Love Your Enemies
By Lee Jones
We have a tendency to turn positive commands into the opposite of their intention. We see it in law and politics all the time, or perhaps when instructing our children. Somehow a prohibition turns into encouragement to do the prohibited thing, or an instruction to do right becomes a command to commit wrongs.
Any one of us who has cursory knowledge of basic Christian teaching knows "you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s straight out of Leviticus 19:18, but only part of it. The entire verse is as follows: "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD."
As children of The Holy God, we are to hate sin as He does, but we can’t forget the common grace that God shows to the cosmically treasonous worms we are, as Jesus reminds us.
I would love to know how the people of the day managed to take that clear instruction from YHWH and turn it into “love your neighbor…AND hate your enemy.” Perhaps as long as the enemy was from outside the community, you were clear to hate them. I sincerely doubt that’s the case, but sin is pervasive and ruins everything.
Regardless, Jesus is again taking aim at contemporary truisms and absolutely demolishing them. Jesus commands instead to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.”
Now hold on. We have numerous examples of imprecatory psalms (Shawn Tomlin’s favorite kind, by the way. Don’t tell him I told you this) where David clearly asks God to punish those who seek his harm. Shouldn’t we follow his example and hate those who persecute us?
God forbid it! As children of The Holy God, we are to hate sin as He does, but we can’t forget the common grace that God shows to the cosmically treasonous worms we are, as Jesus reminds us. God does not just allow the sun to shine on His covenant people, He provides life-sustaining sustenance to every creature on earth. As His image bearers and covenant children, we are to extend that common grace to our unbelieving neighbors and, yes, even to those who openly despise us because of our confession.
Why do we do this? The key to that question, and perhaps this entire section, comes in verse 45…”so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” This is not to say that by doing so, we may become sons of God. This passage indicates that this is referencing a “family resemblance;” because we are Sons of God, we are called to act like He does and look like He does.
He has shown the riches of His grace to us immensely by sending Jesus Christ to take the penalty for our sins, and to grant us His righteousness by free grace. He did not hate us, but in fact loved us when while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) and we only love Him because He loved us first (I John 4:19). Knowing that, we are free to love our neighbors.
I want to add one final note. We live in an era, not only inside the church but outside, where it seems love wins the day. This is love as characterized by letting people “be who they are” and do right in their own eyes. If we are to love our neighbors, we should proclaim the Gospel to them and not let them continue to live in sin and perhaps never hear the saving Word of God. We are to pray for our persecutors that they be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. Anything less is the opposite of love.
Glory to God alone.