Love—it’s commonly used as a word to express fondness for something or someone. Perhaps we love certain foods, entertainment, or hobbies. We get the gist of what it means to love something, but what about loving someone? In Matthew 5:44-45a, we read these words from Jesus: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may prove yourselves to be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (NASB).
Perhaps one might think: Wait a minute. Did He just say, “Love your enemies”? They’re my enemies for a reason. Why would I want to love them? I love my friends. Isn’t that enough?
Take a look at what Jesus says in the same passage: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors, do they not do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Even the Gentiles, do they not do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48 NASB)
Jesus teaches us that even people of the world—represented in this passage by tax collectors and Gentiles—love those who love them in return. That behavior is common. Your love for people who don’t love you in return will show the world that you are a child of God. Jesus goes on to say that in loving this way, you shall be perfect.
How do love and perfection go together? To answer that, let’s look at the Biblical description of love, found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. This is the Amplified Version of the Bible, which uses Greek and Hebrew word definitions to provide further understanding:
“Love endures with patience and serenity,
love is kind and thoughtful,
and is not jealous or envious;
love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant.
It is not rude; it is not self-seeking,
it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered];
it does not take into account a wrong endured.
It does not rejoice at injustice,
but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail].
Love bears all things [regardless of what comes],
believes all things [looking for the best in each one],
hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times],
endures all things [without weakening].
Love never fails [it never fades nor ends]…”
When we love with God’s love, we give no foothold to jealousy, pride, impulsive behavior, selfishness, unforgiveness, bitterness, lies, deceit, or doubt. Instead, we are patient, kind, selfless, humble, graceful, we give preference to others (see Romans 12:10), we forgive, rejoice with the truth, are trustworthy, hopeful, and steadfast. Now, we begin to see why Jesus connects loving our enemies with being perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.
God’s love is wonderful. Scripture tells us that love is a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). To love the way God calls us to love, we need His presence within us. We need to abide in Him.
Is bitterness burdening your heart? Are you having a hard time loving a certain person or group of people? Spend time with God. Abide in His loving presence, so He can fill you up and you can pour out that love on others. Make a choice to love your enemies, and ask God to help you. Pray for them. When you pray for others, it helps align your heart with God’s. You go from standing against them, to spiritually fighting for them. We can’t change others, but we can allow God to mold our hearts. We can choose to love and show the world Who our Father is.