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Love your enemy, in what sense?

aymon de albatrus

"43 ¶ You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if you salute your brothers only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48 Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Mat 5:43-48)

This phrase is part of that monumental exposition that our Lord Jesus gave on the mountain. It is certainly a great revolutionary concept that only Christianity requires of its members. However it can be interpreted in a pietistic way and leading into a disabilitating interpretation.

The key word here is "LOVE". Unfortunately, the word ‘love’ has many meaning in the English language that makes it hard to get the real significance of what kind of love it is intended. For example, in the Western languages the word Love does not clearly distinguish the various meaning of what is intended, "I Love God", "I Love my wife", "I Love a pizza". Has the word "Love" the same meaning in these 3 examples? Certainly not! [article]

The word ‘love’ here in the Greek is "AGAPAO" with root in "Agape". This kind of love is defined as: "the Love of intelligence, of reason and comprehension" coupled with the corresponding purpose. Its concept is vastly superior to any other form of Love. In essence "Agape" is a permanent benevolent attitude toward God and human beings, without any condition, that freely springs out of the Agape God has place in the heart of His own. It is disinterested love that does not need anything in return. We can Agape others only if God has firstly filled us up with His Agape. All the other form of love need a reaction, a return to maintain themselves, whilst Agape comes from God and the beneficiaries that are full of it do not need a confirmation from others, being fully satisfied in the Agape of the Lord.

The Greek there are 5 different meanings for the word "Love". Only 3 of these appear in the New Testament: Agape 258 times (90%), Phileo (affection) 31 times (10%) and Thelo once. This means that the love of the Bible is AGAPE, the love of intelligence, of reason and of comprehension, which is benevolent love. Romantic love is not present in the NT.

So when Jesus says, "Love thy enemy" he means to have an attitude of benevolence toward him, not of wanting to harm him, and to help him in case of need. For example if the donkey of your enemy falls into a ditch, you pull up the animal and take it to his home.  He certainly did not mean an attitude of kiss and embrace, how could any one do that if your enemy has just raped your wife and daughter. What He says is: do not harbour hate or seek personal revenge towards him, God will look after that, and the magistrates must apply the law. you do only good deeds to him.

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy". The command to love our neighbour (that could have been an enemy) was a law of God, Lev 19:18. That we must "hate our enemy", was an inference drawn from it by the Jews. They supposed that if we loved the one, we must, of course, hate the other. But is not so, nor ever was. Also a neighbour is literally one that lives near to us, which is near to us, towards whom we must act with kindness and friendship, in other words, anyone that comes in contact with us. This is its meaning here.

"Hate your enemy" is nowhere written in the law, or in the prophets: nor does Christ say it is; He only observes, that it had been traditionally handed down to them from the ancients and the traditions of the elders. The law only commanded to love their neighbour, "hate your enemy" was the Pharisees’ addition. Jesus here dispels this false addition, moreover ‘neighbour’, was intended by the Jews as a friend, but to the smart lawyer who asked "Who is my neighbour?" Jesus instructed him that a neighbour is anyone around him and how to behave with him by the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luk 10:29,36,37).

Many Christians believe that the Old Testament teaches to hate our enemies, but it does not.

There is no contradiction between the Old and the New Testaments.

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies." The word here used denotes moral love (Agape), as distinguished from the other word (Phileo), which expresses personal affection. The ‘love’ designed here signifies the benignant, compassionate outgoings of desire for another’s good.

This is the love of wishing well to another, though we cannot approve his conduct. This is the love of benevolence; and this love we are to bear towards our enemies. It is impossible to love the conduct of a man that curses and reviles us, and injures our person or property, or that violates all the laws of God; but though we may hate his conduct, and feel deeply that we are affected by it, yet we may still wish well to the person; we may pity his madness and folly; we may speak kindly of him, and to him; we may not return evil for evil; we may aid him in the time of trial; and seek to do him good here, and to promote his eternal welfare hereafter, (Rom 12:17-20; Exo 23:4). This is what Jesus meant by loving our enemies; and this is a peculiar law of Christianity, and the highest possible test of piety, and probably the most difficult of all duties to be performed.

"Bless them that curse you." Do not seek unlawful private revenge; the magistrates will do the judging and the applying of the law as their appointed duty. But we are not to return personal reviling for reviling, while they curse we do bless. Blessing here, does not signify praising them for evil deeds, for that would be sinful, which is sometimes the sense of the word; nor wishing, or praying for a blessing on them but give good words, use kind language, mild and soft expressions; such as may either win upon them, or put them to shame and silence. If there is nothing for which we can commend our enemy, at least say nothing about him.

"Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Doing for them all the good we can for their souls. That is, pray the Lord that He may forgive them and save their souls, as Jesus did, (Luk 23:34) and Stephen, (Act 7:60) and David, (Psa 35:13-15). We are to pray this way for those who revile us personally, but we may hate those who are God’s enemies, as such, (Psa 139:21,22) and for such we may seek a due revenge of God’s honour upon them.

Even though we are to pray for the salvation of our enemies’ soul, this precept does not prohibit us the seeking of a just satisfaction for wrongs done unto us in a way of public justice in the natural, yet not without a mixture of Agape. An this is a thing we may do to restrain these people from doing their evil to other persons: for example if our neighbour has raped our daughter, we must bring this heinous act to the knowledge of the magistrates so that they may apply the just law to prevent this evil be perpetuated to other, yet without hate or vengeance. (Rom 12:19)

The principle of loving one's enemies is valid and binding upon all who would follow Christ. There is no room in the Christian heart; purged from sin and forgiven of all transgressions, to entertain hatred for anyone when remembering the love that God has bestowed on us, and all the sins He has forgiven us. . Love in this place does not refer to sentimental and affectionate love such as one has for members of his family. The kind of love meant is the love of benevolence. The implication is that the Christian shall treat his enemies with fairness and equity, doing unto them, as he would desire people should do unto him. (Luk 6:31)

"That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" Christians are called the sons of the Father in several of these senses: as His elect, His offspring, and His disciples and as imitators of Him. Our Lord taught us to pray: "our Father which are in heaven (Luk 11:2)" signifying that we are His children. In this passage, the word is used because, in doing good to enemies, we resemble God for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain, without distinction, on the just and unjust. So His people should show that they imitate or resemble Him, or possess His spirit by doing good in a similar way.

As our heavenly Father has a common love (agape), which he extends to all mankind, in supplying their necessities, with the light and warmth of the sun, and with the rain and though we are not obliged to take our enemies into our bosom, yet we ought to love (agape) them and do good to them so to heap coals of fire on their heads, that He might not leave them without witness, yea, and provide to them the outward means of grace for the good of their souls, for if they repent not, God will one day have a satisfaction from sinners, for the wrong done to His Holy majesty.

Even though we are bound to seek some satisfaction for God’s honour and glory from vicious sinners, and though we may seek a moderate satisfaction for the wrong done to us, yet we ought to love them with a love consistent with the general love of God; thus we may imitate our heavenly Father, and therefore demonstrating that we are His children.

"For if ye love them that love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same?" In these verses there is the challenge that Christians shall be "like their Father who is in heaven." That is what it is really all about, that Christians should be like the pure and holy God of the Bible. Christians should love (agape) all men, sinners included, even their own personal enemies! To live the other way is to be no better than a publican (the collectors of the Roman taxes); and, in the Jewish dictionary, that was about as low as a man could get! Christ here enunciated a new and profound principle that we Christians should live by in imitating our Father.

"And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same?" Implicit in these words is the proclamation that Christians are different; they love more than others, will do more than others, and are in fact better in every way than others. Our imputed righteousness is a matter of going beyond is due: giving the cloak also, going the second mile, turning the other cheek, loving enemies, not speaking evil of those who persecute us, and, in short, being "sons of our Father who is in heaven".

"Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect". We know that nobody, but nobody is ever going to be perfect in this life; and yet, perfection is requires by the Christian religion. A contradiction? No, but a goal so that man may continually know that he is unworthy of salvation, that he can never in a million years merit it on his own merit, and that any real perfection he might eventually attain must be only the free gift of Christ: "8 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-9)

No matter how a good a life one may live on this earth there will always be some improvement to make; and a Christian can keep on and on improving until the end of a long life without ever attaining absolute perfection. Nay! If we were to say, "I have no sin", we will be lying and therefore sinning, for Scripture denounces us: "8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1Jo 1:8-9) These verses, as much as any other in the Bible, throws man upon his knees and calls him to trust in Christ alone for eternal life.

In Conclusion:

  1. We are created being and in complete subjection to the Creator in whom we live, and move, and have our being

  2. God commands us to love (Agape) all human beings, especially our neighbours: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith." (Gal 6:10)

  3. By neighbours it is intended anyone who is near us

  4. The ‘love’ that we have to demonstrate to all consist of benevolent love, that is Agape, which is the Love of intelligence, of reason and comprehension

  5. Though we are not obliged to take our enemies into our bosom, yet we ought to love (agape) them and do good to them so to heap coals of fire on their heads, that He might not leave them without witness, yea, and provide to them the outward means of grace for the good of their souls, for if they repent not, God will one day have a satisfaction from sinners, for the wrong done to His Holy majesty.

  6. In demonstrating this love (Agape) we prove that indeed we are the children of God and that God is truly our Father, for no one else does that in this evil world

  7. By demonstrating this benevolent love to all we are following peace with all men and achieving holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14).