“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’
44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.
J-e-s-u-s spells change!
The Kingston Trio used to sing: “Italians hate the Yugoslavs; South Africans hate the Dutch; and I don’t like anybody very much!”
My wife is the most gentle person on the planet, yet even she once had an enemy. Who is yours?
When Jesus quoted the then-prevailing view, only the first half — “love your neighbor” (5:43) — came from the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18). The second half, “hate your enemy” (5:43), cannot be found in the OT. So, hating your enemies appears to have developed as part of the elaboration of the law that the religious leaders had created over time. This example shows how error in Bible interpretation can pollute the pure waters of revealed truth.
Jesus sets out his own teaching by cutting away the error and replacing it with two astonishing commands: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44, ESV). R.T. France informs us that the word neighbor (5:43) was restricted to fellow Israelites in the OT, but Jesus expands the concept of neighbor to the limit by including enemies. This extended concept of neighbor is also apparent in the parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37). One application of such love would be to pray for those who persecute you.
R.T. France makes the telling point that loving your enemies does not mean that your relationship is free from controversy and rebuke. Jesus loved his disciples, but he did not let error go unchallenged.
The commands Jesus gave his disciples can be illustrated by two examples. Paul explains that God reconciled us to himself through the death of his Son while we were enemies (Rom. 5:10). Prayer for one’s persecutors was demonstrated by Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Stephen prayed in similar fashion for those who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:60).
Jesus explicitly reveals the purpose of his startling commands in 5:46: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (5:46, ESV). The italicized phrase is an idiom which here means “being the kind of person who shares the characteristics of God himself.” Naturally, it includes daughters!
Jesus provides two obvious examples of how God loves his enemies as well as his children. The Father sends the sun and the rain on all humanity, whether good or evil, the righteous and the unrighteous.
R.T. France does an excellent job of capturing the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount:
The purpose . . . has not been to provide a suitable ethic for getting along in the world but to challenge those who have accepted the demands of the kingdom of heaven to live up to their commitment by being different from other people.
Whose son or daughter will you be?
People can think of many reasons to be your enemy. You have money and they do not; you lack money and they have it. You are the boss, but they feel they should have been. Your appearance is really striking, or perhaps it is too ordinary. They need not even know you and yet dislike you or try to undercut you.
The world’s rule is to do unto others before they get the chance to do unto you! Of course, that means you must harm them to protect your own interests. Jesus calls on you to prove that you are his disciple by utterly rejecting that thinking! But he demands even more when he says to love your enemies. Just as Jesus intended, you have to decide whether you are his disciple or not!
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 From “The Merry Minuet.”
 Contrary to NET’s translation, the Greek word for enemies is plural, as all other translations recognize.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 223.
 R.T. France, Matthew, 226.
 NET Bible Notes for Matt. 5:46.
 France, Matthew, 224.