One of the most scandalizing passages in the whole Bible is Matthew 5:43-48.
Nestled within the ever-practical Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivers the following words like a gut-punch to our naturally self-defensive souls:
"43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor 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."
Wow! If you find yourself obediently fulfilling this passage already, please feel free to disregard the rest of this blog post. The rest of us have some considering to do.
Whenever I read this passage, my mind goes one of two places. 1) I think about how, in my relatively comfortable and westernized life, I do not have many (or any) people that I would classify as my "enemy" in its classical definition. 2) I think about all of the (many) people in my life that I sometimes find difficult to truly love. Could it be that Jesus, in my particular context, is referring to these people I find difficult to love as my "enemies," and therefore, I am commanded to love them deeply?
It is easy to love my wife. It is easy to love my best friends, and the people in my church small group. It is easy to love all of the folks and acquaintances I agree with most of the time. These people would probably say the same thing about loving me (I hope). At the very least, I feel very loved in return by each of these people.
However, it is difficult to love all of the people that fit within the "other" category in my context. It is difficult to love those in my life that I deliberately disagree with in theology or in politics. It is difficult to love those in my life whose lifestyles I do not understand. It is difficult to love those who I feel are taking advantage of or hurting others. It is difficult to love those who know which of my buttons to push.
If I am being honest, it is incredibly easy to hate all of those "other" people in my life who are not so easy to love. Then, I read a passage of scripture like this and I am wrecked from the inside-out. According to this passage:
Hate is not an option if you follow Jesus.
Plain and simple. Even if the person in question literally wishes evil against you, Jesus calls us to love that person. This is radical and extreme...and life-changing.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus and his followers reiterate the importance of love, and the removal of hate in all circumstances.
In John 13:35 Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
In 1 John 2:9-11, the author writes, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them."
Later in 1 John, the author calls those who hate "murderers" (3:15), and even goes so far as to say that "God is Love" (4:16b). This is strong language.
Now, "love" can look different depending on context. I do not believe that Jesus is calling us to pretend as if we are totally okay with a person's immoral actions, or to pretend as if we totally agree with whomever is in question. (For example: Does Jesus call us to love and pray for members of ISIS? Yes, he definitely does. Does Jesus call us to pretend that the atrocities that members of ISIS have committed are fine and dandy? No, he definitely does not.)
This being said, "love" is most certainly a verb in the passage out of Matthew; therefore, it requires action on our part. To love your enemy is not a passive thing. Jesus even commands us to pray for them!
So, let me ask you a question: Who is your enemy? To make it more relatable, who fits into your "other" category?
Maybe, he or she is your annoying coworker. Maybe, he or she is your politically-opposite family member. Maybe, they are the couple whose lifestyle you do not approve of. Maybe, he or she is your neighbor who is of a different race or religion. Maybe, he or she has offended you and will never show love to you in return, ever.
Think of him or her. Picture his or her face. Hear his or her voice in your ears. Whomever this person is to you:
Hate is not an option if you follow Jesus.
The last verse in the passage from Matthew above reads, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus does not give us an easy standard to attain to! Instead, he says our standard is the Father Himself. I often find myself questioning what Jesus means with this, since we know it is impossible for us to be "perfect" (without sin) until the Kingdom is fully realized. But, I think at the very least, it means we have work to do. We must, in God's strength and through His Spirit, actively turn away from hatred and actively turn towards love.
The first step in actively turning towards love may be offering forgiveness. It may be setting aside certain differences, and asking someone out for coffee. It may be attempting to actually listen to someone, instead of just listening for the sake of rebuttal.
As you begin your work-week, I pray that you will take this gut-punch from Jesus seriously. It is so easy, too easy, to just ignore and avoid the people in our lives that we find difficult to love. But, if we are going to fulfill our commission to show the world who Jesus truly is and teach others to follow him (Matthew 28:18-20), then we must love deeply even when it is terribly difficult. You might be surprised how love can turn a difficult situation upside down.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director at IDES