Matthew 5:43–48: “Love Your Enemies”
In Jesus’ final section in his exposition on the law, our Lord touches on perhaps the most difficult demand of the law: to love our enemies. No longer are we talking about our relationships with those closest to us—our brothers, our sisters, our spouses, and our friends. Now, Jesus says that we must even love our enemies, since our heavenly Father loves his enemies. Here, Jesus draws all of his teaching on the law into one imperative that not only summarizes this section, but the whole of his exposition on the law: be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
1. How did the traditional teaching that Jesus quotes in v. 43 narrow and change the requirements of the Old Testament? What effect would this teaching have had in the lives of the people? What in the Old Testament justifies the new teaching that Jesus gives in v. 44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? What effect should this teaching have in our own lives? What is one relationship where this command is difficult for you to keep?
2. How does our Father in heaven love even his enemies (v. 45)? What does it mean for us to love our enemies as sons of our Father in heaven? How does our resemblance to God in our love for our enemies tie in to what it means for us to be created in the image of God? Why does hating our enemies cause us to resemble them, rather than God (v. 46–47)? Where do you need to repent from justifying hatred in your own life?
3. What does Jesus mean when he tells us that we “must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48)? In regard to loving our enemies, what does “perfect” look like? How does this standard of “perfect” relate to all the other areas of the law that Jesus has been teaching about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17–42)? Where are you tempted to legalism in looking for a loophole to avoid the “perfect” requirements of God’s law?
4. How has Jesus loved his enemies (Rom. 5:10)? How does Jesus’ love for his enemies inform how we should understand the “perfect” requirements of the law and the nature of the gospel? How does the gospel help us to avoid the legalistic impulse to minimize the requirements of the law? Where are you still trying to be “perfect” on your own? How does the gospel both free you from the condemnation of the law and lead you to grow in greater conformity to Christ’s image?