When Did We Forget to Love our Enemies?

I wrote this well before I knew what all would enfold today. The message hasn’t changed. But friends, I think we all desperately need to hear it again. While some have been more guilty than others, I have seen it on both ends of the spectrum. 

We have to let go of the hate. 

Don’t take my word for it. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, listen to his words. 

“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.”  Matthew 5:43-48

What is a fairly common passage read in modern-day church from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this would have been radical teaching to its original Jewish audience. Levitical law taught to “love thy neighbor” and urged not to hold a grudge against their own people, but that didn’t entail outsiders and enemies. Old Testament scripture never explicitly says to hate enemies, but some Jewish sects taught that idea based on examples of pious Old Testament figures like David, who wrote about hating the wicked and those who aren’t following the Lord (Psalm 31:6, 119:113, 139:21). So it would have made perfect sense to the Jews to love their fellow Jews, but to hate the wicked outsiders, Romans, and Samaritans– or any non-Jew for that matter. 

However, Jesus doesn’t just direct them not to hate their enemies, he goes so far as to say to love and pray for them! He’s asking them to love the dirty tax collectors who rip them off, the cult-like Samaritans living the next town over, and the domineering Romans impeding on their freedom. Jesus drives the point home by comparing his listeners to tax collectors and pagans if they don’t love in this way– “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God here. The final Day of Restoration has not yet come, but Jesus’ coming as flesh initiated a call to kingdom of God living while we wait. He was calling these Jewish listeners to a higher form of living– “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If they are to be the salt and light of the earth, his people to spread salvation to the ends of the earth, they needed to live in such a way that reflected they were children of their holy and righteous heavenly Father. 

So what does that mean for us? While the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture may differ from Western 21st century culture, our general challenges and struggles aren’t so different. Our lives are filled with political, moral, cultural, and social conflicts just as theirs were. And in the same way Jesus first called Jewish believers to spread the message of salvation through kingdom living, so we the church are called to do the same. 

Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society?

Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society? Or do I blend in amongst the crowd? How do I react when political debates begin at a family party? How do I treat my neighbor that I’ve determined has the “wrong” yard sign? How do I respond on social media when someone posts an outrageous opinion? How do I treat the neighbors who move in down the road that don’t “fit in”? 

Jesus is not saying that we roll over dead or stick our head in the sand to sin and evil. Other passages of scripture make it quite clear that he stands against wickedness. But he is calling us to a higher form of love; a love that rises above the worldly standard to only love those whose political views align with ours, share the same denomination, have the same color skin, or live in the right zip code. He is calling us to love in the way he has loved us, still covered in our filth of sin. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19

How can we engage with those who have hurt us or with whom we vehemently disagree? How can we shift our own hearts to begin to lift our enemies up in prayer instead of lifting up our noses? How can we begin to see our fellow humans through God’s eyes?

We may not be able to fix society on our own, but we can make a difference in our own sphere. We can control what we teach our children about those who “aren’t like us.” We can be the first to extend a humble hand of forgiveness. We can choose to speak with kindness even when we don’t feel like it. We can demonstrate outrageous, Christ-like, kingdom of God living right here, right now.

As it was those 2,000 year ago, Jesus’ call to love and pray for our enemies is radical. And yet it is this very form of radical love that reflects the heart of God and will ultimately bring about change. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35

Prayers for the nation,