A Love Like the Father’s – Loving our Enemies - Matthew 5:43-48
We live in a time and in a culture where we are encouraged, if not expected to have enemies. And not only to have enemies, but live with a sense of enmity towards other people. It’s not enough to have disagreements, we are expected to hate those with whom we disagree – and unfortunately, this attitude comes far more naturally than most of us would care to admit.
But as we come to Matthew 5:43-48 we hear Jesus calling the people of God to a different standard. While the world says hate your enemy, Jesus says we are to love our enemies.
The Context – A Righteousness of the Heart
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching what it looks like to live as the people of God. What becomes abundantly clear is that God’s standard is much different than the standard of the scribes and Pharisees.
In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus offers six examples contrasting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees and the true law of God. What’s clear is that the righteousness of God is a righteousness of the heart and it goes far beyond the lines and parameters of the religious leaders. Further, we can never perfectly live up to God’s standard – but instead He gives those who are His new hearts – hearts that hunger and thirst for true righteousness.
In 5:43-48 Jesus gives the final of His six examples – this time contrasting the scribes and Pharisees’ teaching on love with God’s perfect standard, particularly in regards to our enemies.
The Teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:43)
- Love your neighbor – Quoting the Old Testament law the scribes and the Pharisees rightly called the people of God to love their neighbors (Leviticus 19:18), but they fell short of God’s standard when they identified who counted as a neighbor. While they identified their neighbors as those who shared their race and religion, Jesus teaches in the Gospels that his definition is far too narrow (Luke 10:25-37).
- Hate your enemy – While the Old Testament never calls us to hate our enemies, it’s not hard to see how the religious leaders developed this teaching. The nation of Israel had many enemies, enemies who God pronounced judgment against and whom He told His people not to associate with. So, the thinking went like this: We honor God by loving His people and hating His enemies.
The Teaching of Jesus (5:44-48)
- Love your enemies (v. 44a) – This teaching of Jesus is both counter-cultural and unnatural. Both the world and the flesh tell us that we should hate those who oppose us and live with enmity toward those who hate us. But the standard of Jesus is love: as the people of God, we are called to love our enemies.
- An active love – Pray for your persecutors (v. 48) – The love that Jesus commands is not passive. We are not simply to avoid hate; we are to desire good for our enemies. Jesus calls to pray for those who persecute us and for their good (Luke 6:27-28) (The example of Jesus, Luke 23:33-34) (The example of Stephen, Acts 7:59-60).
- Application: Are you willing to pray for those who make your life difficult? Do you ask God to do good for them and to forgive them, or to punish them? Do you ask God to save them and sanctify them or do you ask Him to simply get rid of them?
- A love like the Father’s love – Living as reflections of the Father (v. 45) – As the children of God we should emulate the Father. Jesus is not teaching that we become His children by loving our enemies, but rather as we love our enemies, we show that we are in fact the children of God.
- Recognizing the example of the Father – The world is full of people who hate God and live in opposition to Him, yet each day they see the sun rise and they benefit from the rain God sends (common grace). Still more, God showed His love for sinners and enemies by sending His Son to die as a sacrifice for sin (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10).
- A counter-cultural love – A love unlike the world’s (v. 46-47) – We may be quick to justify ourselves by rehearsing how well we love our family and friends. But Jesus uses two examples show that even those we count as the worst sinners love those who love them. The standard of God goes further – we are called to love even those who hate us.
Bringing it all together - The standard of men and the standard of God (v. 48)
- Verse 48 serves not only as a conclusion for this paragraph, but as a conclusion of this section of six illustrations. The scribes and Pharisees had a standard of righteousness, but it fell short. The call for the people of God is to be perfect as He is perfect. While we cannot attain perfection in this life, we should strive to live for Him in every way and guard ourselves from the kinds of justifications and narrow standards like those used by scribes and Pharisees. We must love, not only our neighbors, but all people.