Love is one of the most essential qualities of life. A person can live;
- 40 days without food,
- About three days without water,
- Between 4-6 minutes without oxygen before brain cells begin to die and,
- ZERO seconds without love.
When our love tank runs empty, our body, soul, and spirit suffer.
In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus gives His most striking teaching on love. He begins by confronting a popular misconception on love that has been widely accepted by the people of His day.
This can happen when we allow catchphrases and not the scripture to be our guide.
Truth Not Truth
#1 God helps those who help themselves.
In other words, God needs your help to help Him before He can help you. Wrong. God reaches out to us because we couldn’t help ourselves.
#2 Cleanliness is next to godliness.
So if I bathe often, clean my room, keep an orderly workspace/home, I will be most like God? Who needs the fruit of the Spirit when all you need is some Dove soap?
#3 God will never give you more than you can handle.
Breathing proves this statement false. Life frequently confronts us with more than we can handle, but it’s never more than God can handle.
These moments remind us that we aren’t meant to live apart from God.
Scripture needs to be the source of our thoughts, because our thoughts produce action. John 6:63 explains that, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Philosophy cannot affect spiritual transformation. We need the word of God and the Spirit of God to activate the character of God in us.
Jesus also reveals that how we treat others is the litmus test of authentic faith. And specifically, He dials in on how we treat people who are against us.
He is not claiming that Christians will not have enemies, but that Christians won’t make enemies.
Jesus’ instructions are to be obeyed, based on four reasons.
#1 Because God says so.
As a child, isn’t that the phrase you cringed hearing the most? It indicated that the person saying so has complete authority, and there’s no negotiating. As followers of Jesus, we are to obey his teaching, John 10:27.
#2 Because God loves you.
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
We are to love the unlovable because we were once unlovable and yet loved by Him.
#3 God is love.
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8
God not only loves, He personifies love. John says if we know God, then we are to love others.
#4 We are made in God’s image. Genesis 1:27
If God is love and we have been made in His image and through Christ that image is being fully restored, then we have an obligation to love.
Jesus gives two commands when it comes to relating to other people as His followers.
#1 Love your enemies.
The word love is translated from agape, which is unconditional love. Agape love is given not because the recipient has earned it but because they need it. No questions asked!
Ironically, the word enemy is 180 degrees opposite of the word love. It means adversary and derives from the word enmity and hatred.
We’re not talking about someone who doesn’t like your taste in music or people who make jokes about your incessant love of tacos, but a person who has an intense burning hatred towards you.
Jesus instructs His followers to love that person.
Now if that were not challenging enough, Jesus goes a little deeper with the second instruction.
#2 Pray for those who persecute you.
Jesus uses some of the strongest words available in stretching your boundaries and perception of love. The word “persecute” means to pursue, repeated acts of enmity.
This is someone who goes out of their way to make life hard for you. Their actions are not coincidental but calculated.
Praying in this context is not for God to rain down vengeance but blessing.
It’s human nature to return hate with hate, slander with slander, hurt for hurt, but Jesus calls us to a higher standard. By praying, we avoid being consumed by hate and reveal Jesus is alive in us.
The result of loving your enemy and praying for those who persecute you is “so that you may be sons (daughters) of your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:45a
Our actions identify us as either belonging to this world or to God.
Encountering enemies and persecutors test our faith and help develop the character and mindset of Christ in us.
Keep in mind, hurt people, hurt people. Hate won’t heal them, but love can.
When our human nature wants to lash out and return insult for insult, let’s arrest that urge, dig deep, and respond in love and pray for the person. In doing so, we demonstrate God’s transforming power at work in us and facilitates healing to a hurting world.