Have you ever been wronged? I’m confident that most, if not all of you, would say yes. For those who have, Jesus provides us with a quick and decisive response. “Love your enemies.”
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (5:43), he chose to frame this portion of teaching by using tradition as a point of contrast.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies.”
The key phrase is, “But I tell you.” In this one sentence, Jesus said his followers are to be different by ending the cycle of violence and beginning a new cycle of grace.
The Kingdom of God and Enemy Love
Jesus turned the idea of love and hatred on its head and invited his followers to live differently in every way (the kingdom way). Enemy love goes against the grain – it is a Kingdom of Jesus principle that counters the contemporary slogan cited on bumper stickers and t-shirts – “I don’t get mad, I get even.”
In essence, Jesus said that there is to be no retribution, revenge or retaliation in God’s kingdom. The cycle of violence ends with Jesus (you have heard it said…but I tell you).
Who are my (your) enemies?
We may be inclined to think about those far away, but Jesus makes it more personal. His frame of reference are “those who hate, curse and mistreat you” – which typify personal wounds. It’s easier to project love on a distant enemy, but not so much on a personal one.
Verses 32-34 beautifully captures the essence of His instruction so far –
“If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. If someone steals your jacket, let them have your shirt as well. If you lend to someone, do not ask for repayment.”
What was the centerpiece of Jesus’ message?
Do not give in the same manner as you have received.
The Cross as the Posture We Are Called to Embrace
Embracing the kingdom vision of Jesus causes us to respond in ways that reflect this vision. Verses 32-34 instructs us that there are ought to be distinct qualities and characteristics that define those who are part of Jesus’ kingdom. We are called to embrace a different vision for life. We, like Jesus, choose to end the cycle of violence and establish a new cycle of grace.
Paul echoed Jesus’ sentiment in Romans 12:21 –
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
When we choose to embrace the kingdom vision of Jesus, we reflect Him and our heavenly Father the most. We walk as He walked. Why do we do this?
“Because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
“God demonstrated his own love for us in this” while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus demonstrated this posture of enemy-love most powerfully on the cross as he hung before His accusers –
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus established the cycle of enemy-love. And, when we embrace Jesus’ kingdom vision and love as He loved, we continue to bring his kingdom dream to bear on earth. We begin to see His kingdom come and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
This is what it means to follow Jesus in the world. This is what it looks like when Jesus’ follows see his cross not only as a place of forgiveness, but also as a posture we are called upon to embrace.
Love your enemies