In Matthew 5:43, Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’” Jesus taught by stating the common perspectives and then directly contradicting them. “But I say to you” in the next verse introduces a stark contrast in how to think about others.
Jesus expected His disciples to commit to His commands and a new worldview, changing their lives forever.
It is true that you are to “love your neighbor.” Leviticus 19:18 states, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” Wisdom warns us against vengeful thoughts: “Do not say, ‘Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me’” (Prov 24:29).
Nowhere in the Old Testament do we see “hate your enemy”; rather, it became a tradition of thought that brought great animosity and prejudice against anyone with different or opposing ideas. The early believers used this thought to justify their hatred of the Gentiles and their refusal to give them the gospel message (Acts 10; 11:19). They truly believed God hated them, too. Perversion is an element of truth mixed with demonic lies to destroy what God means to say.
The Greek has four words for “love.” These are philia, a brotherly love or friendship; storge, the love of family; eros, desire, feeling, sex, and romance (which does not appear in the New Testament); and agape, a love that seeks the highest benefit for another person without regard to personal benefits or agendas.
This final word is the love Jesus refers to in Matthew 5:44. Because it is not an emotional response, but a commitment to a beneficial action toward another person regardless of our own feelings, we can choose to love an enemy. It’s our choice. Thus we can love someone we do not like personally.
We are commanded to “continually be praying for those who persecute [us].” Even if it does not change them, we are to continue to pray for abusive authorities to show that we care for them regardless of how they treat us. This reaction required the grace of God for Jesus’s response, and we must rely on His grace as well. Do you really want to be like Jesus?
“Loving Father, You have shown us how to love those who hate us. Help me follow Your wonderful example, deciding not to return evil for evil but to pray for those who would persecute me.”