1. Introduction. Overview; why we are looking at this; how I will teach it; some key understandings; guidelines for discussion.

2. The context of Matthew 5. Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount; overview of Matthew 5:17-48; brief overview of Jesus’ teaching on nonresistance.

3.  Love your enemies. Matthew 5:43-48 (pt. 1) Our focus text.

4. ‘What love?’ & ‘Which enemies?’ Matthew 5:43-48 (pt. 2)

5. Enemy love in the rest of the New Testament

6. What if . . . ? A practical look at what love allows when confronted by an enemy.

7. Overcoming evil with good. An overview of the what and how of returning good for evil; the trust in God that this requires; the example of Jesus.

8. Can God’s mind change? Can God say one thing in the Old Testament about hating enemies and war, and another in the New – love your enemies?

9. What about soldiers and rulers in the New Testament? The principles of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 on ‘stations of life’ and the early church’s answer to the question of soldiers and rulers in their midst.

10. Can we be good citizens while loving our enemies? Ways to ‘seek the welfare’ of our country, while being true to our citizenship in the kingdom of God.

11. What about Hitler? The resources that we have as Christians to fight evil in the world.

12. A review of some basics.

Advertisements

Our focus text for this class is Matthew 5:43-48 –

“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The class in a nutshell

This is so that you can see what the class is about as we get started. The phrase, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) means what it says. And this is confirmed by the rest of Jesus’ teaching and example, as well as the rest of the New Testament.

  • There are no restrictions on the word “love” in this phrase. It means what it means everywhere else in the New Testament – to do good to, to care for, to bless, to sacrifice for.
  • And as well there are no restrictions on the word “enemies” in this phrase. It covers all kinds of enemies, in any context in which we find them – from personal enemies to the enemies of your nation, which in Jesus’ case would have been the Romans, who occupied and oppressed his country.

At a minimum this teaches us that we should not kill our enemies. More broadly as Jesus teaches in this passage, we should not return evil for evil, harm for harm, but rather return good for evil to anyone who harms us.

Now, the implications of this teaching are enormous! For instance, how do you treat: Someone who cuts you off on the road? A neighbor who harasses you? Someone who threatens to kill you or your family? Your country’s enemies in a time of war? These are all enemies, whom we are called to love, according to Jesus.

Now there are many who say this simple phrase – “love your enemies” – doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. And we will look at these interpretations and objections as we go along. But, as I said, this whole class is about saying that this phrase does mean what it says.

Why are we looking at this?

There are several reasons:

1. Love of enemies is an important topic biblically.

  • In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 (our text), this is the culminating example, out of six different topics, of the greater righteousness of the kingdom of God
  • It is also highlighted in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. Here the topic takes up over 1/4 of this sermon.
  • It is the point of the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. Loving and caring for a national enemy in need.
  • The example of Jesus dying on the cross for us, his enemies. This is the climax of the storyline and focus in all four Gospels.
  • There are other Scriptures that teach not returning harm for harm, but rather returning good for evil – Romans 12:17:21; I Thessalonians 5:15; I Corinthians 4:12-13; I Peter 3:19. We will come back to these and others to look more carefully at them in another class.

2. It is our church’s position to love all of our enemies. This is what we teach that Christian faithfulness means for  followers of Jesus. [See the handout “Confessions of Faith.”]

3. This teaching raises a host of difficult practical questions about the Christian life, which can’t be addressed if we don’t talk about this issue.

  • How should we respond to an enemy who threatens our family?
  • How should we use the legal system with regard to our enemies?
  • Does this exclude us from certain jobs that harm others? – military, police, or government positions that require you to return harm for harm.
  • Does this mean that I can’t be a good citizen? For instance, if I am not killing my nation’s enemies when it tells me to?

4. To Learn how to do this!? To see what can we learn from the Scriptures about the inner strength you need to love your enemies. Think about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane waiting to be turned over to his enemies, to die for them. Think about his struggle in prayer. It was hard for him.

Also, we need to learn from the Scriptures about the practical wisdom needed to love your enemies. What did Jesus do? What did Paul do? What does love allow?

I have been is such situations and I know you have too. What can we learn to help us for the future?

Alright, since this a controversial topic, I want to talk about –

How I will teach this class

I want to take a “confessional approach.” By confessional I mean that I am simply confessing – this is what I believe; this is my understanding of Scripture and Christian faithfulness.

This is important to say for a couple of reasons: 1) This is my own way of teaching this. Others who also believe that loving enemies excludes killing them and who teach returning good for evil, might present it to you in slightly different ways. This is my way of saying it. 2) I do not assume that you will agree with me and I am not here to argue you down, or force you to agree. I bear witness to my faith and the church’s faith, which we take to be the message of Scripture, and you are free (as always) to respond in the way that you feel appropriate. But do so based on the Scriptures.

Some of you, who come from different Christian traditions may well not understand at all or like where I’m coming from. You know that I was not raised a Mennonite. My father was in the Army and then worked for the Army in the civil service for his career – publishing training manuals for the Army. So, when I became a Christian at 14, I had no problems with the Army. I remember once in college I was in a school sponsored debate on this topic, and there was a Quaker (Friends) minister invited. And I just ignored him because what he said made no sense to me at all. What do you mean – Christians should refrain from killing enemies in a time of war?! I couldn’t understand it at all. But now it makes perfect sense to me and brings together the Scriptures in a powerful way. So if what I say doesn’t make sense to you, at least you can know that I once thought the same.

Some of you from Mennonite background may not like how I say things, or where I differ to some degree from traditional Mennonite understandings. For instance on nonresistance, which we will briefly talk about in the next class.

So I might just make everyone unhappy! But again, this is a chance to engage the Scriptures and to ask questions. So take advantage of it.

Some key understandings

We each come to this specific issue with different frameworks – our assumptions and positions on other issues. No issue stands by itself. It is always entangled in other issues, and our positions on these affect what we say about the specific topic. So I’m trying to help you here to understand the bigger picture of where I am coming from. (This is what I bring to this issue of loving enemies. Perhaps you can think about what you bring to it).

1. Jesus is our authoritative teacher. In Matthew 23:10 Jesus says, “You have one teacher, the Messiah.” Another way to say it is that the New Testament, which gives us Jesus’ teaching and example, is our standard of conduct as Christians.

  • Not our common sense. Some things Jesus teaches go against our common sense, like “lose your life to gain it.”
  • Not church traditions. The goal is not to be a faithful Mennonite or a Baptist, or whatever. It is to be faithful to Jesus.
  • Not society around us. So that we try to fit in with what they think is right, or tailor our faith so that we can fit in.
  • Not even Moses and the Old Testament, if Jesus changes something.

Jesus is our Lord. He is the unique and fullest revelation of God, and he has all authority in heaven and on earth. The bottom line is – we do what he says.

2. Jesus teaches a higher standard of righteousness than Moses or the State. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus references the greater righteousness of the kingdom of God. And then we have several examples:

  • Moses and the State say, don’t murder. But the kingdom says, not even any words of anger that tear another down.
  • Moses says, no adultery. But the kingdom says, don’t even lust for another.
  • Moses and the State say divorce is alright. But the kingdom says, don’t do it unless there has already been adultery which has broken the marriage.
  • Moses and the State say, swear promises. But the kingdom says, don’t do this, but let your yes, be yes, and your no, no.

And in our case: Moses and the State say, return harm for harm. But the kingdom says, return good for evil and love our enemies – a higher standard.

3. God still uses the State. Even though it operates according to a lower standard, including its use of “the sword” or force. It is “God’s servant” – Romans 13:4. It is God’s way of overseeing the fallen world; all that choose not to follow his higher kingdom way.

So there are two levels in place simultaneously – one for the world, and one for God’s people. And the State will continue to function, until Jesus returns.

4. The church is God’s distinct nation. It follows Jesus’ higher standard, the way of the kingdom of God. I Peter 2:9 speaks of the church in this way – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession . . ..” So, we are distinct from any earthly nation we live in. As the New Testament teaches, we live as exiles and as foreigners in the nations that we live in. We are distinct in that we live by this different, higher standard.

5. When there is a conflict between the two, we follow Jesus. In Acts 5:29, as the apostles said when the State authority told them not to do what Jesus commanded, “We must obey God rather than man.” That is, we must obey God rather than any human authority. When there is a conflict, we follow the higher standard of the kingdom of God.

Guidelines for discussion

Since this can be a hot topic lets remember these things:

  • “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” – James 1:19
  • “Let all that you do be done in love” – 1 Corinthians 16:14

These are three confessions of faith on the topic of loving enemies from the Mennonite – Anabaptist tradition. The first two are important historical confessions. The third is from our church constitution.

The Schleitheim Confession (1527) Article 6 – The Sword, #1

“We have been united as follows concerning the sword. The sword is an ordering of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and kills the wicked and guards and protects the good. In the law the sword is established over the wicked for punishment and for death and the secular rulers are established to wield the same.

But within the perfection of Christ only the ban [church discipline] is used for the admonition and exclusion of the one who has sinned, without the death of the flesh, simply the warning and the command to sin no more.

Now many, who do not understand Christ’s will for us, will ask; whether a Christian may or should use the sword against the wicked for the protection and defense of the good, or for the sake of love.

The answer is unanimously revealed: Christ teaches and commands us to learn from Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart and thus we shall find rest for our souls (Mt. 11:29). Now Christ says to the woman who was taken in adultery (Jn. 8:11), not that she should be stoned according to the law of His Father (and yet He says, ‘What the Father commanded me, that I do’) (Jn. 8:22) but with mercy and forgiveness and the warning to sin no more, says: ‘Go, sin no more.’ Exactly thus should we also proceed, according to the rule of the ban [church discipline].”

The Dordrecht Confession (1632) Article 14 – Of Revenge:

“As regards revenge, that is, to oppose an enemy with the sword, we believe and confess that the Lord Christ has forbidden and set aside to His disciples and followers all revenge and retaliation, and commanded them to render to no one evil for evil, or cursing for cursing, but to put the sword into the sheath, or, as the prophets have predicted, to beat the swords into ploughshares. Matthew 5:39, 44; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9; Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3; Zechariah 9:8, 9.

From this we understand that therefore, and according to His example, we must not inflict pain, harm, or sorrow upon any one, but seek the highest welfare and salvation of all men, and even, if necessity require it, flee for the Lord’s sake from one city or country into another, and suffer the spoiling of our goods; that we must not harm any one, and, when we are smitten, rather turn the other cheek also, than take revenge or retaliate. Matthew 5:39.

And, moreover, that we must pray for our enemies, feed and refresh them whenever they are hungry or thirsty, and thus convince them by well-doing, and overcome all ignorance. Romans 12:19, 20.

Finally, that we must do good and commend ourselves to every man’s conscience; and, according to the law of Christ, do unto no one that which we would not have done to us. 2 Corinthians 4:2; Matthew 7:12.”

Cedar Street Constitution: Peace and Nonresistance

“We believe that peace is the will of God. The peace God intends for humanity and creation was revealed most fully in Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, we participate in His ministry of peace and we find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake. As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for or participate in war, hostility or prejudice. Therefore, Cedar Street members are asked to come to this conviction and refrain from any activities or expressions in their lives that do not represent this understanding of the will of God. Matthew 5:38-48; 6:14-15; 26:52-53; Luke 2:14; Romans 12:14-21; Ephesians 2:11-18; 1 Peter 2:21-24.”

We begin today with the context of Matthew 5:43-48 – our key text for this class. So we look at . . .

The Sermon on the Mount

This is found in Matthew 5-7. This is a concentrated section of Jesus’ teaching on God’s will for us. He gives us the demands of Christian discipleship; what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And he does this, in part, in comparison with what the Law of Moses says. This is especially the case in . . .

Matthew 5:17-48

This is a subsection of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus states here that he did not come to abolish the Law. He came to fulfill the Law – to complete or perfect it; to raise the standard. He then he gives six examples of the greater righteousness of the Kingdom of God, all with some form of the formula – “You have heard that it was said to those of old . . .,  But I say to you . . ..”

He deals with:

1. Murder/angry words

2. Adultery/lust

3. Divorce

4. Promissory oaths

5. Nonresistance

6. Enemy love

Literarily there are two sets of three examples – 1-3 and 4-6, because the formula is repeated in full in the first and the forth examples. But theme-wise, they come in three sets of two examples:

  • The first two contrast obvious sins with less obvious expressions of the same evil. Murder is wrong, but so is destructive anger that tears down. Adultery is wrong, but so is the lustful look for adultery.
  • The second two deal with binding commitments we make – marriage/divorce and promising to do something by means of an oath.
  • The third two focus on reciprocity or returning harm for harm. Nonresistance has to do with an eye for an eye. And enemy love has to do with loving your neighbor, but hating your enemy. Both focus on the practice of giving back what you get from others. As we will see, Jesus forbids this harm for harm approach.

So this is the context for our focus text – Matthew 5:43-48, which we will begin to look at next week. For the rest of this lesson we will look at the passage right before this where Jesus talks about  . . .

Nonresistance

Today I will do something that I don’t like to do. I’m gonna open up a can of worms without enough time to put them all back in. That is to say, I can’t cover all the aspects of nonresistance and the questions of interpretation or practical questions that arise. So what I will do is focus in on the one point I want to make today and then give you a handout to look at for the rest.

Here is the text: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who demands from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42

The Mennonite position has been that nonresistance is the same as enemy love. There is no difference. So to love your enemy means, at least in part, not resisting them if they seek to harm you. The one point I want to make today is that nonresistance has to do with enemies who hold a place of authority over you. It has a particular context that we need to take into account. It has to do with a particular kind of enemy. And you will see why this is important at the end.

Why do I say that nonresistance has to do with enemies who are authorities?

1. In Matthew 5 these are two different examples, not one. That is, nonresistance and enemy love. The literary structure and pattern shows this. There are six separate examples, not five, as we saw. The last two are related by theme – harm for harm, but are different examples, just as the other examples in Matthew 5 are different. So they shouldn’t be read as one example.

2. The word “resist” here is best understood as “rebel.” The word means literally “to set oneself against,” or “to oppose.” It often means opposing someone in an argument or a contest. But it is also used in the sense of opposing a power higher or stronger than you. And it takes on the meaning of rebellion when the power is an authority over you, as it is used in Romans 13:2. And indeed –

3. The examples given by Jesus are of oppressive authorities:

  • The cheek example: “Whoever strikes you on the right cheek” (v. 39b). In its cultural context this refers to an insult rather than an assault. It is a backhanded slap with the right hand to the right cheek of the other person. It is done by someone in a position of authority to someone ‘under’ them. In that day, a master could strike a slave, a husband a wife, a parent a child, a Roman a Jew, a magistrate a subject, etc. In each case it is a way of putting the person in their place and a reminder of who is in charge. In this context the assumption is that it is done unjustly.
  • The garment example: “To the one who likes to sue you and take your undershirt” (v. 40). Only the very poor had just their clothes to give in pledge for a loan. In this case the creditor is forcing the debtor to pay up by use of legal authority. The creditor has a right to have the loan repaid. But the creditor here is an oppressor because the Mosaic Law commands compassion on the poor, and specifically not to take their clothes away (Exodus 22:26-27).
  • A set of three requisition examples: 1) “Whoever compels you to go one mile” (v. 41). This was the practice of the Roman army. As victorious conquerors they had the right to requisition forced labor, among other things. One example of forced labor was to carry their army packs of 60-85 pounds up to 1 mile. Once again this is an example of oppressive authority. The militarily strong impose their will on their subjects. Verse 42 continues in this same vein speaking of other requisition demands that the Roman government and army put on the people. 2) The one “who demands from you.” Sometimes they were required to feed and give supplies to soldiers; to “quarter” them. This phrase may also have included paying imperial taxes (Matthew 22:21). 3) The one “who wants to borrow from you.” At times they were required, for instance, to loan animals for government use, which were not always returned.

So, in each of these examples, Jesus is dealing with authorities who treat you unjustly. This is the one point that I want to make.

Overview of nonresistance

See the handout – Overview of Nonresistance:

1) When you suffer injustice at the hands of an authority (we have just looked at this).

2) And you are in a situation of powerlessness, with no means to correct it, as in all these examples (Handout – “Do not resist an evildoer” – #3).

3) Don’t rebel, but submit to the authority and endure the injustice (Handout – #4). There are other things you can do as well (see handout – Question 2).

4) As you endure, look to God for your justice (see handout – #5).

Nonresistance and enemy love

What have we learned from this? The command “do not resist” applies to a particular situation, not to all enemies. This has to do only with a particular kind of enemy who is an authority over you and you are powerless before them.

So, as we will see, when it comes to loving enemies more generally, if nonresistance is not the command – this opens up many more possibilities of response. The command is simply to love them.

The Law: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’”

Jesus: “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.”

First example: “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Second example: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

Third set of examples: 1) “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” 2) “Give to the one who demands from you,” 3) “and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

[English Standard Version – except italics]

In Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus said,

“[38] You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ [39] But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; [40] and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; [41] and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. [42] Give to everyone who demands from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

This is one of the six examples of the greater righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. The following is an exposition of what Jesus means by nonresistance, along with some questions and answers at the end.

1. The issue of an “eye for an eye.” Jesus begins with this well known principle found in Exodus 21:23-25, Deuteronomy 19:15-21, and Leviticus 24:17-21. According to this principle you can get retribution against the one who has harmed you. Moses taught that the evildoer is to “suffer the same injury in return . . . the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered” – Leviticus 24:20.

The principle is meant to make sure that each offense has an appropriate and equal response. It restricts unlimited retribution. Yet nevertheless, Moses allowed the returning of evil for evil or harm for harm. If someone hurts you they are to be hurt in the same way.

Jesus’ teaching contrasts with this principle. He makes this point by saying, this is what Moses taught, “But I say to you . . ..”

2. The context of resisting unjust authorities. It is important to recognize that when Jesus says, “Do not resist an evildoer” he is talking about a specific kind of evildoer, not just anybody. He is talking about an unjust, oppressive authority.

The word “resist” means “to set oneself against,” or “to oppose.” It often means opposing someone in an argument or a contest (e.g. Galatians 2:11; Acts 13:8). But it is also used in the sense of opposing a power higher or stronger than you. And this can include human authorities (Romans 13:2). In this last case the word can take on the sense of rebelling.

This meaning is confirmed when we look at the examples Jesus gives of evildoers:

1) The cheek example: “Whoever strikes you on the right cheek” (v. 39b). In its cultural context this refers to an insult rather than an assault. A punch with the right hand (most people are right handed) would land on the other person’s left cheek. Yet to use the left hand was considered inappropriate. So this must refer to a backhanded slap with the right hand to the right cheek of the other person [Walter Wink]. This kind of slap was done by someone in a position of authority to someone ‘under’ them. In that day a master could strike a slave, a husband a wife, a parent a child, a Roman a Jew, a magistrate a subject. In each case it is a way of putting the person in their place and a reminder of who is in charge. In this context it is done unjustly; by an evildoer. In other words, this is an example of abusive or oppressive authority.

2) The garment example: “To the one who likes to sue you and take your undershirt” (v. 40). Only the very poor just had their clothes to give in pledge for a loan. In this case the creditor is forcing this debtor to pay up by use of legal authority. The creditor has a right to have the loan repaid. But the creditor is portrayed as oppressive because the Mosaic Law commands compassion on the poor, not to take and keep their clothes (Exodus 22:26-27). This too is an example of oppressive authority, not unlike the first. As Proverbs 22:7 states “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

3) Requisition examples: 1) “Whoever compels you to go one mile” (v.41). This was the practice of the Roman army. As victorious conquerors they had the right to requisition forced labor, among other things. One example of forced labor was to carry their army packs of 60-85 pounds up to 1 mile. Once again this is an example of oppressive authority. The militarily strong impose their will on their subjects.

Verse 42 continues in this same vein speaking of other requisition demands that the Roman government and army put on the people. 2) The one “who demands from you.” Sometimes they were required to feed and give supplies to soldiers; to “quarter” them. This phrase may also have included paying imperial taxes (Matthew 22:21). 3) The one “who wants to borrow from you.” At times they were required, for instance, to loan animals for government use, which were not always returned.

3. The context of powerlessness. In all three of these situations the person has few, if any options. If you are a slave, or indebted, or under military occupation your legal rights are limited or nonexistent. You have little, if any ability to appeal injustice. And even what you might have can easily be ignored by a careless or corrupt governmental system. The only other option was rebellion. But this very rarely went well.

In our culture we are not used to this kind of powerlessness. Our system is built to empower each individual with legal means to challenge and overturn injustice. Injustice and oppression still happen, of course. There are still careless and corrupt authorities. There are always ever more clever ways to get around or to take advantage of the law to evil ends. But even here our system is designed to eventually deal with this. Not so in Jesus’ context. (See question #2 below for Paul who had rights as a Roman citizen).

4. Jesus teaches us to endure injustice and submit to the authorities. This is what we are to do is such situations of powerlessness.

Now, these particular extreme actions – “turn the other cheek,” “do not withhold your coat as well,” and “go the second mile” are not intended to be taken in a woodenly literal way. Jesus often used overstatement as a means of communicating. Indeed:

  • it was impossible to deliver a backhanded slap with your right hand to the left cheek (the proper way to do it in that day)
  • to give up your coat meant that you would most likely be naked (a taboo also in that day)
  • to go the second mile was against Roman law (soldiers would get in trouble for doing this).

These are not literal admonitions. This is hyperbole used to emphasize this point – in a situation of powerless oppression, we are to submit and endure. This is confirmed when we see that when Jesus was struck by an unjust authority at his trial, he did not turn the other cheek. Rather he simply endured the suffering (John 18:22. See also Acts 23:1-5).

What these examples teach is submission. When an authority enemy harms you, don’t resist or rebel – seeking to overthrow the authority. Rather submit to their authority. Instead of returning harm for harm or rebellion for oppression, whatever else you may do (and there are other things we can do – see below), be submitted to the authorities.

The call to nonresistance is really a combination of two commands – submit to authorities and love your enemies. When these are put together you get nonresistance.

This teaching is echoed in other New Testament texts. For instance I Peter 2:18-23 teaches that slaves are to endure unjust treatment, accepting the authority of their masters. The oppressed poor are approvingly described as not resisting (rebelling against) the rich and powerful in James 5:4-6. And Romans 13:1-7 teaches submission to the governing authorities and warned against resisting even an oppressive government like that of Rome.

5. Jesus teaches us to trust in God for our justice, because God will act for us. This is the underlying message in these verses. Each example that Jesus gives has a subtext that makes a reference to God vindicating those that continue to submit, but look to him for help.

1) The Cheek Example: “Turn the other cheek.” Isaiah 50:4-9 (Greek Old Testament) pictures a slave who is insulted and hit on his cheek. He does not resist, but endures and trusts in God and awaits God’s vindication.

2) The Garment Example: “Do not withhold your coat as well.” Exodus 22:26-27 teaches that the one who receives the poor one’s coat and keeps it, will be judged by God with a violent judgment (Exodus 22:23-24). God will avenge the poor against the rich when the poor cry out to him.

3) The Requisition Example: “Go the second mile. . . give to the one who demands of you, and do not refuse the one who wants to borrow from you.” This connects back to Psalm 37 as a whole and v. 21 in particular – which talks about giving to evildoers. This Psalm counsels the oppressed to trust in God instead of giving in to anger which leads to evil. They are also promised that God will act for them. They will inherit the land, but the evildoers will be judged.

So all of these extreme actions point to subtexts that give a clear message: God will vindicate the oppressed; God will act to avenge. Why do we endure injustice and oppression? Because we are waiting on God to act for us.

Questions about Nonresistance

1. What if an authority tells us to do something that God forbids? Do we simply do whatever they say? No. We only obey the human authority when this does not lead us to disobey God (Acts 5:29; Daniel 6). But even here, we continue to submit to the authority by bearing the consequences of obeying God and not them. And we don’t disobey in order to rebel our undermine their authority, but to be faithful to God.

2. How else can we respond to unjust authorities?

  • We can flee oppressive authorities. Jesus tells his itinerant preachers that when unjust authorities persecute them in one town, they are to flee to another – Matthew 10:23. Certainly in a similar way others under unjust authorities can flee. Many, however, do not have this option.
  • We can use legal rights and go to a higher human authority for relief -(but not to harm others). If you are given legal rights to find relief from oppression they can be used. You are not in a situation of powerlessness. Paul avoided an unjust flogging by showing that he was a Roman citizen in Acts 22:25. Paul also tells slaves in I Corinthians 7:21 that if they can become free to take advantage of it. Paul also demonstrates that we can appeal to a higher authority to be rescued from a lower authority that is unjust – Acts 25:10ff.
  • We can also speak out to call the oppressive authorities to change. Submission does not equal being quiet. We can stand up and rebuke an unjust authority for its oppression, and then take the consequences for this. The prophets of Israel, Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist did this – Matthew 23; Mark 6:17-18; Acts 24:25.

But in none of these instances are we to act in rebellion.

3. Does God act in the world today to help the oppressed or does he wait for the final day? God acts even now to put down evil authorities and oppressors, especially when he sees his people suffering and calling out to him.

  • The children of Israel brought down the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt in this way. They endured suffering. They cried out and God acted for them, delivering them and judging Egypt (Exodus 1-15).
  • Even though God used Babylon to punish Israel, Babylon was too oppressive. Israel suffered through this. So God acted and judged this empire as well (Jeremiah 50:31-37; 51:24; 34-37).
  • Just as he predicted, Jesus’ death brought down the unjust rulers of Jerusalem and the social networks that supported them because of their oppression and murder of him (Matthew 23:32-24:2). They were judged for this in 70 C.E.

As Jesus said in Luke 18:7-8 – “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” God will right all wrongs on the final day, but even now in history God works to do this.

4. Can we act to counter injustice that is done to others? Yes.

  • We can give assistance to those who suffer injustice, meeting whatever needs they might have, for instance giving food or providing shelter for those who flee.
  • We can confront injustice on behalf of others, just as we do for ourselves (see above). We do this prophetically in the name of the Lord (Psalm 82:3-4).
  • And we can also go and suffer with those who suffer (intercessory suffering). Then we call upon God to act to bring justice in the situation.

A final note: Injustice will never end in the world as it currently exists. It is dominated by sin and selfishness. So we can work to overcome injustice in the ways that Jesus teaches and models for us. But even when God acts to overthrow an evil authority, the next one might be just as bad. Ultimately our hope looks to the day when Jesus will return in power and make all things new; when righteousness and justice will prevail forever.

Today, we begin to look at our focus text for the class in more detail. This gives us teaching about loving enemies in general.

Matthew 5:43-48

“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Moses taught returning harm for harm

We saw this in the nonresistance section – “an eye for an eye,” but it is also in this passage. For although Moses taught in Leviticus 19:18 to forsake revenge and love your neighbor – that is, your fellow Israelite, he also taught in Deuteronomy 23:3-6 to hate the enemy who is an outsider, who does you harm, that is, the Ammonite and the Moabite. These were the descendants of Lot who did not give the Israelites food and water in their time of need after the Exodus, but rather tried to curse them by hiring Balaam.

Because of this Israel is commanded never to act for this people’s well-being. Verse 6 says, “You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” So you have harm, what Israel is to do, for harm, that is, in response to what was done to them by their enemies.

This is the principle of evil for evil, harm for harm. You do good to those who are good to you/ you do evil, harm, bad to those who are bad to you. Although there are many examples of this principle in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 23 is specifically what Jesus is referring to when he says, “you have heard that it was said . . . hate your enemy,” as we will see more clearly next week.

Jesus teaches us to return good for harm

After laying out Moses’ position, Jesus moves beyond it. He’s saying, ‘this is what Moses taught,’ “but I say to you . . ..”

What does he say? “Love your enemies” – return love, for harm. “Pray for those who persecute you” – return prayer, for harm. We can add in here two more phrases that Jesus uses in Luke 6. “Do good to those who hate you” – return good for harm. And “bless those who curse you” – return blessing, for harm.

In all of these we see the same point. Instead of returning harm for harm, evil for evil, we are to return good for evil. As in all the six examples in Matthew 5, Jesus calls us to a higher standard; higher than what Moses taught.

Complete Love

Now, this call to return good for evil is packaged in a contrast between incomplete love and complete love. (In v. 48 the word “perfect” can also be translated as “complete.” This is, at least in part, where I am getting this from when I speak of complete love).

  • Incomplete love means loving only certain people – those who are in your group, or those who do good to you.
  • Complete, or perfect love means loving all people – those who are and who are not a part of your group. It means loving those who do good to you and those who harm you.

It is complete love because it encompasses all people.

Jesus gives two examples of incomplete love. In v. 46 there are tax collectors who love only a certain group – those who love them. In v. 47 there are Gentiles who greet only a certain kind of people – those in their own group.

Now these are, obviously, negative examples. You can tell this by reading the verses vs. 46-47 – “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Again, Jesus is calling us to a higher standard than what “tax collectors,” “Gentiles,” or as he says in Luke 6, “sinners” live by; the standard of incomplete love.

In v. 45 Jesus gives us this higher standard in the two examples of complete love. In v. 45 the Father gives sunshine to the good and the evil. In the same verse the Father gives rain to the just (righteous) and the unjust (unrighteous). In an agricultural context, giving sunshine and rain means that God supplies food to all. God feeds even his enemies. The point here is that the Father’s love is complete. It includes everyone.

And if Jesus criticizes incomplete love, he calls us to emulate this love of the Father. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Why? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” – vs. 44-45. So that we will be like our Father. Jesus also tells us – “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” – v. 48. He means – be complete in your love like the Father is complete in his love. Our love is to include both the good and the bad, the righteous and the unrighteous.

God’s Promise

Loving enemies is not easy. It takes a real yieldedness to God, strength from the Spirit, and faith that God will take care of you. It is hard. So, as an encouragement to us, Jesus gives us a promise, which gives us hope.

In v. 45 he says that we are to love our enemies, “so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” To be a “son” is not about being male. It is not about gender, but about a certain social status – the status of an inheritor. The son inherits the Father’s blessings.

When we look at the overall context of Matthew 5:17-48 it is all about “Who will inherit the Kingdom?” “Who will gain the Father’s blessings?” Matthew 5:20 says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Then Jesus gives us the six examples of the greater righteousness necessary to enter the Kingdom, culminating in the example of enemy love.

So what Jesus is saying, is that those who don’t practice enemy love are no better than tax collectors and Gentiles. Their practice of righteousness is no different. As he says in v. 46 – “What reward do you have?”

But those who love their enemies, by God’s help, imitate the Father. And by imitating the Father, they show that they are true sons of the Father – for like Father, like son. And since they are true sons, they show that they will inherit the Father’s blessings; that is, the kingdom of God.

So in the midst of the difficulty of doing this, we have a promise of blessing and reward.

The Law: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

Jesus: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

A. Father/son theme: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

B. Two examples from the Father: 1) “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” 2) “and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

`B. Two examples from sinners: 1) “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” 2) “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

`A. Father/son theme: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

[English Standard Version]

Today we want to look more closely at these two items in Matthew 5:43-48.

What does it mean to love?

This is not a call to nonresistance. Enemy love and nonresistance are not the same, as I tried to show in our second class. Nonresistance tells us to yield to our enemy who is an authority over us. Enemy love does not tell us to yield. It simply tells us to love our enemy; to return good for evil. These are different. If we are only called to love, we have some freedom to make choices about how we act, as long as we act within the bounds of love. So then, lets look at what love means.

Love for enemies in Matthew 5:43-48. As we have seen, the broader point Jesus is making is that we are to return good for evil. There are several examples of this in our text:

1)   We pray for our persecutors. Jesus said, “pray for those who persecute you” – v. 44. They may harm us through persecution, but we give them something good as we pray from them.

2)   The Father gives food to his enemies – v. 45. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Sun and rain equal harvests of food. To give food is a good thing. It is to meet a practical need.

3)   Jesus also tells us to greet/bless our enemies – v. 47. I say bless also, because the greeting in that day was “peace,” a word that functioned as a blessing. So this is not about whether we are rude or not. In greeting our enemy, we give them a blessing. This also is a good thing.

These examples of doing good fill out what it means to love in this passage. So when Jesus says, “love” he means – do good to or for someone.

As a side note, let me say that in these last two examples focused on food and cursing, we see the contrast with Moses in Deuteronomy 23 (which is why this text is most certainly behind the phrase “hate your enemies”). The Ammonites/Moabites did not give Israel food. Instead of returning the same as Moses commanded, we are to feed our enemies. Also, the Ammonites/Moabites sought to curse Israel. Instead of returning harm for harm as Moses said, we are to bless our enemies.

The word “love” in the rest of the New Testament. We have seen that love in Matthew 5 means that we do good to or for someone – we pray for the person, we feed our enemy and we bless our enemy. When we look at love in the rest of the New Testament (see the handout – Love in the New Testament) we find the same picture. So “love” in Matthew 5:44 means the same thing that it means in all the rest of the New Testament. To say it simply, it means to do good to someone. And this is how we are called to treat even our enemies by Jesus.

What does love allow? There are a range of possibilities here, as long as it is something good for the person. But we have to make a crucial distinction here between returning harm for harm, and other forms of harm that can be done for a person’s benefit:

  • Non-redemptive harm for harm has to do with revenge, retribution, pay back, getting even with an enemy by harming them. I say, ‘non-redemptive’ because our action has no value for the person. It does the person no good. It seeks only to punish and destroy.
  • Redemptive harm has to do with causing harm to the person for their greater good, not as payback or as a part of the cycle of harm for harm.

An example of the latter is the harm that a doctor does in amputating a leg in order to save a patient’s life. Also we can think of the harm that is done when we lovingly discipline our children in order to teach them.

So the real issue is not harm to someone, or even force. It has to do with why it is done, and how it is done. Is it done for the person’s good and is it done in a way that is marked by love and concern?

I believe that it can be consistent with love to:

  • restrain or disarm an enemy – this is not unloving.
  • harm an enemy to stop them – not out of payback, anger or a desire to punish, but because, among other things, it is best for them to stop.
  • call the police to restrain them or if we think this might help them in the long run – but we are not to do this simply to punish them or as payback – to return harm for harm for us.

But, I believe, we certainly cannot kill an enemy since this has nothing to do with what is best for our enemy; with what is good or loving for them. We will talk about this more in a later class.

Which enemies?

Is it possible that Jesus has in mind a particular kind of enemy, or facing enemies in a particular kind of situation? Let’s look first at the context. In the social context of Israel at this time, to speak of an enemy would call to mind the Romans who occupied their land and actively oppressed them. And in terms of the context of our verses Matthew 5:41-42, which comes right before our verses, alludes to the Romans. As we saw, in these verses, Jesus is talking about the various requisition demands of the Romans – carrying a pack one mile, etc. So Jesus specifically refers to them right before he says, “Love your enemies.”

Next we look closely at the text itself. If we do this we find some indications of who Jesus is talking about: 1) v. 43 – the phrase “hate your enemy” comes from Deuteronomy 23:3-6 where it refers to Ammonites and Moabites. They were enemies who were to be hated on a national level during times of war (which happened throughout Israel’s history); and as individuals they were to be hated by not allowing them to be a full part of Israel up to the 10th generation. The hatred that Jesus opposes in these verses is both national and individual. 2) v. 44 – “your enemies” is given without any qualifiers or limitations. It refers to anyone who seeks to harm you. So whenever you have an enemy this would apply. 3) v. 44 – “those who persecute you.” These could be personal enemies or government authorities. 4) v. 45 – “the evil,” or evil people. 5) v. 45 – “the unjust,” or unrighteous people. These last two references are as broad as you can get. 6) v. 46, by implication, people who don’t love you. 7) v. 47, by implication, people who are not a part of your group. There are no indications of any qualifiers as to the kind of enemy or the circumstances in which we meet them. Rather, Jesus references national enemies and also speaks in exceptionally broad language about any kind of enemy.

Finally, we look at the teaching of the passage. Jesus is expanding the meaning of love your neighbor. It doesn’t just apply to fellow Israelites, but all people (like in the parable of the good Samaritan – Luke 10). And more specifically, Jesus teaches us to have ‘complete love,’ which by definition covers all people. It is all inclusive. If it leaves out certain people or doesn’t cover them in a certain context, then it is not perfect or complete, like the Father’s love.

So when I look at the examples that are used, which include national and personal enemies, and the language that is used, which is as broad as possible and without qualification, and also the teaching of the passage, which calls us to complete or all inclusive love, which must include all enemies – my conclusion is that we are to love all enemies, in whatever context we find them.

These are a few examples:

1. Love means doing good to others

  • Romans 13:10 says it in the reverse – “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” If you love someone, you will not try to hurt them. Rather, you will try to do what is good for them.
  • Doing good includes meeting needs. I John 3:17 says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

2. Love means being kind

  • I Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is kind.” This is a broad word that means tenderhearted, considerate, compassionate, gentle and merciful.

3. Love means sacrificing for others

  • John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” – I John 3:16.

4. Love is longsuffering

  • I Corinthians 13:4 says, “love is patient.” The word means longsuffering, which means able to suffer for a long time. I Corinthians 13:7 says “love bears all things.” Similarly I Corinthians 13:8 says, “love endures all things.”

5. Love forgives

  • I Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.”
  • I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” To cover sins is another way of talking about forgiveness.

6. Love is shown through deeds

  • True love is not about words, or feelings and intentions. As  I John 3:18 says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” True love is expressed in our actions of love for others.

This idea is fairly common. It seeks to exclude certain enemies from Jesus’ command to love. It goes like this – Jesus is only teaching that we should love enemies in our personal relationships with them. But if we have an official role in society (an agent of the State) as a police officer or judge or soldier, we are not to love our enemies or return good for harm. Rather we are required in some cases to return harm for harm, or even kill our enemies.

This idea gains traction because it has some truth in it. God has established the State in order to suppress evil and this includes the power to return harm for harm and in some cases killing. And it is true that no one is to take the law into their own hands. Punishment and killing must be community or State sanctioned. So for instance, in the Old Testament it had to be sanctioned by means of the elders, judges, priests etc., depending on the situation. So here there is a distinction between just acting on your own, on a personal level, and what the State or governing authority does.

The logic of this argument seems to be as follows – God has set up the State (it is his “servant” – Romans 13:4) in part to suppress evil by returning harm for harm. If it is God’s servant, then God must have no problem with the State, and Christians can take part in what it does. Since this is so, Jesus must not have been speaking of the State or agents of the State when he said, “love your enemies.” He must be speaking to another sphere, that is, just the personal realm. So we should love our enemies on a personal level, but if we are agents of the State we are to return harm for harm or even death.

This is backed up by the fact that in the Old Testament, where the people of God were set up as a political state, godly people returned harm for harm and killed at God’s command as agents of the State.

The central problem with this argument is that it rests on the assumption that Jesus, without anywhere stating it (and indeed while contradicting it, as we will see below) accepts that the harm for harm standard of the State and Moses is still valid for his followers. This is a problem because when Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, it comes in a context where he is contrasting what is taught in the Mosaic Law with the higher standard that he teaches. He has come to fulfill or perfect the Law – Matthew 5:17. He has come to lay out the exceeding righteousness of the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:20. He is not assuming that what went before simply continues on. Indeed, in all six examples he gives in Matthew 5 the standard given by Moses is raised. In fact, when he speaks of the Mosaic standard of returning harm for harm, he says “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” – Matthew 5:46. He is saying, you are doing nothing more than sinners – tax collectors and Gentiles!

Jesus is not assuming that his disciples will still practice returning harm for harm as agents of the State. He is teaching a standard that is higher than what Moses or the State operate by. It is the standard of complete love, which is the standard of the kingdom of God. And he is calling his disciples to live by this standard in every area of life.

He makes this clear in several ways, as we saw in class:

1. He forbids his disciples from practicing harm for harm. Moses taught this, but Jesus excludes the principle itself, without any stated exceptions. So harm for harm is forbidden in whatever context it might operate. And if you cannot, as a follower of Jesus, return harm for harm, then you cannot be an agent of the State to harm others. Jesus knew that this is how it worked in the Old Testament and in the State, but he forbids it nevertheless.

2. Jesus teaches his disciples to do good to their enemies. This is what it means to love our enemies. We pray for our persecutors – v. 44. We feed our enemies – v. 45. We bless them with a greeting of “peace” – v. 47. And following the example of Jesus, who died for his enemies on the cross, and heeding his call to take up our cross (Mark 8:34) we are to sacrifice for their well being. Such love always does what is good for the enemy. At a minimum, this excludes killing our enemies. To kill an enemy is not returning good for harm.

3. Jesus includes all enemies in his teaching. For instance he simply says, “love your enemies.” He makes no exceptions. National enemies are included in the context of Matthew 5, the oppressive Romans. And in the subtext of “hate your enemies,” Deuteronomy 23:6, the Ammonites and Moabites are referenced. He also uses language that is so broad that it must include everyone, for instance, “the good and the evil,” “the just and the unjust” – v. 45.

4. Jesus teaches his disciples to have complete love. The very point that Jesus is making in this passage is that our love is to include all people. Just as the Father’s love is perfect or complete in that it encompasses everyone, so our love is to do the same – v. 45, 48. If our love excludes certain people or people in certain circumstances, for instance, when we come across them as agents of the State, then by definition it is not complete. Instead, a rather large gap is created where many of our enemies would fall, where we can and indeed are supposed to harm them and possibly kill them.

So the conclusion is not – since God allows for the continuance of the State, and uses it until the kingdom comes in its fullness – that therefore Jesus must be making an unstated exception that allows his followers to return harm for harm as agents of the State. We must read Matthew 5:43-48 for what it actually says, and not read into it a distinction that is not there. The conclusion is that Jesus is clearly not making any exceptions and so is precisely calling his followers to the higher standard of the kingdom of God. And as a part of this he is saying that in as much as Moses or the State calls you to return harm for harm, you cannot be a part of what they do.

Here are some further thoughts:

Jesus is to be Lord of every part of our lives. If we accept the personal vs. agent of the State distinction, then potentially large portions of our lives are no longer under the domain of Jesus. His teaching and example now only apply to a portion of our lives – the private part. We live by a different ethical code in the public part of our life. Something which Jesus left no instructions for or said anything about. (Everyone agrees that Jesus never taught us about harming others, running a political state or how and when to kill others). And our actions in the public part of our life will contradict what he actually taught and modeled for us – returning good for harm.

So, if we accept this distinction we must say that Jesus’ teaching and example are not an adequate guide for our lives. He is not Lord of every aspect of our lives. But this is impossible to say in the framework of New Testament teaching. For we are not part Christian and part of the world. Living one way part of the time and another part of the time. Every part of our life must be in conformity with what Jesus taught and modeled. As Lord, he claims every part of us.

The State does have a role to play, but it is not the means by which God has or is bringing about his salvation in this world. This was done through Jesus, who loved his enemies and died for them, not returning harm for harm. And it is still done through the church that lives by this higher standard of the kingdom. The State simply suppresses evil in the world until Jesus returns. At that point all human states will cease to be, and all people will be submitted to the lordship of Jesus.

For now we are to submit to the State. But only in as much as it doesn’t go against Jesus’ teaching and example. When it asks us to do this, we answer as Peter did to the Sanhedrin, “we must obey God rather than man” – Acts 5:29. That is, we must do what God says, as opposed to what the State tells us to do.

This is the real distinction between Christians and the State. It is not between us as private Christians acting to love our enemies, and us as agents of the State acting to harm our enemies. It is between us as a community of Christians living every part of our lives according to the higher standard of the teaching and example of Jesus, and the world that lives in every way according to a different, lower standard. God works through both, but he calls Christians to live according to the way of Jesus.

As for the presence of soldiers and rulers in the church in the New Testament we will address this social anomaly in a later class.

Today we want to see what the rest of the New Testament says on loving enemies. But we begin with a . . .

Summary of Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus teaches us that we are to love our enemies. Love means returning good for evil to our enemy, instead of the harm for harm pattern that Moses taught. As examples of the good we give to enemies: we are to pray for our persecutors, feed our enemies, and bless our enemies. And as I have shared, if love means doing good to someone, at a minimum, this excludes killing them. Also, our love is to be complete or perfect, including all people.

Jesus gives this teaching as the culminating example of the six examples of the greater righteousness of the kingdom of God; the higher standard that Jesus calls us to live out.

Now we look at the rest of the New Testament, beyond Matthew 5.

More from Jesus on loving enemies

In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, Jesus teaches that we are to go and show mercy and compassion, even on our enemies who have needs. These are also our neighbors whom we are to love.

In the Sermon on the Plain Jesus says, very similarly to Matthew 5, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28. And then he gives more teaching on loving enemies after these verses.

Calls to love all in the New Testament

Romans 13:8, 10 say, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. . . Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” In this passage we are called to love everyone “owe no one anything, except to love.” We also have the idea that love does no wrong or harm. The implication being that love does good.

James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin . . ..” There is an echo here of complete love. To show partiality means that we exclude certain people, here the poor. We are not to exclude anyone from our love. (See also Galatians 6:10).

Calls to return good for evil

Jesus’ rejection of harm for harm and his teaching on returning good for evil shows up in many places in the New Testament:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:15 – “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
  • 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 – “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.”
  • Romans 12:14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
  • 1 Peter 3:9 – “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
  • Romans 12:17 – “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

This is the same thing that Jesus teaches, with some of the same words, for instance the call to “bless” our enemies.

Right after this last verse, Paul gives an extended teaching on loving enemies. Romans 12:18-21 – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This introduces some new themes which we will take up in another class. 1) We are to leave vengeance to God. We are not to avenge the wrongs done to us, but we are to allow God to take care of this for us. 2) We are to overcome evil with good. Instead of falling into the pattern of returning harm for harm – so that we are now also doing harm – we overcome evil with good by doing good in response to harm, breaking the pattern of evil for evil.

The example of the Father’s love for enemies

Jesus talks about the Father feeding his enemies in Matthew 5, as we saw. But we also know that in the broader story of the New Testament the Father gave up his only Son for his enemies (us). Romans 5:8 says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In Romans 5:10 Paul goes on to say, “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God.” God’s love is complete, even loving sinners and enemies like us. This is the ultimate returning of good for evil.

The example of Jesus dying for his enemies

Jesus not only talked about loving enemies, he demonstrated this for us – especially in his death on the cross. This is the focus of all four gospels – Jesus’ suffering and death for us.

  • He chose to die for us – Mark 14:36 He said to God in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not what I will, but what you will.”
  • He didn’t call for legions of angels to rescue him – Matthew 26:53
  • He healed the ear of the man who came to arrest him and take him off to die – Luke 22:50-51. A very practical example of enemy love.
  • He suffered injustice, torture, shame and death for us, so that we could be saved.

Jesus laid down his life for us in love, giving good for evil. But not only this, like we saw in Matthew 5, where we are called to emulate the example of the Father who loves his enemies, so also Jesus calls us to emulate his own love for others, including his enemies, by taking up our crosses. He said in Mark 8:34 –“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” If we want to be his disciple, we must lay down our lives for others, including our enemies. (This call is echoed in verses like 1 John 3:16, Ephesians 5:2 and 1 Peter 2:22-23).

The centrality of loving enemies

As we see in these various Scriptures, loving enemies is not some isolated teaching in the Scriptures (or some denominational distinctive). It is taught throughout the New Testament. And as we see in the example of the Father and the Son, it is at the very core of our Christian faith. Without God loving us, his enemies, and without Jesus dying for us, his enemies, there would be no gospel.

We end with one other theme that dovetails with this teaching on loving enemies, and indeed is presented with it in several places –

 

Mercy and Forgiveness

Luke 6:36-37 says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven . . ..” Ephesians 4:32-5:1 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Like with the theme of loving enemies, where we imitate God’s love for those who do wrong, here as well we imitate God in giving mercy and forgiveness to those who have wronged us:

  • “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful . . .”
  • “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
  • “Therefore be imitators of God . . ..”

And the point is that – if we have mercy and forgive, how can we try to pay back harm to them, or seek to destroy them? Like with the call to love and do good to enemies, this teaching requires us to change our behavior toward those who harm us.

These are the class notes and handouts from our course at church on loving enemies. The class schedule can be used as a menu or you can scroll down. William Higgins