Summary: Loving your enemies?? What??? Yep. That’s truly showing genuine love.
Read Text: Matthew 5:43-48
"You have heard that it was said, ’Love your neighbor…”(Matt 5:43).
Heard from whom? Their teachers. Where did their teachers get it from?
Leviticus 19:18 NIV says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
It seems in our chosen text that something has been omitted. This wasn’t because “as yourself” was an unknown part of the text. For instance, a teacher of the Law mentioned this as a commandment when discussing some things with Jesus in Mark 12:33. John MacArthur, Jr. states: “The words of Scripture were fully known but only partially taught and practiced” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, p.340). Being that the Pharisees loved nobody as much as themselves, the “as yourself” was conveniently omitted from the teaching.
"You have heard that it was said, ’Love your neighbor and hate your enemy" (Matt 5:43).
The Pharisees had not only omitted a part of the Law, but they had conveniently added a teaching of their own. They may “love” their “neighbor” (that neighbor being someone they considered worthy of attaining neighborly status, and their love being more the definition of lust since they were selfish in nature) but they are going to hate their enemy. And they surely felt this was justified as we do at times. Hating men, made in God’s image is NEVER justified. We’ve already talked about that; this was ‘murder of the heart.’
"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:44).
I’m sure this was a revolutionary teaching for those listening. Who in their right mind would love their enemy? It was one thing to love your neighbor, and even another thing to love your neighbor as much as you loved yourself, but it was a whole different ball game to love your enemy, especially after you’d been taught by religious leaders that it was acceptable to hate them!!! I mean, hate comes naturally anyway!
Listen to these verses from God’s Law on one’s treatment of their enemy
Exodus 23:4-5 NIV says, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.”
First of all, let’s talk about this concept of ‘love.’ There are four different Greek words for love:
1) storge – family love; love between parent and child
2) eros – physical love; love between a man and woman; passion; sexual love
3) philia – brotherly love; relationship between closest, nearest, & truest friends
4) agape – unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill. This kind of love seeks nothing but another person’s highest good.
The writer of this Gospel didn’t use the first three Greek words for love here. This love Christ was talking about for an enemy wasn’t like the love between a parent and child, nor was it an erotic romantic love, and nor was it like the love of close friends or brothers. The love he was referring to is the fourth one, agape. This love doesn’t require the warm fuzzies or the “I like you” to be in effect. This love far surpasses the others. It’s not dependent on being loved back either. It is a selfless love. One of the best examples of this kind of love is found in the story commonly referred to as the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:33 says that a Samaritan “took pity”(NIV) or “felt compassion” (NASB) for a Jewish man that was wounded on the road to Jericho.
Jews hated Samaritans and vice versa. The Samaritan had no obligation with his people to help the Jewish man, and two Jewish religious leaders had already passed him up anyway! Yet, he put true love into action. He looked past his race, past the inconvenience, past the trouble of getting involved, and reached out to a man in need. He even put his life in danger, knowing that thieves could be awaiting another traveler (himself maybe) on this road. The story of the Good Samaritan definitely is an example of loving someone’s natural enemy.
In the days of the American Revolutionary War there lived at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, a Baptist pastor by the name of Peter Miller, who enjoyed the friendship of General George Washington. There also dwelt in that town one Michael Wittman, an evil-minded man who did all in his power to abuse and oppose this pastor. One day Michael Wittman was involved in a case of treason, and was arrested and sentenced to death. The old preacher started out on foot and walked the whole seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for Wittman’s life. He was admitted into Washington’s presence and at once begged for the life of the traitor. Washington said, "no, Peter, I cannot grant you the life of your friend." The preacher exclaimed, "my friend, he is the bitterest enemy I have." Washington cried, "What? You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon." And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman from the very shadow of death back to his own home in Ephrata; no longer as an enemy, but as a friend.