By Keith Sharp
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (Matt. 5:43-47)
Recently, I heard my three-year-old son soberly discuss the difficult subject of hell with a little friend. He solemnly announced, “If you hit someone who didn’t hit you, you’ll go to hell.” Cute? Of course, I think so. But, sadly, this concept of love to friends and hatred to enemies is only too prevalent among sophisticated adults. The demands of the Lord so far transcend this carnal standard as to be virtually incomparable. What is the law, of Christ pertaining to love and hatred of other people?
For the sixth time in his address on the mount, Jesus replaced what his auditors had previously heard with His own doctrine. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy (Matt. 5:43). There are four key words in this passage. We will define each.
“Love” is at once one of the richest and one of the most abused words in the English language. One youthful wit, sorely smitten with infatuation for a pretty, young thing, described “love” as “an itch you can’t scratch.” What is its true meaning?
Greek is a language which is rich in synonyms; it has words with shades of meaning which English does not posses. In Greek there are four different words for love.
(i) There is the noun sterge with its accompanying verb stergein. These words are the characteristic words of family love . . . .
(ii) There is the noun eros and the accompanying verb eran. These words describe the love of a man for a maid; there is always passion in them; and there is always sexual love . . . . but as time went on they began to be tinged with the idea of lust rather than love, and they never occur in the New Testament at all.
(iii) There is philia with its accompanying verb philein. It describes real love, real affection . . . . It is the word of warm, tender affection ….
(iv) There is agape with its accompanying verb agapan. Agape is the word which is used here. The real meaning of agape is unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill. If we regard a person with agape, it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or injures us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him to invade our hearts, but we will regard him with unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but his highest good (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 1, pp. 171, 172).
Thus, the love Christ demands that we exercise toward our enemies is the active desire to do good, not selfish passion, tender affection or empty words. The test and measure of love is its ability to forego its own selfish pleasure for the good of the object of that love (cf. 1 Jn. 3:16-18). In short, “love” is “active goodwill.” Luke’s parallel account illustrates this by demanding we “do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again,” thus being “merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Lk. 6:35, 36) to show our love. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the Master’s own illustration of the meaning of this word (Lk. 10:25-37).
The term “neighbor” literally means “the (one) near” (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 111, 107). The Old Testament and Hebrew concept limited its application to “a member of the Hebrew commonwealth” (J.H. Thayer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 518, 519; cf. Acts 7:27). “Hate” carries the meaning “of malicious . . . feelings toward others whether towards the innocent or by mutual animosity” (Vine, II, 198). One’s “enemy” is “the person to whom one is hostile . . .” (Thayer, p. 265).
What law enjoined love of friends and hatred of enemies? The requirements to love one’s neighbor is specifically laid down in Leviticus 19:17, 18. Although the opposite demand, hatred of one’s enemies, was not specifically stated in the law, in a limited sense it was a fair application of the Old Testament. Jehovah required that Israel annihilate the Amalekites (Dent. 25:17-19) and the Canaanite nations that inhabited the land of promise before them (Dent. 7:1, 2, 16, 23-26). Pure men of God hated not only the ways of the Lord’s enemies; they abhorred the enemies themselves (Psa. 26:5; 31:6; 139:21, 22).
Thus, the law of Moses made a clear distinction between faithful children of Abraham and the ungodly Gentiles, and demands for love was limited to the godly. This had a dual purpose: protecting the people from their idolatrous enemies and preserving the lineage of the Messiah. Therefore, according to Paul, the law was the basis of enmity between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14-18). This was one of its defects, which, although it served a legitimate, temporary purpose, necessitated its abrogation.
Evidently the Jews, in their traditions, had abused this principle, which applied to national and religious enemies, by applying it to personal adversaries. This violated the clear, Old Testament statute (Ex. 23:4, 5). How does the Master teach us to treat our enemies?
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matt. 5:44; cf. Lk. 6:27, 28).
The Son of God requires that we love all kinds of people that we might normally consider enemies, for whatever reasons – personal, religious, racial, ethnic, national we might feel animosity toward them.
This supreme demand has primary application to the personal life of the Christian in relationship to other people. Therefore, that pacifist in international politics who fights and riots for “peace” so far misses the point of this great principle as to be ludicrous.
This ideal treatment of even one’s enemies is the height of the character of a Christian, setting him apart from all unbelievers. Yet, this is not an impossible requirement. Jesus does not demand that we have as much emotional affection for our enemies as for our own families. How does one feel tender affection for those who lie about him, seek to take away his job because of his stand for truth and even physically abuse him? But, we must always seek the highest good for our enemies, even for those who would persecute us for our faith.
The Master is our supreme example here as in every realm of faith. Of those who blasphemed, “Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” (Jn. 8:48), Jesus lamented:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not (Matt. 23:37).
He died for and offered salvation to even those who crucified Him (Lk. 19:10). In behalf of those who cruelly mocked Him on the cursed cross (Matt. 27:39-43), He tenderly prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13).
Yet, of Christ, the apostle declares:
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
For scarcely for a righteous men will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
But God commandeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ dies for us (Rom. 5:6-8).
What wondrous love! O, for the strength to so walk!
This great precept is beautifully exemplified by saints who help compose “the great cloud of witnesses” (cf. Acts 7:54-60; 1 Cor. 4:12, 13). The Christian thus defeats his enemies by treating them as friends (Rom. 12:17-21). One cannot bless, do good to and pray for an enemy and still hate him.
Why should we love those who mistreat us?
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publican so?
We should love our enemies that we might truly be the sons of God. Christ did not teach that loving one’s enemies is a condition of becoming His disciple. We are children of God by consequence of being born again (Jn. 3:3, 5; Gal. 3:26, 27). What, then, did he mean?
Hebrew is not rich in adjectives, and for that reason Hebrew often used son of . . . with an abstract noun, where we would use an adjective. For instance, a son of peace is a peaceful man; a son of consolation is a consoling man. So, then, a son of God is a godlike man (Barclay, Ibid, p. 175).
To love even one’s enemies is to truly be godlike in character, for, though “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), nevertheless
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (Jn. 3:16).
Indeed, “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8).
We all witness daily in the natural realm how God bestows physical blessings alike on both evil and good, just and unjust (cf. Psa. 145:9, 15, 16; Acts 14:16, 17). This is the result and proof of His divine love for all His creation. We should likewise practice love toward friend and foe alike. By so doing we demonstrate our godlike character (cf. Lk. 6:35, 36; Eph. 5:1, 2).
If we do not practice love toward our enemies, how can we expect God to reward us for our righteousness, for we would be evidencing no higher character than the publicans, the lowest of sinners to the Hebrews? Even the vilest of the unrighteous love their own friends! Is our morality not to exceed theirs?
Further, if we fail to manifest this higher love, we do no more than those in false and degrading religions. Even the Gentiles, who had corrupted the true worship of God into the grossest system of immorality and error, warmly greeted and graciously accepted their own friends! Is the righteousness of one walking in the steps of Jesus not to exceed that of an idol worshiper?
One can pursue any of three courses in his relationship to other people. He can render to others as they render to him – good for good and evil for evil. This is the standard of the world. One can render evil for good – the standard Satan employs. Or, one can do good in return for evil. This is what the Father does, and this is the godlike standard the Master sets for his disciples. Brother, which course do you follow?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 16, pp. 264-265
April 17, 1980