in God’s word, but is completely contrary to His character.
Jesus did not hate His enemies. He often chastised them, upbraided them, and pointed out to them clearly where their behavior fell short of God’s standards. Today, as then, those actions are often labeled as hate. But Jesus was trying to get these people to see themselves as God sees them, so that they would repent and be saved – which is not the act of someone who hates another person. The real hatred would be to NOT confront sin, and to simply let the person go on in their evil ways so that they are ultimately lost.
In this, Jesus reflected the character of God perfectly. God does not hate those who oppose Him, but provides blessings to them (sun and rain, which stand here for His provision, given not just to the righteous, but to sinful people as well), even when He knows that they will never acknowledge those provisions or thank Him for them. Even when God brings disaster and judgment on people because of their sins, it is not an act of hatred, but one of control and regulation. He cannot allow evil to simply continue unchecked. And even in this, it is His hope that some will see their guilt in the midst of their suffering, and turn to Him for relief and salvation.
It is easy to love those who love us, and to be nice to those that we see as being on our side. Even the vilest sinners are capable of that. But in God’s kingdom, the overarching goal is to draw those far away from God back to Him, so that they may be saved. And we can’t do that from a position of animosity or hatred toward them. Only genuine love cares enough to pray for people and their salvation. Only genuine love is willing to step out of the cage of personal feeling to pray for those who oppose us, and to do good to those who are intent on destroying us. And only that genuine love can be effective at turning enemies into friends, and opponents into allies.
The standard for the love of God’s people, is that we will be perfect in our love of others as God is perfect in showing love to all people, and that we continually strive to help them into a relationship with God in which they can be saved. Of course, that kind of love cannot come from the hearts of us ourselves, no matter how deeply we dig. Instead, it is only God’s love working in and through us that will enable us to love as God loves.
Father, just as the righteousness we work up on our own is like filthy rags in Your sight (Isaiah 64:6), so the love that we can find within ourselves is only a sad, pitiful caricature of the love that is required of us as the people of Your kingdom. Help us to let You love in us and through us, so that our love, even for our enemies, will be perfect, even as You are perfect. Amen.