We live in increasingly polarised times. Divisions along political, ethnic and generational lines are becoming more and more entrenched. Sometimes we find ourselves picking a side and adopting an attitude of hostility against those on the other side. Or you say something unwittingly and find yourself the target of fierce opposition. Polarisation creates not just a division but attitudes of disgust and hatred against those on the other side of the divide. We huddle with those who are similar to us avoid engaging with alternatives or complexity. We imagine that “they” are our enemies and to a greater or lesser extent treat them as such.
Not every kind of division is problematic, of course. The solution to polarisation is not to sink all our differences in an ambiguous fudge, because as Christians we owe total loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, even in polarised times, there is a distinctively Christian way of interacting with those who are different from us and even those who regard us as enemies. We have to love our enemies! The following updated extract from David Dickson provides us with five motivations to put this counter-cultural command from the Lord Jesus into practice.
The commandment to “love our neighbour” is seriously distorted if it is understood as requiring love only toward our family, friends and acquaintances, and especially if it is taken to mean that it is lawful to hate anyone who is our enemy. Our Lord vindicates the commandment from this false exposition.
Out of obedience to God, as well as pity to perishing souls, we must have love, even to those who are our personal enemies. That is what Christ has commanded in Matthew 5, saying, “Love your enemies.”
Love to our enemies must be demonstrable to God. We prove our love to our enemies by pleading with God to give them mercy, contrary to what they deserve. This is why Christ says, “Bless them, pray for them.” This is a task to exercise our obedience, and to prove our sincerity.
To persuade us to obey this commandment, our Lord gives us five motives.
1. Loving our enemies shows that we are the children of God
Loving our enemies makes it apparent to others (and to our own hearts also) that we are the children of God, who extends his generosity to give his gifts to his evil and unjust enemies.
By imitating of the generosity of God, we shall grow more and more like him, and we shall make it more and more apparent that we are being renewed into the image of God. “Love your enemies, … that ye may be the children of your Father” (Matthew 5:45).
We should not lightly overlook the common favours which God bestows, such as the benefit of the sun, and rain, but we must observe the goodness of God towards us, in making his sun to rise, and his rain to fall, on the unjust.
2. Loving our enemies will get God’s reward
Unless your love extends itself to your enemies, in the obedience of God, you can expect no reward from him.
If we refuse to love our enemies, this only shows that the love we bestow on our friends it itself no acceptable service to God, for, “if ye love them only which love you, what reward have ye to expect?” (verse 46) If we love only to be loved, we serve self only, and not God; and where there is no service, there is no reward.
3. Loving our enemies is more than the unregenerate can do
The vilest and most odious sinners in the world equal you, if you love only those who love you, and do not also love your enemies. To stop at the measure of love which a wicked man may attain to, is nothing that God esteems. “If you love only your friends, do not even the publicans the same?” (verse 46)
4. Loving our enemies is distinctively Christian
As Christians, there must be more in you than the civility, courtesy, and humanity which prompts you to give expressions of love to your friends. Compared to those who are not renewed by regeneration, Christians should be doing more. Why? Because we are born of God, equipped with His Spirit, and committed to God with special obligation. We must therefore behave accordingly. “What do ye more than others?” (verse 47) We must make it a matter of conscience to love our enemies.
5. Loving our enemies is not too much to aspire to
God’s children must aim at perfection in all graces, including having perfect love, love which extends to their enemies. “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (verse 48).
Of course Christians cannot fully attain perfection in this life, yet they are called to perfection. As Christians – those whose Father is perfect – we must aim at it, to come more and more near to it. God only is the pattern of perfection we must set before our eyes. He displays himself to us in His Word, and in His Son Jesus Christ, the express image of his person, to be imitated by us.
Let us then follow the pattern set by our Father in heaven, who is perfect. He sends His sunshine and His rain indiscriminately on the righteous and the unrighteous. Let us grow more into the likeness of our Elder Brother, Christ. He calls us to something unexpectedly different from what our unregenerate instinct would dictate, something that requires His supernatural help to do. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you.” Loving only those who love us back is only basic human decency. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter in our heavenly family, we can and should do much more than this.
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