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Love Your Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father In heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV)
We are not at war, so we don’t have enemies. But we have people who in their word or action:
These people can be considered as our enemies.
What do we do with them? Our natural self is:
But Jesus Christ instructs the Christians to “Love your enemies” and what He teaches can be done. He doesn’t instruct the impossible!
Are the Christians:
Yes, many Christians are nuts. Why? Because they think that now they are Christians they can do it on their own strength, on their own free will. They will be sadly disappointed. They find that they cannot overcome their natural desire to ‘get their pound of flesh.’
How then can they love their enemies? They can only do it when:
1. they fervently ask the Holy Spirit to help them
2. they believe that the Holy Spirit is there to help them.
But if their belief is weak, they will fail and fall flat in their face. Only when their belief is strong and firm will they be able to love their enemies. And it can only be done one occassion at a time!
He will find as the words of the song say:
In my weakness He is there to let me know
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He will carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power the weak becomes strong
His strength is perfect.
We will never know the power He holds
Until we see how deep our weakness grows
His strength in us begins, when ours comes to an end
When He hears our despairing cry
He will prove again
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone.
We have to depend on His everlasting strength. We have to lean on our Heavenly Father for our strength.
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
WE come now to verses 43—48 above, in which we have the last of the six illustrations which our Lord has used to explain and display His teaching with regard to the meaning of God’s holy law for man, as contrasted with the perversion of it by the Pharisees and scribes. There is just one textual point which we must dismiss first. You will notice that in the Revised Version there is a slight difference in verse 44. In the Authorized Version we read: ‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ In the Revised Version it is just: ‘Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.’ The Authorized Version is therefore fuller than the Revised Version and contains a number of clauses which the latter lacks. The explanation of course is simply a matter of textual criticism. There are many ancient manuscripts containing the Gospels, and there are slight variations in them here and there, not with regard to any vital matter of doctrine, but with regard to certain details such as this. Now many of the recognized best manuscripts do not contain this fullness which is to be found in the Authorized Version, and that is why these statements are absent from the Revised. However, as the same teaching is certainly to be found elsewhere, I think it is best for us to take the teaching as given in the Authorized Version.
Once more, the way to approach this statement is to start with the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. They said: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ That was actually what they taught. The question at once arises in one’s mind, where did they find this in the Old Testament? Is there anywhere there a statement to that effect? And the answer is, of course, ‘No’. But that was the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes and they interpreted it like this. They said that the ‘neighbour’ meant only an Israelite; so they taught the Jews to love the Jews, but they told them at the same time to regard everybody else not only as an alien but as an enemy. Indeed they went so far as to suggest that it was their business, almost their right and their duty, to hate all such people. We know from secular history of the hatred and the bitterness which divided the ancient world. The Jews regarded all others as dogs and many Gentiles despised the Jews. There was this terrible ‘middle wall of partition’ dividing the world and causing intense animosity in that way. Thus then were many amongst the zealous Pharisees and scribes who thought they were honouring God by despising everybody who was not a Jew. They thought it was their business to hate their enemies. But these two statements are not found in juxtaposition anywhere in the Old Testament.
Nevertheless, there does seem to be a certain amount to be said for the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. It is not surprising in a sense that they taught what they did and tried to claim justification for it from the Scriptures. We must say this, not by any means because we are anxious to mitigate the crimes of the Pharisees and scribes, but because this point has often caused, and still causes, considerable difficulty in the minds of many Christian people. Nowhere in the Old Testament, I repeat, do we find ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’; but we do find many statements that may have encouraged people to hate their enemies. Let us consider some of them.
When the Jews entered the Promised Land of Canaan, they were commanded by God, you will remember, to exterminate the Canaanites. They were literally told to exterminate them, and though they did not in fact do this, they should have done so. Then they were told that the Amorites, the Moabites and the Midianites were not to be treated with kindness. That was a specific command from God. Later we read that the memory of the Amalekites was to be blotted out from under heaven because of certain things they had done. Not only that, it was part of God’s law that if any man murdered another, the relative of the murdered man was allowed to kill the murderer if he could catch him before he had entered one of the cities of refuge. That was part of the law. But perhaps the main difficulty which people encounter as they face this subject is the whole problem of the so-called imprecatory Psalms in which curses are called down upon certain people. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this is Psalm 69 in which the Psalmist says: ‘Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake. Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them. Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents,’ and so on. There can be little question but that it was Old Testament teaching of that type and order that seemed to the Pharisees and scribes to justify their injunction to the people that, while they were to love their neighbours, they must hate their enemies.
What is the answer to this problem? Surely there is only one way of facing it and that is to regard all these various injunctions, including the imprecatory Psalms, as always being judicial and never something individual. In writing his Psalms, the Psalmist is not so much writing about himself as about the Church; and his Psalms, you will find, are concerned in every single instance, in every imprecatory Psalm, with the glory of God. As he talks about the things that are being done to him, he is speaking of things that are being done to God’s people and to God’s Church. It is the honour of God that he is concerned about, it is his zeal for the house of God and for the Church of God that moves him to write these things.
But perhaps it can best be put like this. If you do not accept that principle which says that all these imprecations are always judicial in character, then at once you are involved in an insoluble problem with regard to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Here He is telling us we are to love our enemies. Turn then to Matthew 23 and listen to Him thundering out woes upon the heads of the Pharisees. How do you reconcile the two things? How do you reconcile the exhortation to love your enemies with these woes pronounced upon the Pharisees, and all the other things that He said with respect to them? Or, indeed, let us look at it in this way. Here our Lord tells us to love our enemies, because, He says, that is exactly what God does: ‘That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ There are people who have foolishly interpreted this to mean that the love of God is universal absolutely, and that it does not matter whether a man sins or not. Everybody is going to heaven because God is love; because God is love He can never punish. But that is to deny the teaching of Scripture from beginning to end. God punished Cain, and the ancient world in the flood; He punished the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; and He punished the children of Israel when they were recalcitrant. Then the whole teaching of the New Testament from the lips of Christ Himself is that there is to be a final judgment, that, finally, all the impenitent are going to a lake of fire, to the place where ‘their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched’. If you do not accept this judicial principle, you must just say that there is a contradiction running right through not only the teaching of the Bible, but even through the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and that is an impossible position.
The way to resolve the problem, therefore, is this. We must recognize that, ultimately, there is this judicial element. While we are in this life and world, God does indeed cause His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, He blesses people who hate Him, and He does send rain upon those who defy Him. Yes, God goes on doing that. But at the same time He announces to them that, unless they repent, they shall finally be destroyed. Therefore there is no ultimate contradiction. People like the Moabites and the Amorites and the Midianites had deliberately rejected the things of God, and God, as God and as the righteous Judge Eternal, pronounced judgment upon them. It is the prerogative of God to do that. But the difficulty with the Pharisees and scribes was that they did not draw that distinction. They took this judicial principle and put it into operation in their ordinary affairs and in their daily lives. They regarded this as a justification, on their own part, for hating their enemies, hating anybody they disliked, or anybody who was offensive to them. Thus they deliberately destroyed the principle of God’s law, which is this great principle of love.
Let us now consider this positively and perhaps it will throw still further light upon the matter. Our Lord, again contrasting the perverted teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes with His own teaching, says: ‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies.’ Then, as an illustration: ‘Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Once more we are dealing with exactly the same principle as we had in verses 38—42. It is a definition of what the attitude of the Christian should be towards other people. In the previous paragraph we had that in a negative form, here we have it positively. There the position was that of a Christian man subjected to insults by others. They come and strike him a blow, and inflict other kinds of injury upon him. And all our Lord says in the previous paragraph is that you must not hit back. ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil.’ That is the negative. Here, however, our Lord leaves that and goes on to the positive and it is, of course, the very climax of Christian living. Here He leads us on to one of the greatest and most glorious things that are to be found even in His own teaching. The principle that guides and governs our exposition, once more, is this simple and yet profound one of our attitude towards ourselves. It was the principle with which we expounded the previous paragraph. The only thing that enables a man not to hit back, to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile, to give his cloak as well as his coat when that is forcibly demanded, and to help others in desperate need, the vital thing is that a man should be dead to himself, dead to self-interest, dead to a concern about self. But our Lord goes very much further here. We are told we must positively love these people. We are even to love our enemies. It is not simply that we are not to strike back at them, but that we must be positive in our attitude towards them. Our Lord is at pains to have us see that our ‘neighbour’ must of necessity include even our enemy.
The best way of facing this is to see it in the form of a number of principles. It is the most exalted teaching that we can find anywhere, for it ends on this note: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ It all concerns this matter of love. What we are told, therefore, is that you and I in this world of time, faced as we are by problems and difficulties and people and many things that assail us, are to behave as God behaves, are to be like Him, and to treat others as He treats them. Do this, says Christ, ‘that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’ You are to be like that, He says, and to behave like that.
What does this mean? The first thing, of necessity, is that our treatment of others must never depend upon what they are, or upon what they do to us. It must be entirely controlled and governed by our view of them and of their condition. Clearly that is the principle which He enunciates. There are people who are evil, foul and unjust; nevertheless God sends rain upon them and causes the sun to shine upon them. Their crops are fructified like the crops of the good man; they have certain benefits in life, and experience what is called ‘common grace’. God does not bless only the efforts of the Christian farmer; no, at the same time He blesses the efforts of the unjust, the evil, the unrighteous farmer. That is a common experience. How does He do so? The answer must be that God is not dealing with them according to what they are or according to what they do to Him. What is it, if one may ask such a question with reverence, that governs God’s attitude to them? The answer is that He is governed by His own love which is absolutely disinterested (unconditional). In other words, it does not depend upon anything that is in us, it is in spite of us. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ What made Him do it? Was it something loving, or lovely, or lovable in us or in the world? Was it something that stimulated the eternal heart of love? Nothing whatsoever. It was entirely and altogether in spite of us. What moved God was His own eternal heart of love unmoved by anything outside itself. It generates its own movement and activity---an utterly disinterested (unconditional) love.
This is a tremendously important principle, because according to our Lord that is the kind of love that we are to have, and the love that we are to manifest with respect to others. The whole secret of living this kind of life is that man should be utterly detached. He must be detached from others in the sense that his behaviour is not governed by what they do. But still more important, he should be detached from himself, for until a man is detached from himself he will never be detached from what others do to that self. As long as a man is living for himself, he is sensitive, watchful and jealous; he is envious and is therefore always reacting immediately to what others do. He is in intimate contact with them. The only way to detach yourself from what others do to you is that you first of all detach yourself from yourself. That is the principle that governs not only this paragraph but the previous one also, as we have already seen. The Christian is a man who is taken out of this present evil world. He is placed in a position apart and lives on a higher level. He belongs to a different kingdom. He is a new man, a new creature, a new creation. Because of that, he sees everything differently and therefore reacts in a different manner. He is no longer of the world, but outside it. He is in a position of detachment. ‘There’, says Christ, ‘you can become like God in this respect, that you will no longer be governed exclusively by what other people do to you; you will have something within you that will determine your conduct and behaviour.’
We must not linger over this; but I think that, if we examine ourselves, we shall see at a glance that one of the most tragic things about us is that our lives are so much governed by other people and by what they do to us and think about us. Try to recall a single day in your own life. Think of the unkind and cruel thoughts that have come into your mind and heart. What produced them? Somebody else! How much of our thinking and acting and behaviour is entirely governed by other people. It is one of the things that make life so wretched. You see a particular person and your spirit is upset. If you had not seen that person you would not have felt like that. Other people are controlling you. ‘Now’, says Christ in effect, ‘you must get out of that condition. Your love must become such that you will no longer be governed and controlled by what people say. Your life must be governed by a new principle in yourself; a new principle of love.’
The moment we have that, we are enabled to see people in a different way. God looks down upon this world and sees all the sin and shame, but He sees it as something that results from the activity of Satan. There is a sense in which He sees the unjust man in a different way. He is concerned about him and about his good and welfare, and He therefore causes the sun to shine upon him and sends the rain upon him. Now we must learn to do that. We must learn to look at other people and say: ‘Yes, they are doing this, that and the other to me. Why? They are doing it because they are dupes of Satan; because they are governed by the god of this world and are his helpless victims. I must not be annoyed. I see them as hell-bound sinners. I must do everything I can to save them.’ That is God’s way of doing it. God looked at this sinful, arrogant, foul world, and He sent His only begotten Son into it to save it because He saw its condition. What was the explanation of that? He did it for our good and our welfare. And we must learn to do this for other people. We must have a positive concern for their good. The moment we begin to think of it like this it is not so difficult to do what He asks us to do. If we know in our hearts something of this compassion for the lost and the sinful and those who are perishing, then we shall be able to do it.
Why should we do this? There is often a great deal of sentimentalizing about this. People say we should do it in order to turn them into friends. That is often the basis of pacifism. They say: ‘If you are nice to people they will become nice to you.’ There were people who thought that could be done even with Hitler. They thought that you simply had to speak to him across a table and he would soon become nice if you were nice to him. There are people who still think that way; but let us be realists, not sentimentalists, because we know that that is not true and it does not work. No, our action is not aimed at turning them into friends.
Others say, ‘God regards and treats them not so much as they actually are, but in terms of what they are capable of becoming.’ That is the modern psychological view of this matter. It governs the way in which some school-teachers handle children. They must not punish them or exercise discipline. They must not treat children as they are, but rather as they ought to be and as they are capable of becoming, in order that they may become that. Some would like to see the same principle put into operation more widely with regard to the treatment of prisoners in prison. We must not punish, we must just be nice. We must see in that man what he can become and we must draw it out of him. But what of the results? No; it is not because our action will somehow change these people psychologically and turn them into what we want them to be, that we are to do these things. We must do them for one reason only, not that we can ever redeem or make anything of them, but that in this way we can display to them the love of God. It is not looking for that spark of divinity in the heart which would save it, and then fanning it into a flame. No, men are born in sin and shapen in iniquity, they are not capable, in and of themselves, of becoming anything that is right. But God has so ordained it that His wonderful gospel of redemption has sometimes been conveyed to men and women in the following manner. They look at a person and ask: ‘What has made that person different?’ and that person says: ‘I am what I am by the grace of God. It is not because I am born different, it is because God has done something to me. And what the love of God has done to me, it can do for you.’
How then may we manifest this love of God in our contact with other people? Here it is: ‘Bless them that curse you’, which, in more ordinary language, we put like this: reply to the bitter words with kind words. When people say harsh and unkind things we all tend to reply in kind---‘I told him; I answered him; I gave it to him’. And so we put ourselves on their level. But our rule must be kind words instead of bitter words.
Secondly: ‘Do good to them that hate you’, which means benevolent actions for spiteful actions. When somebody has been really spiteful and cruel to us we must not be the same to them. Rather we must respond with actions of benevolence. Though that farmer may hate God, and is unjust, and is a sinner, and has rebelled against Him, God causes His sun to shine upon him and sends the rain that is going to fructify the crops. Benevolent actions for cruel ones.
Lastly: ‘Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ In other words, when we are being cruelly persecuted by another person, we must pray for them. We must get on our knees, and talk to ourselves before we talk to God. Instead of being bitter and harsh, instead of reacting in these terms of self and in a desire to get our own back, we must remind ourselves that in everything we do we are under God, and before God. Then we must say: ‘Well now; why should this person be behaving like this? What is it? Is it something in me, perchance? Why do they do it? It is because of that horrible, sinful nature, a nature which is going to lead them to hell.’ Then we should go on thinking, until we see them in such a way that we become sorry for them, until we see them as going to their terrible doom, and at last become so sorry for them that we have no time to be sorry for ourselves, until we are so sorry for them, indeed, that we begin to pray for them.
This is the way in which we should test ourselves. Do you pray for people who persecute you and who use you despitefully? Do you ask God to have mercy and pity upon them, and not to punish them? Do you ask God to save their souls and open their eyes before it is too late? Do you feel a great concern? It is that which brought Christ to earth and sent Him to the cross. He was so concerned about us that He did not think about Himself. And we are to treat other people like that.
In order that we may be quite clear as to what this means and involves we must understand the difference between loving and liking. Christ said: ‘Love your enemies,’ not ‘Like your enemies’. Now liking is something which is more natural than loving. We are not called upon to like everybody. We cannot do so. But we can be commanded to love. It is ridiculous to command anyone to like another person. It depends upon the physical constitution, temperament and a thousand and one other things. That does not matter. What does matter is that we pray for the man whom we do not like. That is not liking but loving him.
People have stumbled at this. ‘Do you mean to say that it is right to love and not to like?’ they ask. I do. What God commands is that we should love a man and treat him as if we do like him. Love is much more than feeling or sentiment. Love in the New Testament is very practical---‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.’ Love is active. If, therefore, we find we do not like certain people, we need not be worried by that, so long as we are treating them as if we did like them. That is loving, and it is the teaching of our Lord everywhere. We have some glorious examples of it in the New Testament. You remember the parable of the Good Samaritan told by our Lord in response to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ The Jews traditionally hated the Samaritans and were their bitter enemies. However our Lord tells us in the parable that when the Jew was attacked by thieves and robbers on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, several Jews passed by and did not help him. But the Samaritan, the traditional enemy, went across the road and cared for him and did everything for him. That is loving our neighbour and our enemy. Who is my neighbour? Any man who is in need, any man who is down through sin or anything else. We must help him, whether he is a Jew or a Samaritan. Love your neighbour, even if it means loving your enemy. ‘Do good to them that hate you.’ And our Lord, of course, not only taught it, but He did it. There we see Him dying upon the cross, and what has He to say about those men who condemned Him to that, and who drove in the cruel nails? These are the blessed words that come from His holy lips: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’
It also became the teaching and the practice of the apostles everywhere in the New Testament. How foolish to say that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to Christians now but refers to the future, when the kingdom comes. No, it is for us now. Paul says: ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink’, which is exactly the same teaching. It is everywhere. And the apostles not only taught it; they lived it. Look at that wonderful man, Stephen, being stoned to death by cruel, foolish enemies. These were his last words: ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ He has reached the level of his Master; he is loving, as God in heaven loves this sinful world. And, thank God, the saints throughout the centuries have done the same. They have manifested the same, glorious, wonderful spirit.
Are we like that? This teaching is for us. We are meant to love our enemies and to do good to them that hate us and to pray for those that despitefully use and malign us; we are meant to be like this. I go further; we can be like this. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and joy and peace, is given to us, so that, if we are not like this, we are without excuse and we are doing great dishonour to our great and gracious Lord. But I have a word of comfort for you. For unless I am greatly mistaken, every person confronted by these things feels at this moment condemned. God knows I feel condemned; but I have a word of comfort at this point. I believe in a God who ‘maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’. But the God whom I know has done more than that; He has sent His only begotten Son to the cruel cross of Calvary that I might be saved. I fail; we all fail. But, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Do not feel that you are not a Christian if you are not living this kind of life fully. But, above all, having received this comfort, do not presume upon it, but rather feel that it breaks your heart still more because you are not like Christ, and not as you ought to be. If only we all might begin to love like this, and every Christian in the world were loving in this way! If we did, revival would soon come, and who knows what might happen even in the whole world.
‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,’ and then you will be like your Father who is in heaven. (303-313)
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