“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17)
In this series, we are looking at how Jesus redefined different laws, ideas, and notions by expanding their meanings and, thus, our understanding of the Scriptures.
During His sermon on the mount, Jesus redefined how we are to behave toward our enemies.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
There’s nothing hidden in Jesus’ message here; it’s straightforward: love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Period. (Actually, exclamation point!) It’s not an easy thing to do and Jesus doesn’t say it is, but the statement stands on its own and requires no breakdown for understanding. Jesus also tells why we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us: because then we will be acting as true children of God.
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He adopts us into His family and we can be called His sons and daughters. We are given this new identity as children of God. Now that we are called children of God, we need to act like it, and here we have one way we can act like true children of God: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Loving our enemies fits right in line with Jesus’ previous teaching on revenge—it’s not for us to take, we are to show grace and leave revenge to God. All throughout the Bible, God takes care of His people and handles their enemies, from Pharaoh and his armies to Goliath and the Philistines. God is always fighting for His people.
When we put Jesus’ teachings and redefinitions into practice, when we act like true children of God, people notice. Louis Zamperini was an Olympic distance runner and World War II veteran who survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific and spent two years as a prisoner of war in Japan. Zamperini dedicated his life to Christ, and in 1950 he went back to Japan to meet his former guards and offer them forgiveness. He wrote a letter to the most ruthless of the guards, nicknamed The Bird, in which he said, “…I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, ‘Forgive your enemies and pray for them.’”
Ruby Bridges was the first African American to attend William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during desegregation. She wrote, “From her window, Mrs. Henry (her school teacher) always watched me walk into the school. One morning when I got to our classroom, she said she’d been surprised to see me talk to the mob. I saw your lips moving, she said, but I couldn’t make out what you were saying to those people.
I wasn’t talking to them, I told her, I was praying for them. Usually I prayed in the car on the way to school, but that day I’d forgotten until I was in the crowd. Please be with me, I’d asked God, and be with those people too. Forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Bridges was praying Jesus’ own words that He prayed from the cross for those who were killing Him. There is no greater example of loving your enemies than Jesus. For let us never forget, we were His enemies once and He loved us and died for us.
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34a)
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10)
“This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.” (Colossians 1:21)
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)
Jesus taught it, lived it, and expects us to do so as well. If you are a child of God, act like it by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. When we obey Jesus we look like Jesus and our lives can serve as examples to point others to Him.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.