love for enemies

©2021 michael martin | ask@lifefellowship.org

loving our enemies?

Most people are familiar with God’s command to love our neighbors. However, in addition to neighbors, most everyone also has enemies; people who seem to want to slander, hinder or harm us. The dictionary defines "enemy" this way:

enemy

a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone

With this in mind, it comes very naturally for us to hate our enemies. And why not? Our enemies certainly aren’t seeking our good, are they?

Jesus knew all of this when He preached the famous Sermon on the Mount to a large crowd. Among the many issues Jesus covered, He addressed the issue of how we should treat our enemies.

To begin, Jesus observed His audience’s prevailing idea that they should love their neighbors, but should hate their enemies:

matthew 5:43-48

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

my notes:

a closer look...

When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, the concept of loving one’s neighbor was far from a new idea. In fact, the command to love our neighbors had been around since the beginning:

leviticus 19:18

‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.’

hate your enemy?

But then, Jesus observed that His audience believed that it was acceptable to hate their enemies:

matthew 5:43

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

The problem was that God had never commanded His people to hate their enemies. Actually, He had commanded much more the opposite:

leviticus 19:17

Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.

This command refers not only to brothers, but to brothers who have behaved as enemies through some act of wrongdoing. Instead of hating them, we should work for the welfare of our enemies, lest we share in their guilt.

Despite this, Jesus knew that His people had gotten the idea that it was okay for them to hate their enemies.

At most, this idea may have come from a command of God in Deuteronomy 23:6, when God had commanded Israel never to seek the friendship or prosperity of the Ammonites and Midianites who had attacked them when they had come up out of Egypt. But this was clearly not a command to hate them.

Even when God sent Israel into war, He never commanded them to fight with hatred in their hearts. God didn’t give Israel a mandate to go to war whenever they decided they hated their enemies. When God sent Israel to war, it was on His command, and with the purpose of purging evil.

Even when the complete destruction of enemies was ordered by God, it was not because of vengeance or hatred, but because our Righteous God, who sees and knows all, knew that it was necessary. Hatred of other people was not meant to be part of the equation.

For our part, God doesn’t even want us to harbor anger against other people:

matthew 5:21-22

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Here, Jesus likens anger toward a brother or sister as murder. So, did God ever say that we should hate our enemies? Not at all!

my notes:

setting the record straight...

Jesus knew that His audience had heard and believed that they should love their neighbors and hate their enemies, but He was about to set the record straight.

but I tell you...

matthew 5:43-45

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Whomever believed that God had previously called for hatred of their enemies had now been corrected. And whomever believed they were justified in hating their enemies for any other reason had just received a wake-up call.

If we want to be sons of His Father in heaven, we need to love and pray for our enemies! But Jesus continued...

matthew 5:46-47

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Next, Jesus points out that God blesses His own enemies, the unrighteous, with some of the same beneficial blessings that the righteous receive. Going further, Jesus died for His enemies:

romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If God is willing and loving enough to do that, shouldn’t we be also?

my notes:

matthew 5:48

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Finally, Jesus calls for us to perfect, as His Father is. While perfection is something we should strive for (but can only hope to attain in the Righteousness of Christ), "perfect" in this verse carries more of a meaning of "completeness." You might think of this verse as saying:

matthew 5:48 perspective

Be perfect [complete and lacking nothing in love], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If we love our enemies, then our love is more complete.

Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer. We must love our enemies, and we must be all in. But if God’s desire for us to love our enemies is so clear, then why don’t we obey it?

my notes:

why we don’t love our enemies

It seems logical that hatred is what causes us not to love our enemies as God commands. Let’s examine this a little more closely:

what is hate?

matthew 5:43

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

When Jesus acknowledged that His audience believed they should hate their enemies, the Greek word used for "hate" was miseó.

miseó (hate)

properly, to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another. (source: biblehub.com)

other definitions for "hate"

hate: feel intense or passionate dislike for

abhor: regard with disgust and hatred.

detest: dislike intensely.

loathe: feel intense dislike or disgust for.

As you can see, "hate" is a very strong feeling. Sadly, it is a feeling that has motivated many a violent or hurtful action. Is that really what hate is?

does hate involve treating others badly?

As we can see in all of the above definitions, "hate" is merely a feeling, albeit an intense one. None of these definitions of hate include doing harm or violence. Hate, therefore, does not intrinsically include violence, mistreatment, or wishing harm upon others.

The problem is, as sinful humans, we often use hate as a justification and an excuse for wishing or doing harm to others, and that’s wrong.

genesis 4:6-7

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

In this example, Cain was envious of his brother because God had looked upon him with favor, not favoring Cain’s own offering. The hatred was already present in Cain’s heart before he murdered Abel. God warned him to do what was right before sin mastered him and before Cain acted on his sinful inclinations.

And so, while hatred is not in and of itself violent toward others, it is still dangerous and wrong.

but shouldn’t we hate what is evil?

Yes. Let’s talk about that...

romans 12:9-10

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

romans 12:9-10 esv

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

The Greek word here for "hate," "abhor," and "detest" is apostugeó, which also implies a desire to avoid something.

apostugeó

to dislike, abhor, have a horror of (source: biblehub.com)

not who, but what

To be clear, Romans 12:9 tells us to hate what is evil, not who is evil. Even so, if we truly hate what is evil, then we are faced with a sobering reality. If we’re going to hate our enemies because of the evil in their hearts, then we must first hate the evil in our own hearts.

jeremiah 17:9 kjv

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Wickedness is the nature of our hearts. Hating what is evil is appropriate, but that should begin with hating our own evil. Beyond ourselves, it is evil that we are told to hate, not people.

As we can see, there is no valid reason why we should hate our enemies. So let’s leave that part of the discussion behind and explore why we don’t love our enemies.

my notes:

love my enemies? really?

It is helpful in this discussion to understand what "love" means in the context of loving our enemies. As you may recall, the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language, which has several words for the English word "love."

"love" in Greek

agape: love that seeks the highest welfare of others, even at sacrificial cost to oneself

phileo: brotherly love or fondness, such as liking or enjoying one’s company, or enjoying an experience ("I love ice cream")

storge: familial love, as for family members

eros: romantic love, involving sensual intimacy, as intended between husband and wife

For our discussion here, we’ll focus on agape-love and phileo-love.

The Bible commands us to agape-love everyone, including our spouses (Ephesians. 5:25), our neighbors (Matthew 22:39), our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Peter 1:22), and in Matthew 5:44, even our enemies.

We are commanded to agape-love our enemies, seeking their highest welfare, even at our own cost.

love my enemies? I don’t even like them!

While we are called to agape-love our enemies, Scripture does not require us to phileo-love our enemies. In other words, it is not expected that we will like, enjoy, or be fond of our enemies. We don’t have to be buddies!

As with hatred, phileo-love is more emotion-driven and based upon what we like or dislike.

The reason this is significant is this: We don’t have to like our enemies in order to love them! For that matter, we can love our enemies even if we hate them... What?

how can I agape-love someone I hate?

The answer may surprise you. First, let’s review some definitions:

hate (abhor, detest, loathe)

feel intense or passionate dislike for

agape-love

love that seeks the highest welfare of others, even at sacrificial cost to oneself

phileo-love

brotherly love or fondness, such as liking or enjoying one’s company, or enjoying an experience ("I love ice cream")

Looking at these definitions carefully, we can conclude the following:

Hate is not the opposite of agape-love. Hate is a feeling. Agape is a decision.

Phileo-love is the opposite of hate. Phileo, the kind of love that involves fondness and liking and affection, is the opposite of hate; the intense or passionate dislike.

So hate (an intense dislike), is not the opposite of agape (self-sacrificial love seeking the highest welfare of others). So, what is the opposite of agape?

selfish

lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

Agape seeks the benefit of others, even at one’s own cost. Selfishness seeks only one’s own profit or pleasure.

The true opposite of agape-love is selfishness.

my notes:

can agape-love and hate coexist?

Kind of. We can agape-love those whom we hate. In fact, we’re commanded to do so. But if we agape-love someone, we won’t be able to continue hating them for long.

That’s because our agape-love will require our focus to shift from the things we intensely dislike about someone to the genuine welfare of that someone. Namely, our focus will shift to their need for a right relationship with God.

Remember, hate is a feeling, but agape is a choice. We must choose to agape-love, even if we feel hate.

But, if you agape-love someone in spite of your hatred, then the intensity of your dislike (your hate) will fade.

can agape-love and selfishness coexist?

No. The thing that actually stops us from agape-loving our enemies or anyone else, more than hate, is selfishness.

So, in order for us to love our enemies, the first thing we have to do is not to turn away from hate, but to turn away from selfishness.

philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Here, we see both selfishness and the principle of agape-love contrasted in the same passage, and they stand opposed to each other.

my notes:

selfishness: the antithesis of love

Selfishness seems like one of the "smaller sins," doesn’t it? After all, it’s not like hatred or anything. That’s a biggie. Most of us would be pleased to say that we don’t "hate" anyone, and if that’s true, it’s a good thing.

But as we’ve just seen, if we are selfish, we are doing the opposite of agape.

proverbs 18:1

An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.

Does this sound like agape-love to you? Quite the opposite. But going further, where does hatred come from in the first place?

james 4:1-3

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Here, we see selfish, sinful desires leading to fights, quarrels, and even killing. And it all stems from selfishness.

hatred often stems from selfishness

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day killed Jesus because they hated Him. But why did they hate Him?

mark 11:18

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

While the chief priests and teachers of the law may have claimed that they were protecting the lawful, traditional teachings of Scripture, the truth was that their hearts were far from God.

As we’ll examine later, Jesus called the Pharisees and Law Experts out on their hypocrisy and wicked hearts, and that embarrassed them and posed a threat to what they loved. They weren’t thinking of the welfare of others. They were thinking of how to hold on to their prestigious, powerful, comfortable positions.

Yes, the Pharisees and Law Experts had Jesus killed because they hated Him. But they hated Him because they were selfish!

Oftentimes, hatred grows in our hearts toward people who don’t live by our own selfish desires. We get angry because they won’t do what we want, and it can grow into hatred. But selfishness is where that begins.

even worse than hatred...

Of course, we can be selfish without hating others, but in a way, that’s even worse!

revelation 3:15-16

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Here, Jesus says that He would rather have us be hot or cold rather than lukewarm. Why? Because "lukewarm" is dispassionate and unconcerned. At least hatred involves intensity and zeal and passion! At least it involves thinking about someone else! But to simply be selfish is to be unconcerned with other people.

Beyond thinking about how other people can benefit us, selfishness barely gives other people any thought at all.

Indeed, the primary reason why we often don’t love our enemies is because of our own selfishness. So let’s endeavor to leave our selfishness behind and explore how we can truly agape-love our enemies.

how to love our enemies

It’s clear that God wants us to love our enemies.

We know that we should pray for our enemies and bless them as a means for drawing them closer to God. The picture is coming into focus. But still, the question remains of specifically how to bless our enemies to promote their highest welfare?

The answer is right in front of us:

proverbs 25:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

What do we see here? If we see that an enemy is hungry, we feed him. If we see that he is thirsty, we give him something to drink. In other words, we examine the situation to determine what is called for.

not our enemy’s desires, but God’s desires

isaiah 55:8-9

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.

9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Agape-love calls for us to seek the highest genuine welfare of others, which is a right relationship with God. That may not align with what we think is best. As such, our efforts to promote an enemy’s welfare will not always include doing the things that we (or they) desire or that make them comfortable or happy.

In other words, loving our enemies is not about trying to make them happy, but about working and praying to bring them to the realization of the truth. So, what does agape look like? Let’s look at a few examples from Scripture of agape-love shown to enemies:

the good samaritan

luke 10:30-35

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

In this example, the Samaritan did what was genuinely beneficial for the injured man. There would have been no benefit in ignoring the man or allowing him to die.

The Samaritan assessed the need of his enemy and determined that his first need was life-saving medical care. So that’s what he did.

At the personal cost of time and resources, the Samaritan saw to the immediate needs of his enemy, putting his enemy above himself. In this way, the Samaritan worked for the highest welfare of his enemy. He agape-loved.

what did the enemy need?

• To continue living, therefore providing the opportunity to come into a better relationship with God

what agape-love looked like here

• Seeing an enemy as a human being

• Setting aside personal feelings

• Recognizing and tending to the clear needs of his enemy for his highest welfare

• Incurring personal cost for the benefit of his enemy

david and saul

When King Saul was pursuing David to kill him, knowing that David was meant to be king in his place, David had opportunities to end Saul’s pursuit.

1 samuel 24:3-7

[Saul] came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. 4 The men said, "This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’ " Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

5 Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. 6 He said to his men, "The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’S anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." 7 With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

First, when presented with a clear opportunity to kill Saul and end his own suffering, David chose not to kill Saul, even knowing that Saul would not hesitate to kill him. Further, David wouldn’t allow his men to harm Saul either, acknowledging that Saul had been God’s anointed choice for king.

Later, we see David speaking to Saul and telling Saul that he would not kill him. Instead, David said that he would trust the Lord to be the judge between them.

1 samuel 24:12-13

May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

David’s mercy upon Saul made an impact, at least for a time. Look at Saul’s reply:

1 samuel 24:17-19

"You are more righteous than I," he said. "You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me of the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today.

David’s love for his enemy spared Saul’s life and caused Saul to even pronounce a blessing on him. But of course, this was not the last time David showed mercy to Saul:

same song, second verse...

1 samuel 26:7-11

So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.

8 Abishai said to David, "Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice."

9 But David said to Abishai, "Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’S anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the LORD lives," he said, "the LORD himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’S anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go."

Even after Saul had been shown mercy by David, Saul continued to pursue David to kill him. Surely Saul deserved to die? But here once again, when given a clear opportunity to rid himself of his enemy, David refused.

Once again, David was unwilling to strike down the Lord’s anointed, preferring to leave judgment and justice to God. After learning about David’s mercy, Saul once again pronounced a blessing on David:

1 samuel 26:25

Then Saul said to David, "May you be blessed, my son David; you will do great things and surely triumph."

So David went on his way, and Saul returned home.

even after his enemy’s death

Even after Saul died, David did not respond with hatred, gloating or vengeance. Instead, as we see in Second Samuel chapter one, David mourned for Saul and wrote a lament for the man who had been his enemy.

Going further, David sought to show kindness to those who had belonged to Saul’s family.

2 samuel 9:1

David asked, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?"

When David found that Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson through Jonathan was still alive, he brought him in and said this:

2 samuel 9:7

"Don’t be afraid," David said to him, "for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.

Truly David loved his enemy Saul and set a great example for us!

my notes:

what did the enemy need?

• To see Godliness lived out in front of him

• For God, rather than David, to exact justice

what agape-love looked like here

• Showing mercy when there was an opportunity for vengeance

• Trusting God for deliverance and vengeance rather than taking it into his own hands

• Appealing to the enemy to change his ways

• Grieving rather than gloating when an enemy died

• Showing kindness to the family of the enemy

the prodigal son’s father

In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, we see a story of a son who became, in some manner, like an enemy.

luke 15:11-13

Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

The son took what his father had given him and then left him, going to a faraway land. There, he lived a life of sin and waste, throwing away what his father had worked for. We don’t know the circumstances of the son’s departure. Had the father appealed to his son to make right choices? Had tears been shed? We don’t know, but we can be sure that the son’s choices and his sin broke the father’s heart and caused a great deal of pain.

The son had committed to a life that stood opposed to the father. It is worth noting that we do not see the father chasing after the son or pleading with him. Instead, the father leaves the son to live out his choices and to deal with the consequences.

luke 15:14-16

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 16 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

Here, when the son loses everything as a result of his sinful choices, he reaches a particularly low point of desperation. As he feeds the pigs, walking among their filth and feeling the pain of an empty stomach, he longed to eat the pigs’ slop. Gone was his dignity, his comfort, and his wealth. He had hit rock bottom.

Verse 16 says that in this state, no one gave him anything. No one helped him. This includes his father.

Why? Because this point of desperation and misery were exactly what the son needed. To have helped the son at this time would have empowered his continued sinfulness. But instead, the father allowed his son to suffer the natural, God-directed consequences of his sin. But because of this, a change happened.

luke 15:17-19

"When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’

Here, in his desperation, the Prodigal Son comes to his senses. He realizes what a fool he has been, and his heart turns back to his father. He is truly, fully repentant, not expecting to regain his former position. Now humbled and repentant, the son is happy to be treated not as a son, but as a servant.

luke 15:20-21

So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

Recognizing his genuine repentance, the father warmly welcomed his lost son home and celebrated his son’s changed heart.

luke 15:22-24

"But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Verse 24 is very important in the story. When his son went off and lived his life of sinfulness, he had acted as an enemy to his father. As we’ve already pointed out, the father didn’t chase after, plead with or quarrel with his son. In fact, the father considered his lost son to be dead. He was dead to him!

Unable to do anything helpful but to pray for his son, at great pain to himself, the father reckoned him as dead. And in that case, it was exactly what the son needed in order to bring about his eternal welfare. In this case, it’s what agape-love looked like.

what did the enemy need?

• To learn for himself, the hard way, to walk in God’s ways

what agape-love looked like here

• Breaking fellowship

• Separation

• Allowing his enemy to suffer the consequences of his sin

Jesus with the pharisees

In Matthew chapter 23, we see a side of Jesus that we don’t often think about. We know from Scripture that Jesus was without sin (1 John 3:5, 1 Peter 1:22) and that God is love (First John 4:7-8, 16).

But when dealing with the religious leaders, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, Jesus served up a scathing, public rebuke that would have made anyone uncomfortable:

matthew 23:13-15

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Here, Jesus tells the church leaders that their so-called efforts for the Kingdom are doing more harm than good, and He’s not being diplomatic about it! But He isn’t finished...

matthew 23:16-22

"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

Now, Jesus exposes the self-serving materialistic hearts of the Pharisees, publicly correcting their theology. How embarrassing this must have been for the Pharisees! But Jesus has still more to say...

matthew 23:23-32

23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

As Jesus continues to publicly call out the many errors of the Pharisees, He curses them seven times with the words "woe to you!", calling them hypocrites, blind guides, and snakes.

my notes:

matthew 23:33-39

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’"

Here, Jesus wraps up His rebuke by calling the Pharisees, the Teachers of the Law, and others in the crowd "snakes"; a brood of vipers. It was a term that Jesus had previously used to describe the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34. He likened them to slithering, venomous serpents!

Finally, Jesus essentially calls them into account for all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth.

Wow! Imagine being called out by Jesus in such harsh terms! But why was Jesus so stern here? Why, in all of these examples that we’ve seen, doesn’t Jesus simply behave nicely? What’s the motivation?

He loved.

Jesus loved the people He was calling out, and He loved the onlookers who might be led astray by them. He offered a stern, loud, public rebuke for people who had perpetrated public sins.

As He spoke the truth, Jesus knew that some of these people would soon call for his death, but not a swift, merciful execution. They would be so spiteful as to call for His extreme torture and suffering!

Nevertheless, eternity was at stake, both for His enemies and for onlookers. And so, Jesus spoke the painful, ugly truth at great cost to Himself. And He did it for their benefit, because He loved them.

what did the enemy need?

• As hypocritical religious leaders, they needed the plain, ugly truth presented in no uncertain terms

what agape-love looked like here

• Speaking the truth in love (yes, given the needs of His audience, that was love!)

• Publicly calling out public sins

• Understanding the need for onlookers to know the truth

• Not sugar-coating the ugly truth, but speaking frankly

• Being harsh when harshness was clearly called for

• At the cost of being hated, tortured, and crucified

Jesus with the merchants in the Temple

Whatever Jesus did, He always did it in love. And whenever Jesus spoke, He always, by nature, spoke the truth in love.

This is important to remember. Because sometimes, the love of Jesus didn’t look like we might expect.

matthew 21:12-13

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 "It is written," he said to them, " ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’’"

luke 19:45-46

Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 46 "It is written," he said to them, " ‘My house will be a house of prayer’ ; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’’"

These few passages of Scripture show Jesus flipping over tables and calling people "robbers" near the end of His earthly ministry. But it wasn’t the first time. This was a repeat performance of the actions He had taken just a few years earlier, near the beginning of His earthly ministry:

john 2:13-16

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!"

Here, before Jesus had even gained His reputation among the people, He made a whip and forcefully drove their animals out of the temple area. He scattered their coins, overturned their tables, and violently made His point.

These were Jews who knew better than to reduce God's Temple to a marketplace for personal gain, and Jesus was having none of it!

Jesus was not polite in this rebuke, perhaps to the point of being considered offensive. But it was what the situation called for, and He did what was needed.

what did the enemy need?

• To be driven from the Temple area, where they ran the risk of incurring God’s wrath

• To be reminded to fear the Lord

what agape-love looked like here

• Use of physical force in order to honor God and to remove people from the dangerous situation of dishonoring God

• Stern rebuke

• Motivated by reverence for the Father and concern for those who did not have appropriate fear of God

my notes:

going the extra mile...

In our next example, Jesus sets the record straight about taking revenge on those who behave as enemies:

matthew 5:38-42

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

In this passage, Jesus instructs us to set aside our own comfort and desires to serve a person who is behaving as an enemy. Similarly, Peter warns us to meet evil with blessing.

1 peter 3:9

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

how does war fit into all of this?

Of course, circumstances like these can sometimes escalate to a point where a more forceful response is needed. While that discussion is beyond the scope of this study, I’ve prepared a separate study on the subject called "love and war," which you can find at this link:

 "love and war" study

my notes:

Suffice it to say that war becomes necessary when our enemy does (or intends to do) harm to our neighbors, whom we are also supposed to love. In those cases, we must show love to those whom our enemy is harming by defending them, even forcefully.

But if someone behaves as an enemy, we should begin by responding with kindness rather than being selfishly concerned with your own comfort, desires or reputation. Think about how your response can benefit both your enemy and those who might be onlookers.

not vengeful...

When someone wrongs us, our natural, sinful desire is often for revenge. But revenge isn’t our job...

deuteronomy 32:35

It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.

Vengeance belongs to God, becaue as the only True Righteous Judge, He will exact justice according to His timing and purposes.

While we have a part in carrying out justice on this earth, only God can serve ultimate justice according to His righteousness. Our agape-love for our enemies should seek their highest welfare, not their ruin.

don’t rejoice over the ruin of an enemy...

proverbs 24:17-18

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, 18 or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.

Once again, we see that justice belongs to God. And so, with God being the Judge, he gives us a different role with our enemies:

proverbs 25:21-22

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

The idea of blessing an enemy in order to "heap burning coals on his head" might seem appealing, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. If our desire is simply to make our enemy feel guilty because we’ve done act of "kindness" to make him feel badly, we’ve missed the point:

romans 12:14

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Any blessings we bestow upon an enemy should not be motivated by a selfish desire to make them feel badly, but to draw them closer to God. If the "burning coals" on our enemy’s head prompts him to turn to Christ, then it is a blessing!

what did the enemy need?

• Grace and cooperation as a means of pointing them to the grace and love of God

what agape-love looked like here

• Not fighting for one’s own selfish desires

• Setting aside personal offense and insult to extend grace to an enemy

• Doing more than is asked or required for an enemy

• Not gloating or rejoicing when an enemy falls or suffers

my notes:

what does agape look like for us?

While all of the examples we’ve seen of agape-love may have been appropriate at those times and in those circumstances, we must carefully weigh what agape looks like in each situation we face. Consider these questions when dealing with an enemy:

is it agape?

• Am I acting out of love, or selfishness?

• Am I sacrificing for my enemy’s welfare?

• Am I putting my own comfort, my own preferences, and my own pride aside in order to do what is best for another?

• Am I speaking and acting in accordance with the Truth of God’s Word?

• Am I content to let God work in my enemy’s heart after I’ve done all I can?

• Am I praying for my enemy, seeking his/her own good.

my notes:

overcome evil with good

To conclude our study, we will examine Romans chapter 12, in which Paul beautifully summarizes everything we’ve just studied:

romans 12:9-10

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

As we saw earlier, we are to hate what is evil, because that’s what makes our love sincere. But it is the evil we are to hate, not the people in whom it dwells. Instead, we are to honor one another above ourselves.

romans 12:11-15

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Our zeal for the Lord should be evident in our service to the Lord and to others. Instead of cursing our enemies, we should bless them. As verse 15 points out, we should recognize the needs of others and meet those needs in the most helpful way.

my notes:

romans 12:16-18

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Here, Paul acknowledges that evil wil be done to us. But we shouldn’t respond to evil with evil. It’s not always possible to live at peace, but as for our part, we should make every effort to do so.

Even so, we will be wronged.

romans 12:19-20

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

Revenge is not our job. We’re not the Judge. For our part, we should see the human beings who are our enemies, and we should work to understand their need.

Then, out of love and for their eternal benefit, we should work to meet that need.

my notes:

the last word

Finally, we close with the eloquent words of Scripture. When faced with an enemy, we should not hate them. We should not curse them. We should not disregard them in selfishness.

Instead, we should pray for them. We should bless them. We should do whatever is most beneficial to them for leading them into a right relationship with God.

And we should do it even at cost to ourselves.

In other words, we should love them.

And by doing that, we can live out these words of Scripture:

romans 12:21

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.