Hating Your Enemies? – Matthew 5:43-48

The Law touches on every area of life. There are civic rules as well as commands governing worship and sacrifice, The Law included moral and ethical commands to guide the people as with economics, immigration, social and personal relationships.

By the time of Jesus, the Law had been interpreted and re-applied to new situations. The Law commanded the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath by not working on the seventh day of the week. But what did the Law mean by work? If one cannot light a lamp on the Sabbath, what happens if you accidentally snuff your lamp in the evening of the Sabbath?  Many of these definitions of “work” intended to clarify what as permitted (and what was not) on the Sabbath so that the people could keep the Sabbath properly. There was a good intention behind the rules, to honor God and keep his commandments.

When Jesus is asked about the “greatest commandment” in Matthew 22:34-40 he replied “love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” For Jesus, the whole of the Law and Prophets hung on these two commandments. Certainly he did not encourage Sabbath-breaking, but if a person was unloving to their neighbor while trying to honor God, then they have broken one of the foundational commandments. Likewise, if someone acting in an offensive way toward God while being loving toward their neighbor, they have broken the greatest of the commandments. Even so, it may be a shock to his disciples to hear, “love your enemies.”

The command to love one’s neighbor is one of the two “greatest commandments.” Along with the Shema, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18 as the key text in the Torah commanding love of one’s neighbors. Jesus does not reverse the command, but deepens it to define neighbor to include even one’s enemies.

Defining who is a neighbor (and who was not) was a common discussion in Second Temple Judaism. A person might love their neighbor, but is a Roman soldier was not a “neighbor” then it was possible to hate them. Certainly a Roman oppressor like Pilate could be the subject of hatred? Defining boundaries and deciding “who is in, who is out” was just as popular in Jesus’s days as it is today.

This is the point of the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus agrees with many Jewish teachers of the time by saying “love your neighbor” is one of the two great commandments, but someone asks him to clarify who counts as a neighbor. By using a Samaritan as the example of someone who was a “good neighbor” Jesus intentionally shocks his audience.

This love of one’s enemy extends even to the Gentiles. For Second Temple period the ultimate ‘enemy” was a Roman. For Jesus to tell a crowd of Galileans to love even a Roman gentile would have been a shocking reversal of cultural expectations. Imagine the most right-wing radical southern Christian showing kindness and love toward Bill and Hillary Clinton? Imagine the most left-wing liberal New York Democrat showing love and compassion toward Donald Trump? (Yes, I am embracing the stereotype to make a point!)

Jesus implies “hate your enemy” is a corollary to “love your neighbor.” But where is the command to “hate your enemy” found? There is little evidence any Jewish writer or teacher actually expressed the idea “hate your enemies” at the time of Jesus and hatred of an enemy is not typical of Judaism either in the first century or today.

Scot McKnight cites 1QS 1:9-11 as evidence the Qumran community expressed hatred toward the Romans. This text commands love for the Children of Light and hatred for the Children of Darkness (McKnight, Sermon, 142) It may not be necessary to find a text which states “hate your enemies” since hatred for people one does not like is common in every culture, especially the world of the first century. It is easy to find expressions of hatred in ancient literature, whether that is a Roman hating a Jew, or a Jew hating a Roman.

It is possible this “hatred of an enemy” is drawn from Psalm 139:21-22. The Psalmist expresses hatred for those who hate the Lord: “I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” Psalm 140:10 prays a curse on an enemy: “Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!” The Psalmist would not consider himself in breach of the command to love one’s neighbor, but he does pray for the enemy to suffering greatly. Who are these enemies? The Babylonians? The Persians?  The Greeks?  The Romans? The Democrats? The Republicans?

Do contemporary Christians draw similar boundaries? I see a great deal of hatred expressed by Christians on social media, especially towards public personalities. That might be an American free speech right, but Jesus is calling his disciples to set those rights aside and love even your enemy! We can be proud about “loving our neighbors” by donating money to ministries that feed the poor “over there” while doing nothing for the poor in our own community. We think we are loving our neighbor by praying for nebulous, unnamed needy people yet poor hatred on them when the show up on our borders in desperate need.

23 thoughts on “Hating Your Enemies? – Matthew 5:43-48

  1. As Christians, we know that one of God’s greatest commandment is to love our neighbors including our enemies. It would be much easier for us to draw that boundary and avoid people whom we may consider an enemy. McKnight remind us that “love cannot be reduced to ‘toleration,’ working for the good of another, including one’s enemies, means striving for them to become the sort of person God wants them to be” (143). We also know that God is challenging us by calling us to love bigger. One of our aims should be striving to love even when we don’t feel like someone deserves it. From a secular perspective, loving one’s enemies probably seems crazy and a little strange. What is the point of loving someone who may have hurt you before? I can guarantee we’ve all experienced similar situations and feelings where it would be easier to burn the bridge then strive for reconciliation. Paul writes about the hope of reconciliation in Romans 5:10, ‘for if while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” We have been given an incredible opportunity to choose to forgive and love, just as Christ forgives and loves us daily. When we didn’t deserve it and when we were an enemy to the Lord, He choose to love. This is a beautiful example that we are able to fulfill by the help of the Holy Spirit in us. McKnight says, “to love enemies breaks through the self-barrier into divine space” (144). We have to recognize that loving others isn’t solely by our own strength. Loving others, especially when they don’t deserve it, is not easy. We must admit that we are not capable and that we need the guidance of the Lord in order to love well.

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    • Our greatest command and the one that many of us struggle with is the whole concept of loving others, especially if they are different than us. We should push each other to become the man or woman of God that he has intended us to become and be. I like how you said that God challenges us, because that is a daily thing us Christians come into contact with. He pushes us to be better and bigger than who we are and allow him to change us for the better. Yes people hurt us but that does not mean that we should not hold a grudge and help them in a time of need. I like how you said that we have such a great opportunity to pour into people, whether that may be forgiveness or love. We need to be the people of God that resemble him the best and show God’s true hearts to all people, believers or not, friends or enemies. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We should have the same mindset towards others that do us wrong, pour love and goodness into them and not hate.

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    • Bailey I really like the points you made about how it can be easy to stop loving someone that has hurt you before or could continue to hurt you. As humans, when someone hurts us, we want to be mad at them or hate them. We do not have to love them and turn the other cheek. I know that I have experienced this in my own life. I knew that I had to forgive them and love them even though all that I wanted to do was get them out of my life and burn that bridge between us. I had to pray that God would give me the strength to forgive them and help me to reconcile with this person. This is what God is calling us to do when he tells us to love our enemies. He is telling us to forgive them and love them even when they hurt us. God has and continues to forgive us of all of our sins that “hurt” him. So if God can forgive us for all of the horrible things that we have done and continue to love us all, can’t we work towards becoming like him and love even the ones we consider our enemies? This is something that I am daily working towards and it is not an easy task. It is something that we must work towards every single day and ask God for his love and guidance as we work towards loving others.

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  2. This is still one of the biggest criticism of Christians today. I am pretty sure it was Gandhi that said “I like your Christ, but not your Christians.” So many people are willing to donate to church and be noice to coworkers who might not be Christians, but then will go on line and type straight up venom about Planned Parenthood. It is completely okay to oppose an idea. But hating people for preforming abortions or being homosexual is like spitting in Jesus’s face. People sin. From their perspective they don’t even think that what they are doing is wrong. I know plenty of people who have premarital sex. I do not treat them any different than I would someone who has waited until marriage. I am called to love them. Now I cannot condone what they have done, and I will tell them this if asked, but I can say this without any malice in my heart. People struggle with this so much and it is sad because it reflects poorly on all the other members of the body of Christ. It is taught but not expected. This is one of my biggest complaints of the modern church.

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    • “But hating people for performing abortions or being homosexual is like spitting in Jesus’s face.” This is a very strong statement. But I do have to say that I agree with this. I do not understand how Christians can have so much hate for those who chose to live a homosexual life. Our sins are not smaller than their sinners, and in no way are we better than them. People may not agree with life style but they should show love and kindness no matter their lifestyle.

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  3. Hating our enemies is very hard not to do. It’s so easy to have hatred in the world today especially toward people who have wronged us or don’t like us, etc. God says in His word that we must love our enemies because Christ loved us when we were His enemy, when we were strangers and didn’t care about God, He loved us, desired us and died to make it happen. The Bible says that there is no greater love than that, that Christ was willing to die for us. Romans 5:8 confirms this for us and this love was shown to us so that we could live a better life, live for something greater than ourselves. McKnight said this when talking about it” Love cannot be reduced to ‘toleration,’ working for the good of another, including one’s enemies, means striving for them to become the sort of person God wants them to be” (pg. 143). Essentially what McKnight is saying is that aside from making someone a friend rather than an enemy, our desire should be to make them who God wants them to be and when they become who God made them to be, they are no longer an enemy of His but a friend and ultimately a child, because that what we are, sons and daughters, and then they become our friend instead of our enemy. To live for God, we become a friend to others. Jesus reminds us that because the world is not of God, when we are filled with God the world will cast us out, this is a reason to celebrate because our response is to love them and testify to them of God and through our testimony, they will see God in us and become a friend instead of an enemy.

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    • One someone does your wrong, the first thing you want to do is do them wrong. But Christ tells us to turn our cheek. To turn away from evil doing. We are called to love our enemies, no matter how hard that could be. I agree, Christ died for us when we were His enemies, so why can not we do the same? We should push each other to be the person God intended them to become and to push them towards the light and away from the darkness. I like how you talked about how the world will cast us out. That is so powerful and so true. If we pick Jesus over the world, the world will hate us because of our obedience to Christ. But it is far better to please Christ instead of the world, because he promises an eternal life, which the world can not promise. Show your friends and enemies your heart and who Christ is and make your enemies, your friends.

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  4. Loving our enemies and those who persecute us can be a challenge at times. Loving our enemies requires a positive posture towards everyone we meet. We need to extend in noticeable actions the love of God to those around us, even our enemies. To love others is to love them as we love our-self. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” I think is one of the biggest areas in which we fail to accomplish as Christians. I see it too much, not only in the news, but in person as well. So many ‘Christians’ are quick to judge and show hatred, rather than loving them as God loves us. I could list numerous examples. Instead of judging, hating, and discriminating, we instead need to shift our focus to converting our enemies to neighbors.

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    • Good post-Stella I would also agree with you where Christians fail to accomplish would be that we are so quick to judge others without knowing who they really or where they really come from than loving them as God loves us.

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  5. I believe that we do not love ourselves, then we can not love our neighbors and especially our enemies. The root of it all though is to Love God above all. If we can not do that, then we can not follow the rest. It is that simple some would say. Is it really? Apparently not, we struggle day and day to do all three of these things. Yet the root of everything we do is love. We still can not manage to love everyone. We judge or if we do not get along with someone/ something it is instant dislike. We use social media to be passive aggressive, or to try and resolve conflict, yet there is always something read in a wrong tone/ manner. Let us love God, then ourselves, and then our neighbors. Treat people how you want to be treated is taken for granted a lot. If we as christians want to be “accepted” we should get to know more people and know why people do things the way they do.

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    • I completely agree with you when you say that we cannot love our neighbors is we do not love ourselves, but above all we are to love God. I think that as Christians we sometimes mess up the order of how we should love. First and most important is to love God and to follow after him. When we do that, we are able to properly love ourselves so we can love others. If we don’t first have the love of God in us, we don’t know what love is. 1 John 4: 7-8 states “let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know god, because God is love.”

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  6. The title of this post is “hating your enemies?” which I thought it was somewhat a sarcastic question/statement. Usually, your enemy is someone who you strongly dislike, that is why their your enemies and not your friends. But then I thought about situations where I was super mad and at the time I hated my parents for grounding me or taking something away. Does that make them my part-time enemy? Either way, hate a strong feeling that we should not be having towards other because it is wrong, and God did tell us to love our neighbors (even if we do not like them). Over the years I have learned that a small act of kindness can make a huge change.

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  7. One of the most common commandments is loving our neighbors being nice and caring. Hating our enemies when I saw this post I was surprised I do not have many enemies I think but there are a people that I bump heads with once in a while but if there is someone I have a problem with it take time for me to get over that but that is just the way I am. God tells us to love our neighbors. God does not want us to be angry with each other. God made the ultimate sacrifice for all of and with that he wants us to be kind with one another.

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  8. There are two words that I think our culture currently uses interchangeably: Love and Tolerance. This, in my opinion, is incorrect. Jesus does not tell us to tolerate those that we consider our enemies. He calls us to flat out love our enemies. Just like you stated, Jesus does not reverse the command but deepens it define a neighbor even as one’s enemy. We are so quick nowadays to avoid the people that we consider our enemies as if avoidance and silence is going to fix all of our problems. In the context in which this law was given, ‘The “neighbor” was the Jewish neighbor, the “enemy” was Rome, and the “enemy” was dishing out persecution” (McKnight, pg.142). Back then there were a ton of cultural differences that no one could get past to allow people to love one another. Here and now, we have the ability to love regardless of any of that and we still choose to tolerate people rather than genuinely try to love them. I think the world would look so much better of people even actually tried to love one another.

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  9. Hate. Hate is something that we as Christians tend to use as a word for just about everything. Whether, it’s I “hate snow”, or I hate “burgers” etc. It’s a word that is well used. We even use it when talking about people. And we know that one of God’s greatest commandments is to love your neighbors, including the people that you think are enemies. On social media I see more and more “Christians” spreading hate more than anything. Just because we see an issue as not okay within our Christianity beliefs, doesn’t mean that we can hate on the person that is doing such things.
    It’s super easy to let our flesh take over when dealing with a people that we find it hard to deal with. That it is super challenging to not inflict “hate” on anyone in this situation. However, when we are to love our neighbor that means that we need to love everyone. We as Christians aren’t that good at doing this. But we need to set boundaries in this area. Loving others/ especially loving our neighbors is tough, however, you cannot do it on your own. I feel as if God has been wanting us to set the bar high enough as Christians. Instead of us hating on someone for posting a post on social media, we need to step up and pray for those people instead of hating. When we have the temptation to hate another person, McKnight writes in this chapter that “The enemy is the persecutor; loving means at least praying for that person” (143)

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  10. Loving your enemies is something that can be really hard, but it is so important to God. As Christians we are supposed to love everyone no matter what the circumstance is. If we want to be more like Christ loving our enemies comes with it. Even back in the day when two groups of people absolutely hated each other, God expected them to love each other. Jesus was tortured and treated terribly, but he still loved those people no matter what and we can do that too. Love is a very strong thing and can change a lot. If everyone were to show love to others the world would be a completely new place. “Jesus commands his followers to commit themselves to be with their enemies, which involves proximity and attentiveness, and to be the sort of person who longs for and works for the good of the enemy” (McKnight, pg. 143). We can start out by loving our enemies by praying for them and asking God for the help to love them.

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    • I think once again this is Jesus setting the bar higher than what is humanly possible. Of course our immediate response to enemies is hate, because that is the normal reaction. However, by saying that we ought to love our enemies Jesus is calling us to be like him. McKnight challenges us to look for the good in our enemies (p. 143). I completely agree with this point of view since after all that is what God does for us all the time. If he saw us for what we truly are then he probably would never love us. However, God chooses to love us no matter what, to look past our “nature” and give us hope for the future. Forgiveness and love are reoccurring topics in Christian faith, and if it was shown to us as sinners, who are we not to show it to other Christians.

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  11. I think that this is definitely something that American Christians struggle with is today’s culture. Loving your enemy is hard to begin with, and then you through culture into it and it becomes even more hard. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he responded with loving God first and then he stated, “and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In order to properly love our neighbors, we are having to first love ourselves and to see ourselves the way that God sees us. I think that is something that this culture struggles with. They are not able to love who God created them to be, and so with that, they cannot properly love their neighbors and with that comes our enemies. McKnight states that this radicality of the words that Jesus speaks when he says to love and pray for your enemies can be shown even through his actions when he forgives the people who persecuted him at the cross (McKnight 143). God’s love is for everyone, both the evil and the good, and should be on display for all to see. This is something that Christians need to start being aware of and to start practicing.

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  12. We are called to love our enemies, however, it is all too common to throw hate at others and merely tolerate those we may not like. McKnight stressed that love cannot be reduced to ‘toleration’, and I would argue that we are most familiar with mere toleration rather than showing love to our enemies (pg. 143). Luke 6:27 reminds us to love our enemies, although this can sometimes be a very difficult task, and Proverbs 10:12, we see it noted that hate stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. God called us to love one another as He loves us, and as God loves us with neverending love, we must do our best to avoid anger and hatred and love even those who hate us.

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  13. It can be considered strange that Israel and its teachers of the law did not try very hard to define who their neighbors were. The teachers went to great lengths to define other parts of the law, such as hand washing and what working on the sabbath was. I feel that Israel just assumed that “neighbor” qualified as their families and fellow Israelites. However, Jesus gave the most radical view and idea of what loving your neighbor looked like, to love your enemies (McKnight, 140). Israel looked down upon those who were outside of their twelve tribes. Israel was God’s elect people and all others were considered to be inferior and unclean. Israel went to great lengths to avoid these people. Jesus states that these people are Israel’s neighbors, which not only requires Israel to interact with those they considered inferior and they despised, but to love them just as they would love their family or best friend. I picture this as telling a white man from Arkansas in 1950 to go love black men and women just as much as his brothers. To even treat them just as well, if not better, than his own family. By loving those we hate and to love those who persecute, it creates a beautiful reflection of God and his kingdom. I feel McKnight states it very well by saying “To love enemies breaks through the self barrier into divine space” (144).

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  14. “You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:13-14).” This is command is one of the hardest commands that Jesus gave us to follow. The reason why I think that is because if someone stands up for the same beliefs and values of our own then we consider them a friend or an ally. but anyone who doesn’t believe in the same things we do or have values that contradict our own. Or do things that we consider wrong to us they see it as right and for that we declare them to be our enemy. Hate can be a powerful motivator it can be used to correct behavior or it can be used to promote violence and anger. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering (Master Yoda (Star Wars)).” That’s the thing about hate someone is always caused harm by it. By loving our enemies we will be responding the same way to them as God did to us. At one point we were God’s enemy but still he showed love towards us by giving us a way to be reconciled and that way was through Jesus’s Christs death on the cross.

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