Matthew 5:44 - But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! (NLT)
In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught his hearers to love and pray for those who had mistreated or persecuted them. Those who had come to hear this Sermon on the Mount had heard it said in the past that it was acceptable to hate their enemies. However, Jesus showed them a new way to respond – a way that was counter to their natural way of thinking.
There are Old Testament examples of individuals who chose to forgive and love those who were their enemies. The story of Joseph in Genesis, for example, demonstrates the forgiveness one family member extended to those who had sold him into slavery (Genesis 37 – 50). David also refused to take revenge against King Saul when the king had attempted to kill him (1 Samuel 24).
Two thousand years later, we often still struggle with this concept. First, let us begin thinking about Jesus’ second statement, “Pray for those who persecute you!” Jesus probably did not have in mind praying a “Lord, give them the judgment they deserve!” type of prayer. C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said, “I pray because… it changes me…” Praying for your enemy may not actually change that individual; however, praying opens you up to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
As we allow the Holy Spirit to do His work as we pray, then we will find the grace to love and forgive our enemies – those who have mistreated and persecuted us. Please know that forgiving another is not saying that what they did was right. Jesus forgave those who crucified Him. Recognizing the reality that Jesus paid all the consequences and punishment for our sins gives us a judicially right basis on which we can extend forgiveness to others. When we know the extent of God’s forgiveness toward us, how can we not be inclined to forgive those who have hurt us?
Is there anyone to whom we have resisted extending forgiveness? For our prayer focus today, let’s pray for them. Pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources God will empower them with inner strength through his Spirit. Ask the Lord for Christ to dwell in their hearts by faith; that they would be rooted and grounded in love and be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height and really know the love of Christ.
Paul prayed a similar prayer for the church in Ephesians 3:16-19. As you pray in faith for these, believe that the truth of Ephesians 3:20-21 will become a reality in your life. “Now unto him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.”