Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (Matthew 5:43)
The term neighbor here means friend, but it can also mean countryman. In Christ's day, the Jews had closed themselves off almost entirely from the outside world. While they traded with other nations and people, they had little to know friendships with outside cultures. They looked at the Romans as their oppressors. To be fair, most regions outside of Italy did. They looked at the Greeks as vulgar apostates. Traders from the east were commonly treated as thieves and untrustworthy. Even those who were partially related, the Samaritans, were counted as unworthy. Unless you were a Jew, their was no love for you in Judea.
Origins of Misconception
This wasn't a new thought process. It had actually been commanded by God to Israel at times to hold anger and vitriol against their enemies at times (Exodus 17:14-16, Deuteronomy 23:6-7, Deuteronomy 25:17). There were even times where Israel chose to hate those who hated their God (Psalm 139:21-22). These seem like good evidence for Israel to hold hate for those who misuse them, cheat them and hurt them. However, looking closer, these instances were for specific circumstances. Amalek and the worshipers of Baal knew that Israel was God's people and they still tried to attack them. The enmity that Israel had with these two groups was one of survival. The Romans, while oppressors, weren't trying to eradicate the Jews. The Greeks, while heathens, weren't trying to destroy the Jewish religion. The other groups, while sometimes dishonest, weren't trying to rob Israel of their faith. Amalek and Baal hated God and that is why Israel was commanded to set themselves against them. Only with those who choose to hate our Messiah are we to align ourselves in direct opposition. Even so, God never called for Israel to hate a group of people, just their actions or attitudes.
Flipping the Script
Christ turns things around completely on the common thought when he tells his followers to, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (v. 44). We'll go into the specifics of each one of these items tomorrow on ACCESS, but we wanted to primarily focus on the fact that Christ is asking us to return bad for good here. He wants us to love our enemies, not hate them. He wants us to bless those who would curse us. If we took it back to Deuteronomy 23, that's exactly what the followers of Baal had done. They had tried to curse Israel. Christ isn't asking for enmity in this case. He is asking for mercy and blessing. We are to pray for those who use us, cheat us and persecute us. That's in line with what Amalek had done. Christ has completely flipped the script that Israel had implemented for thousands of years. What had been reserved for 2 groups in 2 specific circumstances had become a habit and excuse for generations. Christ was correcting man's misuse of God's authoritative commands.
Get Over Ourselves and Get Aligned with God
There are situations where we have felt justified in cutting people out of our lives because of what they have done to us. They wronged us, sinned against us and damaged our reputation. Their actions are in direct defiance of God's Word and we feel justified as Christians for cutting them completely off. However, Christ is asking for a merciful approach. He's asking us not to use the Word of God as a hammer to crush relationships but as a bridge that connects people to ourselves and God. Imagine what would happen if we went to those who have wronged us and reached for them according to God's will for their lives. They won't necessarily stop being our enemies. Christ doesn't go so far as to reclassify them. He simply asks us to treat them differently than what others have. We never know what will happen when we respond to hateful actions with love and grace. Regardless, we will be doing the will of the Lord and that is what is commanded of us.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.