“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12)
One of the questions I posed while preaching on loving our enemies from Matthew 5:44 was, How do you love the people who kidnap you and then kill you?
How can we do this? Where does the power to love like this come from? Just think how astonishing this is when it appears in the real world! Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?
I believe Jesus gives us the key to this radical, self-sacrificing love, described in Matthew 5:44, earlier in the very same chapter.
In Matthew 5:11–12, he is again talking about being persecuted, just like he was when he said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What is remarkable about these verses is that Jesus says that you are able not only to endure the mistreatment of the enemy, but rejoice in it. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you. . . . Rejoice and be glad.”
This seems even more beyond our reach than praying for our enemies or doing good to them. If I could do this humanly impossible thing — namely, rejoice in being persecuted — then it would be possible to love my persecutors. If the miracle of joy in the midst of the horror of injustice and pain and loss could happen, then the miracle of love for the perpetrators could happen too.
Jesus gives the key to joy in these verses. He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” The key to joy is faith in God’s future grace — that is, being satisfied in all that God promises to be for you. He says, “Rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.” Our joy in persecution is the joy of heaven streaming back into this moment of horror and setting us free to love. So, this joy is the freeing power to love our enemies when they persecute us.
If that is true, then the command to love is implicitly also a command to set our minds on things that are above — all that God promises to be for us — not on things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:2).
The command to love our enemy is a command to find our hope and our deepest soul-satisfaction in God and his great reward — his future grace. The key to radical love is faith in future grace. We must be persuaded in the midst of our agony that the love of God is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Loving your enemy doesn’t earn you the reward of heaven. Treasuring the reward of heaven empowers you to love your enemy.