43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48 ESV)
Today’s text is the final installment of Jesus’ “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you…” statements. Today’s text pertains to believers in Christ fulfilling the second greatest commandment; loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
Jesus confronted the familiar Pharisaical teaching of loving a neighbor but hating an enemy. The first half of this statement is found in Lev. 19:18. However, the second half is not found in the biblical text but rather was an interpretation and application by the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. It remains a popular perspective to this day.
Believers in Christ find it relatively easy to love someone who loves them. But what about those who hate you, and who in response you hate? How are Christians to treat these people? How are Christians to behave?
Jesus said that His disciples were to love their enemies. Love (ἀγαπάω; agapao) means to actively have affection and loving concern for other people. To hate (μισέω; miseo) means to actively detest and to be loveless towards another. Jesus said that believers are to love and not hate. Additionally, Jesus’ disciples are to pray for those who persecute them. To persecute (διώκω; dioko) refers to an active harassment and oppression.
“Jesus’ application resulted in a much higher standard: love for one’s neighbors should extend even to those neighbors who are enemies (Matt. 5:44). Again, this was no innovation, since even the OT taught that God’s people should do good to their enemies (Prov. 25:21),” explains Dr. John MacArthur.
By following this ethical command, Jesus’ disciples show their allegiance to Him. It is one thing to follow Jesus when you engage with people who love you. It is quite another when you encounter people who hate, mock and lie about you (Matt. 5:10-12).
“The OT never says that anyone should hate his or her enemy. This shows that, in his “you have heard” statements (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43), Jesus is correcting not the OT itself but only misinterpretations of the OT. God’s hatred of evil was a central theme in the OT (e.g., Ps. 5:4–5). Consequently, those who embodied evil were understood to be God’s enemies, and it was natural to hate them (cf. Ps. 26:4–5; 139:21–22), but such hatred is never commanded by God,” concludes one commentator.
May we all be loving disciples of our Lord today. Have a blessed one.
Soli deo Gloria!