Hating Our Enemies

Years ago, I was a manager in one of the departments of my denomination’s General Offices. The management culture was extremely heavy-handed, though not all supervisors were that way. One day I got a new supervisor who seemed to deliberately make my life a daily torment.

As the situation grew worse some of my supporters told me, ‘God will take care of him someday.’ I responded, ‘No he won’t; God will forgive him.’ And because I knew God would forgive him—I forgave him. Despite what he was doing to me, I wanted to see him as God sees him.

Hating enemies

You Have Heard; But I Say…

For the fifth time in his teaching session, Jesus countermands an Old Testament commandment.

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, 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.

Jesus refers to Leviticus chapter 19:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.

We know Jesus does not object to the first half of the statement ‘Love your neighbor’ because he uses it in chapter 22 to establish the great guiding principle of loving others. The second half of the statement ‘Hate your enemy’ is not found in the Old Testament, but there are passages that suggest it.

Deuteronomy chapter 7 says about Israel’s enemies:

When the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

And the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord?

These passages and others led some Jews after the exile to hate outsiders. The Manual of Discipline of the Qumran community made it explicit.

What Does it Mean to Love One’s Enemy?

We know what it is like to love our family, our friends, or our significant other. Shared relationships and special feelings of fondness produce this love. How can we feel this fondness toward strangers or those we consider enemies?

We can’t. Jesus uses the word ‘agape’, which means to consider others kindly and have a practical concern for their well-being. It is the opposite of wishing them harm. In my situation described above, I wished my supervisor well but resigned my position.

Seeing People as the Father Sees Them

Jesus refutes the common attitude of hating enemies and gives his reason by adding: That you may be children of your Father in heaven who sends sun and rain on everyone. The point is not that the Father manipulates the weather but that he treats everyone fairly; and we should love our enemies so we can be like the Father who treats everyone the same way.

I am a child of the sixties—very much influenced by the culture of my youth, but in relating to others we should be children of the Father. We should see people as the Father sees them—even if they are our enemies.

Jesus continues:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Tax collectors were viewed as greedy, predatory, and as collaborators with the Roman oppressors; they personified despicability. But though they treated others harmfully, they treated each other well. How are we any better if we do the same?

Greeting others is a sign of acceptance and often includes a wish for well-being, such as ‘Good day!’ But if we show acceptance and good will only to our own, how are we better than pagans? Instead, we should treat people as the Father treats them.

The Essence of Jesus’ Ethic

It is often said that this teaching is the essence of Jesus’ ethic, which means it should serve as the essence of our ethic as followers of Jesus.

Jesus concludes with this statement:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This call to perfection stresses many people because we all know we fall short. But the word ‘τέλειοι’ (perfect) does not mean to be without imperfection—it signifies completeness. Perfection means we are gown-up or mature.

Be perfect as your Father is perfect applies to the entire teaching of Jesus on contrasts to legalism that we considered over the last few posts. Let us be mature in our relationships just as the Father is.


This is the final ‘You have heard’ statement in this group of Jesus’ teaching. Next time I will discuss what I learn from his teachings and ask for your evaluation of them as well.

Photo Credit: theloushe via Compfight cc
I invite your comments and observations below.
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Have a great day! ~Tim
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17 Responses to Hating Our Enemies

  1. michaeleeast says:

    A very good analysis of this passage.
    I agree that when Jesus says to be children of the Father
    he means to be like Him.
    i.e. accepting and loving towards all.


  2. I like this verse in Luke, which is in the modern evangelists book of what NOT to say when trying make disciples: “If anyone comes to me (Jesus) and does not HATE his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my (Jesus) disciple.”

    If we take that literally I would bet that the disciples of Jesus = ZERO 🙂


    • CE, I think Jesus uses ‘hate’ differently in Luke 14 than he does in Matthew 5.

      I have not researched this passage, but it seems that Jesus emphasizes the importance of taking seriously what it means to follow Jesus. Note the examples that follow.

      What do you think he is saying?


    • Chas says:

      Yes, hate seems to be the wrong translation. The passage is telling us that we should be willing to be separated from any or all members of our families if God requires it. It implies that we must always put God before any of them.


      • Chas, I agree. However I don’t think God ‘requires’ separating from our family, but sometimes the situation requires it such as when members of the family try to force us to not follow Jesus.


        • Chas says:

          There can still be separation, while remaining within the family. My wife was so against my believing in Jesus and serving God that she withdrew from me sexually, presumably in the hope of coercing into changing my mind, and this situation still persists over 15 yrs later.


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  4. sheila0405 says:

    This is one of the hardest passages in the Gospel to live out. Our natural human reaction to those who mistreat us or those we love is anger. We hold grudges, we ruminate over the offense, often replaying it over and over. I like the simple admonition that we are to see others as God sees them. After all, if God still loves me when I am at my worst, surely he loves every other person. He created each person. Sometimes when I am really angry I am prompted within my soul (Holy Spirit? conscience? Not sure) to think about how I am reacting to one of God’s children. If I remain fixed in my anger at the enemy who hurt me, aren’t I implying that God made a mistake with that particular person? I think that’s why Jesus reminds us that when we ask God for forgiveness, we need to remember that the forgiveness is predicated on how we forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” One priest I know said this line of the Lord’s prayer is the most dangerous for believers. Once we pray it, we need to obey it.


    • It can be really difficult sometimes, Sheila, but I like your insight: “If God still loves me when I am at my worst, surely he loves every other person.”

      If we internalize seeing people as the Father sees them, I think we become better and better at living it.


  5. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James’ Ramblings.


  6. Chas says:

    Your use of ‘completeness’, rather than ‘perfection’, was interesting, since none of us could expect to achieve the perfection of God, and completeness has the right ‘feel’ to it. Furthermore it can be seen to be a command, so it implies that we should ask God to make us complete.


  7. Marc says:

    I think it is important to differentiate between what a person’s potential is being made in God’s image with the capacity to be like God, and what a person does. To love our enemies does not mean to enable them to harm others. Tough love can require tough action.


    • To love our enemies does not mean to enable them to harm others. Tough love can require tough action.

      You are absolutely right Marc, and you stated it very well! In our concern for one person, we must also consider the well-being of those they might hurt. Restrictions and even incarceration are appropriate to protect others from harm.

      In abusive situations, one can love and forgive an abuser from a distance–with a restraining order if necessary. Love and forgiveness does not mean supporting abusive or violent behavior.


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