Have you ever wanted to go deeper with a certain word, or word phrase, in Scripture? That happens to me quite often when I’m studying and spending time with God. I can begin with one direction in mind, but before I know it, one word or phrase in my reading has captured my attention so much that I have to stop what I’m reading and explore it more! This past weekend I was on that very journey… I came across the phrase, “Love Your Enemies” in a Saturday devotional that made me want to dig deeper. Not only that, we’re in a message series at PAG that’s been talking about that very thing! I thought, “How timely that I would come across this phrase!” So with that in mind, I couldn’t keep what I discovered to myself… I had to share it with you because it completely changed the way I now understand this phrase in Matthew 5. Let’s take a look at it together…
Matthew 5:44-45 (AMP)
“But I say to you, love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may [show yourselves to] be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on those who are evil and on those who are good, and makes the rain fall on the righteous [those who are morally upright] and the unrighteous [the unrepentant, those who oppose Him].”
“Love your enemies” – The word LOVE used in Matt. 5.44 denotes moral love, as distinguished from the other kind of love which expresses personal affection. And it’s this principle from which ALL the following directions flow. What directions? “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…” It’s actually the MORAL LOVE of God that enables us to live the above actions. We have a moral obligation to love our enemies. Even God “makes His sun rise on those who are evil and on those who are good, and makes the rain fall on the righteous [those who are morally upright] and the unrighteous [the unrepentant, those who oppose Him].” MORAL LOVE, not personal affection, will actually have a desire for our enemy’s good. Did you get that? Let me hit that one more time: Moral Love will have a desire for our enemy’s good. We see that in the actions of Jesus. But where does that come from? Compassion and Mercy… We can’t show, and express, Moral Love if we haven’t first RECEIVED Mercy and Compassion from God. For it is out of the mercy of God that this kind of love flows!
If we view “loving our enemy” through the lens of “personal affection”, we will never love them. It will be impossible. So this distinction is vitally important. It’s critical. Moral Love is what makes this passage profound and revolutionary. It’s what makes loving our enemies possible! If we solely depend on personal affection we will want to avenge our enemies and harm them, not desire their good. Loving our enemies is an expression of Moral Love that’s lived out in our actions and behaviors towards them.
Now, just to be clear, neighbor here covers the whole brotherhood of man. Men everywhere. Thus a neighbor could be an enemy. And Jesus bluntly repudiates the notion of “hating our enemies”, which was a conclusion taught by the Rabbi’s but nowhere found in Leviticus 19.18. The Jewish Talmud, which contained Jewish civil and ceremonial law, said NOTHING about having love for one’s enemies. But both Paul and Jesus teach the exact opposite. Paul, in Romans 12.20, quotes within that passage, Proverbs 25.22; listen to what Paul said: “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.'” That’s MORAL LOVE in action! It’s having a desire for our enemy’s good and acting on it.
Nowhere does God’s law ever teach us to hate our enemies. We must remember, this passage in Matthew (5.17-48) is a series of themes, or examples, that contrast the teaching of Jesus with what’s been “accepted understanding” of Old Testament Law. Did you catch that? Because that’s a HUGE difference. We must obey what JESUS teaches and not be swayed by what’s commonly accepted and taught as truth… because sometimes it’s actually not truth at all.
Make it a great week! And next time a word or phrase jumps out at you in Scripture, take the time to go on a journey with God and dig deeper into His truth and understanding. It always makes for an amazing time!
Executive Pastor, Painesville Assembly of God