“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” –Matt. 5:43-45, NASB
So many times I’ve read these words of Jesus, and focused on the “loving your enemies” part–maybe even feeling a twinge of guilt for the ways I’ve perhaps failed to keep this command. Not that loving your enemy isn’t important, or that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says here. It’s just that there is important stuff that comes after that statement Jesus made–stuff I kind of miss because I get so hung up over of the “love your enemy” thing. 🙂
Jesus says we should love our enemies so that we might be “sons” of our Father in heaven. That concept of sonship in the Bible doesn’t just mean genetics; it means “carrying the essence of”. When we do good to those who wrong us, we are emulating God, carrying His essence. Jesus is telling us it is the essence of God to return love for hatred, to show kindness to those who rail against Him. (Not exactly the picture that’s often painted for us of God, is it? We focus so much on the judgment and wrath of God in the Bible that we forget that Jesus was the One showing us God’s heart.)
How does God show this love? He sends rain on the just and the unjust.
I’ve been pondering this truth in the context of how we are conditioned to evangelize. Whether we intend it or not, we believers tend to treat non-believers differently than other believers, almost as though we withhold our full embrace from them until they become “one of us.” After all, we reason, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (Another great example of proof texting, taking a Scripture out of context for our own purposes.) We might show kindness, or what we consider charity, but you know what I’m talking about–we don’t always treat the non-believer with the same level of acceptance. It’s a subtle thing, but believe me, people know the difference. They can tell when they’re being patronized.
But I have to say, I don’t see Jesus modeling this attitude at all in His example. In fact, He was actually chided for being too cozy with those considered “outsiders”. He didn’t deal with every person in the exact same way, but He never used His love as a commodity to trade or an incentive to evoke a certain behavior. He just loved, and He loved genuinely. Why? Because He was carrying the essence of His Father, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. And in this passage, He tells us to do the same–to carry the essence of God in the way we treat others.
By the way, when Jesus quoted the saying “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”, that phrase isn’t in the Scripture. Only the “love your neighbor” part is. So in a sense, I think Jesus was bringing clarity to this, and to who our neighbor is. He was saying that our enemy is our neighbor just as much as our friends are, and thus the “love your neighbor” command applies to them, too. So “love your enemy” is about more than just loving the ones who wrong us; it’s about showing love, mercy and kindness to the just and the unjust–to consider every person a candidate for the love of Christ. In this way, we carry the essence of God. To me, this is a better way of being a witness for Christ than any other so-called evangelistic technique out there.
Those are my thoughts, anyhow. What are yours?