By R.J. Evans
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus commands, “Love your enemies. ” Viewing this command in its context, Jesus had reference to those who would be considered as “personal enemies,” because they are defined in the parallel command as those “which despitefully use you, and persecute you. ” Hence, the “enemies” here are those who literally hate and do injury to us.
The meaning of this passage often becomes nebulous to many, especially when there is a misunderstanding of the term “love. ” The word “love” in this verse comes from the Greek word agapao. This is love in the “social or moral sense” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 7). To love as commanded in Matthew 5:44 is to do good, or to seek the highest welfare of others. It is in this sense that we are to love our enemies. We may not be able to make the mean criminal, the malicious liar, or the slanderous fellow our close personal friends, but we can love them all, that is, see what they need and work for them for their good. This love is the kind that flows out in deeds of kindness. God is our example in expressing such love, for in the next verse Jesus says, “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” (Matt. 5:45). Jesus illustrated this principle of love in that he sought the highest good for his enemies – he even prayed for them while they were crucifying him (Lk. 23:34). The apostle Paul tells us to clovercome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). The kind words Abraham Lincoln expressed toward his enemies often brought him rebukes from some of his friends. One lady said she wondered how he could speak kindly of his enemies, when he should rather destroy them. “But, Madam,” replied Lincoln, “do I not destroy them when I make them my friends?” (The Humorous Mr. Lincoln, Keith W. Jennison, p. 142)
Still another Greek term for “love” in the Scripture is phileo, as is found in John 5:20: “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.” This love is to “have affection for,” denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling (Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, pp. 75-76). This would be the emotional, passionate love that exists between husband and wife, parents and children, etc. We are not commanded to love our most deadly foe in this sense. In fact, I would say that it would be impossible for me to love my enemies in the same sense I love my wife and children. The point is, though, we are not commanded or expected to love our enemies in that sense. We are commanded to love them in the sense that we seek their welfare and have no ill will towards them.
We often hear it expressed, “Hate a bad man’s actions, but do not hate the bad man.” This simply means we are to hate sin, but not the sinner. You may ask, “How can I hate what a man does and not hate the man?” Has it ever occurred to you that there is one person to whom you have been doing this all your life – namely yourself! No matter how much we detest our own mistakes, faults, such as cowardice, greed, conceit, etc., we go on loving ourselves. There has never been much difficulty in continuing to care for yourself, has it? Can’t the same be true with regard to others? Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39).
Yes, we can and must obey the Lord’s command to “love your enemies.” It involves our deep concern for their spiritual welfare, blessing and praying for them – even when they do us harm. May the Lord help us “increase our faith” concerning this matter.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 19, pp. 579, 599
October 6, 1988