Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:43-45) That is certainly not our first response. When others hurt our feelings, we want to hurt them back; but that is the response of worldliness.
When we are able to love our enemies and treat them well, we show that Jesus is Lord of our life. This is only possible for those who give themselves fully to God, because only He can deliver people from natural selfishness. We must trust the Holy Spirit to help us show love to those for whom we may not feel love. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12) Persecution can be good (although it won’t feel good) because it takes our eyes off earthly rewards, strips away superficial beliefs, strengthens the faith of those who endure, and through it our attitude serves as an example to others who follow.
As I was contemplating this morning, I “got” that when we choose to become offended or to retaliate against our enemies, we are being prideful. “In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him [The Lord]; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” (Ps. 10:4) We have all been there, so wrapped up in anger that our attention is on the offender; and not on the Lord. By contrast, Jesus had earlier said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3) God’s way of telling us to live contradicts the world’s way. If we want to live for God, we must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. We must be willing to give when others take; to love when others hate; to help when others abuse. By giving up our own “rights” (there’s that pride again) in order to serve others, we will one day receive everything God has in store for us.
Jesus gave us the ultimate example in loving others who are our enemies, while He forgave those who nailed Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). It doesn’t come naturally to us to forgive those who treat us poorly, but we do have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help us. We go to the Lord in prayer, and in prayer we lift our eyes up to Jesus instead of looking upon those that hurt us. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44) We will reflect the Lord’s love to others when we love them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)