This past Saturday I had the privilege of leading my church’s Ladies Bible study. This is something that is new to me, and I wanted to share what I prepared with you all.
Love Your Enemies
I can imagine that at multiple stages in our lives, we have encountered some people who may be a little less than likable. Be it a boss at work, a peer at school, or a professor in college. As long as we are on this earth, we will have people in our lives who we can, in a sense, consider to be an enemy. Now the question is, what do we do when we encounter them? In today’s text, we will look at what the bible has to say on this topic.
Love Your Enemies
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 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In this passage, Jesus speaks to the crowd that followed him and his disciples. At the beginning of chapter 5, we get the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives instructions on how to live a life pleasing to God. And as we progress through the chapter, we see Jesus instruct on how to be salt on earth and not to hate our brothers because to hate is to murder; he touches on divorce, adultery, and resisting evil. After giving these instructions, the chapter ends with him telling his followers to love their enemies.
“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'”
Romans 13:8-10 – “8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”
Matthew 19:19 –“19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
One question that stands out here would be, “When were we instructed to hate our enemies?” Through the scripture, we often see the commandments to love our neighbors as ourselves. So why would Jesus mention this here?
No Bible verse explicitly says, “Hate your enemy,” but the Pharisees may have misapplied some Old Testament passages about hatred for God’s enemies. For example:
This is a Psalm of David,
“19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!, O men of blood, depart from me! 20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
This passage implies that we should hate our enemies, but that is not so. Looking deeper into this passage, we see David speaking about sin. He is looking at the sin of those who are against God and chooses to hate the sin in the same way God hates sin. He is speaking out against those who are irreverent towards God. So no, we are not instructed to hate our enemies, but many Jews thought of the passage this way, which leads Jesus to clarify that here.
Now that we understand that we should not hate our enemies let’s look at the word love. As a millennial, it is difficult to ask, “What is love?” without thinking about a popular 90’s song. But in all seriousness, “What is love?” We see the word used in 110 verses in the New Testament. It is defined as:
“To love: to feel and exhibit esteem and goodwill to a person, to prize and delight in a thing.”
The “love” spoken of here is known as “agape.” Got Questions defines it as follows:
“The Greek word agape is often translated “love” in the New Testament. How is “agape love” different from other types of love? The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, for which the Greek word philia is used. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13.”
We often look at love as just an emotion, but it is more than that. We love our families, but that does not mean we always feel loving toward them. Love is more than just a feeling; it is also an act. Currently, we see how people fall in love and, a few months later, “fall out of love” whatever that means. Well, I’d say they were only focusing on the feeling aspect of love, not the sacrificial aspect. A mother loves her child even at 3:00 am when it disrupts the little bit of sleep she is getting. Does she fall out of love with her child over this? No. When the Bible calls us to love, it calls us to leave selfishness behind. To love like Christ loved, so much that he gave his life for us. He calls us to show mercy.
What is a neighbor?
Let’s look at Luke 10:25-37.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
A neighbor is anyone who we may cross paths with. In this parable, the neighbor turns out to be a man who was beaten, but in our lives, it can be anyone who we come across and have the ability to help or interact with. How are you interacting with your neighbors?
Moreover, in this parable, we see the very man, the Samaritan, who would be considered an enemy at the time, be the one to show mercy as opposed to the priest and Levite. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people of Galilee and Judea shunned the Samaritans, seeing them as a mixed race who practiced an impure, half-pagan religion, and yet the very same was the only one to show compassion.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
Romans 12:20-21: –“To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (burning coals = burning shame)
I know many of us imagine an enemy to be someone who opposes us. During this study, I was forced to take on a different view of what an enemy is. You see, when we focus on an enemy as simply a person who opposes us, we are being prideful. At least, I am. I can become easily annoyed at my manager when she opposes me, but now, I have to think a step further and ask “Is she opposing God in what she is asking of me?” if I am honest, she is not, She is only affecting my pride and that forces me to humble myself before God and submit to her as my manager.
“But I say to you” Jesus is contradicting what most Jews believe, as previously mentioned, that we should hate our enemies, and as we saw, that was a misinterpretation of David’s words and intention behind them.
Now in this verse, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Why is this significant? I am sure we all remember the year 2020. There was a pandemic, riots, and an upcoming election. Tension was high, and hate was in the air. The emotions were so strong you could literally feel them radiating from people. To an extent, I imagine at some point or another, we were angry and felt hate in our hearts. 2020 was filled with so much hate. Now think back to that thing, person, or movement you may have hated in 2020 and picture praying about it. I will admit it took me a long time to pray for that politician who was running against my personal views. I did not want to pray for him at all. I had to remind myself of God’s sovereignty, and this allowed me to finally look past the hate I felt in my heart and finally be able to pray from a different perspective.
Today, we have people in office who are in a sense persecuting us Christians. They are celebrating same-sex marriage, allowing children to transition from one sex to the other without the consent of the parent. They are fighting to make abortion easily accessible; they are standing for all things that go against God and His word. And although we may never see persecution like counties overseas see persecution, we see it, nonetheless. How can we pray in light of persecution? By looking at our Father.
“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.”
Psalm 145:9 –“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Regardless of the circumstance, our Father reigns. When I first read through the text in preparation, I asked myself, why would Jesus mention this verse? Why does it matter that our Father makes his sun rise on the evil and the good? Why didn’t it suffice to say, love your neighbors? And it made me think back on how I needed to be reminded of God’s sovereignty in order to keep my emotions in check and be able to pray for my enemies. If we daily mediate on God’s sovereignty and power, it will help guide our hearts to pray for those who persecute us.
A note from John MacArthur’s study bible gives the following explanation for verse 45 stating “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” He says, “This plainly teaches that God’s love extends even to his enemies. This universal love of God is manifest in blessings which God bestows on all indiscriminately.” He extends his love to the just and the unjust, and we, too, should do the same.
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
Tax collectors were known to be the worst kind of people during the time Jesus was speaking, and even they could easily love those who love them. If we only do good for those who are good to us, we are no different. How can we be distinguished? By loving our enemies and doing the more difficult things.
If we look at the word “reward,” we see it is defined as “a thing given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.” It is typically something that is earned, but if we do the easy thing, are we earning anything? Why should we be rewarded if we act like everyone else?
“And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?“
Much like in the previous verse, Jesus uses comparison once more. If we were to only greet our brothers and friends, how do we differ from the Gentiles? If we only focus on the people we know and disregard everyone else, including enemies we do not differ at all from gentiles and tax collectors.
Matthew 9:10-11 – “10 And as Jesus] reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'”
The word calls us to be salt, to be light, and to be like Christ. We cannot be like Christ unless we follow his example. Jesus sat among the tax collectors and was frowned upon, but he did so that he may bring them life. How can we be examples of Christ if we stay in our comfort zones?
Jesus chose to eat with sinners because they needed to know that repentance and forgiveness were available. How else can we bring to gospel to others if we do not seek them out?
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“You therefore must be perfect” The word “therefore” here sums up what Christ was speaking of in the past couple of verses. As a result of what was previously mentioned, we follow what He tells us to do; to be perfect.
Luke 6:36 – “36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Ephesians 5:1-2 “1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Who here is perfect? What is perfect? How can we be perfect? So long as we are in this world, we will never be perfect. As long as we are in these bodies, we will not be perfect. But God sent his Son, who was perfect. He lived a perfect life and thus was a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Here, we are called to do the impossible. We are called to be perfect like our Father is perfect, but we cannot. There is no way, and it is believed that Jesus says this intentionally, as the Jews who may have been listening would think they follow the Law perfectly, but that is not true.
James 2:10 – “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
No one can keep the Law, and that is why we need Christ. God’s standard was/is perfect, and it is a standard we cannot meet. Jesus, however, met this standard and that is why we can even strive to be perfect in Him. Because we believe in Him, we can be seen as perfect by the Father because we put out trust in the Son. It is only through Him that we can love our enemies as we are instructed in today’s passage.
In summary, let us reflect on God’s sovereignty, set our pride aside, and love our enemies as we are called to love them.
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
– Matthew 19:26
– How can we apply this text to our daily lives?
– How can we love our enemies?
– What are some specific ways I can pray for my enemies?
I hope you were able to learn something new from this quick study.
SDG – “Soli Deo Gloria”