Community Group Study Guide — Loving Your Enemy
These verses conclude the six examples Jesus gives us to illustrate our need for a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees which was an outward focused righteousness that ignored the heart.
Jesus began this part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-20) by highlighting how he fulfilled all of the Law and the Prophets. In each of these six examples Jesus shows us how the Law and Prophets are fulfilled in him as he points to the deeper reality of what it means to live out these commandments. What we see is the scribes and Pharisees had “relaxed” the commandments (Matthew 5:19) and ultimately missed the point of the Law. Jesus teaches us that God cares about changed action, but more than that he desires changed hearts; and that is the better righteousness Jesus is pointing us to.
This last example of our need for a better righteousness reveals that we naturally love those who already love us back and have justified hating our enemies. Instead Jesus tells his followers that fulfilling the command to love their neighbor includes “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). One may think, “how can we love our enemies when we cannot even love our neighbors?”
Your enemy could be someone you strongly dislike or it could be someone who strongly dislikes you. Likewise your enemy would include people who actively seek our harm or persecute you. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day would count anyone outside of their faith, ethnicity and culture as their enemy. We know this because of how they misinterpreted Leviticus 19:18 as “love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. Human nature is to try to limit who we need to show kindness to and it appears that the Jews struggled to find a reason to seek the goodness of those around them who were different or “other”. This is not just an ancient problem, sociological researchers have noted how people have clumped together more and more in recent years to form even tighter likeminded groups. It is difficult to love your enemy if you do not actually have to interact with your enemy or even get to know them.
If loving your enemy is so difficult, what kind of hope do any of us have to obeying this command? That is the beauty of where this passage ends. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus gives us words of life as he reveals to us that God is at work to make us more and more like him – to be perfect/complete as he is. We’re told that if we put into practice this love of enemy that we are becoming “sons of our heavenly father” (Matthew 5:44). This is good news and we should take comfort to know that God is at work through his word, the Holy spirit and our effort to fight sin and pursue holiness. This is why Jesus exposes to us how we typically love others with a selfish and “you scratch my back and I scratch yours” kind of attitude. Jesus wants to show us our need for a different kind of righteousness and by doing so he reveals to us the type of love God shows.
Look at Matthew 5:46-47, we first see that our love of enemy should not be based on how much they deserve our love. Jesus uses the example of the weather and how the sun and the rain falls on those who are godly and those who are not. The rain clouds do not just gather over the property of the faithful. In fact if you look around we are often confronted with the question “why are the wicked prospering so much?” We see that question pop up in the book of Job and places like Psalm 73. Theologians call this common grace, specifically that God pours out blessings to all people beyond what they deserve. When it comes to God showing us goodness and kindness (love), he does not analyze our worthiness to receive it. Praise God for that because the scripture describes all of us as “children of wrath” and “enemies of God” before God has rescued and redeemed us (Ephesians 2:3, Romans 5:10). If left to what we’d naturally do, we would love people based on how much we thought they deserved it and that is what the tax collectors and gentiles did according to Jesus and they were both easily groups that many would have considered to be their enemies.
Second, we see that our love for our enemy should be generous. Jesus tells his hearers not just to greet those who greet them back. Essentially they loved those who loved them in return which is a “what have you done for me?” kind of love. At the core it is selfish and conditional. When we examine God’s love in scripture we see that it is sacrificial in nature, generous and often one-sided. We fail to follow this commandment if we think “how would I benefit from showing this person kindness and love?” Jesus would invite us to be more like God in how we love others.
What steps can we take to grow in our love of our enemies?
- First, we would benefit from remembering that we were all described as enemies of God before he rescued us from our sin. The more you can wrap your head around how much you did not deserve God’s love the more you will be able to love those you do not think deserve it.
- Second, you can purpose to show them good in your words and actions and to choose to have an attitude towards them filled with kindness. Our sin nature will default back to returning evil for evil, but we’re told that the godly way is to return evil with good. Paul gives us examples of this in Romans 12:17-21. Some of those actions are to live peaceably (aka, do not go looking to pick a fight), not seek vengeance when shown wrong, and meet the practical needs of your enemy. By doing these things we hope to overcome evil with good.
- Finally, Jesus tells us to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Pray for your enemy as you’d pray for yourself. Pray for them to know the Lord, to have faith, to walk in holiness and that they’d be filled with a desire to change and seek good. You will find the more you pray for your enemy the more you will grow in compassion and a desire to show them good.
Instead of trying to limit whom God has called you to love, look for opportunities to be a person who blesses even those who curse you. Pray and ask God to grow your heart to love those who are difficult to love.
Many of us try to redefine who we need to love and fall into the pattern of loving our neighbor but hating our enemy. Jesus instead commands us to grow to love more like God loves by loving our enemy and praying for those who persecute us. To love is a matter of attitude and action. It means choosing to purpose to seek someone’s good.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:43-48
It seems like the people of Jesus day wanted to narrowly define who they needed to show love to and who they could hate. How do we know that from the text and is this a problem we face in our world today?
How would you characterize “normal” human love based on Matthew 5:46-47? Why do you think Jesus highlights this to emphasize our need to love our enemy?
Read Leviticus 19:9-18. Based on just this passage, how would you define what it means to love your neighbor? How does this help us understand what it means to follow Jesus command to love our enemy?
What are some practical ways we can purpose to do good to those we do not like or who would seek or harm? What kinds of things should you pray about when praying for those who persecute you?