Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:44b “. . .bless them that curse you,. . .”
Having given us the general, over-arching command, “Love your enemies,” Jesus now presses ahead to define His words specifically. We are not allowed to give Jesus’ words the meaning we desire. He will define for us His exact intent.
The love of Christ that God has planted within us will always seek to express itself in practical deeds. It will try to burst forth in persistent goodwill, to verbalize blessings even in the direction of those detractors who “curse” us.
To “bless” means to speak kindly to and about another. Our best commentary on the command is the example of the One who spoke it. After Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, our Lord’s first spoken word was to call the traitor “Friend” (MT 26:50). Both malefactors crucified with Jesus joined in mocking and insulting Him (MT 27:43), but one of them saw love, melted, and heard a blessing, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (LK 23:43). If we would obey and imitate our Master, we must control our tongue, sweetening it to “bless them that curse” us.
Matt. 5:44c “. . .do good to them that hate you,. . .”
“Love your enemies” first means to bless, to love in word, and presses on to include doing good, to love in deed. Always be ready, and ever be seeking opportunities, to help and relieve “them that hate” us. Christians should be as kind to their enemies as prechristians are to their friends. Before we scoff off this notion, deeming it an absurd impossibility, remember Jonah. The prophet did not want to evangelize, to “do good” to, the despised Ninevites. He learned the hard way, via a roundtrip ticket into a whale’s belly, how seriously God regards this command.
Elisha certainly knew the mind of the Lord. When the Syrians came to prepare a grave for him, he in the end kindly prepared a table for them (2 K 6:23).
Jesus again provides our best commentary on His own words. He washed Judas’ feet. When soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden, Peter cut off the ear of Malchus (JN 18:10), but Jesus healed it (LK 22:51). After Jesus ascended, His first 3,000 converts were from the same crowd that clamored for His crucifixion.
We Christians live in a sinful world which hates our Master. As His servants, we should expect insults and injustices. We must seize these moments of distress as opportunities to show the kindness of our Lord to those who abuse us. These very moments can develop into our greatest soulwinning opportunities.
What a golden opportunity we missed after World War II. MacArthur sent from Japan a plea to America, “Send missionaries.” A brave few went, but we sent microchips instead. We were kind to post-war Japan, but lost in that season of kindness a chance to impact for Christ a culture at an impressionable moment.
Be sensitive to what God may be doing around us. The very persons antagonizing us the most could be ones God has sent into our lives, knowing they will accept the Gospel when a Christian responds to their meanness with kindness.
In the last century, a group of Cherokee women were won to Christ. Being beneficiaries of missions, they decided to start their own mission fund to spread the Gospel. After a year, they began discussing where they should send the money. Finally, one of them said it should be given to promote circulation of the Gospel among the Osage Indians. She explained, “The Bible tells us to do good to our enemies; and I believe the Osages are the greatest enemies the Cherokees have.”
What a wonderful freedom Christ has granted us, having set us free from the shackle of having our feelings and thoughts enslaved to mean people around us. Our actions and attitudes do not have to be determined by the deeds of unkind people. Our treatment of others never has to depend on the way they treat us.
Matt. 5:44d “. . .and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute
Having defined “Love your enemies” as a command for us to “bless,” to love in word, to “do good,” to love in deed, Jesus now includes the need to “pray,” to love in spirit, in the innermost essence of our being. It is not enough to fake love for our enemies, to pretend kindness outwardly while harboring ill will inwardly. Our spirit must be melted through and through. We must be yielded to where we are able to lift up our love for our enemies as pure worship unto God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who was imprisoned and killed by Hitler, said of praying for our enemies, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”
Chrysostom said prayer is the highest summit of self-control. If this be true, then the highest peak on this highest summit is the ability to pray for our enemies. “He who can pray for his enemies can do anything for them” (Plummer).
I fear Heaven probably is not over-run with prayers of this nature. How many prayers have we sent up lately for those who hate and persecute us?
Some, though, do reach this dizzying pinnacle. A Mr. Burkitt wrote in his journal there were many he never would have prayed for had it not been for the injuries they caused him. Samuel prayed for an ungrateful people who had rejected him (1 SM 12:23). Stephen prayed for his executioners (AC 7:60), and one of them, Saul of Tarsus, got saved. Our Lord prayed for His crucifiers (LK 23:34).
The best way to kill hate is to pray for the one hated. When we take ourselves and the person we hate into the presence of God, a wonderful healing takes place. As we pray for an enemy, the infernal internal fires die down in our temper.
Know this for sure, we cannot continue to hate in the presence of God. If after we pray, we still hate, we were not drawn near to God in the prayer. Any who dare to walk into the presence of God, and say out loud, “I hate this person,” will feel their inner essence shrivel. God will crush the hatred and, depending on how deeply the hatred has penetrated our being, will almost crush us.
God is love and, requiring His children to be love, chose for them a lifestyle different and better than that of the Scribes and Pharisees. The latter, ignorant of what God’s love entailed, thought love and hate could live in the same heart simultaneously. Narrowly defining “neighbor,” they decided it was okay to hate enemies. They debated the issue of love, not to extend their circle of compassion, but to restrict it, to love less, not more. Seeking to lower the standard of love as much as they could, they held “Love thy neighbor” as the maximum required of them.
To Jesus, though, “Love thy neighbor” was a minimum requirement, merely a good starting point on the journey of learning how to “Love your enemies.” God gives us family members who love us; by responding to them we learn how to act toward those who hate us. God grants us friends and people we like in order that we may learn in treating them how to treat our enemies and those we do not like.