Matthew 5:43-44 (KJV)
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
There is an interesting shift here that I have not caught before. In the last three cases where Jesus says “Ye have heard it hath been said”, the references He gave were all scriptural from the Old Testament teachings. But there is nowhere in the Old Testament where they are told to hate their enemies. Instead, we are told to not take vengeance, to consider their afflictions and to help them when we can:
”You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord,”
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him,”
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,”
One has to wonder who was saying to hate their enemies! It is true that the Old Testament commanded them to rid their land of all who were of other religious, but it was not out of hate that they did this. It was to keep themselves pure before the Lord and avoid turning to those idols themselves. They failed miserably at this most of the time though! They regularly would turn back to the groves and idols of the heathen and God would have to step in with judgement to turn them back. It was a continual process in the nation.
This seems to be a continual process for many of us in the church, me included. There are idols in our lives that we turn back to over and over again. An idol is anything that we worship more than God. It can be an area of disobedience in our lives that we keep turning back to, or just a part of our loves that pushes God out. When this happens to us, God will allow things into our lives that will cause us to turn back to Him if we will but listen and open our eyes. We are not to bring hate into our lives to get rid of the sin. That will only draw attention to the sin. The way out of sin is to love God and turn to Him, because that automatically turns us away from our sinfulness. If we try to get rid of sin by hating it, we concentrate on the sin and not on God This is a critical lesson we must learn before we can move forward. Love is always the answer!
The command is to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is not love the neighbor that is good to you, or that is a Christian, or that has similar likes and dislikes. It is your neighbor. Any neighbor. When Jesus is asked who our neighbor is, He gives us the story of the Good Samaritan, where the enemy of the Jews is the neighbor who does good to the Jew, his neighbor.
Have you ever noticed how sometime non-Christians are much more loving and helpful than Christians? They will go out of their way to help you out while the committed Christian always has an excuse not to help. We have had this happen numerous times in our lives, especially during this cancer crises the last two and a half years. Almost all of our transportation has been provided, most of it by those we would call nominal Christians if really saved at all. They go to church, but do not really live a committed Christian life. However, when it comes to helping someone in need, they are there quickly. This has been such a blessing to me and my wife. I am not their enemy, but you get the idea here. We as Christians always need to do the best we can to help our neighbors when they ask.
Our enemy is even more important to love. If we show disrespect to them, or try to get revenge, or come back at them with some snide remark, we are no better than the world. We bring ourselves down to their level of communication, and the word tells us that our mission is to edify those around us (Eph 4:29). We are to lift people up. We are to be a light in this dark world. Shining brightly with love and compassion. We are to be the salt of the earth, seasoning it with good flavor and preserving it for heaven. We are to be humble, meek, mournful over sin, merciful and peacemakers. We are to endure any persecution that comes our way, any hurtful comment, any gossip, and wrong, and only return love.
We are also told to do good to those that use and abuse us. Don’t recompense evil with evil, but overcome evil with good (1 Peter 3:9). We overcome the wrongs done to us by returning good to those who have hurt us. A loving remark said to someone who says something hurtful really throws them for a loop. Most can’t understand that kind of love. It gives us a stage to witness down the road. But more than that, it keeps us from getting bitter over the situation. Our anger is removed by love. We will start to love them despite their hurtful ways, and our heart will be more aware of what is going on.
The truth is that we do not know exactly what is going on in a persons life that they would say or do hurtful things to us. They may have a situation in their life that is dragging them down so they need encouragement. They may have been hurt deeply and want to lash out at someone and you just happened to be the target. Whatever the case, we should be agents of love to them. Saying things that would only lift them out of their problems and help them see the brighter side of life.
On top of that, we are to pray for those who hurt us. Earlier in these studies, I shared with you the Mercy prayer . This prayer is perfect to use for those who have wronged you and offended you. It prays mercy over that one who has hurt you and it works to change your heart as well as theirs. The power of prayer cannot be overlooked in our human relations. It is the most powerful force in the universe because it brings into action the power of God Himself. I would urge you, if you struggle in this area, to go back and print out that prayer. Keep it handy for future use. It will change your life. This world can be hurtful enough. Let us rise above and be the agents of love to a lost and dying world.
Jesus, worthy of our praise!