“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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

In these verses, Jesus quoted a Scripture His audience knew: “You shall love your neighbor” (see Lev. 19:18).

Jesus also included an additional part of the saying people knew but which had no basis in Scripture. The command to hate your enemy was a twisting of the command to love one’s neighbors. Because we find it easy to despise our enemies, we can understand why even the religious people of Jesus’ day thought it was right to hate their enemies.

Jesus reframed the command to love your neighbor by putting no limits on who was one’s neighbor. Neighbors include even our enemies and persecutors. Jesus expanded the command by saying love your enemies. Jesus then gave a specific example of love for one’s enemies: pray for those who persecute you. Christ Himself was the ultimate model of this.

While He hung on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Though Jesus never did wrong, He was not exempt from being a target of hatred. Yet, He set the ultimate example for us when He showed love to His enemies by forgiving even those who crucified Him.

• Who are your “enemies”? What would it look like to pray for and bless them?

• Why does our flesh fight against what Jesus commands here? How can we strive to show obedience to Jesus and not give in to the flesh?

• Spend some time praying for those who persecute the church today.