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Why this is important: There are people in our lives that simple challenge us. Many times, that challenge clearly brings out the worst in us.

  • The boss at work who takes credit for things we have done.
  • The obnoxious uncle who is a bore and dominates the Thanksgiving celebration every year with the same old stories.
  • They are the enemies of what is best in us but not even our enemies.

There are real enemies who want to destroy us. If it is a challenge to love friends and family, what hope do we have to love our enemies? Fortunately, God has given us, through Jesus, His Holy Spirit who enables us in ways we can’t imagine.

Jesus turns things upside down. Jesus challenges us to think and act differently. His challenge is to love not to hate. Easy to say but not easy to do. We can through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

God’s goal for us is to love. That is it. No exceptions for anyone, even our enemies.

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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 5:43–48). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Jesus begins this last contrast by quoting one of the central truths of the Old Testament: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ ” (5:43). Love for one’s neighbor was one of God’s commands through Moses (Lev. 19:18). When answering the test of a legal expert about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus replied with the command to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

The next statement of the contrast, “hate your enemies,” is not found explicitly in the Old Testament. In fact, Moses directed the people to assist an enemy in need.

  • But as much as love of neighbors was at the heart of Old Testament teaching, God’s hatred of evil was also a central theme in the Old Testament.
  • The psalmist states, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell”.
  • God hates evil. In fact, the psalmist takes it one step further in the next verse: “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong” (Ps. 5:5).
  • In turn, those who desire to be righteous learn to adopt God’s hatred of evil, so that the psalmist could say in another place, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies” (Ps. 139:21–22; cf. 26:4–5).

Later groups within Israel took this further by identifying “neighbor” exclusively with those within their Jewish community and the “evildoer” as Gentiles or those outside of their community and therefore God’s and their enemies. Because God hates evil, those who embody evil are understood to be God’s enemies. It was natural to hate God’s enemies.

But Jesus takes the competing attitudes of love for neighbor and hate for enemy and brings them together in a way that undoubtedly stuns his audience but is what God intended from the beginning: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44).

  • God does hate evil, but his intent is to bring reconciliation. As such, the old saying is true, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”
  • That is what drives Jesus’ saying about the requirement to love one’s enemies. It is a radical saying in that it goes contrary to what was occurring in many quarters in Israel, but it preserves the love God has for all humans.
  • All of God’s creatures are his own, and he loves them and desires that all will come to repentance. Jesus’ disciples are to look at people in this world as God does and to love them enough to reach out to them with the message of reconciliation, even to “pray for those who persecute” them as Jesus’ disciples.

When Jesus states “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (5:45), he is not giving how one becomes a child of God but indicates that love makes explicit the relationship between God the Father and Jesus’ disciples. The children of Israel were God’s sons by his calling, and that calling included the obligation to carry out his will. But anyone who responds to God’s will in the ministry of Jesus is a “son” or “daughter” of the heavenly Father. That family relationship includes the obligation to act like a son or daughter, which means loving as the Father loves.