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. â€”Mt 5:44
The Bible revolves around love, teaching us the way to love God and to love man. Love is the meaning and motivation for life. With love, life is wonderful and joyful; without it, life is just dull and uninteresting. Our Lord Jesus tells us that we have to bear our cross and follow Him. These teachings behind the cross are the teachings of love, representing the relationship between God and us, and the relationship we have with each other.
It is easy, of course, to love God and to love people who love us in return. But it's not so easy to love those who don't love us back. Our Lord Jesus teaches us not merely to love our enemies but also to pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). This may seem to be an even harder task, but when we consider how Jesus and Stephen were able to do it, how can we, who are determined to follow Christ, fail at it? As believers who claim to have picked up our cross and followed Christ, we must remember that the burden of the cross lies in this kind of love. The Bible tells us the reasons why we should love our enemies.
Why We Should Love
Because Jesus First Loved Us
If Jesus had not come into this world in the form of flesh and redeemed us from our sins by shedding His own blood, we would not someday be able to stand blameless before God. While we were still sinners, God sent His only Son as a sacrifice for the atonement of our sins, because He loved us so.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Jn 3:16-18)
It is thus a wonderful grace to be chosen by God today. It is such a great change for us: once we were near the borders of destruction, but now we are His children. Since God loves us so much, we should emulate Christ's love by loving those who need our love.
In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus tells us the parable of the servant who owed his master ten thousand talents. Often we are like this servantâ€”we know how to receive God's love, but we don't know how to reflect it onto others who need it. We might be angry when we read about the servant in the parable because we think he's too cruel. Yet we should realize that we are not so different from that cruel servant; when we criticize him, we are really criticizing ourselves.
Taking Away the Obstacle to Prayer
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. â€”Mt 5:23-24
In these verses, Jesus reminds us of the importance of reconciliation. The altar represents prayer, as a way of gathering and of getting closer to God. If we wish to maintain a good relationship with God and have Him accept our offerings, we must first reconcile with those who have something against us. For God will accept our prayers and offerings only after we have accomplished this task.
A quarrel is usually caused by shortcomings in both parties. This passage in the Bible emphasizes the person who is trying to make an offering to God; more importantly, it says that someone has a grudge against him, rather than him having a grudge against someone else. Perhaps the person trying to make the offering has had an argument or a slight disagreement with someone else and has already forgotten about the matter or forgiven the other party. Yet he has not made attempts at reconciliation, and the other party is still displeased with him. As a result, he is unable to gain God's approval and pleasure when he makes his offering.
If we wish our prayers and works to be accepted by God, we first have to love our enemies and those who are still displeased with us. This is the only way that God will be pleased with all we have to offer.
God Forgives Us When We Forgive Others
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. â€” Mt 6:14-15
If we are able to forgive others, then if we happen to offend someone, that person will be more likely to forgive us. It is only through this kind of positive cycle that the relationships between people can stay happy. Also, by removing the barrier that sin creates between God and us, we will gain His forgiveness for our past wrongs and shorten the distance between Him and us.
Peter once asked Jesus how often we should forgive others (Mt 18:21-22). Peter thought that it was quite an accomplishment to be able to forgive someone seven times for their wrongs, but the answer that Jesus gave surprised him: Jesus said that we have to forgive someone seventy times seven times. It may seem hard for us even to meet someone face-to-face who has wronged us, so it would be truly amazing to be able to forgive someone seventy times seven times. In actuality, what Jesus meant is that we should not think about the number of times that others offend us, but we should forgive them unconditionally, just as He forgave us. In doing so can we be deemed the true children of God.
We Love God by Loving Those around Us
We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. â€” 1 Jn 4:19-21
Jesus has also told us, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24). Many people put great effort into their own worship of God, but they are unclear about what His commands mean. In order to express their love for God, they read the Bible, have fellowships and prayers, and sing praises to Him every day. But they are not complete in their love for God, because they fail to love others unconditionally. Quite often they continue to hold grudges and feel hatred toward others, and they have many enemies. There is a great contrast between the way they worship and the way they treat other people. The apostle John was thinking of this attitude when he remarked, "If someone says 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar" (1 Jn 4:20). The love we express toward our brethren is the best and most practical way to show our love for God.
We have thus considered the reasons why we should love our enemies. But just how should we love them?
How to Love Completely
Love from Our Hearts
Many people think that it is good enough to love an enemy by being able to remain silent and bear all attacks with retort. They may hate the other person deep down in their hearts, but they are able to suppress it and not reveal it in front of their enemy. They may then say bad things about the person behind his or her back, trying to relieve some of the frustration they feel or trying to gain support and approval from others. They may have trouble eating or sleeping as long as they continue to think about the unhappy incidents. They feel miserable, because they haven't forgiven the other person.
This is not the way Jesus taught us to love our enemies. He taught us to forgive them completely, from the bottom of our hearts, and to let them feel our love, so that we may convert them from our enemies to our friends. "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To one who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also" (Luke 6:27-29).
Jesus emphasized the need for us to truly forgive someone who wrongs us, not just to put up with him or her passively. If we truly love others, we will be able to forgive not only the one who strikes our cheek but also the one who hits us with a stick or even attempts to kill us. Only if we have this kind of love are we among those who bear the cross with Christ.
God will judge us by the words we speak as Christians. That's why Paul encouraged the believers in the church at Rome to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Rom 12:14). When we talk about the act of loving our enemies, we should remember the following passage:
But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Mt 5:38-42)
Ordinarily, we might feel that these actual expressions of love for our enemies are quite impossible. Yet it's not enough just to maintain a facade of harmony; we need to take a step forward by also asking God to bless our enemies. This teaching cannot be found in any other book, for only in the Bible are we able to find complete love. Before Stephen died for Jesus, he prayed to God, saying, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Acts 7:60). Stephen was human just like us, and he felt the pain when he was attacked. But instead of asking God to curse those who persecuted him, he begged God not to charge them with the sin.
This kind of love is something that each and every Christian should possess, for our God is love and He wants us to have love like His (1 Jn 4:7-8). The Lord Jesus commanded His twelve disciples to preach the gospel and to greet each household. If the household was worthy, peace would come upon them; but if it was not worthy, peace would return to the disciples (Mt 10:11-13), for only blessings should be given, not curses.
Pray for Them
It may seem sufficient to give our enemies additional love and to bless them. But that is still not complete love, for we must also pray for them (Lk 6:28). We who are in the flesh are often weak, and there may be times when we act in haste, times when our tempers are short, and times when we underestimate others or regard them with hatred. All of these weaknesses lead to the possibility of conflicts. Thus, in praying for our enemies, we are also praying for ourselves. We must be able to confess our own trespasses and pray for one another (Jam 5:16) in order to be pleasing in God's eyes.
Do Not Gloat over Their Misfortune
Proverbs 24:17-18 tells us, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him."
No matter how awful our enemies may be, we must accept what has happened without blaming them. Otherwise, we will feel anger, frustration, and vengeance that come with these thoughts. Paul told us that we should not try to avenge ourselves but to give way and await the judgment of God. For it is written, "'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Rom 12:19). In doing good to our enemies, we are heaping coals of fire upon their heads (Rom 12:20).
If we see that our enemies are being punished or disciplined by God, we should not gloat. Instead, we should have a sympathetic heart, so that God will not direct His anger toward us.
Peter encourages us to love one another and to bless those who persecute us, so that we may inherit a blessing (1 Pet 3:8-9). In this way we can be worthy children of God, able to inherit the eternal heavenly kingdom, for in the heavenly kingdom, there is no hatred. Let us all rely on God to love one another.