Introduction: Mat Staver, a prominent American religious liberty
lawyer, likes to tell a story about me that centers on Matthew 5:44.
That text tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who
persecute us. How do religious liberty lawyers who are fighting “the
bad guys” do that? Mat suggested that when he entered into legal
battle he prayed for his opponents – that they would be confused!
That struck me as being inconsistent with the theme of Jesus’
teaching in Matthew 5. But, one day I decided to follow Mat’s advice
when I was cross-examining a fellow in a deposition. The deposition
went wonderfully for “our side” because the fellow testifying against
us was confused – confused enough to tell the truth! I reported to
Mat that he was on to something. What does Jesus have in mind in
Matthew 5? Did David love Goliath? What, exactly, is our Biblical
obligation to people who are hurting us and the gospel of Christ?
Let’s jump into the Bible to see what we can learn!

  1. Jesus’ Words

    1. Read Matthew 5:43-45. In verse 43 the word translated
      “neighbor” can also be translated “friend.” What seems
      more natural: to love your friend or your enemy?

      1. Verse 44 tells us to “love” our enemies. Could you
        really love someone who was an enemy?

        1. Would your answer turn on what is meant by

      2. The word “love,” at least in English, is used in many
        ways that make it difficult to be precise. According
        to Strong’s, the Greek word used here, “agapao,”
        means to love in a social or moral sense. Jesus helps
        define what He means by love by giving us an
        illustration in verse 45 about how God loves the evil
        and unrighteous. What definition of “love” would you
        give based on God’s example? (The example seems to
        define love as non-discriminatory treatment.)

        1. Would it take special effort on God’s part to
          keep the sun off the evil and water off the
          unrighteous? (Yes. God would have to give them
          special treatment.)

        2. Is this example a key to understanding what God
          means when He tells us to love our enemies? Are
          we simply required to treat them in a non-discriminatory fashion?

        3. The word translated “love” in Matthew 5: 44 is
          the same Greek word used in John 3:16 to
          describe God’s love for us, in John 3:35 to
          describe God the Father’s love for Jesus and in
          John 11:5 to describe Jesus’ love for Martha,
          Mary and Lazarus. Does that seem to be simply
          non-discriminatory love?

    2. Read Romans 12:14. In the introduction I mentioned praying
      for confusion among my litigation opponents. How does that
      fit with this text? (It does not fit very well. I consider
      confusion (when I’m confused) to be a curse. Praying for
      confusion among my opponents seems to be asking for them
      to be cursed, not blessed.)

    3. Read Romans 12:17-18. Notice the instruction to “do what
      is right in the eyes of everybody.” How is that relevant
      to the issue of loving our enemies? (If someone sees what
      you did to get revenge, without knowing the reason, they
      will think that your character is flawed. Admittedly it is
      difficult to be reasonable when seeking revenge.)

  2. The Benefit of Loving Our Enemies

    1. You may think loving our enemies is a “no-win” situation.
      Even if we manage to obey Jesus, what good, this side of
      heaven, will it do to love our enemies? They are still
      our enemies! Is there a practical reason for us to love
      our enemies?

    2. I read a book containing the teachings of the Buddhist
      spiritual leader, The Dali Lama. I was struck by the
      overlap between his teachings and the teachings of Jesus
      in Matthew 5. In his parallel teaching about loving our
      enemies, The Dali Lama asked the following questions you
      should consider:

      1. How many people would you estimate that you have
        dealt with in your life?

      2. Of that number, how many do you deal with on a daily

      3. Of that number, how many can you say are your
        personal enemy?

    3. If you are like most people, you have met thousands of
      people over your life. But of those thousands, you
      probably deal with a hundred or less on a regular basis
      and a handful on a daily basis. Of those hundred, you are
      unlikely to have more than one or two you consider your
      “enemy.” (If you have more, you may be missing other
      significant teachings of the Bible!) This means that true
      enemies are a rare thing. They are a scarce resource,
      according to The Dali Lama, which presents you with the
      opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult people!
      Dealing with the few difficult people in your life allows
      you to learn valuable lessons about character development
      and getting along with others.

      1. Is this Buddhist rationale for “loving our enemies”
        consistent with the Bible?

    4. Let’s go back to Matthew. Read Matthew 5:46-48. What
      reason(s) does Jesus give for loving our enemies? (Jesus
      speaks both of a “reward” and being more like God.)

      1. What is this reward that we get for loving our
        enemies? (I think it is part of our reward in heaven,
        but the Buddhist suggestion of a reward here makes
        sense to me too. The reason is that being perfect
        like our heavenly Father sounds like perfection of
        character. Our characters can be developed by dealing
        well with difficult people.)

    1. Let’s go back to Romans 12. Read Romans 12:20. What reason
      are we given here for helping our enemies? (“Burning
      coals” doesn’t sound good for your enemy. Perhaps it means
      a final judgment. Perhaps it means feeling shame for
      mistreating you.)

      1. How does this fit with the idea of “non-discriminatory” treatment for our enemies? (This
        clearly goes beyond that. We are called to do
        something good for our enemies.)

    2. Read Romans 12:19. What reason are we given here for being
      good to our enemies? (God, not us, will avenge the wrong
      done to us.)

    3. Read Romans 12:21. One major concern about being kind to
      our enemies is our worry that evil will triumph. We feel
      we must challenge wrongdoing (especially when we are the
      victim!) What does this text suggest is the ultimate
      outcome of our dispute with our enemies? (That we will
      overcome our enemies with good. We will win. The goal of
      being loving to our enemies is to win against evil!)

  1. Payback Time!

    1. If you take a concordance and read all of the texts in
      Psalms that contain the word “enemies,” your first
      reaction is that the teachings of Psalms and Jesus’ Sermon
      on the Mount present two radically different approaches to
      dealing with our enemies. For example, the first reference
      to enemies in Psalms is Psalms 3:7 “O my God! Strike all
      my enemies on the jaw; Break the teeth of the wicked.” Now
      that sounds more like my natural heart! Punch them in the
      nose, God!

      1. How can you reconcile the New Testament approach to
        enemies with the Psalms’ approach to enemies? (If you
        look at the texts in Psalms that refer to enemies you
        will see a pattern: the Psalmist consistently calls
        on God for deliverance from his enemies. This is
        precisely what Romans 12:19 advises when it says,
        “Leave room for God’s wrath [on your enemies.]”)

        1. Let’s compare again Romans 12:14 with Romans
          12:19. If you, like the Psalmist, are praying
          for your enemy to get his teeth knocked out by
          God, how is this a blessing and not a cursing?
          (This reminds me so much of righteousness by
          faith. We reach out to God and trust Him for our
          righteousness. When it comes to payback for our
          enemies, we reach out to God and trust Him for
          our revenge.)

    2. Recall that in Matthew 5:48 we are told to love our
      enemies so that we will become perfect like our Heavenly
      Father. Is payback part of God’s perfection? (One of the
      last references to “enemies” in the Bible is Hebrews
      10:26-27. Read this text. Clearly God is going to destroy
      our mutual enemies.)

    3. Friend, God teaches us that we should not be in the
      revenge business, but in the kindness business. We should
      turn to God for “payback” against our enemies. How does
      that fit the “Mat Staver prayer” for confusion among our
      enemies? Although I still have trouble fitting that with
      Romans 12:14, it seems to me that is generally what God
      has in mind. Our conduct towards our enemies is positive.
      Our way of obtaining relief from our enemies is to ask God
      for justice. Will you turn your thoughts of vengeance
      over to God? Will you decide today to overcome evil with

  2. Next week: Brothers and Sisters in the Faith.