The Sermon on the Mount: Enemies
You Have Heard It Said
Once again Jesus gives a quotation that is only partly found in the Old Testament: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The first part is found in Leviticus 19:18, but the second is not found in the Old Testament. In particular, the context of Leviticus 19:18 teaches the opposite attitude. A fellow Israelite was not to be hated (Leviticus 19:17). Foreigners living within the lands of Israel were to be treated with love (Leviticus 19:34).
It appears the Jews decided that if neighbors are to be loved, then “obviously” enemies are to be hated. But, as we will shortly see, the conclusion was false.
But I Say to You
Jesus focuses his remarks on the second phrase, commanding that love and not hatred should be shown toward enemies. Those who say ill things about us are to be spoken well of by us. The disciple of Jesus should go out of his way to do good to those who hate him and to pray for those who mistreat him.
Luke’s account gives us the reason: Anyone can love those who treat them well, but it takes something all together more to extend love to the unloving. Even sinners do nice things to those who are nice to them; thus, restricting yourself to only loving those who are kind to you makes you no better than the rest of the world.
Further, we should do good to others without expecting to receive something similar in return. If we lend funds to someone, we should do it with the attitude that we are not expecting it back. It is in this manner that we can imitate our Lord. God is impartial. He does not withhold all blessings from the wicked.
If we love only those close to us, what great deed have we done? In what way could we claim we have exerted ourselves? If we are to improve ourselves and the world, we must reach farther than we are inclined to go.
Old Testament Teachings on Enemies
The Israelites were told not to gloat when an enemy falls (Proverbs 24:17-18). If an enemy needed help, an Israelite was expected to supply that aid (Proverbs 25:21-22; Exodus 23:4-5).
Many examples exist in the Old Testament of people who treated their enemies well. Joseph cared for his brothers even though they sold him into slavery (Genesis 45:1-15). Moses prayed for Miriam’s healing when she and Aaron rebelled against his leadership (Numbers 12:1-16). Take special note of how David treated his enemies (Psalm 35:11-16). Also recall how David treated Saul as Saul sought his life (I Samuel 24:4-16; 26:8-21).
New Testament Teachings on Enemies
The verse we sited from Proverbs 25:21-22 is one Paul used to prove his point regarding our treatment of others in Romans 12:14-21. We are to make every effort to live in harmony with all people, even our enemies.
Stephen leaves us a beautiful example of loving our enemies. “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60).
Paul, in speaking of the lives of the apostles, said, “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (I Corinthians 4:11-16).