As Christians, we really are called to a different mindset, heart posture and lifestyle as believers.
Jesus changes everything!
Read Matthew 5:43-48
This is the “love your enemies” passage. Jesus is turning rule based living on its head and commanding us to do more than live according to the law, our human natures or the common practices of those around us.
Jesus says: “you have heard it said love your neighbors- (friends & folks you like and get along with), and hate your enemies.”
check- got it. that is doable!
But then Jesus says: “I say, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. This is the way that Children of God act- in fact it sets you apart and show that you are indeed His!”
ugh- no check mark in that box! Loving my enemies and praying for them… that is much harder to do!
What exactly do these verses mean?
- Anyone can love their neighbors, even the corrupt folks, and pagans who don’t love or serve God, do that. As Gods children we are called to be and equipped to be different because of the Indwelling Holy Spirit.
- This is an unexpected type of behavior, and doesn’t make sense in the “eye for an eye economy.” But God sends sunlight and rain on the righteous- those who love Him and the unrighteous-those who don’t. (the sun and the rain were essentials to life in an agrarian society.)
- God models the behavior and actions He wants from us. Our kindness, prayers, well wishes should be on both our neighbors and our enemies.
WAIT… my mind and heart say: “but there are enemies- and then there are ENEMIES.”
In this context, I am dividing enemies into 2 categories:
1.) people who have hurt us, abused us harmed with an intent to do so
2.) difficult and unkind folks who been mean to us, hurt our feelings
A few caveats:
- Loving our Category 1 enemies: Does NOT mean we are not called to be in the same kind of relationship with them, as our friends- no cozy dinners, heart to heart sharing & vulnerability. Category 2 enemies may be reconciled in manner where a relationship could exist and grow in a healthy manner.
- We are NOT called to be in an ongoing relationship with those who want to harm us, take us out or abuse us.
- But we are called not to hate them! We can hate what they did- yes, but devise plans to get revenge or treat them with hatred… nope, we are supposed to be/act different because we are God’s children.
- God is saying we are to pray for them, want better for them and treat them with kindness and grace. (Wait… does praying that God will smite them, or give them what I think they deserve count as “praying for them?”… I don’t think so.)
- We pray they will be convicted by God, be repentant and be reconciled to God. This is a radically different posture and is only possible with the help of God.
This is HARD for me to do…even with God’s help!
Honestly, my first response is NOT to love them, NOT to extend kindness and understanding and certainly NOT treat them with grace.
- I want to lash out, fight back, at least give them a piece of my mind, and at my worst, get some others on my side against them. And then I read this verse and I have to pause.
- Hmmm… when I was an enemy of God- He treated me with love, kindness and most of all GRACE.. longing to have a restored relationship with me.
- God calls me to love them (want the best for them) and to pray for my enemies…have heart posture that wants them to be reconciled to God.
Thankfully, we don’t have to do this on my own-that would be impossible! Instead, if we turn to Him in obedience, God gives us power and strength to obey Him and act according to His will. (And that is a good thing, because there is no way I would ever even want to do this or be able to if I am on my own!)
Not an easy passage.. but an important one as we admit that we were all enemies of God at one time… and especially as we approach Easter and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ that restores us to God taking us from enemy to friend. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
- What are your first thoughts and reactions to the idea of loving your enemies?
- Do you understand that while we pray for all our enemies, there is a difference in how we relate to these 2 different categories of enemies?
- What does it look like to extend grace to a Category 2 enemy/difficult person in your life? to pray for them?
- What about those who are Category 1 enemies? Can you pray for their reconciliation with a God who loves them the same way He loves you and me?
The following story, an excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom’s book: The Hiding Place. It has had a significant impact on how I understand and apply these verses. Especially as I worked through my own story of being abused, and how I counseled others as well.
She offers a profound example of what it “looks like” to love our enemies relying on the power of Jesus to do so and how this act of obedience changes us!!
Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who resisted the Nazis and hid Jews in her home. Towards the end of the war, she and her sister were arrested, and sent to a concentration camp. After the war, she toured Europe, preaching a gospel of love and forgiveness. Her experience is a remarkable one.
“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands.
One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the heart’s temperature.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
Read a few of these other Scripture verses that relate to Matthew 5:43-48 (called cross references)
1 John 4:19-21; Leviticus 19:18; Deut. 23:6; Galatians 5:13-14; Matthew 19:19;
James 2:8; Romans 13:8-10; Luke 10:27-29; Mark 12:31-34; Matthew 22:39-40;
Watch this short 4 minute video by Dr Charles Stanley: “What does it mean to love my enemies?
Read this thought provoking commentary on Matthew 5:38-48 from Keith Krell, pastor and bible professor:
Daily Lectionary Readings:
Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8; Matthew :43-48
If you want to read through the New Testament during Lent (about 1/2 hour a day)
Read on Day 10: Mark 14-end