Summary: Jesus calls us to love even our enemies. Thus we imitate the perfect love of the Father, and the perfect example of the Son.
THE CALL TO PERFECT LOVE
The last of the six famous parentheses (Matthew 5:21-48) between “Ye have heard that it hath been said” (Matthew 5:43), and “But I say unto you” (Matthew 5:44) - addresses the most blatantly misconstrued of these man-made interpretations of Scripture. The misquote includes both forbidden faux pas: the scribes both add to the Scripture, and take from it (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19).
“Love your neighbour” is a correct quotation of the Old Testament, but only a partial quotation since ‘as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) is replaced by “and hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43) - a scribal gloss which is found nowhere in the Old Testament Scriptures, and is only quoted here for Jesus’ refutation!
Elsewhere Jesus tells us that this is the second most important commandment, and like unto the first (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus has come not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17) - and requires that our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees in order for us to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). How else might we be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14) in a wicked world?
So now Jesus gets right in behind the commandment (Matthew 5:44-45), demanding the resolve and fortitude which procures blessedness for the persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12), and which causes our light so to shine before men that it will ‘glorify our Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). Loving our “neighbour” (Matthew 5:43) includes loving our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44), says Jesus - a fact illustrated by the history of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This is not just what we must do - it is who we are.
Oh - it is hard - but ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ (Leviticus 24:20) belongs to the law courts, not to personal vendettas (Matthew 5:38). Take the insult (Matthew 5:39), forfeit the garment (Matthew 5:40), go the second mile (Matthew 5:41), be merciful to the scrounger (Matthew 5:42). We are better than all these things.
Love your enemies, bless them, do good to them - pray for them (Matthew 5:44). This is what it means to be the children of your Father in heaven - for He is good to the evil as well as to the good (Matthew 5:45). He was good to me when I was far from Him; He extended His mercy to you, dear Christian, at such a time as you least deserved it!
So we come back to comparisons. How can our practical righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20)? Even the hated publicans (of whom, remember, Matthew had been one) loved those who loved them (Matthew 5:46). Even the publicans saluted their brethren (Matthew 5:47): but we are called to love all men, even the worst of men - even our enemies, or those who would count themselves our enemies.
This may, in the final analysis, come down to our imitation of God. A child will imitate his father - he will walk like him, talk like him, adopt his attitudes. Jesus says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).