We might think for a moment, "Who are our enemies?" Many of us believe we have no enemies. However, an enemy might be someone we thought was a friend, a family member with a long-held grudge, or even a brother or sister in Christ. An enemy can be someone we feel does not like us and has hurt or mistreated us. Whether we consider them enemies or not, there is no denying their hostility. In the same verse, Jesus goes on to expand His list of hostiles: "Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."
We have probably all been through this particular trial and test as we grow to love one another as brethren. The church is just like a big family, where people can be hurt or feel mistreated in one way or another. Conflicts, misunderstandings, and slights—real or imagined—occur in every group of human beings, Christian or not.
It is very difficult to "love," "bless," "do good," and "pray" for a person who has hurt us deeply. It goes against our human nature to behave positively toward someone we feel deserves shame, censure, and punishment! Putting this principle into practice is a high hurdle for any Christian to clear.
Yet, as Christians, we know that forgiveness is one of the keys that Jesus taught for healing. Not only is it a teaching—it is also a command. Christ admonishes us to keep this charge in His model prayer in Matthew 6:12: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Alternatively, it could be said, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us" (see Luke 11:4).
Jesus comments further on this in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
In Matthew 18:21-22, we find another example: "Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." In other words, we must always be willing to forgive a brother.
The Tongue: Our Tool of Power
God alone has the wisdom and power and the right to take vengeance. Regarding war, Exodus 14:14 says, "The LORD will fight for you." War has never solved man's problems, and God promises that those who live by violence will die by it (Matthew 26:52). Christians must treat others with kindness, gentleness, and love (Luke 6:31; Galatians 5:14-15).
Martin G. Collins
The Sixth Commandment
This truly goes against our human nature, and it definitely takes thought and genuine concern to pray for blessing and good to come to one's enemy. Praying for soundness and fairness in thinking, and working to make sure we do no harm to that individual are difficult, yet in preparing us for our future responsibilities, this is what God wants from us.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Out of the Abundance of Our Prayers
We cannot be perfect apart from others. The Bible links perfection with human relationships. Christ urges us to be as perfect as our Father in heaven and ties the process to how we treat each other. The Kingdom of God is about eternal, peaceful relationships. We cannot withdraw from people and still develop the necessary relationship skills, just as God never leaves us but continues to work with us. Life would be easier for Him if He ignored us, but He works on, helping us develop our relationships with Him. He is the One who works perfection in us.
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Going On to Perfection
Jesus says this to help us grasp the marvelous, obliging, and almost overwhelming generosity and magnanimity of God's approach toward His creation. He acts this way despite all that we have thoughtlessly and self-centeredly done against Him personally and His creation, which certainly includes other people both converted and unconverted. Regardless, He still gives and gives some more. Why? Because this is the way that He is by nature, setting us an example of what He wants us to become in our natures too.
Do not be misled, though. He is not a thoughtless, wealthy, spendthrift sap. He does all this giving with purposeful wisdom, and especially so with His children that He is now preparing for His Family Kingdom.
When dealing with His children, His giving nature does not change. It is, however, more directed and focused on their preparation for their future in His Kingdom. Yes, He directly tests us, but because we are the apple of His eye, He provides us with the comfort and encouragement of I Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Thus, we are given assurance that even in the midst of the difficulties necessary for our preparation to inherit the Kingdom as co-heirs with Christ, He will generously supply our needs.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)
These verses contain perhaps the most startling, sublime statement Christ made. Jesus does not mean that we resolve to like everyone, but that we act in goodwill toward those we do not like as well as those we do. This command seems unreasonable and absurd, but only because of our carnality. Christ desires all to be happy. Both the hater and the hated are miserable to some degree, and the misery will not cease until the hatred dissolves. The antidote to hatred is love.
Some have described this love as an unconquerable goodwill, an invincible benevolence. This love does not merely involve feeling, but also the will. With this love, our concern for another's good overcomes any feelings of offense, resentment, and retaliation. It motivates us to do good rather than react in kind to what caused our negative feelings toward the other. Only those who have the mind of Christ can do this. We must seek it from God.
In this section Christ lists three ways people show their ill-feelings toward others. Cursing indicates verbally denigrating others and working to destroy their reputation; gossiping. Hatred implies an active, passionate feeling against another. Spitefully using and persecuting means continually at war with, harassing, always being on another's case.
He also specifies three ways a Christian can combat these actions. We can bless, meaning giving good words for bad. We can also do good for our enemies, not merely restrain ourselves from retaliation. Lastly, we can pray for them and for their welfare, asking God to change their hearts so a two-way love can exist.
This is a major test for God's children. God wants us to do this so that we may resemble Him—be in His image—because this is the way He is. If a man has this love, he is like God. God shows us His love in this very manner. Despite what we do on His great green earth, the sun still shines, the rain still falls, and He is constantly providing for and working toward our salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
Two wrongs do not make a right, and in our irritated or angry impatience, we frequently say or do something just as bad or worse as was done to us! Then where are we? Often, our patience does not delay our wrath as God's does.
The obvious meaning of Paul's advice is that we should not take vengeance. In Romans 12:19, Paul repeats this more plainly:
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.
This, in turn, feeds directly into Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:39-45, where Jesus' consistent instruction is that we not set ourselves against an evil person who is injuring us, whether verbally, physically or judicially. Rather, Jesus teaches us to be willing to give the offender something that might defuse the immediate situation—and perhaps even provide some small example that will promote his eternal welfare. Patience is of great value in this respect.
This in no way means we are weak, though to them we may at first seem so. Nor does it mean that we approve of their conduct. Though we may hate their conduct and suffer keenly when it affects us, Christ tells us to bless them, meaning we should confer favor upon or give benefits to them. We can do this by wishing the person well, speaking kindly of and to him, and seeking to do him good.
Situations like this may be the most difficult test we will ever face. Patiently deferring retaliation and committing the circumstance to God's judgment are indispensable to the best possible solution. But the primary point of Jesus' instruction, however, is not how to resolve these situations, but that we may be children of our Father. By imitating God's pattern, we will resemble Him and take a giant stride toward being in His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
God's gracious gifts are just that—gracious. They are unearned and unmerited by us who have willingly sinned against Him, desecrated His beautiful creation and either ignored or neglected His awesome purpose. Despite this, His gifts of life are nonetheless unforced, an abundant manifestation of His kind nature. He does not return evil for evil; He does not bear grudges, burn with resentment, or plot to get even. Rather, He freely gives even to evil doers while He patiently works toward the completion of His purpose!
It has always been this way. Despite the Israelites' manifold sins after their rescue from Egypt, He continued to provide food, water, and protection all the way into the Promised Land. Once in the land, they continued their provocations for about another seven hundred years before He finally drove them into captivity. All the while He provided for them so abundantly that Israel became a very wealthy, albeit ungrateful, nation.
Psalm 78:37-39 records this of Israel's relationship with God:
For their heart was not steadfast with Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant. But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath; for He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 5:44:
1 Thessalonians 5:15
1 Timothy 2:3-4
1 Peter 2:17