43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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.
46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
As Jesus’ words in this sermon march through the interior of our hearts and thought lives, He takes on the massive concept of love for our enemies. For everyone, “love” and “enemies” do not seem to belong in the same sentence. By very definition, the word “enemy” negates the possibility of love. Such is not the case for Jesus and so for the believer.
“You have heard it said” points not to the Old Testament but instead to the laws that had been added to the Old Testament code by the Pharisees. The Old Testament does not say to hate your enemies. We are not, in fact, ever given permission to hate anyone. Jesus completely negates what the Pharisees have taught in this regard and instead says that we must love our enemies and even pray for them.
[On a complete side note, let me share with you a definition of “hate” that my mom gave me a very long time ago. She told me that to hate someone was to wish them into hell. Now where she got that definition, I don’t know. But it gave me a platform for understanding that hatred is an immensely powerful emotion and carries with it serious ramifications. I’m sure the great theologians of the world would find offense at this description, but it has caused me to stay away from “hating” people, as I could never wish anyone into hell. Memories of that definition come into play as I read these words in Matthew today.] Since hating someone is not an option, I often choose to ignore the people who give me trouble. In these words from Matthew, Jesus doesn’t even allow me to ignore my enemies. Now I have to pray for them too?! Verse 45 indicates that when I pray for my enemy, even love my enemy, I am giving evidence to the fact that I am a follower of Christ (that you may be sons of your Father). God treats everyone equally when it comes to blessings, so who am I to do any differently?
Praying for an enemy can be very difficult. Frankly, we just don’t want to ask God's blessings for someone who makes our lives hard. Because this is a struggle, I use a tool when I need to pray for an enemy. (And really, I don’t use that word enemy very often. I cannot name you a person in my life right now that I would call enemy. It’s just takes too much energy to allow people that designation in my life.) When I struggle with a person, I immediately go to Colossians 1. I have shared this prayer before, but it bears repetition. Here we find words that bring blessing and peace – every time.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14).
As you read through these words, instead of “we”, use I and instead of “you”, insert the name of your enemy. It would look like this.
And so, from the day I heard, I have not ceased to pray for _______________________, asking that _________________ may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [that] ______________________ to walks in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May ____________________________ be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified ______________________ to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered _______________________________ from the domain of darkness and transferred ______________________________ to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom ___________________ has redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When you pray this way for anyone, blessings abound. You don’t have to use this prayer only for your enemies, use it for your children, spouse, coworkers . . . But don’t forget to pray for your enemies! And then – don’t be surprised when it’s not your enemies who change, but you.