By Clay Hallmark
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Lexington
Two brothers were arguing at breakfast over the final pancake. Their mother walked in and said to them, “Boys! Is this how Jesus would act? I think Jesus would say, ‘Let my brother have the last pancake.’ ” At that, the older brother turned to the younger brother and said, “Congratulations Bobby! This morning you get to be Jesus!”
This hard saying of Jesus about love for our enemies often is ignored, even by God’s people. In this passage, Jesus is using hyperbole throughout much of these verses. We must recognize that Jesus is raising the bar and expecting much more from His followers than they realized.
First, we see the commands of Jesus. His call to love your enemies is still a call to love those we find unloveable. Who might these enemies be? Within the historical context we find Matthew specifically names two groups: tax collectors and pagans/Gentiles. Luke simply refers to these as “sinners.” Both Matthew and Luke imply a third group which were the Roman soldiers. The love Jesus calls for here is the Greek word, agape. You could define it this way: “Agape love is a compassionate or merciful love given to another without conditions.” This is a love that we choose to give others. It is love motivated by the will, not the feelings. This is the love God shows His children. In the face of our enemy’s hatred He calls us to do good to them.
The phrase “Bless those who curse you” reminds us how some Jews did not want to pronounce a greeting to their enemy since they feared it might result in the enemy’s success and prosperity.” Jesus says bless them anyway.
“Pray for those who mistreat you” shows us how we should pray that their hearts might be changed and that God would be merciful to them that they might be saved. Praying for others might not change their hearts toward us, but it will certainly change our hearts toward them. How petty is it to refuse to pray for someone because we had an argument or hold a grudge.
When Jesus says to us to “turn the other cheek” we see that it simply means NOT to retaliate when insulted. It doesn’t mean you can’t defend yourself from an accusation. It means you do not exchange insults or seek revenge. Peter uses Jesus as an example here. In I Peter 2:23 he writes, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate…”.
Today, we don’t insult someone by slapping them on the cheek, we do it in texts and on social media. Jesus tells us, turn away from it, don’t engage and do not stoop to their level.
Jesus then teaches us that we should “give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you do not demand it back.” This speaks of our attitude of generosity toward God and toward others. This does not mean we should allow others to take advantage of us. The point is to enlarge our hearts to one another’s needs.
Second, we see the conclusion of Jesus. Jesus then summarizes His points in the one, great statement known as the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
There is something uniquely special in this rule in that it is stated in a positive, pro-active manner. Jesus wants more from us. He wants our behavior to far surpass the expected and reflect a higher, Christ-like love. Love is the key motivator in all our interactions with people, both friend and foe.
Martin Luther King, Jr., writing from jail made a point: “Hate multiplies hate … love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”