DO YOU REALY LOVE ALL YOUR ENEMIES?
But didn't Jesus Say 'Love Your Neighbour?
Ask most Christians what was the centre of Jesus' ethical teaching, and they will probably say it was 'Love Your Neighbour'. For instance, they might cite Matthew 22:36-40:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
(Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
But two points must be noted.
First, 'Love Your Neighbour' was not a new command. Not all Christians realise it, but 'Love Your Neighbour' comes straight out of the Old Testament Law:
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19:18, NIV)
In fact, in the various times when Jesus mentions the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28), each time it is explicit that what is being discussed is "The Law" - that is, the Old Testament Law.
But the second point is: how did Jesus interpret the law? Jesus made it clear that "neighbour" did not merely mean people living close by. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said:
"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 sons 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. 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)
Even clearer is that most famous of parables, the story of the Good Samaritan. The whole point of that story was to answer the question "Who is my neighbour":
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said:
"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
(Luke 10:25-37, NIV)
Why was the story so significant? It was not because one man was so compassionate to the man in distress. It was because that man was a Samaritan, a people despised by the Jews:
"(For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)." (John 4:9, NIV)
If Jesus told the story in a Western country today, he would probably tell the parable of the good Muslim or the good refugee.
So we see that, for a follower of Jesus, 'Love Your Neighbour' means 'Love all people'. And because our enemies are the hardest people to love, the command especially means, 'Love Your Enemies'.