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A Journey Through Matthew (Pt 4)

Updated: Mar 31

In 1958, Christian missionary Elisabeth Elliot returned to the Ecuadorian rainforest to live with the Waodäni, the tribe who had killed her husband only two years earlier. Her choice to forgive rather than retaliate sparked a change in the Waodäni, who left behind a cycle of violence to embrace a life of love. This remarkable story rippled across the globe, inspiring millions to serve God through missions.

Love, God, Love Others AND Love Your Enemies!

In the Gospel of Matthew 25, Jesus is asked by an expert in religious law, “What is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”  Jesus responds with two commandments.

  1. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.

  2. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’


His response can be simplified into five words: “Love God and love others.”  This is the central message of Jesus Christ.  Love God and love people.  This should be easy, shouldn’t it?  Technically, yes. Loving God is the easy part. Loving others… well, this can be challenging but doable.  Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew 5:44, Jesus complicates the command of love when he instructs his disciples and listeners to love God and people and our enemies.  This, my friends, is where the water gets murky. 

There are some things I wish Jesus would have never said, and this is one because it is far easier not to love someone who has done us wrong, harmed us, or betrayed us in ways that sometimes feel unforgivable, and it can be very challenging to realistically embrace this commandment from Jesus. It is easier to love those who love us and treat us with respect and dignity.  Jesus affirms this in Matthew 5:46 – 47, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.”

 Loving others is easy when others love you.  Even people who do not follow Christ can do this.  But it is verse 44 that can make some of us cringe, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Romans 12: 1

In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul expands on the idea and command of loving one another and loving our enemies.  In verse 1, the Apostle Paul appeals to his readers (those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior) to present themselves as living sacrifices to God.  This means they declare themselves not their own (denying self) and belonging to God.  Denying self-desires sets the stage for loving others and showing forgiveness because natural desire or flesh wants to hate our enemies, but living according to the flesh does not entail living for God, and He commands that I love those I deem unlovable. 

Romans 12: 9 - 10

Paul says, “Don’t pretend to love others.”  This means our love must be genuine, sincere, and undisguised, without hypocrisy.  We are told to love one another sincerely, not so we get something but to love one another with “brotherly affection.”  This means that we have a love that has a strong bond that connects us and causes us to stand with and by one another no matter the circumstances.  It is the true “friend until the end” mindset.  Serve and love one another in ways you can outdo one another, not for winning, but for showing genuine love, honor, and respect.  This is an amazing love, the kind of love we are commanded to have for one another.  As believers, we are bound together by the cross of Christ, and our love and care for one another should put to shame the kind of love the world shows or defines.  My desire should be to love, honor, and respect you in such a way that will lift you up and edify this body of Christ. 

 So far, so good…Right? Now comes the part Jesus talks about in Matthew 5 that some of us could do without.  “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. You mean I must do what Jesus said, “love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me?” How in the world do I do that?  Not in your own power, my friend.  Our first response when anyone hurts us may be one of two reactions: retaliate or retreat, more commonly known as fight or flight.  Usually, my knee-jerk reaction to someone hurting me is retaliation… I say, “They can’t get away with that; I’ll show them!”  But I am reminded of the words of Paul in Romans 12:19, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.”  Retaliation is not my job; my job is to bless, love, and pray for that individual.  But not only am I to do that, but I am also called to serve or minister to my enemy in return.  WHAT!?  It’s enough that I can’t retaliate now; I have to minister to them.  Paul says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;” How do I do that?  Not in your own power, my friend.  When we respond the way Paul commands, the result will be like “heap(ing) burning coals on his head.”  I’ve often wondered what this “heaping coals” meant.  I always thought it was an “I’ll show them” attitude.  However, according to John Walvoord, “The coals on the head may refer to a ritual in Egypt in which a person showed his repentance by carrying a pan of burning charcoal on his head. Helping rather than cursing an enemy may cause him to be ashamed and penitent.”  Your kindness may cause your enemy to see what he/she has done and bring him/her to repentance for his/her wrongdoing.  It is not a guarantee that this will be the end result, but this is what we are commanded to do.  

Does this seem complicated?  Well, it should because it is.  Loving enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, and praying for those who abuse us goes against every fiber of our nature.  We cannot do this in our own strength; we need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to respond accordingly.  Some here may have experiences where someone did unspeakably horrible things to you that were devastating and life-changing, and only the Holy Spirit was able to enable you to show love and extend forgiveness.  Some have sought the power of the Holy Spirit, and He is working in you now to show you how to love, bless, and pray for those who have hurt you.  Some cannot even begin to entertain the idea of forgiveness, blessing, and loving their enemy. 

I want to encourage you and me today to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life. The first step for all of us is to realize and accept that we cannot do this in our power; we need the Holy Spirit.  When we come to this realization and start down the path of forgiveness and healing, we can truly experience the life, forgiveness, and love Christ calls us to have.

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