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Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
is the author of these Sabbath School lesson study outlines. He is the Reed Larson Professor of Labor Law at Regent University School of Law. Professor Cameron has devoted his life to promoting the Gospel and defending believers. In addition to teaching at an overtly Christian law school, he continues his 40 year practice of law which is limited to the litigation of constitutional rights and religious freedom cases for employees. He holds an undergraduate degree from Andrews University and a Doctor of Law from Emory University School of Law.
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Lesson 10: Loving Our Enemies? *
Introduction: Mat Staver, a prominent American religious liberty
lawyer, likes to tell a story about me that centers on Matthew 5:44.
That text tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who
persecute us. How do religious liberty lawyers who are fighting "the
bad guys" do that? Mat suggested that when he entered into legal
battle he prayed for his opponents - that they would be confused!
That struck me as being inconsistent with the theme of Jesus'
teaching in Matthew 5. But, one day I decided to follow Mat's advice
when I was cross-examining a fellow in a deposition. The deposition
went wonderfully for "our side" because the fellow testifying against
us was confused - confused enough to tell the truth! I reported to
Mat that he was on to something. What does Jesus have in mind in
Matthew 5? Did David love Goliath? What, exactly, is our Biblical
obligation to people who are hurting us and the gospel of Christ?
Let's jump into the Bible to see what we can learn!
- Jesus' Words
- Read Matthew 5:43-45. In verse 43 the word translated
"neighbor" can also be translated "friend." What seems
more natural: to love your friend or your enemy?
- Verse 44 tells us to "love" our enemies. Could you
really love someone who was an enemy?
- Would your answer turn on what is meant by
- The word "love," at least in English, is used in many
ways that make it difficult to be precise. According
to Strong's, the Greek word used here, "agapao,"
means to love in a social or moral sense. Jesus helps
define what He means by love by giving us an
illustration in verse 45 about how God loves the evil
and unrighteous. What definition of "love" would you
give based on God's example? (The example seems to
define love as non-discriminatory treatment.)
- Would it take special effort on God's part to
keep the sun off the evil and water off the
unrighteous? (Yes. God would have to give them
- Is this example a key to understanding what God
means when He tells us to love our enemies? Are
we simply required to treat them in a non-discriminatory fashion?
- The word translated "love" in Matthew 5: 44 is
the same Greek word used in John 3:16 to
describe God's love for us, in John 3:35 to
describe God the Father's love for Jesus and in
John 11:5 to describe Jesus' love for Martha,
Mary and Lazarus. Does that seem to be simply
- Read Romans 12:14. In the introduction I mentioned praying
for confusion among my litigation opponents. How does that
fit with this text? (It does not fit very well. I consider
confusion (when I'm confused) to be a curse. Praying for
confusion among my opponents seems to be asking for them
to be cursed, not blessed.)
- Read Romans 12:17-18. Notice the instruction to "do what
is right in the eyes of everybody." How is that relevant
to the issue of loving our enemies? (If someone sees what
you did to get revenge, without knowing the reason, they
will think that your character is flawed. Admittedly it is
difficult to be reasonable when seeking revenge.)
- The Benefit of Loving Our Enemies
- You may think loving our enemies is a "no-win" situation.
Even if we manage to obey Jesus, what good, this side of
heaven, will it do to love our enemies? They are still
our enemies! Is there a practical reason for us to love
- I read a book containing the teachings of the Buddhist
spiritual leader, The Dali Lama. I was struck by the
overlap between his teachings and the teachings of Jesus
in Matthew 5. In his parallel teaching about loving our
enemies, The Dali Lama asked the following questions you
- How many people would you estimate that you have
dealt with in your life?
- Of that number, how many do you deal with on a daily
- Of that number, how many can you say are your
- If you are like most people, you have met thousands of
people over your life. But of those thousands, you
probably deal with a hundred or less on a regular basis
and a handful on a daily basis. Of those hundred, you are
unlikely to have more than one or two you consider your
"enemy." (If you have more, you may be missing other
significant teachings of the Bible!) This means that true
enemies are a rare thing. They are a scarce resource,
according to The Dali Lama, which presents you with the
opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult people!
Dealing with the few difficult people in your life allows
you to learn valuable lessons about character development
and getting along with others.
- Is this Buddhist rationale for "loving our enemies"
consistent with the Bible?
- Let's go back to Matthew. Read Matthew 5:46-48. What
reason(s) does Jesus give for loving our enemies? (Jesus
speaks both of a "reward" and being more like God.)
- What is this reward that we get for loving our
enemies? (I think it is part of our reward in heaven,
but the Buddhist suggestion of a reward here makes
sense to me too. The reason is that being perfect
like our heavenly Father sounds like perfection of
character. Our characters can be developed by dealing
well with difficult people.)
- Let's go back to Romans 12. Read Romans 12:20. What reason
are we given here for helping our enemies? ("Burning
coals" doesn't sound good for your enemy. Perhaps it means
a final judgment. Perhaps it means feeling shame for
- How does this fit with the idea of "non-discriminatory" treatment for our enemies? (This
clearly goes beyond that. We are called to do
something good for our enemies.)
- Read Romans 12:19. What reason are we given here for being
good to our enemies? (God, not us, will avenge the wrong
done to us.)
- Read Romans 12:21. One major concern about being kind to
our enemies is our worry that evil will triumph. We feel
we must challenge wrongdoing (especially when we are the
victim!) What does this text suggest is the ultimate
outcome of our dispute with our enemies? (That we will
overcome our enemies with good. We will win. The goal of
being loving to our enemies is to win against evil!)
- Payback Time!
- If you take a concordance and read all of the texts in
Psalms that contain the word "enemies," your first
reaction is that the teachings of Psalms and Jesus' Sermon
on the Mount present two radically different approaches to
dealing with our enemies. For example, the first reference
to enemies in Psalms is Psalms 3:7 "O my God! Strike all
my enemies on the jaw; Break the teeth of the wicked." Now
that sounds more like my natural heart! Punch them in the
- How can you reconcile the New Testament approach to
enemies with the Psalms' approach to enemies? (If you
look at the texts in Psalms that refer to enemies you
will see a pattern: the Psalmist consistently calls
on God for deliverance from his enemies. This is
precisely what Romans 12:19 advises when it says,
"Leave room for God's wrath [on your enemies.]")
- Let's compare again Romans 12:14 with Romans
12:19. If you, like the Psalmist, are praying
for your enemy to get his teeth knocked out by
God, how is this a blessing and not a cursing?
(This reminds me so much of righteousness by
faith. We reach out to God and trust Him for our
righteousness. When it comes to payback for our
enemies, we reach out to God and trust Him for
- Recall that in Matthew 5:48 we are told to love our
enemies so that we will become perfect like our Heavenly
Father. Is payback part of God's perfection? (One of the
last references to "enemies" in the Bible is Hebrews
10:26-27. Read this text. Clearly God is going to destroy
our mutual enemies.)
- Friend, God teaches us that we should not be in the
revenge business, but in the kindness business. We should
turn to God for "payback" against our enemies. How does
that fit the "Mat Staver prayer" for confusion among our
enemies? Although I still have trouble fitting that with
Romans 12:14, it seems to me that is generally what God
has in mind. Our conduct towards our enemies is positive.
Our way of obtaining relief from our enemies is to ask God
for justice. Will you turn your thoughts of vengeance
over to God? Will you decide today to overcome evil with
- Next week: Brothers and Sisters in the Faith.
* Copr. 2004, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.