One of my favorite scriptures is 1 John 4:19: We love each other because he loved us first. On the surface, this is an easily repeated text.
In truth, when the subject of loving others is studied more closely, often people ask, “Who are we really responsible to love?” In our humanity, we want to love others, but find ourselves picking and choosing based on our own emotions. We secretly harbor a scale of expectation that people need to live up to or else they become ‘unlovable.’ However, Jesus calls us to love with abandon. Biblical instruction on love and who to love encompasses the following:
1 God. In Matthew 22, when asked which law under Moses was the greatest, Jesus answered: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment…. (verse 37-38).
2. Your neighbor. Continuing in Matthew 22, Jesus adds: “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (verse 39).
How are you doing so far? Easy enough, you say! But what happens when ‘our neighbor’ is not in our circle of family, friends, acquaintances, or even groups of people we consider ‘lovable’? What if our neighbor is actually our enemy? Surely, Jesus understands that loving our enemy is just not realistic, right?
3. Our enemies. From the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ words defy our simplistic reality: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. Matthew 5:43-47
This part of the Sermon on the Mount is recounted in the Gospel of Luke as well, and the command ‘love your enemies’ is repeated twice!
We could certainly rationalize this command away. “Two out of three isn’t bad.” “Jesus doesn’t understand the kind of people I have to deal with.” “I have just been too hurt.”
Remember this, Jesus has never asked us to do anything, He hasn’t already done. Recently at church, during the last sermon series titled Famous Last Words, I was reminded that Jesus loved even His enemies, even in their darkest hour. From the cross, He cried to God: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
It is not that the Jewish leaders didn’t understand their hatred and jealousy toward Jesus. Their hearts burned with it. It is not that they didn’t understand they were shedding innocent blood. They knew they were getting rid of the competition. What they didn’t understand was the eternal consequences of their actions. And so it is with our enemies. Without a heart filled with the love of Jesus, our enemies can’t begin to understand the true spiritual choices they are making nor the life altering consequences that follow a life void of repentance.
Please hear me, if someone commits a crime there is a price to be paid by the wrongdoer. But Child of God, they know not what they are doing. Love your enemy. Pray for their salvation. Christ can invade anyone’s life and make a change. Will you get out-of-the-way and let Him?
Father God, may we remember that once we were Your enemy and yet You loved us. May we humbly acknowledge that for a time, we knew not what we were doing. In Christ’s name, I pray.
All scripture references from: New Living Translation (NLT). Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. www.biblegateway.com
Sermon series. (3/23/2014). Famous Last Words: Forgiveness. Believers Church. www.believerschurch.org
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