Loving Our Enemies?
(Matthew 5, Romans 12)
Introduction: Mat Staver, a prominent American religious liberty lawyer, likes to tell a story about me that centers on Matthew 5:44. That text tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How do religious liberty lawyers who are fighting "the bad guys" do that? Mat suggested that when he entered into legal battle he prayed for his opponents - that they would be confused! That struck me as being inconsistent with the theme of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5. But, one day I decided to follow Mat's advice when I was cross-examining a fellow in a deposition. The deposition went wonderfully for "our side" because the fellow testifying against us was confused - confused enough to tell the truth! I reported to Mat that he was on to something. What does Jesus have in mind in Matthew 5? Did David love Goliath? What, exactly, is our Biblical obligation to people who are hurting us and the gospel of Christ? Let's jump into the Bible to see what we can learn!
- Jesus' Words
- Read Matthew 5:43-45. In verse 43 the word translated "neighbor" can also be translated "friend." What seems more natural: to love your friend or your enemy?
- Verse 44 tells us to "love" our enemies. Could you really love someone who was an enemy?
- Would your answer turn on what is meant by "love?"
- The word "love," at least in English, is used in many ways that make it difficult to be precise. According to Strong's, the Greek word used here, "agapao," means to love in a social or moral sense. Jesus helps define what He means by love by giving us an illustration in verse 45 about how God loves the evil and unrighteous. What definition of "love" would you give based on God's example? (The example seems to define love as non-discriminatory treatment.)
- Would it take special effort on God's part to keep the sun off the evil and water off the unrighteous? (Yes. God would have to give them special treatment.)
- Is this example a key to understanding what God means when He tells us to love our enemies? Are we simply required to treat them in a non-discriminatory fashion?
- The word translated "love" in Matthew 5: 44 is the same Greek word used in John 3:16 to describe God's love for us, in John 3:35 to describe God the Father's love for Jesus and in John 11:5 to describe Jesus' love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Does that seem to be simply non-discriminatory love?
- Read Romans 12:14. In the introduction I mentioned praying for confusion among my litigation opponents. How does that fit with this text? (It does not fit very well. I consider confusion (when I'm confused) to be a curse. Praying for confusion among my opponents seems to be asking for them to be cursed, not blessed.)
- Read Romans 12:17-18. Notice the instruction to "do what is right in the eyes of everybody." How is that relevant to the issue of loving our enemies? (If someone sees what you did to get revenge, without knowing the reason, they will think that your character is flawed. Admittedly it is difficult to be reasonable when seeking revenge.)
- The Benefit of Loving Our Enemies
- You may think loving our enemies is a "no-win" situation. Even if we manage to obey Jesus, what good, this side of heaven, will it do to love our enemies? They are still our enemies! Is there a practical reason for us to love our enemies?
- I read a book containing the teachings of the Buddhist spiritual leader, The Dali Lama. I was struck by the overlap between his teachings and the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5. In his parallel teaching about loving our enemies, The Dali Lama asked the following questions you should consider:
- How many people would you estimate that you have dealt with in your life?
- Of that number, how many do you deal with on a daily basis?
- Of that number, how many can you say are your personal enemy?
- If you are like most people, you have met thousands of people over your life. But of those thousands, you probably deal with a hundred or less on a regular basis and a handful on a daily basis. Of those hundred, you are unlikely to have more than one or two you consider your "enemy." (If you have more, you may be missing other significant teachings of the Bible!) This means that true enemies are a rare thing. They are a scarce resource, according to The Dali Lama, which presents you with the opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult people! Dealing with the few difficult people in your life allows you to learn valuable lessons about character development and getting along with others.
- Is this Buddhist rationale for "loving our enemies" consistent with the Bible?
- Let's go back to Matthew. Read Matthew 5:46-48. What reason(s) does Jesus give for loving our enemies? (Jesus speaks both of a "reward" and being more like God.)
- What is this reward that we get for loving our enemies? (I think it is part of our reward in heaven, but the Buddhist suggestion of a reward here makes sense to me too. The reason is that being perfect like our heavenly Father sounds like perfection of character. Our characters can be developed by dealing well with difficult people.)
- Let's go back to Romans 12. Read Romans 12:20. What reason are we given here for helping our enemies? ("Burning coals" doesn't sound good for your enemy. Perhaps it means a final judgment. Perhaps it means feeling shame for mistreating you.)
- How does this fit with the idea of "non-discriminatory" treatment for our enemies? (This clearly goes beyond that. We are called to do something good for our enemies.)
- Read Romans 12:19. What reason are we given here for being good to our enemies? (God, not us, will avenge the wrong done to us.)
- Read Romans 12:21. One major concern about being kind to our enemies is our worry that evil will triumph. We feel we must challenge wrongdoing (especially when we are the victim!) What does this text suggest is the ultimate outcome of our dispute with our enemies? (That we will overcome our enemies with good. We will win. The goal of being loving to our enemies is to win against evil!)
- Payback Time!
- If you take a concordance and read all of the texts in Psalms that contain the word "enemies," your first reaction is that the teachings of Psalms and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount present two radically different approaches to dealing with our enemies. For example, the first reference to enemies in Psalms is Psalms 3:7 "O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; Break the teeth of the wicked." Now that sounds more like my natural heart! Punch them in the nose, God!
- How can you reconcile the New Testament approach to enemies with the Psalms' approach to enemies? (If you look at the texts in Psalms that refer to enemies you will see a pattern: the Psalmist consistently calls on God for deliverance from his enemies. This is precisely what Romans 12:19 advises when it says, "Leave room for God's wrath [on your enemies.]")
- Let's compare again Romans 12:14 with Romans 12:19. If you, like the Psalmist, are praying for your enemy to get his teeth knocked out by God, how is this a blessing and not a cursing? (This reminds me so much of righteousness by faith. We reach out to God and trust Him for our righteousness. When it comes to payback for our enemies, we reach out to God and trust Him for our revenge.)
- Recall that in Matthew 5:48 we are told to love our enemies so that we will become perfect like our Heavenly Father. Is payback part of God's perfection? (One of the last references to "enemies" in the Bible is Hebrews 10:26-27. Read this text. Clearly God is going to destroy our mutual enemies.)
- Friend, God teaches us that we should not be in the revenge business, but in the kindness business. We should turn to God for "payback" against our enemies. How does that fit the "Mat Staver prayer" for confusion among our enemies? Although I still have trouble fitting that with Romans 12:14, it seems to me that is generally what God has in mind. Our conduct towards our enemies is positive. Our way of obtaining relief from our enemies is to ask God for justice. Will you turn your thoughts of vengeance over to God? Will you decide today to overcome evil with good?
- Next week: Brothers and Sisters in the Faith.