How seriously do you take Christ’s commands: love your enemies (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:27), pray for those who abuse you (Matt. 5:44b, Lk. 6:28b), to one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also (Matt. 5:39, cf. 40-42; Lk. 6:29, cf. 30-36)?
Think about how radical these commands are: love your enemies, do not resist the one who is evil, pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. In nearly every application of these commands, we categorically default to saying: we can pray for them. However, Jesus is demanding more than that.
The beginning of this section of the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew says, “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” (5:43-45a). For the people of Israel listening to Jesus, this is startling. It says to them: pray for the foreign rulers occupying your land, love the man who stole your tunic, let the man who slapped you slap you again. Reading these commands should make you wonder: how can anyone keep them, even today?
It is in this context that Jesus commands, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), a command that is given both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Then, Luke also records, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:35-36). It is only by God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit and the hope of the gospel that we can love those who hate us.
It is important to also see that keeping these radical commands glorifies God. Exodus 34:5-8 tells us about the character of God:
“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped” (cf. Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 2:12).
In view of that, when we love our enemies, we are reflecting the character of God. By God’s grace, we are being slow to anger and rich in love. We are keeping in mind that the Lord who forgives sins will also “by no means clear the guilty” who do not repent. We are praying for them. We are telling them the gospel. We are offering to help them even if they do not thank us. Why? We do it for the glory of God and the joy that is set before us (see Lk. 6:35). That is why the Apostles willingly faced abuse, imprisonment, and even death to proclaim the gospel and be obedient to Christ’s commands. Yes, it is radical.
5 commands in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36:
- Do not resist the one who is evil (Matt. 5:39-42; Lk. 6:29-31).
- Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44a; Lk. 6:27a, 35).
- Pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44b; Lk. 6:28b).
- Do good to those who hate you (Lk. 6:27b).
- Bless those who curse you (Lk. 6:28a).
PS: I am getting married on Saturday! So, I will not be blogging for a while. But after things settle down, I hope to post about how every wedding ceremony should be Christ-centered and grounded in the gospel.