You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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. (Matt. 5: 43-45)
There is no command in Scripture or record of hating one’s enemies in the Jewish writings. What did Jesus mean by the words “love” and “hate”? Was He using it in the same sense as His words in Luke 14: 26?
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his mother and father, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.
Here we have another problem of the Hebrew language. Biblical Hebrew has no way of expressing “more than” and “less than”. Instead, it uses extremes to express degrees of comparison, for example, “love” and “hate” to imply “love more” or “love less”.
Was Jesus, in fact, saying that we should not love our enemies less than we love our neighbour or our friend? This does not have anything to do with the way we feel about our enemies but about the way we treat them.
If you love those who love you, what reward do you get? Are not even tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5: 46-48)
What did Jesus mean by “love”? Does loving those who hate us and have ill-will towards us mean that we deliberately open ourselves to their abuse or, even worse, to the opportunity to do us harm in the name of love? That would be foolish and would accomplish nothing to restore broken relationships.
We have Jesus Himself to show us the way. How did He love His enemies? Strangely enough, He showed His love for them by telling them the truth. Why would His rather ruthless exposure of their hypocrisy be a gesture of love? Doesn’t it seem like retaliation for the way they treated Him? We could view His accusations as retaliation except for one thing. Jesus confronted them the truth so that they could make a choice.
We, so often, tell people what we think is the truth – in love, of course – to express our frustration or to retaliate against their treatment of us. Our accusations are most often a justification and comparison of us against them and their failure to live up to our standards rather than the expression of God’s standard. What made Jesus different from us?
His motive was not to justify or exonerate Himself when they accused Him of disregarding the Law. His motive was to open their eyes to their disregard for what God intended in the His Law – what Jesus called their blatant disregard for the “weightier matters of the law.”
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter without neglecting the former (Matt. 23:23).
By telling them the truth, they were given the opportunity to come back to God’s way and walk in the truth or to ignore Jesus’ warning and bring destruction down on their own heads.
If anyone hears my word but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day (John 12: 27-28).
Jesus also forgave those who mistreated Him. Love always forgives, no matter how another treats us. Forgiveness opens the possibility of the offender responding to God’s forgiveness. If we give hatred for hatred, we lock ourselves and our enemies into the brokenness that holds the world captive to Satan’s ways. Forgiveness frees us to breathe in the pure air (of spirit) of God’s kingdom.
As sons and daughters of God, our behaviour is to be above that of tax collectors and pagans of whom nothing more is expected than that they treat decently only those who reciprocate decently.
God is generous. He provides for those who never give Him a thought or offer Him any gratitude for His generosity. God acts in accordance with His own nature. His children are required to live up to the spirit of Torah just as He does.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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