If there is one word that best describes the heart of God and thus the teachings of Jesus it is the word, “Love.” We aren’t terribly surprised when Jesus said, the greatest command of all is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It isn’t even really surprising that he said to love our neighbors as ourselves is the second greatest command. It is somewhat more surprising when he declared that the obedience to these commands is fulfilling of the law and the prophets. It is more surprising I think that he would say that the way people in the world would determine the realness of our faith in Christ is by how we as Christians love each other in John 13:34-35. It isn’t surprising that he would command us to love each other and not all that many would be surprised that he would challenge us to love each other as He loves us.
But the real shocker of statements Jesus made on love is the one in Matthew 5:43-48. It is in that segment of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus was explaining how our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. Each segment of his answer started with, “You’ve heard it said” but “I say to you.” In this section it was the statement, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The quote “Love your neighbor as yourself” comes straight from the Book of Leviticus. But there isn’t a place in the Old Testament that adds “and hate your enemy.” What then was Jesus referring to? It could have been some quote from a rabbi of the day. More likely it was how the people among the Jews, God’s chosen people of the time had interpreted the law. Since they defined their neighbor as their fellow Jew they weren’t required in their thinking to love Gentiles or Samaritan’s. They weren’t regarded as neighbors at all. When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan he gave them a clear picture of how he understood the law to love our neighbor. Our neighbor is anyone in need, anyone we are around and anyone we have the opportunity to show the love of Christ in life.
Love your enemies even goes deeper than the neighbor concept of the Good Samaritan. At least then the neghbor was a stranger who hadn’t done him any harm. But Jesus drove it much further. “Love your enemy.” Most of the people who heard Jesus would have understood him to be talking about the Romans who were constantly mistreating the people of Israel.
But who are our enemies? Who is your enemy? Who is mine? Now let’s not start out by lying to ourselves and to God. If you say, “I don’t have any enemies” you aren’t being honest. Our enemy may be a person who lives in our neiighborhood and constantly does things that agravate us. It could be someone who works with us and makes our life hard all the time. It may even be someone in the family that makes your life difficult. Love them! But lets go deeper. Are the people who are in a different political party from you your enemies? Are the people of Iran your enemies? How about Muslim’s in general? Or how about the people who make up ISIS who this week murdered 21 Christians and who constantly talk about their hatred for Christians and desire to destory Chrisitanity and the Jews? Are they enemies? Did Jesus really mean we are supposed to love people like ISIS who hate us and want to bring down Christianity? YES HE DID!
Are you serious? Did Jesus really mean that we are supposed to love people that are out to hurt us and even destory us? Yes that is exactly what Jesus meant. He did love the ones who were his enemies like the Pharisees and Sadducees who were leading the way in having him put to death. Even as they crucified him he was praying that God would forgive them and not lay this sin down against them. That is what he did in his physical body and that is what he expects of us as his spiritual body the church. Does that mean the government isn’t supposed to try to stop groups like this in their efforts to destroy Christianity? What the government does as the ministers of God to execute wrath on the children of disobience, isn’t the same as what the church as God’s people and as the body of Christ is to do. It is extremely difficult for me to imagine how we as Christians can follow Jesus in loving our enemies and still pray that the government will wipe them out.
If we really believe that God has all power and that all things are in his control, then wouldn’t it make more sense to pray to God to change the people of ISIS or the Muslims to bring them to faith in him. I must be sold on the idea of carrying the gospel of peace to the lost and angry world out of love for the enemies so that they too may come to God. Think hard about what it does mean to love your enemy, everyone of them. What are you doing to show them the love that God has shown you for salvation. This is a tough command. But it is from Jesus and he certainly meant for us to take it seriously and to be obedient to the Lord.