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“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. 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? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)
Loving our enemies begins with the realization that our very existence begins and ends with the love of God. Jesus tells us that this trait of loving our enemies is a characteristic both motivates us and defines us as God’s children. Indeed, God’s love is demonstrated to the righteous as well as to tyrants throughout creation, freely, without discrimination. He closes this teaching making it clear that learning to love our enemies is a mark of perfection or full maturity just as God’s love is demonstrated in His love for all mankind.
It is this idea of being a child of God that causes us to pause. From the very beginning, before there was time, there was God: God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Moses describes them in creation as God, who created the heavens and the earth, the Spirit of God who hovered over the waters of the earth, and God the Word, spoken by God, who ushers in light into creation (Genesis 1:1-3, NIV). This relationship between the Father and the Son (i.e., God’s Word) is echoed dramatically in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4, NIV)
Moving forward to Jesus’ prayer on the eve of His betrayal, John reveals to us that Jesus’ prayer for us was that we would be unified as one, just as Jesus was in God the Father. His desire was that we would be in Him and His Father as evidence of God’s love to the world around us to lead them to belief.
“My prayer is not for them alone [i.e., the apostles]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23, NIV)
As Jesus prays to unify us in relationship with Him and His Father His prayer is that the result will be that “the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (vs. 23). This love that has existed from before the beginning and forevermore exists between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is now made available to us and is so overwhelming that when we, as God’s children, display His love, even our enemies will know God’s all-encompassing love.
Of all of the places on earth this ethic of love–indiscriminate, all-encompassing, overflowing–should be demonstrably found it is in the midst of the church, the people of God. To the extent that we do not demonstrate this kind of love we do not reflect God’s glory. In the song “Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” Casting Crowns illustrates this contrast between what we often reflect to the world and what we should be exhibiting. The challenge is to look within to appreciate the love that has been shown to us so that we, like God, can show that same love to the world in ways that illustrate that we are His children.