Everlasting Power: Devotional Commentary for November 1-7
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
And Jesus continued:
43"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'
44"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45so 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.
46"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47"If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
True to His style, Jesus opens this passage by reminding His listeners the stipulation of the Law regarding Love. But this time, He exposes the ungodly convention inserted by tradition into the Word of God in order to accommodate man's moral frailties. The Law says to love one's neighbor but does not delineate who the neighbor might be. But Jesus does, in His answer to the lawyer who sought to catch Him in an incident of inconsistency.
In His parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus uses the word "neighbor" in the broadest and most inclusive sense. He does not distinguish between friends and enemies when He identified the neighbor in the story. The rabbinical theologians of the time did not like the possibility of having to love their enemies along with their neighbors. So they moved to amend the Law with their own unbiblical provision commanding the people to hate their enemies while loving their neighbors. So the Law was rendered: love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus says that is wrong and ungodly. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us to hate our enemies.
Jesus corrects this intentional defiance by showing the clear intent and meaning of the Law and by expounding on the unbounded application of its provisions. Taking "neighbor" in its broadest and most inclusive context, Jesus tells us that our neighbor is anyone who needs our attention and services including our enemies. Therefore, we love our neighbors and enemies. Love and pray. That is what we do for our neighbors, friends and foe alike. We feed them when they are hungry and give them water when they are thirsty. We do not hate them.
There is only one reason—yes one good reason—for a loving and prayerful attitude toward our enemies. We are the children of a loving, gracious, and merciful God. We are not victims of a hostile passion. We love Him because He first loved us. So if His Love made us love Him back, then the same divine Love cultivates His Love in us toward others whether they are friends, enemies, or just unlovable for any reason.
The testimony of our faith and salvation must be reflected in the way our behaviors show that we are indeed the children of a loving and a compassionate God. God loved us while we were yet sinners. That is, He loved us while we were still offensive and unlovable. He loved us while we were yet His enemies.
God's Love is broad, deep, high, long, and inclusive. He continues to pour out His blessings upon all of humanity and the entirety of creation. He sustains life. He gives the rain and the sunshine to both the just and the unjust.
If we are the children of such a loving Father, and if His Spirit dwells in our hearts, how can we afford to be hateful toward anyone? Wouldn't we be behaving contrary to the Spirit in us? Jesus questions the merit in expressing love the same way the world does, i.e., a reciprocal quid pro quo of love. What would be the value of our love if it is not distinguishable from what is happening in the world? That is selfish affection. There is nothing remarkable if we return love only to those who love us and welcome just our friends, as do unbelievers and the ungodly. Love is not a commodity to be bartered. It is a blessing from God to be given, to be shared.
Jesus concludes this passage with a startling yet clear and precise precept. Be perfect even as our Father is perfect. Perfect!? How!? Jesus is not commanding us to bring ourselves to some level of perfection on our own. He is actually exhorting us to remain thoroughgoing in our responsive obedience as we are being conformed into the image of God's Son. Stay the perfect course of our new life as we are being perfected by our Redeemer. We belong to Him. Let His Love work in us and show us the way.
The precepts in the Sermon on the Mount are probably the most challenging of Jesus' Words issued to us. The standards are quite high and seem unattainable. Actually, even a casual reading of the precepts in the passage before us could be very discouraging at times. Then we wonder why Jesus would tell us to love our enemies when He knows what we feel about their ill-intent toward us.
We misunderstand our Teacher. We resist His precepts because we are not willing to regard our enemies with favor. We feel Jesus' exhortations are unjustly pressuring us to like our enemies and come close to being fondly cuddlesome with them.
No! Not true at all. The issue is no longer what we can or cannot do, or, what we want or do not want. He simply tells us not to be hateful toward anyone. He teaches us to be loving and praying to God for our neighbors, friends and foe alike. Why? Because we should not be contrary to our Father. It must be like Father like son, like Father like daughter. Our relationship with others is now the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart. Therefore, as the redeemed sons and daughters of God, our love ought to be an aspect of God's Love.
The answer is simple and it is clearly delineated in the passage before us. When Jesus answered the lawyer concerning the greatest commandment, He identified Love as being the Foundation of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus told the lawyer: "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND." He added "This is the great and foremost commandment." It is also the supreme foundation of the Law. Love is the fulfillment of the Law.
Jesus then goes on to identify a second commandment which is basically similar to the first one. Once again, it is the Law of Love. It is the corollary of the first one. It is not a separate Law. It is not different from or independent of the first one. Jesus told the lawyer: "The second is like it," i.e., our love for God. "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
We already know that we do not naturally love God. That is not the natural inclination of our human nature. However, since God Himself made loving Him possible for us by loving us, His Love in us would also make us love our enemies contrary to our natural inclinations. The Love of God makes the impossible possible in us. It would only take a responsive obedience to God on our part.
Love is one of God's communicable Attributes. Therefore, God instills His Love in us so we can respond to Him in His Love and relate with others through the same Love. That is one of the ways in which our transformation is expressed. God loves our enemies through us. The Holy Spirit prays for our enemies through us. Hence, we can actually love our enemies and pray for them as those who are loved by God. Our love for our enemies is an aspect of our relationship with God.
Our perfection is then in God Himself through His Love. Such Love is unfathomable. It is a giving-of-oneself for the good of the recipient of God's Love from us. That is what Christ did when He surrendered Himself to God's Judgment on the Cross for our sake. It is pure. It is powerful. It is real. It is perfect. It is the only kind of Love which sets us free from hatred and makes us the conduits of God's Love both to our neighbors and our enemies. Christ's perfect Love makes us perfect in the Love of God. The Love of God, the Power of God in us.