In previous blogs I have covered the top ten teachings according to the frequency with which Christ taught (seen on page 133 of the download ‘What on earth have we done with the teachings of Jesus’). Continuing now with Christ’s additional teachings. The next of which is ‘love our enemies’.
You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, Mat 5:43
It is possible to enter so deeply into the love that God has for us – that we are well able to love our enemies. But usually, we default to having intense displeasure in anyone who comes against us. We often seek our own justice and secretly try to win one over them. Our pride can internally whisper to us ‘who do they think they are saying that to me?’ We are then apt to tell others to gain their allegiance in the matter.
Who is our enemy?
Who is our enemy? The word here is from the Greek word – ἐχθροὺς (echthrous) meaning someone who is hateful and hostile, an adversary. We have all come across one of these. It may be a neighbour with whom we are in dispute with. A family member who doesn’t approve of us in some way. The car behind that we have unavoidably cut off. In today’s increasingly volatile world we are facing more and more conflict and tension – not just in the rioting that is featured in the news – but in those we personally encounter daily.
How are we to react? When we have encountered the love of God so powerfully and see ourselves in His eyes – we can see our ‘enemies’ as He sees them. We were once angry, full of darkness and despair and found to be lacking in compassion and empathy. But God stooped down to pick us up, to wipe our faces and set us on our path with Him. He did this by not sparing His very own Son. He came, He saw, He conquered – came as a baby, saw our human frailty, conquered over death by giving up His own life on the cross for us.
We are directed to bless them
The word ‘love’ in this verse (Mat 5:43) is from the Greek word ἀγαπᾶτε (agapate) meaning – To love, wish well to, take pleasure in, long for, esteem. God now empowers us to react to our enemies with such emotion. We are directed to bless them and pray for them. In Proverbs 15:1 it says ‘a gentle answer turns away wrath’. How easily we diffuse a wrathful person by giving a calm and tender response.
Henry says – Jesus teaches us another lesson: “But I say unto you, I, who come to be the great Peace-Maker, the general Reconciler, who loved you when you were strangers and enemies, I say, Love your enemies,” Matt. 5:44. Though men may ever be so bad themselves, and carry it over towards us, yet that does not discharge us from the great debt we owe them, of love to our kind, love to our kin.
At the bottom – a root of bitterness
We find ourselves prone to wish them hurt, or at least very coldly to desire the good, of those that hate us, and have been abusive to us. But at the bottom of this is a root of bitterness, which must be plucked out. This remnant of corrupt nature in us, grace must conquer.
It is the great duty of believers to love their enemies. Not to have complacency in one that is openly wicked and profane, nor put a confidence in one that we know to be deceitful. But we must pay respect to the human nature, and so far honour all men.
Even our enemies will have qualities that are amiable and commendable; ingenuousness, good temper and moral virtue, kindness to others (even if that is not to ourselves) etc., and love. Though they be our enemies. We must have a compassion for them, and a good will toward them.
Returning evil for blessing
We are here told to speak well of them: Bless them that curse you. When we speak to them, we must answer their revilings with courteous and friendly words, and not render railing for railing. Behind their backs we must commend that in them which is commendable, and when we have said all the good we can of them, not be forward to say anything more. (not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing 1 Pet. 3:9). They, in whose tongues is the law of kindness, can give good words to those who give bad words to them.
We must do well to them: “Do good to them that hate you, and that will be a better proof of love than good words. Be ready to do them all the real kindness that you can, and glad of an opportunity to do it, in their bodies, estates, names, families; and especially to do good to their souls.”
Pray for them
We must pray for them: Pray for them that despitefully use and persecute you. It is no new thing for the most excellent of saints to be hated, and cursed, and persecuted, and despitefully used, by wicked people. Christ Himself was so treated. At any time we meet with such, we have an opportunity of showing our conformity both to the precept and to the example of Christ, by praying for them who abuse us.
We must pray that God will forgive them, that they may never fare the worse for anything they have done against us, and that He would make them to be at peace with us.
Plutarch, the Greek philosopher who, being asked what a good king should do, replied, ‘Tous men philous euergetein, tous de echthrous kakos poiein’—Good turns to his friends, and evil to his enemies; he said, How much better is it ‘tous men philous euergetein, tous de echthrous philous poiein’—to do good to our friends, and make friends of our enemies. This is heaping coals of fire on their heads. He was echoing the words of Paul “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Rom 12:20.
Do it to be like God our Father
Two reasons are here given to enforce this instruction (which sounds so harsh) of loving our enemies. We must do it to be like God our Father; “that you may approve yourselves to be, the children of your Father which is in heaven.” Can we write a better copy? It is a copy in which love to the worst of enemies is reconciled to, infinite purity and holiness. God makes His sun to rise, and sends rain, on the just and the unjust, Matt. 5:45.
Sunshine and rain are great blessings to the world. They do not come by chance, but from God.
Common mercies must be valued as instances and proofs of the goodness of God, who in them shows Himself to be the bountiful Benefactor to all mankind. These gifts of common providence are dispensed indifferently to the just and unjust. We cannot know love and hatred by what is in front of us, but by what is within us. Not by the shining of the sun on our heads, but by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness in our hearts.
The worst of men partake of the comforts of this life in common with others, though they abuse them, and fight against God with his own weapons. This in itself is an amazing instance of God’s patience and bounty. Once it was documented that God forbid His sun to shine on the Egyptians, when in that same instance the Israelites had light in their dwellings. God could make such a distinction every day.
The gifts of God’s bounty to wicked men that are in rebellion against him, teach us to do good to those that hate us. Those only will be accepted as the children of God, who study to resemble Him, particularly in his goodness.
What more excelling thing can we do?
Further to this we are to do more than others. It is a common piece of humanity to do good to them who do good to us. Nature inclines us to it. But in so doing we serve ourselves and to our own advantage. But what reward can we expect for that? A regard for God carries us further than our natural inclination and worldly interest.
We must therefore love our enemies, that we may exceed them. It is a serious question, and which we should frequently put to ourselves, “What more excelling thing can we do?” while everyone will render good for good, we must render good for evil. This will speak a nobler principle. It is God’s perfection to forgive injuries and to entertain strangers. To do good to the evil and unthankful, and it will be our perfection to be like Him. We that owe so much, that owe our all, to the divine bounty, ought to copy it out as well as we can.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Bless your enemies Those who are in disharmony with you Say often to them ‘God Bless’, Say it willingly of those you desire to help My love freely express. Say it willingly that showers of blessing And joy and success may upon them fall. The necessary correcting and training leave to Me You must only desire joy and blessing for them all. That they should be taught and corrected This is at present the subject of your prayer. Of that you, My children, should leave this work to Me For of all things I am aware. Yours is to occupy yourselves With the task I give you. Love, love, love will break down all your difficulties. Love will build up all your successes too. To love one another is to use God In your life God the destroyer of evil, the creator of all that’s good Whose goodness is indeed rife. To use God in your life is to bring into manifestation All harmony, beauty, joy and happiness Again those who you find in disharmony with you Say to them often ‘God bless’. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer: Father, forgive me for having an unforgiving spirit to those who have done me wrong. Reveal to me more of Your love that I will rise above to bless all who come against me. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.