“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:43-45 New Living Translation
In the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus gets beyond the surface issues of the Law many of His hearers had grown up with and looks at the heart issues behind the Law. He makes it clear that He is not on Earth to destroy the Law but to accomplish its purposes and point people to the values of God’s Kingdom that are the basis for the Law. The Law was about outward actions while Jesus wanted to see hearts changed into the image of God that they were originally designed for.
The greatest test of the image of God being realized in the hearts of humanity was demonstrated in how people responded to their enemies. Apparently, by the time that Jesus walked the land of Israel, the commandment to love your neighbor had been attached to a corollary that it was right to hate your enemy. As Jesus pointed out, though, there was nothing spectacular about loving those who love you. Even the despised tax collectors and pagans could do that. The thing that showed godly character was to love and even pray for those who hated and persecuted you. This was the character that God showed in letting the sun rise on the evil and they good. This is the character that Jesus challenged His disciples to imitate as the sought to live out the image of God in their lives.
We live in an age of great divisiveness. People seem quick to make enemies and disregard the humanity of anyone who is not on their chosen side. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live above the din of our day. By showing love and compassion for those who persecute and mistreat us we demonstrate the Kingdom of Heaven to those around us. In our own way, we can bring the presence of Heaven into the dark world around us by demonstrating the type of love that only the Spirit of God could create in us.
Father, it is not easy to love our enemies. Still, this is what You ask us to do. Give us the strength and compassion to live out Your perfect character that loves even an enemy.