In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made a very challenging statement. He said, "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” (Matthew 5:43-45a ESV). Let those words sink in for a moment. Read it again.
For the most part, we do not have a problem loving our family, friends, and our neighbors who are kind to us. But, what about the folks who are not kind to us? What about folks who choose to be rude and even malicious? Jesus gives us two things here that we are to do. Let’s take a moment and examine those things.
First of all, He says that we are to love them. We are to love even those who are unloving to us. That act is essentially living out the Gospel. God loved us, even while we were sinners, enemies of God. Thus Christ essentially tells us to live out the Gospel toward our enemies. This is not a suggestion. It is a mandate. As followers of Christ, we are to live out the love that was demonstrated at the cross and is extravagantly poured out on us every moment by our Loving Father. It is not easy. In fact, sometimes it is very hard. But, by His grace we love anyway.
Secondly, Jesus said that we are to pray for them. Prayer is powerful. One of the powerful outcomes of prayer is the work that is done in your own heart as you pray for those who are not being loving towards you. It is hard to hold hard feelings toward someone you are honestly taking before the throne of grace in prayer.
Jesus modeled both of these great principles ultimately at the cross. He loved His enemies so much that he died for them (us) at the cross. Furthermore, on the cross he prayed for those persecuting Him as He cried out, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” While He was on the cross they were mocking and ridiculing Him (imagine if they had had a facebook)....and yet He loved and prayed for them.
But the most challenging words of Christ come after those two challenging actions. Notice that after He commanded us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors He said, ‘so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’ The fact is, those who have been saved by grace will also be those who demonstrate forgiveness and grace toward others. How can one who has been the recipient of so great a love, be himself unforgiving and unloving? It is unheard of in Scripture. John MacArthur wrote, “If love is the greatest thing, then loving your enemies is the greatest thing that love can do.” I love you ALL.