Don’t Hate Your Enemies, as do the Scribes and Pharisees

Finally, Jesus listed one more God-given commandment that the scribes and Pharisees had altered to accommodate their hateful hearts.

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 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).

In the Old Testament, God had said, “Love your neighbor” (Lev. 19:18), but the scribes and Pharisees had conveniently defined neighbors as being only those people who loved them. Everyone else was an enemy, and since God said to love only our neighbors, it must be proper to hate our enemies. According to Jesus, however, that is not at all what God intended.

Jesus would later teach in the story of the Good Samaritan that we should consider every person to be our neighbor.[1] God wants us to love everyone, including our enemies. That is God’s standard for His children, a standard by which He Himself lives. He sends crop-growing sun and rain, not only on good people, but also on evil people. We should follow His example, showing kindness to undeserving people. When we do, it shows that we are “sons of [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:45). Authentic born-again people act like their Father.

The love God expects us to show our enemies is not an emotion or an approval of their wickedness. God is not requiring us to have warm fuzzy feelings about those who oppose us. He is not telling us to say what is untrue, that our enemies are really wonderful people. But He does expect that we will be merciful towards them and take willful action to that end, at least by greeting them and praying for them.

Notice that Jesus once more reinforced His primary theme—Only the holy will inherit God’s kingdom. He told His disciples that if they only loved those who loved them, they were no better than pagan Gentiles and tax collectors, two kinds of people whom every Jew would agree were hell-bound. It was another way of saying that people who only love those who love them are going to hell.

[1] It was a Jewish teacher of the Law who, wishing to justify himself, asked Jesus the question, “Who is my neighbor?” You can be sure he already thought he had the right answer. Jesus answered him with the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37).