“Let’s turn the Middle East into a sea of glass!” “Let’s nuke ’em back to the stone age!” I can remember saying these types of patriotic sentiments, and hearing my friends echo them, during the Iranian hostage crisis in late 1979. Later, during the Gulf War in 1991, we also encouraged ourselves with smart bombs and visions of slaughtering our enemies with technological precision.
Of course, then came 9/11, and my anger and hatred overflowed for Osama bin Laden. There was definitely murder and revenge in my heart, and in everybody else’s heart that I knew! And this also led to heightened anti-Muslim hatred and paranoia in the US and in the Western world that’s still evident today.
Looking back at all this now, I’m absolutely horrified at what came out of my mouth!
Of course, we weren’t the only ones saying these evil things while thinking we were serving God. Our ideological enemies wanted to do the same to us while thinking they were serving their righteous cause.
Am I an anti-war passivist? No. I’m trying to convince us to follow Jesus and actually believe and do what He says. I’m also not saying that terrorists and criminals shouldn’t be prosecuted and removed from society. I’m talking about the condition of our heart toward those who would be our enemies and want to hurt us. I’m talking about not demonizing people made in God’s image and who have infinite value to Him.
Now we come to the final contrast Jesus makes between the surface-level behavioral righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and righteousness as Jesus defined it. To quote Dallas Willard again: “the inner transformation of the soul…the character of the inner life when it is as it should be.”
What’s especially interesting about this passage is that Jesus is explicitly describing the nature of God the Father toward those who want to be His enemy.
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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? (Matt.5:43-47 *)
Why is Jesus telling us to love our enemies…to even bless them and pray for them? Because this is how our heavenly Father is toward those who would be His enemy…it’s what unconditional love looks like.
This is also an example of why Jesus’ teachings are so subversive and counter-cultural….what He means when He says “take up your cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23-26). We will either take up our cross and follow Jesus or we will follow our self-will, our culture, our national pride…our need for revenge.
And what Jesus had revealed in my heart was that I was following my culture instead of Him, even though I considered myself a faithful believer.
Apparently, I thought other things were more important.
You might be tempted to dismiss this passage as too unrealistic. You could, but then you wouldn’t be following Jesus. Please understand, following Jesus requires the empowerment of the Spirit of grace. You cannot legalistically follow Him in your own strength.
Who are our enemies?
The first thing we need to realize as Jesus followers is that we have no mortal enemy. Our enemies are philosophical and other-worldly:
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph.6:12 *)
3 Of course we are human, but we don’t fight like humans. 4 The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments 5 and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ. (2 Cor.10:3-5 GW *)
Notice the nature of our fight. It’s not with people but with spiritual and philosophical strongholds….against vain speculations and pretensions that try to disprove God or distort His nature.
Our enemies are spiritual powers and ideological constructs that prevent the object of God’s deepest affections—humankind—from knowing His unfathomable love in the light of Christ Jesus.
4 The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. As a result, they don’t see the light of the Good News about Christ’s glory. It is Christ who is God’s image. (2 Cor.4:4 GW *)
As we have concluded Matthew chapter five, we see what Jesus means by “righteousness” and what it looks like to follow Him and be like our Father in heaven.
48 You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt.5:48 AMP *)