Love Your Enemies – Was Jesus Crazy?

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Matthew 5:38-48 – Love Your Enemies.

When I was a young man, I enlisted in the military. The first night of bootcamp they gave us a long speech about our enemy; Communist USSR, and we were serving in the military to defend our country from the spread Communism in the world. When I became a Christian I was told that our enemy was Satan and his evil demonic minions. But as I have gotten older, I have found that not all enemies out there are as clear-cut. An enemy can come from anywhere. A friend can become an enemy over the right argument, a neighbor across the fence, a co-worker, a supervisor and a family member can all become enemies under the right circumstance. I’ve even seen more than once husbands and wives become enemies living in the same home.

Now, when I was a young man in the military, we were taught to fight against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Then after I became a disciple of Jesus, I read the teaching in Matthew 5:38-48. What caught my attention is verse verse 43:You have heard that is has been said: You shall love your neighbor, and you shall hate your enemy; but I say to you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike.”

There is no other passage spoken by Jesus, I think, that clearly expresses his ethic on personal relationships than right here. We’re in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching his disciples, and I think this is the most famous of Jesus’ teachings; love your enemies. Even the person who has never darkened the door of the church knows that Jesus said this, and very often condemns his followers for not doing just that. Yes, this is probably also the hardest of Jesus’ teachings to do, but do you want to know what it really means to be a disciple of the Master? Here it is; here is the Way in action, and it speaks directly to our personal relationships with each other.

But what does Jesus mean by loving our enemies? Does he really mean for his disciples to wrap their arms around their enemies and hug and kiss them?

Let’s look at just what Jesus states: to Love Your Enemies:

  • To fully understand his statement, we have to know what kind of love Jesus was actually talking about because the Greek language, and therefore in the Greek New Testament, four different kinds of love are described.

  • First there is storge love. The love we have for our families, for example, a parent’s love for their child. I don’t think Jesus was talking about that kind of love because that would just be impossible for anybody to actually do. That love is reserved for our family members and people that close to us.

  • Then there is eros love, which is where we get the word “erotic” from. Eros love is an erotic, passionate love, like between two lovers. I don’t think Jesus is talking about that kind of love. That would be contrary to the Commandments in the Torah.

  • Next there is philia love. It is where we get the word “Philadelphia” from, you know, the city of brotherly love. This kind of love is the kind of love between nearest and truest friends, like best friends. That kind of love only happens over time and through building trust through life experience. It’s possible he could be talking about this kind of love, but the word Jesus actually uses in the Greek language is agape love.

  • Agape love is benevolent goodwill towards another person. It’s the kind of love that a stranger goes out of their way to help another. For example, I read recently about how during the severe storms that moved across the southern United States that a woman was trapped in her car while the flood waters began to submerge her car. A stranger jumped into the waters, putting his own life at risk to save the woman. Not only did he save her, but he also saved her child who was in the car with her. It’s that kind of love that Jesus was talking about. Agape love more than compassion or empathy because it describes the kind of love that God the Father has towards us.

  • Agape Love is a kind of love that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how they treats us, no matter if they insult us or injure us or grieve us, we will never allow any bitterness against them to invade our hearts, but will regard them with an unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but their highest good.

  • However, let me be perfectly clear on this point. Agape love does not mean a person lays down and becomes a rug or a doormat to be walked over by someone else, or a punching bag for a bully, or the object of abuse, because when that kind of violence rose up against Jesus, he walked away from many potentially harmful situations, and so can we, whether it comes from bully at work or school, or from an abusive spouse.

  • Agape love is not the same kind of love we have for our family members or our nearest and dearest friend, and Jesus is not asking for you to get all gushy over your enemies. That would just be wrong because when we fell in love with our spouses, we are talking about an involuntary act; we fell in love. But with Agape love towards our enemies, Jesus is talking a conscious act of the will. It is a deliberate choice to not hate, but to love. Remember “Blessed are the merciful from the Sermon on the Mount?”

    1. This is why Jesus commanded his disciples to turn the other cheek. If I’m right handed and try to strike someone on the right cheek, I can only do it with the back of my hand. In Jesus’ day, that was a double severe insult. Jesus was teaching that if someone insults or harms you, even doubly severe, you must turn away from anger, retaliation and revenge. You can walk away and or leave, but revenge or retaliation has no place in the disciple’s life. Remember, “Blessed are the meek,” that is, blessed are those who abhor violence from the Sermon on the Mount?

    2. This is why Jesus told his disciples about giving their shirt away if someone took their coat. A disciple never stands upon his or her rights; never disputes about their legal rights; a disciple does not have any rights in this world, if you think about it, because like Abraham, who considered himself a foreigner in this world, because he was looking forward to the world to come, so the disciples should consider themselves in the same way, but further, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and not of this world. The person who fights to the legal death for their rights, inside or outside the church is actually kind of far from the Way.

    3. This is why Jesus told his disciples about going the extra mile. A Roman soldier had the right to press a civilian into service in carrying his pack for at least one mile. In Jesus’ day, a Jew might feel the touch of the flat of a Roman sword on his shoulder at any time and told to carry a burden, like Simon of Cyrene, when he was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. Jesus meant that his disciples should not always be thinking about their liberty to do as they like; but they should be thinking of their duty and privilege to be of service to others, for that is how we ultimately serve the Kingdom of Heaven.

Ultimately, however, the highest love we could express to our enemies is to pray for them:

How should we love our enemies? We should pray for them.

This is the litmus test because no person can pray for another person and still hate them. If someone has wronged you, and you take the person you are tempted to hate to God, something happens. We cannot go on hating another person in the presence of God. It’s the surest way of protecting our hearts from hate and bitterness. And it’s in this light Jesus talked about loving our enemies so that we would pray for those who persecute, insult, steal, lord it over us, or injure us; Jesus was saying that it is this kind of love that makes us become “the sons of our Father who is in heaven.” In other words, it is this agape love, serving and praying for our enemies, forgiving them, seeking their good that makes us most a godly person.

This kind of love reflects the kind of love the Father has towards us, because God makes the sun to shine on the wicked as well as the righteous. No matter how much they hate God, despise God, curse him, reject him, and sin against him, he still shows his love for them each and every day they live, and wants the best for them, just like you and I. For it is God’s desire that no one should perish, but that everyone comes to the knowledge of the God of Israel.

In the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, Jesus prayed to his Father, and our Father, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,” (John 17:3). To be most like God, to really follow Jesus whom the Father has sent, is to love others as the Father has loved us. I hope this message has been a blessing to you in your spiritual walk. Amen.

Pastor Robbie Taylor