In the previous six articles, we have examined Jesus’ “you have heard it said, but I say” declarations. Each clarified or corrected some point of Law or common understanding. In them, Jesus set new standards which seem impossible. For each of Jesus’ declarations we proposed a “more” that propels us toward the high standard set by Christ. The final possible impossibility proposes the highest standard of them all – “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, NASB95)
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48, NASB95) Whom do you love? Only those that agree with you? Only those that love you first or return love in a certain way? Whom do you hate? Who do you count as an enemy? Who do you avoid at all costs? Jesus is hitting us exactly where we live.
We all do this. We all choose to not love some because of their – well, the list is really long. Sure, some of us have mastered the art of cold love. Being cordial on the outside while seething on the inside. We’ve learned to say the right things and not say the wrong things (or in some cases say nothing at all). But is that real love or just a mask that looks like love? Jesus doesn’t pull any punches in His declaration, there is no wiggle room. Jesus uses the strongest, most sacrificial, most Godlike word for love, “agape”, as the high standard. In other words, we are to love everyone, even our enemies, with the same kind of love God has showered on us. And in this we are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. Yikes!
The “more” needed to fly over this incredibly high possible impossibility is love. In a way, love is the “more” for all of the high standards we have looked at. Just as hatred creates a downward spiral of vengeance, bitterness, and retaliation; love creates an upward spiral of forgiveness, acceptance, and correction. But this is where we can fool ourselves, we can believe that we love God and others more and more each day, the real test is whether we love our enemies. Do we love those that hate us, say hurtful things against us, and do things that fulfill Satan’s desire to steal, kill and destroy? Jesus told us how to begin to love our enemies – pray for them.
How do we pray for our enemies? In our humanness, we love to lay out before God all the things that are wrong and need to be fixed in them. “God, it would make my life so much better if they would only…” The better prayer puts aside judgement and simply calls on Jesus to drawn them to Himself, that God would forgive them and reveal His love to them. Praying in judgement strengthens the walls around our heart; praying in love and forgiveness breaks down the walls and heals our heart so that we can truly love even our enemies in word and deed.
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