43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48
I have a real aversion to television advertisements. In particular, I find their mangling of statistics incredibly irritating. The worst culprits are shampoo adverts that make claims along the lines of ‘95% of 113 women found that our shampoo left their hair softer and shinier’. Surely such claims are pretty much meaningless? At the moment there’s one advert that winds me up more even than shampoo adverts, and that’s the promotion for Freeview television. This makes the claim that ‘95% of the nation’s favourite programmes are available subscription-free’. Of course they are, I scream at my television. The reason they’re the nation’s favourite programmes is because they are available subscription free! The advertiser’s logic has got cause and effect entirely the wrong way round.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount we’ve seen that to live as a Christian – to follow God’s ways – is to take a counter-cultural approach to life. The wisdom of God is frequently the reverse of the wisdom of the world. God’s logic is the opposite of our logic. And so we see in this memorable, and challenging, passage above, in which Jesus responds to the prevailing wisdom of loving one’s neighbours and hating one’s enemies. This, of course, is how many people live their lives today. To the world it makes perfect sense to hate your enemies. Why would we strive to love someone who hates us? Jesus challenges this pattern of thought, however. He tells us, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. We should not respond to hatred with hatred, but with love.
Why would we follow this commandment from Jesus? Jesus tells us that we should do this so that we ‘may be children of our Father in heaven’. By loving our enemies, we will be following God’s example, and demonstrating that we are his children. God, after all, loves indiscriminately. As Jesus tells us, God ‘causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’. It matters not to God whether someone is evil or good, righteous or unrighteous – he has provided, and continues to provide, for all people.
God showed the level of love he has for his enemies by sending his son to save those who hate him and ignore him. The world had turned their back on God, turned to follow their own ways, and rejected him, yet he still chose to send his son to die for all people. If God loves his enemies, then it is right that we should strive to love ours too. God’s display of love for humanity through the death and resurrection of his son brought many millions of people to the point of loving him back. Perhaps by loving our enemies they might come in time to love us – and also God, when they come to understand the reason we love them.
If we love only those who love us, we are no better than the tax collectors or pagans that Jesus refers to in this passage. We should instead flip the logic around and love not only those who love us, but also our enemies. Some people will not find this tricky, but others of us will find this incredibly difficult, especially if we have enemies who have wronged us deeply, who have hurt us or upset us. Loving in these circumstances is incredibly hard. Yet if we stay close to God, strive to gain a better insight into the person of Jesus by immersing ourselves in his word, and dedicate ourselves to prayer – even praying for our enemies – then God will fill us with his love. This, in turn, will equip us to love our enemies.