Reading: Matt 5:43-48
This past summer I was in a leadership position at my summer camp. That meant I was in charge of about twenty high school girls who helped operate different sections at camp. As much as I grew that summer, something that I wish I could redo was how I tended to hang out with the group of girls that loved being around me and tended to neglect those who didn’t. It was easy and safe to be with them. I looked forward to spending the many hours of my week around those who loved me, and kind of dreaded having to work with those who didn’t.
One of the passages God has used to convict me time and time again is Matthew 5:46. In this chapter, Jesus was revealing truths buried in the Law, which the Jewish people had stringently held to without understanding God’s truer meaning within. Jesus’ teaching was replacing the lifeless traditions of the Jewish leaders with instructions for life in the Kingdom of God. One after another, He lists off counterintuitive examples of how to live life as faithful followers of Himself, and in the middle of it all He says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
It’s important to keep in mind that Jesus wasn’t against God’s Law given to Moses; He was simply fulfilling it with Himself (John 1:16–17). Instead of being set apart by obeying the Law and commandments as dead acts, Christians are now commanded to be set apart by the law of love (Rom. 13:8–10). Jesus replaces the phrase “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” with “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” During the time Jesus was speaking, the boot of the Roman government was pressing down on the Jewish nation. What a shock it must have been for Jesus to say “don’t hate your enemy, but love them by praying for them instead.” He’s talking about the godless invaders who stole their land, crops, and possessions—the ones who crucify anyone who pushes back. To love them would either be irrational, or with a love stronger than any human can conjur. Jesus continues to say, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Dot not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (vv. 46–48).
Reading this after failing to do so over the summer really made the message hit home. I know I’m deceiving myself if I think I’m a loving person without ever actually choosing to love someone I would prefer to ignore. If we are meant to show the heart of God to the world as Christians, we have to do things like Jesus did. Because we are created in the image of God, we are called to reflect His character here on Earth. At cross Jesus illustrates this kind of radical, extreme love as He prays over the very people crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:32). What a joy and honor to share in the love of God, which is so abundant we never have to worry about receiving a return on our investment. There’s always more to give.
Take some time and think about how you can intentionally love your “enemies”. You might actually really hate someone or, like in my situation, those whom you would rather not spend time with are our enemies. Anyone you choose not to love because they will likely not love in return is someone worth loving with the love of Christ—a love that goes beyond your own emotional capabilities. Be on the lookout to intentionally reflect Christ’s perfect heart on the cross today in the little moments of the day. Don’t let yourself miss an opportunity to extend the gracious love of Christ to another.