Praying for an enemy (part 1)
The first time Jesus discusses prayer during his Sermon on the Mount is at the end of a series of Kingdom-living examples. Jesus begins each example with “you have heard that it was said”, which is followed by Jesus quoting a portion of the Mosaic Law. Then Jesus looks beyond the letter of the Law to teach that even the person’s motivation is to be evaluated by that part of the Law. His last example in this section states:
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,
The Jewish community of Jesus’ day was very internally focused. They thoroughly believed that it was them against the world, and in many ways, that was true. However, nowhere in the Law does it give license for the Jew to hate your enemy, the only direction is to love your neighbor. Unfortunately, in their acceptance of the command to love their neighbor, they applied it only to their Jewish neighbor, and then they rationalized that they could do the opposite to an enemy.
Let’s not mince words here, either. When Jesus said enemy, he meant enemy. Someone who is actively opposing you. The Greek word for persecute means to actively pursue or systematically oppress and harass a person or group. Jesus isn’t giving instruction on how to deal with the annoying or selfish people we encounter…he’s talking about those who purposely oppose, fight, and undermine us.
Enemies are the ones who instigate situations, initiate fights, reduce us to tears, stress us out…we have heart problems, sleep issues, and mental breakdowns because of their actions and their desire to see us fail.
But should I seriously love them? Why should I pray for that person? Why should I petition the God of the Universe to lovingly interact with someone who is out to get me? Truthfully, I’d rather pray that God gives me strength to deal with them…or better yet, I’d rather pray that God just removes them from my life altogether.
Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
The sobering question we must ask ourselves is “How does our Father in heaven act toward enemies?”
Matthew 5:45-47 For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
God uses the things he has authority over for the benefit of those who love him…and for the benefit of those who actively oppose him. Let that sink in for a moment…
There are some blessings God continues to give toward those who practice evil against him. He does it daily, without fail…even if they never acknowledge him for it. And when we act like God does toward enemies – loving them and praying for them, even when they don’t deserve it – we are modeling God’s love to others.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to explain that choosing to treat enemies the way the sons of your Father in heaven would…to choose to love and pray for those that persecute us…these actions will be rewarded!
Jesus makes this point by referring back to how the Jews were loving only their Jewish neighbor and hating their enemies, and pointing out the lack of reward for acting differently towards enemies than God does:
Matthew 5:46-47 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
Love, greet, and pray for your enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first direction about prayer is for us to petition God on behalf of those who actively try to undermine us.
Will we follow through on this instruction? As we saw before, it is the wise man who hears Jesus’ words and does what Jesus says. It won’t be easy, but God promises a reward when we choose to act like he does.