Summary: Obeying Jesus’ command to love our enemies doesn’t come naturally, however. Often our first response is to retaliate. The best way - the Christ-like way - to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend! To melt an enemy, try the warmth of love.
Opening illustration: There is a story told of two shopkeepers. Their stores were across the street from each other, and the two had a bitter rivalry. One day an angel came to one of the shopkeepers and said, “The Lord has sent me to tell you that you may have one wish. Whatever you ask for, however extravagant, you will be given. But you must understand that whatever you receive, your rival will receive two-fold.” The shopkeeper thought for a few moments and finally said, “I wish to be made blind in one eye.”
I think this story is intended as a joke, but the realistic edge makes it more sad than funny. We could easily update it from shopkeepers to politicians. There is a disturbingly high level of deception and sheer nastiness oozing from the political ads and interviews during the past couple of months. It certainly seems that most candidates prioritize damaging their opponents – possibly even over helping themselves. We have seen venom spilt on the streets which has even left our country divided.
“Love your enemies.” It sounds rather odd, don’t you think. I mean, I have a hard enough time loving my family and my friends. Love your enemies? We’re used to hearing this. It’s one of Jesus’ most famous quotes. But imagine, you lived in the times of Jesus and had never heard this one.
Introduction: Someone has said that the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend. This is consistent with Christ’s command that we are to love those who hate us (Matthew 5: 44).
Our Lord gave three reasons we should love our adversaries. First, when we show them kindness, we are imitating the heavenly Father, who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45).
Second, we are to love our foes because there’s no reward for loving only those who love us (v. 46).
Third, gracious treatment of our enemies sets us apart from the ungodly. Jesus said, “If you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?” (v. 47). Genuine concern for all should be a distinguishing mark of a Christian (1 John 4: 7-21).
How to destroy your enemy?
1. Love your enemies (vs. 43-44a)
The beginning of this phrase is a quote from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19: 18). But there is nothing in the law that told the Jews to hate their enemies. It was a Pharisaic addition and with the course of time had become a normal way of life in the Jewish culture. That is something that just came naturally and still comes naturally to us. Those that are close to us, those that are like us, they are the ones we love. But the opposition - those that are different and strange - our natural response is to hate them and have nothing to do with them.
The word enemy means an unfriendly opponent. An enemy can be somebody who hates us and seeks to harm us or cause us trouble. An enemy can be someone who has wronged us. Or an enemy can just be somebody on the opposing side, an “unfriendly” in the sense that they are hostile to the values or beliefs that are important to us.
There are lots of areas where we can find enemies. And if we can’t find them, we can always make enemies. It’s easy. All we need are some strong differences. The meaning of enemy that most quickly comes to mind are enemy nations - those who oppose our values or those who infringe on our interests. Since the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 it is that it is easy to hate. How can we “love” a murderer or a thief who has permanently altered your family? But we can also find enemies here at home. There are political enemies and religious enemies - those who do not value what we value or believe what we believe. Sometimes we identify individual enemies just by their nationality. Maybe you have an enemy in your business, an evil competitor. Perhaps you have a rival for another’s affections. And perhaps the word seems too strong, but we have all discovered personal enemies, people who have wronged us or hurt us. People that hated us … and the natural thing to do is to hate them back.
Hate them for what they do or what they believe or what they value or where they came from or what they threaten to take away from us. Whoever he is, the correct way to respond to your opponent is not to hate him, but to love him. That is not natural. It’s supernatural. It’s a response that is so foreign to us that the only way we’re going to follow this instruction is by asking for God to change us.