But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44.
We all have enemies. I used to think I didn’t have any. After all, I like people and (in general) people like me. When Matthew 5:44 tells us to love our enemies, I usually think about BIG enemies–you know, like the people throughout history who have tortured and killed Christians for their faith. When Jesus tells us to pray for those who persecute us, I usually respond by praying for the salvation of those people.
But I think Jesus’ message for us in this passage is deeper than just that. The Greek word here is echthros, which means “hated, odious, the person to whom one is hostile.” This makes me pause. Are there people in my life whom I hate? Or, if that feels a bit too strong, are there people in my life who seem odious to me? Are there people in my life who are hostile toward me, or I am hostile towards?
Unfortunately, the answer here is yes. There are people I struggle to be around or be at peace with. Even worse, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who fit into this category. I don’t get along perfectly with everyone I know, or even everyone whom I call brother or sister in Christ.
In fact, I sometimes experience the greatest hostility in my relationships with other believers. We are united together by Christ, and yet there is so much that seeks to divide us. Our own interests and desires often pit us against one another, causing us to feel and act more like enemies than family.
So, let’s think about loving and praying for our enemies in the context of that brother or sister in Christ. The one who hurt us. The one who disagreed with us. Or the one we hurt, and we don’t know how to interact with anymore. How do we pray for this person, this image-bearer of Christ to whom we are opposed, hostile, or odious?
The temptation so often in this scenario is to “pray a plan” at God. You know, the whole “God loves this person but I have a perfect plan for them” kind of thing. We know what that person needs! They need to see reason, they need to see how we’re right, how they’re wrong, etc. So we pray that God would show them the error of their ways, humble them, lead them to repentance, show them how we’re right, and cause them to apologize to us.
Friends, I don’t think this is what Jesus has in mind when He tells us to love our enemies and pray for them. Later in the same chapter in verses 46-47, He says, “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?” Jesus is calling Christians to truly love others–which means putting them first.
We shouldn’t be focused on us when we’re praying for those who fit into our “enemy” category. We should be focused on them. All of the ways we’re tempted to pray for them are really all about us–about our being vindicated and feeling better. If we’re truly to pray for them, then our focus should be on what will help them, not us. And what will help them most is becoming more like Jesus.
How can we pray for others to become more like Jesus? Assuming we’re praying for believers, let’s take some notes from the Apostle Paul and how he prays for others. He consistently opens his letters by asking for grace and peace to them, and he often thanks God for his readers.
Grace – Ask God to fill their lives with His grace, that they would know it on a deep, intimate level. When we truly know grace, the natural overflow is to show grace to others. Pray for this level of knowledge for our fellow believers.
Peace – Ask God to fill their lives with His peace. True peace can only come from knowing God intimately, from trusting Him completely. When we truly know this peace, we can stand strong in the midst of the storms life throws at us.
Thanks – Thank God for your enemies. Thank Him for making them in His image, thank Him for the good that they have done, and thank Him for saving them
Paul also consistently prays for believers to grow in their spiritual understanding and love.
Spiritual understanding – Pray for your enemies to be filled with God’s wisdom and understanding as they read His Word. Pray that they would fall deeper in love with His Word, allowing it to penetrate their hearts. Ask God to give them enlightenment not just in a head-knowledge way, but in a transformative, action-inducing way. Pray that their understanding of God’s Word would transform every aspect of their lives.
Love – Pray for your enemies to deeply know God’s love for them. Pray that it would fill them and overflow into fruit that makes their love for God and others obvious to everyone around them.
As we read through the New Testament, we see many examples of how the early church struggled to get along with one another, and fittingly, we see many examples of how to pray for one another. This list is just a beginning–there is so much more to be found as we read through Paul’s letters.
Take some time right now to pray for the person God brought to your mind while you read this article–and maybe try starting by thanking God for them.
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