by Glen Tattersall
Many look at the teachings of Jesus as foolishness. A well known national radio broadcaster regarded the turning of the other cheek and going the second mile with derision. And so from "sea to shining sea" he let his listeners know his thoughts. Jesus' teaching about loving our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 5:43-48) is also regarded by many in the same light. However we need to consider that the Lord's wisdom is above ours. As the Scriptures say in 1 Corinthians 1: 25 and Isaiah 55: 8-9 - His foolishness is greater than our wisdom and His ways are above ours.
The world regards the Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce as draconian. And yet as we speak the world is being proved wrong! The world regards Jesus' teaching on lust (today's euphemism - "free sex"), as too restrictive - yet the world is being proved wrong! The world regards Jesus' teaching on righteousness (i.e. holding to, and walking according to God's definite standard) as being intolerant - yet the world is being proved wrong! The world regards the idea of loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate, as unreasonable - and yet even here the world can be proved wrong.
One of the big challenges we face as Christians is to break away from worldly ways of thinking, and in the context of our lesson to rise above the thinking that we only do good to those who do good to us. What we are going to consider in our lesson is not only how we can love our neighbours, but our enemies as well. Let us consider our text and define four terms. From the context we learn that most regard one who does good to us as being our neighbour. There is nothing special in this sort of attitude; the basest of sinners will have this attitude. In fact when we love those who love us, our attitude can be quite selfish, wherein our "love" is only so that we may get something in return. In the nomenclature of today this is known as "reactive" love - we react with love when it is first shown to us.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-29,36,37), a certain man is set upon by robbers and left for dead. A Priest comes by and ignores the man. Then a Levite comes by and again, the man is ignored. Finally a Samaritan comes by, and when the wounded man could offer absolutely nothing, the Samaritan takes care of his wounds, sees him to an inn and offers to pay any additional cost. It was the Samaritan who was identified as being the neighbour. The Lord's point was that we shouldn't sit around waiting for others to be neighbourly to us, but rather we should go and create neighbours by being neighbourly. This sort of love is what we term as proactive - it takes the initiative.
Again from the context we see that our enemies is the one who mistreats us or persecutes us. The Christian will have enemies by virtue of being a Christian; this we are promised in Matthew 5: 10-11 and 2 Timothy 3: 12. Our enemies will include the ungodly - those who cannot stand those who are striving to live righteously; the misguided - those who religiously are in error; and the ignorant - those who in their foolishness and ignorance attack what they do not know. Additionally our enemy could also be regarded as the one who simply refuses to do us good.
The third term we want to identify is the word 'love'. This word is used in several senses and unless we can understand the different ways in which it is used, there will inevitably be confusion. The Greeks used four words for love, and they are helpful to consider here. The first was the word eros - this was used for describing physical love. The second was storge - which is used to describe family love. The third is phileo which is affectionate love - and is indeed the one of which most people tend to think. But when Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, none of these words were used. Rather the word He used was agape - this is the love of the will or the mind. It is in this word that love chooses to do good to others, irrespective of our feelings. It is this sense that primarily we are to have our love for God, for one another, and yes even for our enemies.
It was once said "that the Lord didn't tell us to like our enemies, but He did say that we have to love them." It would be a practical impossibility to carry out the command to "like" our enemies, to have feelings of warmth and affection for them; but when we see that love is a matter of choosing to do them good and not evil, we begin to see how the Lord's command is a practical possibility.
Our last term to define is that of the word "hate". This word too is used in several ways, and in like manner unless we understand the senses we are bound to have confusion. For example in Matthew 5: 43-44, we are told to love our enemies, and yet in Luke 14: 26 we are told to hate our mum and dad, brother and sister! As always when looking at apparent discrepancies in the Bible we must give careful attention to the way in which words are used.
The Greek word for hate (miseo) is used in one of three ways. The first is a relative preference for one thing above another. For example in Matthew 6: 24 the Lord said that we cannot serve God and wealth, we will choose one over the other. This is the sense in which the Lord was talking when He said we should hate father, mother, brother, sister. When it comes to the crunch we should prefer Jesus over our family relationships.
The second sense which "hate" is used is of having a right aversion from what is evil. For example in Jude 22-23 we are in effect told to love the sinner, but hate the sin. This is the kind of hate Christians should have, and indeed in Psalm 97: 10, it is commanded of God's people. However the usage of the word "hate" with which we have to do, is in the sense of malicious, or unjustifiable feelings towards others, whether innocent or by mutual animosity. This is the most common definition of what it is to hate, and is condemned in the Scriptures as being sinful (Titus 3: 3, 1 John 3: 15, etc). This is what Jesus is addressing when He says we are not to hate our enemies. The rationale for His teaching becomes clear when we consider what the effects of hate are.
The world thinks that hate is a way of getting "even" with the one who hates us, that is to retaliate. It is used to teach others a "lesson". It is used to give one a sense of superiority over others, that is in our imagination, attitude and conduct to "put down" the one who has mistreated us, to enable us to feel better. However the world attempts to justify hate, Jesus knew the real effects of hate.
Hate is self destructive. It does more harm to us than it does to our enemies. Years ago the story is told of a man who became bitter and angry in life. When it was traced back as to why he became like he did, it was all because as a teenager a teacher slighted him in front of a class. His resentment towards that teacher spread its tentacles into every aspect of his life, ruining his life years after the teacher had forgotten all about him. What a shame, what a waste, what a loss of happiness!
Biblically we see the same story being retold, time and again. Cain sinned
and needed to correct himself, but rather he turned and in hateful jealousy,
slew his brother. His hate led him to being an outcast for the remainder of his
life (Genesis 4: 1-15). The book of Esther records a certain prominent man
called Haman, promoted to the status of Prime Minister of the Persian Empire.
Yet his hate for a Jew named Mordecai led to his humiliation and death. In 2
Kings 22: 7-8ff we find the wicked king Ahab in his hatred for the prophet
Micaiah, ignore the prophet's warning, and lose his life as a result.
Without doubt, hatred causes us harm spiritually, emotionally and often physically. Hate lowers us. When we respond in kind to those who hate us, we become like them. What was originally their problem becomes ours. If we heed the Lord's instructions and continue to do them good, then their problem remains theirs and theirs alone.
Hate causes division. We see this all the time between nations. Often their are two opposing peoples and despite the best efforts of peacemakers hostilities still continue because fundamentally they just hate the other. We also see this kind of division between individuals - often there are cases where two people will not even speak with one another because of some wrong committed or imagined.
What sort of division would have been caused if the Jerusalem brethren hated Paul for the wrongs he had done? They would have lacked the fellowship of one who would become an outstanding brother, they may even have had division with congregations which Paul founded or had worked with.
Another aspect to the divisive nature of hate is that there is just no way in which we can win a hated enemy to Christ. Our teaching may be absolutely correct, but if we have ill will towards them then we have created an insurmountable barrier. Hate robs us of our spiritual rewards. In Luke 6: 32-36, Jesus taught that when we do good to our enemies there is a heavenly reward. However if we respond evil with evil, then we deny ourselves this spiritual reward. No good thing comes out of hating. It is a work of Satan, he is a murderer and the father of lies (John 8: 44) and when we hate we are continuing his evil.
Having said all of the above, loving our enemies is easier said than done. So what are some practical helps that will enable us to be more like God in this regard? Firstly we need to consider the example God has set in His love for us. There was a time when we were once enemies of God (Colossians 1: 21; Romans 5: 10); we have all sinned and we have all been in rebellion towards God. Were would we be if God hated us because we have hated Him? God responded to our sin and rebellion with love, clearly demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus for all the world (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8). At a time when we did not know (or even want to know) God, at a time when were enemies of God, God demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. Whenever we are tempted to hate our enemies, we do well to consider what God has done for us and to emulate His example.
In overcoming hate we also need to keep in mind from whence our sense of self worth comes. People of a worldly mind set have their sense of self worth based upon what others think of them or even what they think of themselves. Anyone who would damage this self image then becomes an enemy who is hated. For these people loving their enemies is an impossibility. For the Christian however, their sense of self worth is based on what God thinks of them and their relationship with God. As a result of this we are secure enough in ourselves to be able to respond with good to those who hate us. For example if a happily married man who is loved by both his wife and children is accused by someone else of being unmanly and ugly, he can shrug it off because he knows that all that matters is that his family thinks he is worthwhile. Similarly if the Christian is attacked or despised he can shrug it off knowing that he is accepted by God and his sense of worth remains unaffected. Hate from a Christian is really indicative of a lack of faith in God's love for them.
When hated we need to see the potential in others. We are all created in God's image although sin tends to cover that image. Jesus always looked below the covering of sin to see the erring child within every individual. He saw it in those who hated Him (cf Luke 23: 34), in those who were outcasts (cf Luke 19: 5,10), and amongst the 'sinners' (cf John 4: 16-18). When we are hated we need to see the potential for good in our enemies. Paul did this and shared the gospel with his gaoler (Acts 16: 31ff). Stephen did this and prayed for his killers (Acts 7: 60).
When we respond with love towards our enemies we are using one of the two most powerful tools we have in winning them to the Lord. The other of course is the gospel message itself. The stories are told of a Christian man in an army camp who was praying by his bunk one night. A fellow soldier in contempt threw a heavy army boot at him and struck him in the back of the head. The Christian continued to pray and his attacker was overcome by remorse and went and apologised. This opened the way for him to be taught the gospel. Another story is of a Christian woman who was slandered at work as a fellow colleague vied with her for a promotion. As a result the Christian lady lost out, but responded by sending a congratulations card and flowers to the one who had done her wrong. Again her opponent was overcome with guilt and apologised and again it opened the way for the gospel to be taught. By responding with love not only do we create opportunities to teach the gospel, but we can even turn enemies into friends!
Hatred for our fellow man is a work of the flesh. It sits right alongside
pride, selfishness and prejudice. There is a time and a place for hate, but this
is reserved for hating the works of the devil, not those ensnared by him. Love,
purposeful love is of God. If we are to be lights in this world, to win the
world for Christ, then we must respond to hate not as the world does but as God
does. The world indeed may mock Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies, but the
fact remains that it can be demonstrated that the teachings of Jesus when
adhered to actually work. Making them work in our lives requires faith, but when
we exercise this faith then we become complete as people, just as our God in
heaven is complete as God - "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father
which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5: 48).