Summary: Jesus gives us an impossible task when He commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How can we do that? Only with the help and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
In my last post, I discussed oaths and retaliation. In this post, I talk about one of the hardest things for us to do as Jesus’s disciples. How can you love your enemies?
So far in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has asked us to do some hard things. The Beatitudes seems so strange that even scholars can’t figure them out. Along the way we have been tracking with Jesus how He fulfills the Old Testament and how we through obeying Him can fulfill the Old Testament also.
But we have come to a nearly impossible teaching of Jesus. By human nature, we want to retaliate against our enemies, feel justified in hating them from what they do to us and say about us. Now Jesus teaches us to do something impossible in our own strength. He tells us to love our enemies and pray for them!
Maybe you’ve been watching this sermon all this time and thinking you could probably pull off some of it. But I don’t tell anyone who’s not a Christian they can follow this teaching of Jesus. It seems so countercultural and unnatural.
But everything Jesus said in His great sermon He expects us to grow into doing. Loving your enemies is not optional. But how could we ever fulfill such a command? As we go through this teaching together, I will attempt to answer that question. Let’s get started.
Turning the Tables
Jesus has been quoting from Old Testament law and then turning the tables on what it says. The new covenant is going for our inner parts. Now, Jesus expects us as His new covenant people to internalize the Law.
God doesn’t see our actions only. He sees our heart, the innermost parts of us we don’t share with others. He sees our intentions and motives, our desires and fears. He sees us more closely and intimately that anym on this planet.
It’s no surprise He turns the tables on old covenant laws. They only went so far. You could only be punished by them if somebody saw you breaking them. Our legalistic nature follows things we don’t want to do to the letter. Nobody wants to love their enemies, and this is not natural behavior for us. It would take an active summation, a change in of our character and nature for us to come close to Jesus’s teaching on loving your enemies.
But that’s just it. That’s what Jesus does. He changes our nature so that we react to our enemies with love, peace, and forgiveness. That’s His way working in and through us. Now that the Holy Spirit has made His home in our hearts, He gives us the power to fulfill His teaching. He wants us to succeed.
Jesus sets the vision for His new creatures. The Holy Spirit helps us follow through. You can’t fool the Holy Spirit. He knows what’s really happening in your heart and mind. So that we are in the old And that’s a good thing. He can’t improve you if he couldn’t see all of you.
There is freedom and having Jesus look at the intentions and hidden things of your heart. He doesn’t treat you wrong. He doesn’t expose you to the world. He deals with you in grace and kindness. He still loves you even after He sees the worst of you. He’s a truly good Lord.
Jesus introduces this next part of His teaching by quoting from the old covenant. Where in the old covenant are we told we have to love our neighbor about we can hate our enemy? He cites this from Leviticus 19:18. But when you look up this verse, it doesn’t say anything about hating your enemies.
Leviticus 19:18 told the Israelites to not take vengeance or hold a grudge against their people. Jesus cites this verse for His second greatest commandment, for it sums up the last six Commandments. The law calls you to love your neighbor and not take vengeance upon him. The Israelites saw their neighbor as fellow countrymen. But the outsiders, the Gentiles, they can treat with hate. They did not consider Gentiles as neighbors.
Love and Prayer
How do you love your neighbor as yourself? Jesus teaches with authority because He is the author of both covenants. His revolutionary command is to love your enemies instead of hating them. He’s not just saying we tolerate our enemies. He calls us to unconditionally love them and to pray for them.
You cannot pray for your enemy to have peace with you if you are angry. I have found I can’t pray when I’m angry. Anger makes me preoccupied so I cannot fully ask Jesus for the petitions and requests I have. I am too busy thinking about that person and what they did to me, or at least what I perceive they did to me as an injustice.
You can pray like David against your enemies. But you can’t pray for them, asking God to bless them, to forgive them because they don’t understand what they are doing. Jesus didn’t just teach to love our enemies. He prayed that exact thing on the Cross.
While He hung before His enemies, He asked the Father to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing (). If you thought only God can forgive His enemies, He calls you to do the same, to pray for forgiveness and blessing upon your enemies.
We don’t have divine insight, prospective, or power to do what God does. That’s why Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit when you come to Him to follow Him. You can’t unconditionally love your enemy and be angry with him or hate him at the same time.
Love casts out the anger and hate in our hearts. God frees us from anger and hatred. He gives us His peace that passes understanding with our enemies. He makes them our friends. If we will grasp the Kingdom character Jesus is teaching us, we will never be the same again.
Our natural characterl reacts to our enemies by lashing out and seeking ways to destroy them. That’s why Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to live differently than the world. If we are wronged, mistreated, unjustly handled by others, we want justice, our way, and to make them pay.
Jesus calls us to His higher standard because He knows we can achieve it with the help and power of the Holy Spirit to and us. We can’t do it, but He can do it through us. We operate in the Lord’s justice. He judges with mercy and compassion. We follow in His footsteps.
Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. This is brilliant! If I love my enemy unconditionally and pray for him, I cannot hate him at the same time. If I pray as Jesus will teach a little later in His sermon (and we will cover that when we get to it), within His will, I cannot pray through hate.
Unconditional love does not demand my enemy be kind to me or care how he treats me. It’s a prayer of forgiveness and mercy. That’s what unconditional love means. There are no strings attached. There are no requirements before we give unconditional love. It cuts through hate and things we want to demand with it.
What happens when we love our enemies and pray for them? The result is that we are children of our Father in heaven. Let me unpack that for you. We become children not of God, although He is God. We become children of our Father. These are relational and familial terms. Children and Father require us to have a relationship with Him.
He doesn’t just use familial language. Our Father is in with all the power of heaven to fight against His enemies. God can strike His enemies with thunder and lightning, destroy them with fire and water. All the elements of the earth are at His disposal. One day, God will pass His judgment on the earth and all the evildoers who live on it.
Instead, for now, God gives us much grace. He treats us with divine favor. God has enemies. But He who has all power in heaven to destroy the wicked and take the lives of His enemies, teaches acts by example to love our enemies.
God is for of uncommon grace. We call it common grace because God blesses everyone, from the righteous to the wicked. All experience God’s goodness and tender mercies. The sun rises on the good and the bad. He sends His reign to make crops grow for the good and the bad. We all experience God’s common grace. It is common because we all share it.
Similarly, we must treat our enemies as God treated us when we were His enemies, before we became His children. He doesn’t treat those who hate Him without grace or mercy. God judges with mercy and goodness for a time before He pours out His judgment.
We must learn to obey Jesus and do the same. To become like Jesus, we must do things that go against our human nature. This includes loving our enemies and praying for them. When I pray for my enemies, I ask God to help me see them as He sees them. I want to come to a place where I can bless them. No one can achieve this their enemy while praying for them. We see their hurt and their pain, the reason they pass those things onto us, or try to.
Shocking Your Enemies
When we come to the place where we can forgive and bless our enemies, unconditionally love them, we surprise them. Anytime you don’t react the way they would, they can’t believe you aren’t carrying out justice on them. It keeps burning coals upon their heads. Their mind explodes.
They can’t understand God’s attitude and how we are learning to be like Him. Just as God does not yet judge His enemies fully, we must not do the same. Think of the divine mystery before you as you look at what Jesus teaches. We can’t follow His command in our own ability.
We need Holy Spirit power to see that maybe our enemy is had a bad morning. Perhaps they don’t even realize they are becoming our enemies. No matter what they think or feel inside, we ask Jesus to help us see them as He does and deal with them accordingly. Every person you meet, whether friend or foe, was created by the Father.
He expects us to treat His creation bearing His image the same way we treat Him. They just can’t understand why we are kind to them when they are so hateful and mean toward us. Treating them with this kindness may even open a door for you to share the gospel.
Our forgiveness of them despite their meanness and rudeness toward us gives them pause. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not human nature to treat a person kindly has mistreated you. We don’t do it for ourselves. You are not a better or evolved human being because you follow Jesus’s commands.
When we treat our enemies kindly when they treated us harshly, it leaves him open door to show them who Jesus is. They want to know why we don’t react the way they expect. They won’t be able to get a reaction out of their heads. It will drive them nuts.
We don’t do t to better or he same things others do to get the same reactions they want. We don’t love others because they love us to make us love them. We love those who are unlovable and heated among people. We do things because Jesus taught us to do them, not to look good in front of others.
Jesus finishes by telling us we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. How can we be perfect like God? This seems like an impossible command. But let us replace the word perfect in English with the idea behind it is the original language.
The word for “perfect” needs to be mature and complete. That really changes things. We don’t have to obtain some perfect idea we don’t even understand or know the qualities of it. We can concentrate on allowing the Holy Spirit to make us perfect.
The Holy Spirit helps us to attain maturity and holiness in our character and behavior. He’s working His godly attributes in us. We are becoming like Him, just as children take on the character of their parents. All we have to do is be obedient when the Spirit speaks to us. We will become mature like Christ, perfect like Him. He is making you complete.
Do what Jesus taught us to do. Love one of your enemies this week. When they criticize you, thank them for pointing out your faults so you know what to work on. When they yell at you or spew hateful speech, take them out to dinner and ask them what’s happening in their lives.
Now that we have discussed the nearly impossible teaching of Jesus on loving our enemies, we turn to the next post and talk about Jesus’s teaching on giving to the needy.