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In twenty-five years of existence, I sometimes wish I could say I’ve never experienced heartbreak or loss. I often ponder what it would be like to not know the frailty of human love, and if it would make a difference in how I live my life.
When I was twelve, I was introduced to my first real taste of being hated. For no reason, a particular person decided to tell me that they hated me, but when I asked them why they said they didn’t have a reason, they just did. While I eventually began to see past this person, and accept the fact that not everyone in life is going to like you, it still hasn’t been easy to deal with people like this over the years. Especially when those who dislike you call themselves Christians, I have wrestled with one of Jesus’ key passages of what it means to be a true Disciple and authentic Christ-follower.
In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus encapsulates how to love our enemies. While similar passages are cross-referenced in Leviticus 24:17–23 and Luke 6:27–36, one of the best illustrations of these truths in action can be found in 1 John 4.
According to 1 John 4, John writes that while we may meet many people who claim to know Jesus, we must always be aware that false Prophets have been and will continue to exist among us. Those who truly partake in fellowship with Jesus, John notes, love one another. They acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God, and evidently, their lives reveal that fruit.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:7-12, New International Version).
In John’s words, we cannot say that we love God and hate our brother and sister in Christ: “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers” (1 John 4:20-21, New Living Translation).
According to the Blue Letter Bible, the Greek translation of the word “hate,” is much stronger than the association we tend to give. We say we hate evil, or we hate a particular food or weather. But when Christ warns us to not hate one another, he is actually saying, miseō.
As a verb, miseō is a hatred to detest (especially to persecute), by extension, or to love less. It is found 42 times in the King James Version, alone, and outlined through biblical usage as to hate, pursue with hatred, or detest. Essentially, it means to feel and express nothing more than interest in, or disregard and indifference to a thing, or to love less or postpone in love or esteem/to slight others. In other words, it means to give someone less than the time of day because you distaste them so much. At its worst, it is deliberately pursuing hatred and evil, and at its best, disregard for another human simply because you disagree or have your X, Y, Z list of reasons.
Yet in Scripture, miseō is the same word Matthew 5:43 uses when Jesus told us not to hate our enemies, but to love, pray for and bless those who have cursed us. Because it doesn’t matter if we don’t see eye-to-eye, they have the wrong idea about us or have offended us, we have no excuse to hate or mistreat our fellow Believers. Period.
“Your ancestors have also been taught ‘Love your neighbors and hate the one who hates you.’ However, I say to you, love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. For that will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly Father. He is kind to all by bringing the sunrise to warm and rainfall to refresh whether a person does what is good or evil. What reward do you deserve if you only love the loveable? Don’t even the tax collectors do that? How are you any different from others if you limit your kindness only to your friends? Don’t even the ungodly do that? Since you are children of a perfect Father in heaven, become perfect like him” (Matthew 4:43-48, The Passion Translation).
A few verses earlier, Jesus speaks that even those who have anger towards their neighbors are guilty of hatred and murder: “You’re familiar with the commandment taught to those of old: ‘Do not murder or you will be judged.’ But I’m telling you, if you hold anger in your heart toward a fellow believer, you are subject to judgment. And whoever demeans and insults a fellow believer is answerable to the congregation. And whoever calls down curses upon a fellow believer is in danger of being sent to a fiery hell. “So then, if you are presenting a gift before the altar and suddenly you remember a quarrel you have with a fellow believer, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go at once to apologize to the one who is offended. Then, after you have reconciled, come to the altar and present your gift. It is always better to come to terms with the one who wants to sue you before you go to trial, or you may be found guilty by the judge, and he will hand you over to the officers, who will throw you into prison. Believe me, you won’t get out of prison until you have paid the full amount” (Matthew 4:21-26, The Passion Translation)!
To Jesus, a true heart of repentance means attempting to heal severed relationships, not just empty words. It means praying for those who blaspheme your name for reasons you’ll never know or understand because He has called us to love and be love to a hurting world full of broken people.
Today, this is something that is really hard for me. I’ve wrestled for years how to subdue the pain I feel from careless words spoken about me behind my back, or the ones I know are said, though I’ve never heard them. I have questioned and asked God, “How do I pray for someone who has stabbed me a thousand times over?” when I’m the one who deserves an apology. And this week, I received my answer.
We’ve all heard the quote “Holding onto anger is liking drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” but Jesus says, those who forgive others will be forgiven, and those who fail to forgive others will not be given such measures of grace.
Because what if every time someone said something bad about you behind your back you received a welt on your skin? A solid crimson lash to remind you of the words you heard but cut deeper than if they were ever said to your face.
But likewise, what if every time you said something heinous about someone else, they received likewise? Even if they were in the wrong.
It is now that I realize that is what Jesus received when He took the world’s sins upon His backs. When He placed our hatred upon His body broken and His blood shed for us.
Jesus says in Matthew to bless those who hurt you and pray for those who persecute you. And why? Because that’s exactly what He did for us when he hung upon the cross.
Right here, right now, I am asking God to bless my enemies, not because I necessarily feel like saying it, but because I keep on praying to have the heart to genuinely mean what I say. It is my prayer that as we truly learn to love as Jesus loved, serve as Jesus served, and give as Jesus gave, who will become more like Him who forgives us over and over again.
We are the ones who slashed his back with careless words. We are the ones who hated love Himself. We are the ones who are called to love those who hate us not because it feels good and right, but because that is the right, holy, and honorable thing to do.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21, English Standard Version).
Let us repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Not because of our feelings, but because of the faith leading from within us that teaches and shows us how to do what is right.