In Matthew 28:19 Jesus told us to go and make disciples. His words resonate with us. We understand that this is a command, but we might wonder how we can do this when so many are indifferent to our message — some even hating us.
Jesus taught us to give without tallying our gifts (6:3), to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us (5:39), and when facing scorn, not to revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). He also shocked us with this command in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27, 28).
In these few verses, we hear this radical call from our Savior: He wants us to love the unlovely. If we are to reach the world, it will not be because we think they are worthy of grace, for who is? This challenge commands us to bless those who hate us and mistreat us, and so goes beyond loving the unlovely to rescuing our antagonists.
Like other characteristics of following Jesus, our love for others is not based on what we feel about it, but on what God desires. Nevertheless, we might wonder if it is honest to act loving even if we do not feel that way.
We can start by praying for strength.
Jesus spent all night in prayer before He chose the disciples and then spoke these words in our text in Luke. If we find ourselves love-challenged, we can pray, “Lord, my love for people is insufficient, but Yours is all sufficient. Please take what little I have and fill it with all You have.”
Breaking through our own hard hearts so we can reach someone who hurts us will require God’s help, and, like Charles Spurgeon said of prayer, we will need to send up “little darts and hand-grenades of godly desire.”
The Jews taught an “eye for an eye.” It seemed fair; they did not take an eye unless it was taken from them. Jesus took this law much further when He commanded us to respond in four ways to those who are indifferent or hostile: We are to love, do good, bless, and pray for them.
Let’s look at each in turn.
First Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, comes to mind. The love in this chapter, representative of all biblical love, evokes action over feelings. “Love is patient . . . is not self-seeking . . . does not delight in evil . . . never fails” (vv. 4-8, NIV). Such love finds its effectiveness in the one who loves rather than in the loveliness of the one to be loved. And the first one who loves is the Lord, who abides in us. If we are to love people who seem impossible to love, it seems obvious that we should look for help from Jesus, who impossibly loved.
Do good to them.
The Bible tells us that Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Note He did not go about “looking good.” He was not bolstering His public image by pretending to care. Rather, He was deeply compassionate, and this showed in what He did. Just before He spoke these words in Luke 6, in fact, Jesus was healing the sick and dominating unclean spirits. This demonstrates that before we can speak so that people will understand, we must invest in their needs.
Nevertheless, we will not always be able to heal, and at times duty demands that we should not even help. Jesus helped many, but He never gave free passes. He demonstrated that His love was readily available, at all times to everyone, but its benefits were conditional. The rich had already received their comfort, those who laughed would weep, and those well spoken of would not receive God’s praise (vv. 24-26).
We are long on compassion and wish to “do the most good,” but we must continue within the boundaries of the true gospel, even when it results in hatred from those we are trying to help.
In context of His words, Jesus was busy blessing people who faced the brunt of society’s indifference: “Blessed are you poor . . . blessed are you who hunger . . . blessed are you when men hate you . . .” (vv. 20-22). Obviously, these blessings went beyond simple well-wishing, for they were deep enough to reach down and pull the unfairly oppressed up to where they should be. Blessing our enemies must mean that we see everything, even their attacks on us, in a new light.
We can bless our enemies by responding without the same hatred they show us, because we realize something deeper is at work. God holds the tally sheet. He has promised blessing to us, and unfair attacks sometimes indicate that we are His chosen. We lay aside our “right” to be well treated because we know God will put all things right, and in the meantime, we bless others.
Blessing our enemies must mean that we point them to Jesus, since all blessing ultimately is found in Him. Our refusal to take up our revenge, or to be resentful while responding in a Christlike way to assault, points to the One who saved us. Contentment in the face of our enemies’ opposition is strong evidence of God’s mercy.
Pray for them.
Prayer for those who despitefully use us takes what Jesus is teaching to its logical conclusion. If we follow His example, we will want them to find peace with God. It would be ridiculous to pray that God would bless someone for being nasty. However, love says it is perfectly
reasonable to pray for people while they are nasty.
While He suffered on the cross at the hands of wicked people, the Lord prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Forgive them? Really? For crucifying the Lord of glory?
The aggressors were certainly punished if they did not subsequently repent. Judas suffered because of his betrayal; Peter was judged because of his denial. So these who mocked Jesus without remorse suffered judgment too.
The key phrase is what Jesus said: “For they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was asking God to bring His aggressors to the knowledge of what they should do. Matthew Henry said, “This was a mediatorial word, and explicatory of the intent and meaning of his death: ‘Father, forgive them, not only these, but all that shall repent, and believe the gospel;’ and he did not intend that these should be forgiven upon any other terms.”
Our prayers for those who mistreat us must include our desire to see them in right standing with God. We do not ask that they would be blessed in their sin but they would come to welcome the love of God. Their actions suggest they need this love, and our response can point to where they can get it.
Isaiah said of Jesus in one of the My Servant prophecies, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus was gentle with those who were broken, but He also sought them with purpose: “He will bring forth justice for truth.” Many tried to break Him, but He would not retaliate, because His love for them was too strong.
Our Master challenges us to love those who do not love us. With the help of His Spirit, we will get it done.