Jessica Albritton, Family Connections Minister, LHBC

Matthew 5:43-48
“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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

The other day as I was walking through the Kroger picking up groceries I overheard a mom talking with her kids. The oldest was no more than 5 and kept going on and on about the birthday party they had apparently just left. The kid was rattling off all the fun things he liked at the party from the bounce house to the cake. When the child finally stopped long enough to take a breath the mom interjected, “Guess what? I love you!” The kid looks at the mom square in the eyes and replies back, “Guess what? I love this sucker from my friend’s birthday party.” I guess we all have our priorities. 

The word love is a funny thing. We often use the word so flippantly and in a big way we have robbed it of its significance. We set the definition of what love is based on our context instead of defining it as it actually is. Scripture tells us that love is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it’s not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends. Yet we use it to describe the feeling we have for a piece of candy.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus addresses a misunderstanding dealing with the subject of love. In verse 43 Jesus says to those listening, “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.’” When taken at face value it almost sounds as if Jesus is contradicting an Old Testament command but if you take a deeper look at the Old Testament we actually find “hate your enemy” is not there. You see the teachers of the law had taken a command of loving your neighbor from Leviticus 19 and given it more commentary than was necessary. That term neighbor had come to describe individuals who love you, friends, family, and those who were kind. By the time Jesus came the law was so convoluted that religious leaders were actually teaching it as if it were correct to love your fellow-Jew (i.e., your neighbor), but it was perfectly acceptable, even God honoring, to hate the Romans. God’s people had not only missed the entire point of the command, they had also distorted it, made it into something else entirely.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus sought to bring clarity. Jesus taught not only are we to love those that love us, that’s easy, but we are also to love those that hate us. But why would we ever love our enemies? Well, simply put, it makes us more like Jesus. You see, our sin makes us enemies of God. If anyone has a right to hate their enemies it’s God, He created all and is above all, and our sin is a direct slap in the face to His goodness. But instead of allowing sin to keep us apart from Himself, God made a way where there was no way. Jesus says when we love others, whether they deserve it or not, we are acting like our Father. But not only are we to love our enemies, we are also called to pray for those that persecute us. 

The act of prayer activates the supernatural within us and molds our hearts to be more like God’s. And not only that, prayer softens our hearts towards our enemies, it makes it easier to show grace and love to others in a greater way. There are only two kinds of people in this world: neighbors and enemies; and we are instructed to love them both. How about you? Do you love your neighbor? 

Heavenly Father, give me a heart like Yours. Help me to not love by the world’s standards but instead by Yours. Mold my heart to be like You! In Jesus name, amen!

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?