Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)

The Old Testament does say that we should love our neighbours, but it does not say that we should hate our enemies. Of course, the enemies of Christians are not defined in the same way as enemies of Israel would have been. Enemies of Israel would usually be external to the country whereas the opponents of disciples could be within their own communities. Jesus says that the evidence of love for enemies is prayer for them, which indicates that his disciples should pray for those who oppose them. In a sense, he is saying that in our daily prayer list there should space for those who stand against us.

The reason for doing this is that such a response indicates that his disciples are like their heavenly Father. He does good to everyone whether or not they serve him. The followers of Jesus are not to be like the Pharisees and their standards, nor are they to be only like those who do good to those who do good to them. For Jesus, the standard for his disciples was the attitude and actions of the heavenly Father. I read this quotation from a commentator called Alfred Plummer which sums up the options: ‘To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.’

What does Jesus mean when he says that his disciples are to be as perfect as the heavenly Father? He cannot mean that his disciples are to help as many people as the Father does, nor can he mean that they should do it for as long as the Father does. Nor can he mean that they should be sinless because that would be impossible in this life and the situations described would not exist in the next. Maybe the meaning is that since the Father here does everything out of love for the unworthy, so should the disciples of Jesus. Or does Jesus give to his disciples a goal to aim at, to become as perfect as the Father, even if it is impossible for them to attain to it completely.

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