“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
– Matthew 5:43-44
Jesus, as He does in all the other sections, begins to explain the correct use of the Law, “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Again, we must always come to the Bible with its original context in mind before we begin applying the principles to our own lives.
We must remember 1 Corinthians 13:3 before we continue, “If I give all I posses to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (emphasis mine). Jesus is not simply asking for external deeds of love but an internal attitude of love towards our enemies. We cannot love externally without first and foremost loving internally.
The Jews in this time period would have thought of Rome right away. Rome is who has enslaved them, dominated their land and has slaughtered their kin. Rightly would Jesus audience respond, “Love our enemies? Love those who have killed our families? Love those who have plundered our lands? Love those who have raped our wives? Love them?!?”
What is the primary reason we love our enemies? The Gospel. We love because we recognize that at one time, we were enemies towards God (Romans 5:10) and God has reconciled us. If God gave us what we deserve, we would rightly be punished and condemned in hell forever. Despite the fact that we were rebels against this God, He chose, out of His mercy, to extend grace and love towards our poor souls.
We love our enemies because the Cross is the objective evidence that hatred can be dealt with, once and for all. On the Cross, Jesus absorbed all that made us enemies to Him. Therefore when I boast that I have right standing before God yet I hate my brother, I am revealing that I really do not understand the Gospel. I cannot revel in God’s grace yet harbor hatred in my heart towards my enemies. The Gospel softens my heart towards those who persecute me because I realize that through my sin, I nailed my Savior to the Cross and yet; God did not cast me away in my animosity. I have no right to cast away my enemies.God did not cast me away in my animosity. I have no right to cast away my enemies. Click To Tweet
This is the point that John makes in 1 John 2:9-11, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” I cannot cherish the Gospel and at the same time hate my brother.
Furthermore, I cannot genuinely pray for someone without loving them internally first. Doriani writes:
“One cannot genuinely pray for someone without hoping for their good. When we pray for an enemy, animosity dwindles and compassion increases. Love is an act of a whole person reaching out to whole persons. God’s love is the source and the model for love of enemies.” The action of prayer is directly connected to love.
– Daniel M. Doriani
What is Jesus’ reasoning for loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is not saying that by loving your enemies you become sons of God, rather, you identity that you are a son by loving your enemies. There is a grave distinctive here. We do not operate out of wanting God’s approval but rather act out of our already approved state. Rejoice in that day!
“You Christian. You are loved, delighted in, rejoiced over, guaranteed, secured, and advocated for. By God himself. Right now, where you are.”
– Jared C. Wilson
 Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew & 2, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, vol. 1, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 190.