Matthew 5 includes the beatitudes and one of the least honored teachings of Jesus:
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies.
Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.
This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Quoting Jesus upsets some Christians!
cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
Trying to hold seemingly contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time is hard.
For example, this picture is of a ‘rabbit AND a duck’.
Our minds really struggle with that. We see one right away, a rabbit OR a duck. And then most people are able to see the other animal in the image (duck or rabbit). But it seems impossible to see both at the same time.
Jesus says love is what we must do.
This is not that difficult of a teaching when we are thinking about those we more or less naturally love. But when we try to apply it to people who threaten us, or worse, people who threaten those we love…. this teaching becomes very difficult.
“How can I love my family and love those who threaten the safety of my family?”
- Protecting your family is good and right.
- Protecting your family does not require hate.
The duck/rabbit challenge attacks our sensibilities. An attacking rabbit can be a comical scenario. But enemies who attack civilians precisely because they are unarmed, vulnerable and treasured is not funny at all.
Jesus cares about the vulnerable.
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:7,8
It is not Justice OR Mercy. God’s ways are higher than our own natural ways of looking at things. Justice AND Mercy are possible when we humbly follow where God leads.
Jesus declared himself to be the promise of God to deal with injustice (Lk 4:18). The biblical call for people to do right includes warnings about hardening one’s heart. We are also told that doing wrong deserves practical actions of judgment by proper authorities.
For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. Romans 13:3,4
So how does “love” fit with justice?
God is love. He is the source of love we live out and he is the visible manifestation of love in Christ. When Jesus prayed to God the Father on behalf of those who were murdering him he was expressing love without undermining justice. Jesus’ death was not for himself but for those who were unloving, even evil. That is the whole point of the gospel. It is not just Nazis, Communists and Jihadists who defy God and goodness. We are all guilty of being anti-love.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11
Redemptive love begins while people are enemies.
Redemptive love begins while people are enemies is the point of Jesus’ provocative statement in the Sermon on the Mount we started with. Loving the loveable is obvious. Loving the unloveable is where Justice AND Mercy meet in the most supernatural ways.
Avoiding dreary substitutes – by Dallas Willard
“Living under the governance of heaven frees and empowers us to love as God loves. But outside the safety and sufficiency of heaven’s rule, we are too frightened and angry to really love others, or even ourselves, and so we arrange our dreary substitutes. A contemporary wording of Jesus’ comparison of God’s kind of love, agapē, and what normally passes for love might be: “What’s so great if you love those who love you? Terrorists do that! If that’s all your ‘love’ amounts to, God certainly is not involved. Or suppose you are friendly to ‘our kind of people.’ So is the Mafia!” (Matt. 5:46-47).”
“What’s so great if you love those who love you? Terrorists do that! If that’s all your ‘love’ amounts to, God certainly is not involved.
“Seriously, nobody is ‘perfect!'”
The final objection is that nobody is perfect. The challenging passage from the meme, Matthew 5:48, ends with a call to perfection. Surely that must by hyperbole? What is Jesus really saying to us?
Perfect is about maturity.
The word “perfect” in Greek is teleios. It is throughout the New Testament. It refers to completion, as in “complete a purpose”.
What is our purpose according to Jesus?
Our purpose as humanity following Jesus is to love God and others (Mt 22:36-40). But that seems too hard. Loving others the way God does actually seems impossible. But what is impossible in our own strength is possible through God (Jn19:26).
But is that practical for now?
Yes. That is precisely what the Christian life is about. As enemies we receive God’s merciful and just love. It is scandalous, but we eagerly give testimony to it when it happens to us and people like us. Following Jesus means following his instructions, even the difficult ones like “love your enemies”.
What happens next?
We are meant to grow up into the very love that rescued us from being unloving.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers. to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:16
Will it really happen?
Yes. If you follow Christ you experience love and then you are helped to grow in that love. It will be telieos/complete because of Christ, but in our actual lives here and now.
Paul affirms this confidence:
And Paul prays that we grow up in it now:
“I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” Philippians 1:9-11
And Jesus? What does he say if I really do not want to love Muslims?
Jesus lovingly tells you to rethink and realign your heart with his heart. Only then will you be a faithful Christian.
“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”” Revelation 3:19-22