Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:43 “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy
neighbor, and hate thine enemy.”
Here begins a sixth contrast between the Scribes and Pharisees’ righteousness as opposed to the better righteousness we must show (5:20). They stressed hand-murder (5:21ff); Christ highlighted heart-murder. They spoke of outward adultery (5:27ff); Jesus forbade heart-adultery. They wanted divorce to be easy (5:31-32); our Master made it difficult. They wanted to be totally honest only in limited circumstances (5:33ff); Christ required absolute honesty all the time. They wanted to take personal revenge (5:38ff); Jesus said no. Now the sixth contrast.
The Old Testament decreed, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor” (LV 19:18). The Scribes and Pharisees knew this command, being in Holy Writ, was binding, but they did not want to love certain people, for example, Gentiles in general, and especially Roman rulers and soldiers in particular. The religious leaders thus did what we often do when we do not like a particular Bible command. They sought a loophole, a way of avoiding absolute obedience, of not having to love everybody. Wanting to love only those who were like them and loved them in return, they tried to find a way to justify hating others. To avoid having to love everyone, they quibbled over the word “neighbor,” seeking to define it as narrowly as possible.
The debate of identifying and defining a neighbor was a serious controversy in Jesus’ day. “Who is my neighbor?” (LK 10:29) was the question which prompted Christ to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus forever settled the neighbor issue. The question must never be, “Who is my neighbor?” but rather always be, “To whom can I be neighborly?” Such thinking, of course, is never palatable to people who want to hate, to people like the religious leaders, who out and out twisted Scripture by adding to “love thy neighbor” a corrupt addendum, “and hate thine enemy,” as if the former necessarily implied the latter.
Matt. 5:44a “But I say unto you, Love your enemies,. . .”
Jesus our Master, in one fell swoop, made the neighbor debate a moot point. When He commanded, “Love your enemies,” all nitpicking over the neighbor issue suddenly became a waste of time. We may still want to put labels on people, but Jesus made defining others meaningless. Jesus told us, love your neighbors, and love your enemies. Neighbor + enemy = everyone on earth. Therefore, labels no longer matter. How we define and categorize people is immaterial. We are to love everyone in the world, no questions asked, no exceptions, no loopholes.
Nationalism, elitism, ethnic pride, drawing lines to define who is in and who is not, who belongs and who does not belong, who is like me and who is not like me–all this produces “malaria in earth’s moral atmosphere” (Thomas). The Day Care Center of an inner city church once was continuing to dwindle. When an observer said this was strange, since there were many more children living near the church than ever before, a church member replied, “Yes, but they are not our type.” Many people think different equals bad, but Jesus refuted this equation.
Anyone who seeks even the most elementary understanding of Christianity must grapple with these words of Jesus, “Love your enemies.” No phrase more bluntly states the most central essence of the Christian ethic regarding personal relationships. Some actually consider this to be the most unique tenet of our faith.
In early Church history, this command was a verse used to foster Christian mission enterprises. An impelling force in implementing a World View, “love your enemies” has certainly been our crown jewel, but alas! also our indictment. A believer once moaned, “Either Christ did not say this, or we are not Christians.” One of our detractors has said, “The adherents of no religion have hated their enemies more than Christians.” Though an overstatement, it reminds us we fail often.
Some Jews feel we have not loved them. We were slow to respond to racial inequities in our country. Do we love militant gays, radical feminists, and crusaders who wish to erase Jesus’ name from Western Culture? Are we acting like the One who taught us to be neighborly, who died with a prayer of forgiveness on His lips for His enemies? We must ever ask ourselves these types of questions.
I am the first to say, “I cannot in my own strength love my enemies.” For me to love my enemies will require a miracle. Only God can enable me to love my enemies, and He can do it through me only when He has absolute control over my life. A new life source will have to be birthed in me; then a never ending stream of strength from that newly implanted life will have to flow across my old life and overpower it. Fortunately, this is exactly what it means to be born again and to be repeatedly and continuously strengthened by God’s new life. Ever remember how this Sermon on the Mount began. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Deliberately choose to abandon hope in our own strength, and deliberately choose to depend on God’s power. The very mind of Christ must be planted within us.
Jesus had a mindset which enabled Him to juggle perfectly at the same time hating sin and loving the sinner. When His mind is in us, we too shall be able to be honest and straightforward while showing kindness.
Our culture has a fixation with the term tolerance. Political correctness calls for everyone to be left alone to do whatever they want to do. However, loving accountability would be a better term than tolerance. Love everyone, and out of that love desperately seek to help people see they are accountable for what they do. We want to be honest about their lifestyle in order to lessen their pain.
Ruth and I had a friend who died due to a disease caused by an ungodly lifestyle. We loved and miss him. Tolerance killed him, loving accountability could have saved his life. Ruth and I have another friend who will be sick the rest of her life with an incurable disease due to years of drug needles and sexual promiscuity. Tolerance destroyed her, loving accountability could have spared her.
To disapprove of one’s conduct is not the same as wishing them ill. We can object to a person’s behavior and at the same time desire their well-being. To love means to care. To disapprove of one’s conduct does not mean we want wrath to fall on them. This was James and John’s error regarding the Samaritan village.
Pity those who choose a lifestyle of sin, for severe consequences are coming their way. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (GL 6:7). We as Christians do not have to help God bring consequences down on people’s heads. Punishment is His prerogative. Our calling is to be prepared to help, to be in position to assist the sinner when their life begins to fall apart. When their roof collapses and their life crumbles, will they pick up the phone and dial our number? In answering this question we will gain an accurate evaluation as to how well we are obeying the command, “Love your enemies.”