In reading through Matthew 5, I was struck by verses 43-45 which say,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor 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.”
The Israelites understood the expectation of loving the brethren (Lev. 19:18), but they did not understand a new application of love that Jesus says should have always been the case. The Jews were supposed to love even their enemies so that their conduct would be as light in a dark world and would draw people to God. Jesus states that expectation should be obvious since God is kind to all, even the unbelieving. God is merciful to all with the hope that his goodness will lead the unbelieving to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
The Bible Knowledge Commentary helps explain how the Jews could have thought differently when it says,
“The Pharisees taught that one should love those near and dear to him (Lev. 19:18), but that Israel’s enemies should be hated. The Pharisees thus implied that their hatred was God’s means of judging their enemies. But Jesus stated that Israel should demonstrate God’s love even to her enemies—a practice not even commanded in the Old Testament!”
The Pharisees taught that the Jews should hate their enemies. This concept is not taught in the Old Testament and Jesus is brining clarity to a misapplication of the expectation of love. The disciple of Jesus should love not only his brothers, but even those who are his enemies.
This obviously is a very challenging statement for the audience to accept. The teaching of Jesus is in clear contrast to what they had been taught. Even so, Jesus did not simply state this truth, but he lived it out until his dying breath when he said on the cross, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing.”
Father, this is a challenging statement for me today. It is easy to love those who love me and who have a commonality of faith in you. It is much harder to love those that I do not like or that are your enemies. Help me to see that those who oppose you and your truth are in need of your love as well. Hopefully, this love will lead them to repentance.
Following Jesus with you,