The last section on Loving your enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“Love your neighbor” was quoted from Leviticus 19:18, and hate your enemies is only implied from various texts such as “Deut 23:3–6; 25:17–19; or Ps 139:21, but hatred of enemies was common enough in subsequent generations so as to fit under the category of something Jesus’ audience had “heard that it was said” (cf. the attitude combatted in Luke 10:25, 37)”
Remember Jesus was not changing what was written, only their misunderstanding and misapplication of the Spirit of the Law. One of the true tests of what it means to be Christian is to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This reveals that we are proving we are “sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
So why the interjection “For He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good…? God’s love is not in question, ours may be, but not God’s. His common grace is always revealing His goodness (Rom 1) and His desire that none should perish but that all should come unto repentance (2Pet 3:9). God’s longsuffering patience and love is revealed in Romans 1:18-21 as it shows the issue was not that God did not reveal Himself, but that they would not honor God or give Him thanks and this ultimately left them without excuse (Rom 1:18-21, see also John 3:16-21).
The main thrust of this section I believe is hidden in the Greek language and called out from the back door of James Montgomery Boice and Charles Quarles. While looking at a couple commentaries I noticed that the “Love” stated here is in the form of a command (a specific imperative ending)…thus it is not negotiable. This has several implications and the technicality of the language requires that Jesus will not command you to do something that you are not equipped to do…thus it is an act of the will and not based on ability. You have the choice to love them, ability is not the question. You’ll also notice that the “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is connected with the conjunction and, which got me to wondering is the verb for pray a command also? Well Love is a present active imperative and the verb for pray is a present Middle/Passive imperative which means as I stated the “Love” portion is not negotiable as the action is on part of the noun in question “You”. The act of praying however is a little more slippery with the “Middle/Passive” voice. Since the ending is the same for both you must decide from context with voice it is. The voice means either you are acting within yourself (the Middle voice) to do the act of praying or you are receiving the ability to pray from an external source (the Passive voice). This is what brings me to Quarles and Boices comments on this section. Quarles points out that the “those who persecute you” is a present participle which means the act of loving them is not long after the action but right at the time of the action (ok so that’s convicting). See also Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:9 for more convicting examples if you weren’t convinced. Boice points out that this “Loving and Praying” are not driven by emotion (Loving in particular). He makes this case by stating there is a distinction,
“that distinction is that loving is not necessarily the same thing as liking. To like someone is to have a certain emotional feeling toward them, and because we cannot entirely control our feelings it is not always possible to like everybody. I am not even sure that we should. I believe, for instance, that there is a sense in which we can say that God does not really like the way we are. But He does love us, and that is an entirely different thing. Love is not a matter of the feelings; it is a matter of the will. And because it is of the will and not of the feelings, it is something that is always possible and that may always express itself in good actions. This we can do – whether or not we feel like it.”1
This brings me back to the Greek tenses (hang in there). If the verb for loving is a present active imperative, you have the ability to do this (whether you feel like it or not…thank you Mr Boice) but with praying for those who persecute you I’m pretty convinced the ability is coming from an external source just because of a number of verses coming to my mind. How do we pray, or more importantly Who makes utterances when we don’t even know what to pray. The Holy Spirit. I think there is a lot more going on here than I have time to continue to develop but just to leave you with a question, when you are praying for someone does your countenance toward them change. Mine does. So when you’re being persecuted, pray for them, ask the Father who has given you His Holy Spirit to intercede, in your heart first and then for those who persecute you. He states that when we ask according to His will, He answers.
I’m sure it seems like I may not have developed that exhaustively but the long and the short of it is if we are having a tough time loving our enemies, or praying for those who persecute us perhaps it may be revealing we haven’t realized that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8), or maybe like we learned in memorizing 1 Peter 4:7-11 ” Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” v. 8. Maybe it shows like in Luke 7:47 that we’re not loving much because we don’t realize how much we’ve been forgiven. Maybe like in Proverbs 29:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Whatever is causing us to not obey “praying and loving” (remember these are imperatives in the Greek), we need to repent and obey as we aspire to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
1The Sermon on the Mount, James Montgomery Boice (1972, Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI), p 143