Love your enemies - This is the most sublime piece of morality ever given to man. Has it appeared unreasonable and absurd to some? It has. And why? Because it is natural to man to avenge himself, and plague those who plague him; and he will ever find abundant excuse for his conduct, in the repeated evils he receives from others; for men are naturally hostile to each other. Jesus Christ design's to make men happy. Now he is necessarily miserable who hates another. Our Lord prohibits that only which, from its nature, is opposed to man's happiness. This is therefore one of the most reasonable precepts in the universe. But who can obey it? None but he who has the mind of Christ. But I have it not. Seek it from God; it is that kingdom of heaven which Christ came to establish upon earth. See on Matthew 3:2; (note). This one precept is a sufficient proof of the holiness of the Gospel, and of the truth of the Christian religion. Every false religion flatters man, and accommodates itself to his pride and his passions. None but God could have imposed a yoke so contrary to self-love; and nothing but the supreme eternal love can enable men to practice a precept so insupportable to corrupt nature. Sentiments like this are found among Asiatic writers, and in select cases were strongly applied; but as a general command this was never given by them, or any other people. It is not an absolute command in any of the books which they consider to be Divinely inspired. Sir William Jones lays by far too much stress on the casual introduction of such sentiments as this in the Asiatic writers. See his Works, vol. i. p. 168, where the sentiment is connected with circumstances both extravagant and unnatural; and thus it is nullified by the pretended recommendation.
Bless them that curse you - Ευλογειτε, give them good words for their bad words. See the note on Genesis 2:3.
Do good to them that hate you - Give your enemy every proof that you love him. We must not love in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Pray for them which despitefully use you - Επηρεαζοντων from επι against, and Αρης Mars, the heathen god of war. Those who are making continual war upon you, and constantly harassing and calumniating you. Pray for them - This is another exquisitely reasonable precept. I cannot change that wicked man's heart; and while it is unchanged he will continue to harass me: God alone can change it: then I must implore him to do that which will at once secure the poor man's salvation, and contribute so much to my own peace.
And persecute you - Διωκοντων, those who press hard on and pursue you with hatred and malice accompanied with repeated acts of enmity.
In this verse our Lord shows us that a man may be our enemy in three different ways.
Secondly, in his words by cursing or using direful imprecations (καταρωμενους ) against us.
Thirdly, in his actions, by continually harassing and abusing us.
He shows us also how we are to behave to those.
The hatred of the first we are to meet with love.
The cursings or evil words of the second, we are to meet with good words and blessings.
And the repeated injurious acts of the third, we are to meet with continual prayer to God for the man's salvation.
Love your enemies - There are two kinds of love, involving the same general feeling, or springing from the same fountain of good-will to all mankind, but differing so far as to admit of separation in idea. The one is that feeling by which we approve of the conduct of another, commonly called the love of complacency; the other, that by which we wish well to the person of another, though we cannot approve his conduct. This is the love of benevolence, and this love we are to bear toward our enemies. It is impossible to love the conduct of a person who curses and reviles us, who injures our person or property, or who violates all the laws of God; but, though we may hate his conduct, and suffer keenly when we are affected by it, yet we may still wish well to the person; we may pity his madness and folly; we may speak kindly of him and to him; we may return good for evil; we may aid him in the time of trial; we may seek to do him good here and to promote his eternal welfare hereafter, Romans 12:17-20. This seems to be what is meant by loving our enemies; and this is a special law of Christianity, and the highest possible test of piety, and probably the most difficult of all duties to be performed.
Bless them that curse you - The word “bless” here means to “speak well of” or “speak well to:” - not to curse again or to slander, but to speak of those things which we can commend in an enemy; or, if there is nothing that we can commend, to say nothing about him. The word “bless,” spoken of God, means to regard with favor or to confer benefits, as when God is said to bless his people. When we speak of our “blessing God,” it means to praise Him or give thanks to Him. When we speak of blessing people, it “unites” the two meanings, and signifies to confer favor, to thank, or to speak well of.
Despitefully use you - The word thus translated means, first, to injure by prosecution in law; then, wantonly and unjustly to accuse, and to injure in any way. This seems to be its meaning here.
Persecute - See the notes at Matthew 5:10.
Christ enjoins upon His followers to “love your enemies, ... do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He would have us love those who oppress us and do us harm. We must not express in words and acts the spirit they manifest, but improve every opportunity to do them good. UL 220.3Read in context »
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We Are Not to Irritate Sundaykeeping Neighbors—There should be a constant walking in all humility. There should be no just occasion for our enemies to charge us with being lawless and defying the laws through any imprudence of our own. We should not feel it enjoined upon us to irritate our neighbors who idolize Sunday by making determined efforts to bring labor on that day before them purposely to exhibit an independence. Our sisters need not select Sunday as the day to exhibit their washing. There should be no noisy demonstration. Let us consider how fearful and terribly sad is the delusion that has taken the world captive and by every means in our power seek to enlighten those who are our bitterest enemies. If there is the acceptance of the principles of the inworking of the Holy Ghost which he [the Christian] must have to fit him for heaven, he will do nothing rashly or presumptuously to create wrath and blasphemy against God.... 3SM 399.1Read in context »