Because God loves us, we can love our enemies
Matthew 5:43-45, 48 “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust … You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So far we have seen the circle of love expand step-by-step. First we love God, then ourselves, then our fellow believers, and then our neighbours. Now Jesus tells us to take one more step and love our enemies. This is where it gets interesting. For many, it is a step too far.
Knowing the difficulty in loving our enemies, Jesus gives us an excellent rationale for the command. He says that if we love only our friends and family, we are no different from unbelievers who don’t know Jesus or His commandments. What we can offer that they cannot is love for our enemies.
If I knew the name of your worst enemy and suggested that you go serve that person in some good way, you might say, “I just can’t!” But Jesus knows it can be done because He did it. He found a way to love that race of enemies known as humanity, and we must be eternally grateful that He did.
Christ could have said, “Those men are driving nails into My hands. They’ve beaten Me, gambled for My clothing, and deeply grieved those who love Me. I just can’t love them!” No one would have blamed Him — or remembered Him.
Instead, from the agony of the cross, Christ looked down on those who had brutalized Him and asked Good to forgive them (Luke 23:34). Stephen, the first Christian martyr, did the same (Acts 7:60). Peter points out that Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Because Jesus loved His enemies, we live forever. Because Jesus loved His enemies, we can love ours.
As Jesus pointed out, God sends sunshine and rain to both the good and the bad — to those who love Him and those who don’t (Matthew 5:45). It’s known as God’s common grace. He does not shut out people who might be deemed unworthy, so we don’t have that right either. We love people not for who they are, but for who they can become — not for the value of their behaviour, but for the value of their souls. That’s when the world knows we are serious.
Paul, who built friendships with his prison guards, wrote: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … 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” (Romans 12:14, 20). It may seem that Paul is urging us to be “passive-aggressive,” until we understand a certain custom of the day. As an act of public contrition, some Egyptians wore a pan of burning coals like a hat to express their shame and guilt. Paul is simply urging a bit of human psychology: Return gentleness for aggression, and your persecutor will be shamed into being contrite. It will be as if he is wearing such a hat.
Because God loves us, we can, we must, love our enemies.