You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. … You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:38, 43-44
Follow the example of your Father in heaven by loving your enemies; speak well of them, help them, and pray for their needs. Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.
This teaching of Yeshua is one of the most widely known yet least practiced of all of his precepts. This is because it is non-intuitive and frankly, difficult. It involves two aspects, both an inward motivation and an outward practicality.
If someone is forcing you to do something against your will, double your response. By expending twice the effort in a positive manner than they demanded of you from a negative motivation, you will in essence be overcoming their evil intent with a double measure of good. Additionally, if you are inwardly motivated for their good by praying for them and their needs, you are removed from your reflexive, emotional response of like for like. You are now placing yourself in a frame of mind that becomes concerned for their welfare where you can truly learn of their needs and act with genuine intention.
The typical human response in relationships is to respond in kind to how we are treated by others. A nobler aspiration would be to treat all people with an equal measure of kindness. However, Yeshua calls us to the highest level of interaction: not just to be kind to all, but to expend twice the effort and concern over those who are least deserving of it. This is true love, and the formula for eradicating evil in the world.
It’s simple math: a negative number plus a positive number of equal value only amounts to zero. It takes a positive number of higher value to end with a positive result.
Forgiveness is a bridge to positive, loving responses. When we intentionally overlook a personal injustice, we are freed to be obedient to God’s command to double our loving actions. If we do not exercise forgiveness, we may attempt to be obedient, but our actions can become only hollow shadows with no real substance.
The motivation Yeshua provides us for practicing this kind of forgiveness and love is because when we do so, we are mimicking our heavenly Father. God doesn’t ask us to do anything he himself is unwilling to do. If he blesses the wicked with life and rain and abundance, it is not because they are deserving, but perhaps in their abundance they will recognize his blessing, turn from their ways, and honor him for it.
The apostle Paul calls this God’s “testimony of goodness.” When interacting with crowds in Iconium and Athens, he speaks about the nature of the true God, and he relates how God blesses them.
Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.Acts 14:17
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.Acts 17:26-27
If we are to represent God as his children, we should be doing what he does. Unfortunately, in our human quest for justice and fairness, we stumble over what we personally think is fair and right based on our limited perspective, but that is not our place. Yeshua encourages us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Our intentional actions based on forgiveness and love, then, become our personal testimony of goodness. As a result, God is honored, and all evil intentions can be overcome with love.