Corrie Ten Boom was held in a Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbrück. Ten years after her release, she met a former nurse at the camp who had been particularly cruel and sharp-tongued to her sister Betsy, who ended up dying in the camp.
Corrie’s hatred returned with a vengeance until finally she prayed, “Forgive me, Forgive my hatred, O Lord. Teach me to love my enemies.”
The blood of Jesus seemed to suddenly cool her embittered heart and she felt the rage being replaced with a divine love she couldn’t explain, and she began praying for the woman.
Shortly after, she called the hospital where the woman worked and invited her to a meeting where she was speaking, and she agreed to come.
After the meeting, Corrie sat down with her and explained to her, 1 John 4:9: 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
That night a former captive led her former captor to a decision that caused rejoicing in the presence of angels.
During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about loving others.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Jewish scholar, C. G. Montefiore, called this passage, “… the central and most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount.”
To the ordinary person this passage describes essential Christianity in action.
And even the person who never darkens the door of the church knows that Jesus said this, and often condemns the professing Christian for falling so far short of its demands.
T/S: Today I want to look at the meaning of this passage and the reason Jesus gave it to us.
The Meaning of the Command
First, we need to determine what Jesus means by the words, “… love your enemies.”
In the Greek, there are four different words for “love”.
1) The noun storgẽ with its accompanying verb stergein.
These words are characteristic of “family love” or of the love of a parent for a child, or of a child for a parent.
2) The noun erõs and its verb eran.
This describes the love of a man for a maiden which is passionate and sexual. This word eventually became identified with sexual lust, and it is never used in the New Testament.
3) The noun philia and its verb philein.
These are considered to be the warmest and best words for love.
They describe real love and affection. Philein means warm tender affection, the highest kind of love
4) The word that Jesus uses in our text is agapē with its verb agapan.
These words indicate unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill.
If we regard a person with agapē, it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or injures us, or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness toward him to invade our heart.
Instead, we will treat him with that unconquerable benevolence and goodwill that will seek nothing but his highest good.
Insights we can discover
First, Jesus never asked us to love our enemies in the same way we love our nearest and dearest.
To love our enemies the same way we love those nearest and dearest to us would neither be possible, nor would it be right. That is a totally different kind of love.
Second, let’s note the difference in the two kinds of love.
In the case of our nearest and dearest, we cannot help loving them because it is born out of the emotions of the heart.
But in the case of our enemies, it is not a love born out of our heart, but a love that comes from our will.
It is not something we cannot help doing, it is something we must will ourselves into doing.
So agapē does not mean a feeling of the heart which we cannot help, it means a determination of the mind to seek the highest good for the other person, even those who hurt and injure us.
Someone said, “Agapē is the power to love those whom we do not like and who may not like us.”
We can only have this kind of love when Jesus Christ enables us to overcome our natural tendency to anger and to bitterness, and to seek the best for all people.
Third, agapē love does not mean that we allow people to do anything they want and let them go unchecked.
If we really regard a person with invincible goodwill, it will often mean that we must punish him, restrain hem, or discipline him in order to protect him from himself.
But it does mean that we will not punish him to satisfy our desire for revenge, but in order to help him become a better person.
Fourth, Jesus gave this commandment as a basis for personal relationships. (This is not a text promoting pacifism.)
Fifth, this commandment is only possible for a Christian.
It is only when we allow Christ to live and love through us that bitterness will die and Christ’s love will flow through us.
Finally, not only are we to love our enemies, we are commanded to pray for them.
No one can pray for another person and continue to have hate in his heart toward him.
The Reason for the Command
Why does Jesus command us to have this unconquerable benevolence, this invincible goodwill, this agapē love?
1) It is because this kind of love makes us like God.
Illustration: An old rabbinical story tells how the angels were singing joyous praises to God when the Egyptians were drown in the Red Sea. God said, “The work of my hands are sunk in the sea and you would dare sing before me!
God can never take pleasure in the destruction of those He has made.
2) We are to be God-like men.
(V. 45) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
We should be a chip off the old block!
3) We are to be perfect.
48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The word for perfect in Greek means to achieve an end, a purpose, an aim, a goal. Thus something is perfect if it realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world.
Example: I do almost all of the mechanical work on my vehicles. Sometimes when I am working on my VW I will need a special tool to accomplish the job. I usually create my own tool that is made specifically made for that specific task.
4) What is the purpose for which mankind was created?
26Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;
The simple answer is that man was created to be like God, and we are most like God when we seek the best for other people, even those we do not like, or who don’t like us.
This message was preached by Dr. Greg Johnston at The Grove Church as part of the “Living with Others in Community” series.