verse XXII – An Act of Faith
Not everything is as it seems.
I remember the first time I summited Mt. Marcy, the highest mountain in New York State. There was something inspiring about being in that place. As I would soon learn, while Mt. Marcy is the highest mountain in New York State, it is not the most difficult mountain to climb. It is a long day, some seventeen miles out and back and many hours, but the climb itself is not as difficult as some of its “shorter” neighbors. Some things that appear small, can be more difficult than we give them credit for.
The high point.
As with any mountain, there is a summit; and in this article we tackle the high point in the Sermon on the Mount. This point happens to be Matthew 5:43-44. As Yeshua/Jesus teaches,
“You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
These two verses have been called the “Matterhorn” or the high-water mark of the Sermon on the Mount; I might use “Marcy” but even fewer people would know what I was referring to. Why the Matterhorn? Because they are extremely difficult to live; just as the Matterhorn is extremely difficult to climb.
Why are they difficult? These verses are counterintuitive to human behavior. Humans, by nature, do not react kindly to enemies. Yet, Yeshua, defying conventional wisdom, directs us to go beyond loving our neighbor to “love your enemies.” Does this type of life action happen today? While hatred happens every day, so does the love of enemies – only hate speaks so much louder – and frankly, people are more attracted to hostility.
Are we commanded to…
In the Law of Moses there is no command to “hate your enemy.” Yeshua notes, “you have heard it said…” indicating that this is human wisdom, teaching and reasoning; it is wisdom that does not cause us to reach out in a godly love, motivated by the Holy Spirit.
While other points of instruction in the Sermon on the Mount directly reference or make allusion to the Ten Commandments, Yeshua does not reference them in these words; rather, He quotes from Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” We are commanded to “love your neighbor,” additionally, we are commanded to “love the stranger” (Lev. 19:34); but hate for an enemy, we do not find. You will, however, find acts of intervention commanded on behalf of an enemy, please read Exodus 23:4-5.
Where’d that come from?
Some believe that the “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” expression was extrapolated from the texts of the Old Testament based upon the judgments which the Lord decreed against the neighbors of Israel; this may be the case according to human reason, but it is not a command that we are given to follow in our personal lives.
The apostle Paul gives us words of wisdom when he writes, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the Law.” He also explains that we, as much as depends on us, should be at peace with all men. Is this really possible?
All of us have people in our lives who help us grow in patience, or to get a bit stronger, have hurt us to the point that produces an enemy. On a scale of 1 to 10, our enemy might be on the upper end of that scale, while the tester of patience may be lower end. It may appear that our strong enemy lives to bring us and our life down, and it may be a point of delight to them. How, then, can we love them?
How can we “love them”?
- First, we must approach all people from a place of faith in the Lord.
- Second, we must recognize that all people have a fallen nature; this causes us to have ideological, theological and political differences to the point of hatred.
- Third, we must recognize that there is an enemy of our soul who seeks to cause us to stumble, lose faith and give in to our own paranoia and self-created reality.
- Fourth, we must recognize that sometimes an enemy is sent into our lives by the Lord Himself to keep us humble, to keep us relying on Him and to test our relationship with Him. The Scriptures are replete with examples of this.
The above may seem impossible – and it is! – provided that you continue to live by the principles of this world. It is only in light of the Lord’s marvelous grace, mercy and love that we can begin to actually love those who would continually intend us harm or discouragement. Remember what the Lord is commanding us? To love our enemies. The Lord has every right to judge sinners for what they have done to, with and in His creation. Yet, His judgment is stayed for a time in order to show us grace and mercy. We as children of the Most High, born-again into His Kingdom by His Son must reflect the same – like Father, like son.
An opportunity for growth.
As we walk in this life of faith, we will, at some point, realize that daily we are given the opportunity to grow in faith: both by people who are easy to love, and those who are not so easy to love. If it was easy to love our enemy, Yeshua would not have instructed us to do so – as we would have already been doing it. This command from the Messiah is the high point of the Sermon on the Mount because it is so difficult.
Will we overcome our enemy by persuasive argument? By meeting and matching their hatred? Or will we overcome the enemy who is in our life through love?
In order to allow this love of enemy into our heart and mind we must start with forgiveness; as Yeshua teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Furthermore, Yeshua instructs us, “bless those cursing you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
This is a choice of heart. We must make the choice to bless, do good and pray for our enemy – this will bring a change in heart and release us from the bondage of hate. This change of heart exemplifies for others the love that the Lord has for them – a love greater than they have every experienced.
A new commandment?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; cf. 15:12, 17; 1 John 2:7-11; 3:11-24; 4:7-21).
Is this new? Yes, even while it is echoing what had come before it. How then is it new? It is a “new” commandment because of the example of Yeshua, and His love for His people. This love was not only in word, but deed – even to death on the Cross. This is the love that is to be the mark of the congregation of disciples; a love that distinguishes us from the world.
In His command to us, Yeshua did not use the Greek word φιλία (philia), which means “brotherly love, love for parent or family.” He did not use the Greek word ἔρως (eros), which is a “physical or sensual love.” Rather, He used ἀγάπη (agape), which is love as an act of the will, a love that we display through action. This is why, after He commands us to “love your enemy” He continues to say “bless” them, “do good” to them and “pray” for them.
Not only are we to love our enemy, but we are to bless them? do good to them? and pray for them? That is agape as an act of will, of intent, but most importantly, an act of faith.
Everybody hurts – (cue R.E.M).
Finally, we must recognize that all people are hurting in some way; and that many of our most undesirable actions come from that hurt. Therefore, we must pray for the healing of those who hurt us, as much as we pray for our own healing. Often, our neighbors and our enemies are one and the same. When we can bless, do good, and pray for them, how much will our homes and neighborhoods improve?
Why is Yeshua instructing us in this way? So that we may we learn to overcome evil with good, and hate with love.
Shalom. Be well.