I’m kidding, of course. I don’t think Jesus was being sarcastic when He commanded us to love our enemies. I used that title to point out two things:
- It is easy for people to play games with scripture if they don’t follow some basic rules. Most scripture-twisting isn’t as transparent as above, but it is just as error-filled and destructive.
- The Bible passage in question is so challenging that our minds can work overtime trying to ignore it.
First, I’m reminded of Dalmatian Theologians who think that the Bible is only inspired in spots, and that they are inspired to spot the spots. I also think of Advanced Dalmatian Theologians, who add the myth that God is also changing spots and adding/removing spots, and, oddly enough, He is only telling theological liberals and progressives. They use phrases such as “God is still speaking,” but they don’t mean that God still speaks through his Word (that would be a true statement). They think He is still revealing new truths to the church and changing doctrines taught in the Bible.
So if they can play that game, why not use it to avoid the hard lessons Jesus taught, such as loving our enemies? Why not pick that as one of the verses that you don’t think Jesus really said? That would sure make life easier!
Second, this passage has to be one of the most challenging in the Bible.
Matthew 5:43-48 “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.
Love your enemies? Pray for your persecutors? Those seem impossible! And Jesus really drives the point home by telling us how it takes almost no effort to love those who are loving us. Non-believers can do that, so we haven’t really accomplished anything until we go beyond it.
Then He tops it off by saying we must be as perfect as God! If anyone reads that as a checklist, such as Note to self: Be perfect like God, then I think he’s missed the point. We should aim at perfection in obedience, of course, but unless one is delusional that command should take you to the foot of the cross. I can’t be perfect for 10 minutes, even when I’m sleeping.
Another challenge is using the word love in the proper context. The love Jesus referred to is not a pampering, indulgent love, but the agape love where you have someone’s long term best interests at heart.
It doesn’t mean you roll over and give your enemies whatever they want. Loving your enemies doesn’t mean you stop loving your friends and neighbors as well. For example, you still need a justice system to protect people from criminals. There is nothing un-loving about that.
And if you really love your enemies you’ll want them to know some eternal truths, such as how they are sinners in need of a Savior and that if they die without faith in Jesus then they’ll spend eternity in Hell. I think it is safe to say that the people who had Jesus severely beaten and nailed to a cross could be described as his enemies. So was He all huggy-kissy with them? Hardly.
John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.
If you love people enough to tell them the truth they may think you are the enemy. When Paul scolded the Galatians for false teachings they didn’t appreciate it. Did that stop him?
Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Galatians 4:16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
A close friend’s career was damaged by a non-believing co-worker, yet he found a way to pray for him. It made an amazing difference in his life, as it liberated him from hatred.
How do you manage to love your enemies?