In Matthew 5.43-48 we come the fifth example of the difference between the “you-have-heard-it-said” point of view and the teaching of Jesus. They had heard that it was good to love their friends, but they should hate their enemies. It is important to note that in earlier days their hatred should not be against other people but against hostile nations. Israel was to actively oppose their national enemies (“Do not leave alive anything that breathes.” Deut. 20:16). Jesus taught that rather than hating one’s enemies his followers are to love them. That is a complete reversal of the former position. What’s more is that love is active concern – the believer is to “pray for those who persecute them” (v. 44). The reason why we are to love our “enemy” is that we may be children of God (v. 45). It’s not a condition for salvation (as suggested by the TEV, “so that you may become children of your Father”) but an appropriate way to demonstrate that we are his children.
By nature God is love. It follows that those who claim to be his children are to love (that is, “bear a family resemblance”). God shows no partiality; he makes the sun shine on bad people just like he does on those who are good; he gives rain to those who do evil as well as to those who do good (v. 45). If you think you deserve a reward for loving those who love you, remember that even tax collectors do that (v. 46). The point is clear – we are to love both friend and enemy. That’s what God does. Since our heavenly Father is perfect, we are to be perfect (v. 48). Before you throw up your hands at the impossibility of such a challenge it’s helpful to know that the Greek teleios means, “to attain the end/purpose.” God does not expect us to be as perfect as he is, but he does expect us to “perfect” (i.e., complete the goal) of become what he intended, and that is to show an active concern for all, both friends and enemies. If God sends rain on the wicked we can at least pray that they will enjoy the good weather.
So let’s accept the challenge of carrying out this expectation that is essential for being a child of God. First we are to love our friends. We can probably agree that this isn’t too hard – but in certain relationships, it sure isn’t easy. By reaching that level we have done nothing more than to stand shoulder to shoulder with the pagans (ck. v. 47 – “even pagans do that”). Now comes the challenge. We are to love those who genuinely dislike us – “hate” us, you might say. Think for a moment about that genuinely crooked businessman who cheated you, the neighbor who won’t speak to you, the family member who has turned against you. Love people like that! Yes. We are to love each one as we love a dear friend. Note, I didn’t say, “have a sentimental feeling toward.” Our charge is to love them, and that means to treat them as God would. He extends the hand of friendship to all who will accept. His desire is to win their affection and that’s for their own sake. Shouldn’t we desire that our enemy have the same opportunity? That is, to accept our love and watch the forces that separates, disappear.