Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (NIV)
Conflict. Arguments. Strife. Life is a delicate intersection of relationships. Because of the constant motion and activity of people, it is only a matter of time before personalities clash. And when they do, quarrels can often ensue. In the process, mean-spirited words are exchanged. Feelings are trampled upon. Grudges begin. The Christian walk does not guarantee a disagreement-free existence. Jesus, in fact, assured His followers that they would endure adversity. But Jesus also told His believers that conflict can, and should, be managed with a gracious attitude – a thought that completely goes against the grain of worldly logic.
People will hurt us. People will disappoint us. People will use us for personal gain. What should our response be? An unbelieving culture would encourage us to exact revenge, or discard such people altogether. Christ, however, taught us to respond to deeds of anger with deeds of love. In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus implored humanity to reconsider how we handle conflict. Rather than harbor hatred or seek retaliation, Christ encouraged us to employ love in all matters, especially conflict.
Much has been proclaimed about love, whether it be in songs or poems, but we need look no further than Jesus’ earthly ministry to understand how love truly behaves. Love does not exclude or give up on anybody, no matter how badly someone has acted. We sometimes mistakenly assume that love is bound by a give-and-take philosophy. We dole out love to somebody as long as they return an equal, or greater, measure. But when the other person stops displaying kindness then we do too. But love, by Jesus’ standard, is given because it longs to be given, pure and simple. It is not given with the expectation of anything in return. It does not consider what is best for oneself; it considers what is best for someone else.
Love is a commitment to put someone else’s needs above our own. It is sacrificial, not selfish. It reaches out regardless of whether anyone reaches back. It forgives, even when the offending person does not offer an apology. Even in conflict, love should be present. “Love your enemies” was probably not well received by an audience that was comprised of people living under Roman occupation, and oppression. But it was the message they needed. And it is still the message we need. Jesus saw the worst in humanity, and yet His words and actions were aimed at achieving the best in humanity. In a world that retains feelings of resentment and practices limited compassion, Jesus said to pray for those who wound us. In a world that exudes criticism and hostility, Jesus said to love our enemies. None of this is easy, mind you, but it is necessary.*
Kevin Orr (10/2/2018)
*This blog post is extracted from portions of my self-published, now discontinued, book titled “Love Has Come: A Twenty-Eight Day Journey Through The Gospel Of Matthew”, which was originally published in 2010 (Pleasant Word, a division of WinePress Group)