“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:43-44
In my opinion, aside from Genesis 1, Matthew 5 may be the most impactful chapter in the entire Bible. In it, Jesus reveals large swaths of the Father’s heart and the ways we can let Him remold our lives to cleave closer to Him.
Several of the verses referenced to today’s refer to Jesus’ command to ‘love God and love your neighbor.’ In reality, “love your enemy” is a natural consequence of that one. In the ‘love your neighbor’ statement, Jesus was responding to a question from a self-serving ‘expert’ about what was the greatest commandment. He said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”.
Knowing that, if you read today’s verses again, it makes sense that Jesus saying, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is a part of “love your neighbor.” Face it: our enemies are our neighbors. If you have political disagreements with the people in your neighborhood, whether you (all) like it or not, you’re still neighbors and still need to maintain harmony. If you don’t agree with things done by some family and friends, they’re still family and friends. If you are at war, your enemies are still human beings like you (and me).
The way to de-fuse anger and hatred is through love. That doesn’t mean you don’t defend yourself if attacked. And, it doesn’t mean you become some linguine-spined flop who lets people walk all over you. There is strength in love, maybe the only real, lasting strength and power in the universe. It takes courage and determination to love people who hate, hurt, or persecute you. Their actions are based on emotion, or lack of it; they’re based on a lack of love. They’re based on sin-filled hearts.
The only constructive response to that? Love. Love our enemies. Love those who hurt us. The breakup, the firing manager, the person on the opposite side of the aisle, the mortal enemy? Pray for them. Even if your response requires force, pray for them before and after. The person who you’re supposedly against is a child of God as well. Jesus loves them too and wants to show them grace. Through us; through love; through prayer.
Praying for them, showing them Godly love is one way to do that. Love, because love is at the center of God’s heart.
For more reading: Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 6:27, Luke 10:27, John 15:20, Acts 7:60, Romans 13:9, 1 Corinthians 4:12, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8, 1 Peter 2:23, Matthew 5:45
Lord, help me to pray for my enemies, to love them and those who persecute me.