“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38–48)
Now those are some of the most difficult, controversial, radical demands Jesus ever put on the world, and they are real. They are in the Bible. We should live like this. His words raise serious questions: Do we really need to do that? Do Christians even have enemies? We’re generally nice people. I hate to have enemies. Secondly, how do you do that? It seems very complicated and difficult to love an enemy. Third, how in the world can you get to the point where your heart really wants to bless an enemy? I can maybe imagine doing nice things for them, but Jesus says to love them. He says to bless those who curse you and abuse you.
You Will Have Enemies
So, do we even need this command? Do we really have enemies? Jesus said: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25). Which means: If Jesus got criticized, how much more you? So if you are a follower of Jesus, it’s a given that you will have enemies. Paul said: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12). If you don’t have any enemies, your godliness is probably not showing very well. Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).
We need this. Christians, we will be maligned, and all the more as American culture collapses around us as we take biblical stands over against worldly stands. We will be accused of things falsely. How will we respond to those who rise up against us? Love your enemies.
How About in Suicide?
How does that happen? Matthew 5:38–42 and Matthew 5:43–48 are quoted above. If you look at those two units, the first one emphasizes giving to the one who asks. He wants to borrow? Just give. Give even above what he asks. The second units emphasizes blessing them. Seek their good. Do those two things always cohere? No, they don’t. Jesus says: Somebody asks you? Give. Somebody demands? Give. He means that this is one crucial, important way of loving your enemy. It is not the only way. Let’s look at a couple illustrations of this.
You are dealing with a suicidal person. They call you. It’s interesting how many people who are on the brink of taking their lives reach out for help. You show up. You know where they keep their medicines. You see it there, and you take it. You take the medicine bottle, because they were contemplating taking it. And they say to you, “Give me my medicine and get out of my house.” Now, let’s apply Jesus’ words.
Jesus says give to him who asks. He also says do good, or bless. You realize this person, in a moment of deep depression and irrational thinking about their immediate future, are drawing conclusions that will be deeply destructive to them. You hold the means of saving their life in your hand, and they are asking you to give it to them. Should you?
No, you do not give them the medicine. And you don’t leave them alone either. They say leave, and they say give. And you don’t leave and you don’t give, because you love them. At that moment they are treating you like an enemy. They may get mad. They may beat you, slap you, throw something at you. And you will not give it to them. From this example, we know that Jesus is only giving us one way of loving when he says, “Give to him who asks.”
Forgiveness and Trust
Here’s another way to get at the complexity of loving our enemies. You’ve got a babysitter, and you find out he or she been sexually abusing your children. A week later, while this 14-year-old is being handled by the court system, that 14-year-old calls you on the phone and says, “Would you forgive me?” Will you? Yes, you will.
Jesus said: How often shall we forgive them? Seven times? No, seventy times seven. Forgiveness is free and forthcoming. Then, the babysitter says on the phone: “Can I have my job back?” The answer should be no. Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. When you have somebody who has been an adversary and has abused your children, you do forgive, but you do not trust. Trust is something that is earned over years of faithful obedience. It is not a gift of love.
Give in Every Circumstance?
Here’s one more illustration. You want to give to a poor neighbor down the street. She’s on welfare, has six kids, and doesn’t have a washing machine. To go to the Laundromat down several streets over is a huge burden for this mom. You’d like to buy her a $600 washing machine, and dryer, too.
You save and save, and just when you have got enough to bless her, another person says, “Can I have that 600 dollars for a car repair?” Give to him who asks. What are you going to do? I don’t know what you are going to do. I just know Jesus knew those kinds of perplexities and complexities exist in life. So when he says to give to him who asks, to go the extra mile, to turn the other cheek, he meant sometimes. You must discern what is the loving thing to do.
Here’s another reality. We live in a world where we not only function as individuals, but we function as parents to children. Do you turn the other cheek with a child? We function as citizens to police. Do police turn the other cheek when they are trying to rescue someone from assault? We have employers and employees. An employee says, “Give me my wage. I am not showing up for work. I just want my wage.” “No, you are fired.” Is that love? Yes, it is.
We middle class wealthy Americans — that is who I am, anyway — we love to get off the hook to give to him who asks. Oh, thank you, John Piper. You just got me off the hook. I don’t have to give to him who asks.
We Don’t Need Anything
Do you know why Jesus said those radical commands — go the extra mile, let a person sue you, give? He meant for that to be your default response. Each example says that Jesus is our satisfaction. We don’t need money. We don’t need revenge. We don’t need security. We have Jesus. I can display the worth of Jesus to the world by giving to the one who asks, by endangering myself to serve you. That should be our default response.
You can tell who people are when they are studying this issue. You will know in just a few minutes who the people are who are trying to weasel their way out. They are not broken-hearted because they are unloving people. They try to get out of the trap of Jesus’ demand that we be changed at the root of our being, which brings us now to this last question.
Four Motivations to Love Our Enemies
How are you going to become a person like this, a person who loves your enemies? Let’s look first at Romans 5:10. “If while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more will we be saved by his life?” God saved you while you were his enemy. You didn’t befriend him before he moved in on you and saved you. So the root origin of how to love our enemies is to experience being loved as an enemy of God.
Secondly, Matthew 5:44 says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you and you will be sons of your Father” (who loves like that). In other words, another motivation is that we show ourselves to be a child of God. We prove we have the same DNA as the Father.
One of the reasons it’s hard to love our enemies is because it feels like we’re letting them get away with murder. Nobody gets away with murder or anything else. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord. If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat.” Hand vengeance over to God. Don’t think justice won’t be done. It will be done. All sins will be punished, either on the cross for those who repent and you can’t improve upon that punishment, or in hell for those who don’t repent and you can’t improve upon that punishment.
“Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice in that day and be glad for great is your reward in heaven.” There is a reward in heaven, spectacularly beyond anything you lose on this earth in loving your enemies. Let’s show the world how free we are from vengeance, free we are from the love of money, free we are from the need of security, and how much love we have for those who persecute us.
This video is part three of a six-part series through John Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World. In the book, Piper looks at the demands of Jesus as found in the four Gospels. It’s an accessible introduction for thoughtful inquirers and new believers, as well as a refreshing reminder for more mature believers of God’s plan for his Son’s glory and our good. Smallgroup.com has provided a PDF of the group study guide for each session.