This week, we wrapped up our "Shaped by Love" series with a reflection on what may be the most difficult love of all: loving our enemies. Jesus calls us to love those we want to hate -- especially those who hate us, and he not only taught this love in the sermon on the mount, but he demonstrated that love in praying for the people who were crucifying Him and loving us when we were living as His enemies.
Not a new law; a fulfillment of it
When Jesus says, in Matthew, "You have heard it said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," He isn't changing a past command or giving a new law. Throughout the Old Testament, God encourages His people to love and help enemies and outsiders. Instead, Jesus is correcting a faulty interpretation of scripture that was popular at the time. He's not giving a new command; He's telling them to go deeper with the old ones.
One example of Jesus deepening a familiar command is His interpretation of one of the greatest commands: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. When asked, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus famously responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, demonstrating that our neighbor includes even those who are supposed to be our enemies. Now, in his explicit command to "love your enemies," he takes this teaching even deeper. Where once Christ taught that our neighbors include potential enemies, He now shows that our enemies are not just people who disagree with us (as Jews and Samaritans did with one another), but those who are hostile to us. He tells us to give the other cheek to the one who slaps us; to give extra to the one who steals from us, to pray for the one who actively persecutes us.
Love in a culture of hate
For the most part, we create our own enemies today, and, especially in our polarizing political environment, fueled by social media, we often find our enemies just on the other side of our own beliefs. The Christ-like response to those people is not to retaliate or make them look bad, but to pray for them and seek their welfare. Where there is some question of how we should act, we must err on the side of love. When we love our enemies in this way, we show ourselves to be sons and daughters of God, because God Himself loves in this radical way, and He demonstrated this love through the life and death of Jesus.
Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors. His own disciples denied and betrayed him. The same adoring public that greeted him with palms and praise on Palm Sunday, turned on him with jeers a week later. He was mocked, spit on, slapped, and hurt, and Jesus followed his own teaching by praying for those crucifying Him. Jesus left us the ultimate example -- the outline to model our lives on.
Loving our enemies isn't just about ethics; it's about eternity. It's a simple message, with a difficult -- indeed, impossible -- application. Thank God that Christ is in us, empowering us to love. And as we love, we display God's glory and power and perfect love to the world around us.
Hear the whole "Shaped by Love" series, here.