Love Your Enemies
Daily Reading: (Matthew 5:44):
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
In the minds of the original audience there would have been no problem to identify an enemy. They probably turned their heads and glanced off in the distance and set their gaze upon some Roman soldiers. Their homelands had been invaded by the Romans. The Romans still allowed worship, they just charged a Jewish tax to do so. So, imagine you just heard Jesus’ words. “Pray for your enemies,” and the next day you are going to the Temple to worship, but before you can worship you have to pay tax to the Romans to do so. Now, go ahead and pray for those people who just taxed you to pray.
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41). Rome had passed a law where a Roman could force any Jew, at any time, to carry their belongings a mile down the road. We see an example of this in Jesus crucifixion scene. Roman soldiers pressed Simon of Cyrene into service of carrying Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:32).
What Jesus said is the opposite of what the multitudes had expected to hear from their Messiah. Our Messiah should bring us freedom by destroying our enemies, not having us love and pray for them.
Oswald Chambers said, “The Sermon on the Mount is not an ideal, it is a statement of what will happen in me when Jesus Christ has altered my disposition and put in a disposition like His own.Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount.”
It’s a crazy way of living that Christ was describing to them. It was something they really hadn’t thought of before. It was an impossible way to live. When we come to our text, don’t hate your enemies, love your enemies and pray for them. Don’t get even, forgive people, even when they don’t deserve it, even when they don’t ask for it. It is backwards to how we feel and to what we want to do. The Jews didn’t want to live in the first mile of servitude to the Romans, let alone the second.
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want something good to happen to someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve it. This is unconditional love. The kind of love that Jesus displayed as He hung on the cross:
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
And it’s what Stephen did the first Christian martyr as he was being stoned to death for his faith:
“Falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)!
I know we aren’t being forced to carry military supplies a mile for a foreign army. So, practically speaking how we live out Matthew 5:41 “willing to go the extra mile” is possible as we spend time with Jesus, allowing His love, grace, and forgiveness to flow from us.
Colossians 3:12-13:“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Christ is our example for all of this. The good news is that Jesus loves us at our worst and His love changes us.
The Sermon on the Mount and the command to love our enemies comes from the great foundation of grace in the life and teaching of Jesus. This is where we get the power to love; that he loved us while we were poor, helpless enemies of God (Romans 5:10), He gave himself for us.