I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Sometimes in life we find ourselves in situations where people hurt us. Perhaps a family member or close friend is unkind to us. Perhaps someone we work with is unpleasant to us. Maybe we find ourselves subject to workplace bullying by a boss or employer. It’s never nice being hurt, particularly when it’s by someone who we feel should treat us rather better. When we are treated badly, it’s very easy to feel strong hatred towards the culprits. Love is often the last emotion we feel towards these people.
That’s why today’s verse is so challenging. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It’s easy to love those who love us, but loving people who mistreat us, who persecute us, who make our lives a living hell is rather more difficult. Sometimes, indeed, it feels impossible. Yet that is what we’re called to do.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies for two reasons. Firstly, because in doing so we are living as “children of heaven,” transformed by the love of Christ, and seeking to build God’s heavenly kingdom here and now. Secondly, we are called to love our enemies because God loves them too. God, we are told in this verse, blesses the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. If we love God and strive to follow him, we should love what he loves – and that means even those people who mistreat us.
Of course, one of the best ways of loving someone is to pray for them, as Jesus commands us to do here. Praying for our enemies forces us to see them as humans and can change our perception of them. Praying that they will come to know Jesus can lead them to salvation and away from God’s judgement. And of course, if our enemies come to follow Christ and strive themselves to live out the gospel, perhaps they will cease to persecute us. After all, if they come to know Christ, they will themselves discover the importance of loving all people.
There’s no denying that this is a very difficult verse to live out, but just think how different the world would be if everyone stopped hating, and loved everyone they encountered. If our default position was to love all people the world would be transformed. So why not make that commitment to love today? Why not try to love everyone that you encounter, whether they love you or persecute you?