Matthew 5v44: ‘Love your enemies…do good to them that hate you’.
This commandment came as part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had just completed a tour of the villages of Galilee, in which he had preached the Gospel message and healed many sick and tormented people. He then took his disciples up a hill, and was followed by a large crowd of people who had come from all over Israel and beyond to hear his words (Matthew 4v23-5v1).
The words he spoke on that hill are some of the most famous in the English language, and have become a cornerstone for much that has been good in society ever since. They are straightforward words, deceptively so since Jesus rarely spoke in the kind of jargon that intellectuals today speak in. On closer inspection though, the Sermon on the Mount isn’t quite as simple as it seems. It may be plainly spoken but it is challenging to live up to, as it challenges all the weaknesses of human nature. Nevertheless they are worth listening to as Jesus’ words are wonderful words of love that if heard and acted on will lead to a much happier and more Godly life. They counteract the causes of the problems our world faces. They speak of forgiveness overcoming revenge, kindness overcoming selfishness and peace overcoming division.
So we come to the commandment in Matthew 5v44 to ‘love your enemies’. It is worth taking a moment to pause and consider the idea.
A few questions may arise. One might be, what does loving your enemy actually mean? The rest of v44 gives the answer. ‘Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you and persecute you’. So loving your enemy means taking practical steps to help them. Often the fact that people don’t like us can stop us from doing much to help them. But as this verse acknowledges, we can always pray for them, which in some ways is the best thing we can do for anyone.
A second question might be why do we need to love our enemy? One beneficial result will be that much of life’s bitterness will disappear as we go around with less anger in our hearts. The last verse of this chapter gives a deeper reason however. Verse 48 reads ‘be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’. This highlights one of the key teachings of the Bible, that we must develop our characters throughout our lives to make them closer to being like God’s character. As verses 46 and 47 remind us, most people love those who love them, their family, their friends and so on. Now, we know that God is love (1 John 4v8). With that in mind, back in Matthew 5, verse 45, we read of God that ‘He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’. So if we want God’s love to shine through us then, we need to try and let the sunshine of our love fall on people we don’t get on with as much as on those we do.
As in all things, Jesus’ actions matched his words. If ever we have problems acting out the commandments of Christ we can look to the Bible, and often to the life of Jesus himself, to inspire us in carrying them out. We have been considering the commandment to love our enemies. This takes determination to do, it does not come naturally to us. So let us consider Jesus on the cross. The soldiers watching over him were a large part of his tremendous suffering. Yet in the famous words from Luke 23v34 he prayed for those soldiers who persecuted him saying ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’. Let us follow his example then and try to be perfect even as God is perfect.