Passage: Matthew 5:38-48
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
There are few commands more frequently admired, and yet seldom applied than Jesus’ commands to love our enemies and avoid retaliation, in Matthew 5:38-48. Jesus’ followers practiced these commands, and in doing so, they turned the world upside down. And yet what do they mean, and where can we ever find the motivation to live this way?
To “love our enemies” is to refuse revenge, and to will their good. In each of the examples Jesus gave—turning the other cheek, giving away your cloak, going the second mile—Jesus was showing a new way of responding to insult and oppression. His way involved neither becoming a doormat, on the one hand, nor responding with revenge, on the other hand (5:38-42). In ways that would have been subversive for his time, Jesus’ approach is for his followers to (with wise boundaries) lean into relationship with the ones oppressing them, in order to expose to their oppressors, the evil of their own ways, and so work for their repentance and change.
Of course, this is incredibly difficult to put into practice, and Jesus is speaking about personal relationships, not the legal system. Nevertheless, we will be motivated to love our enemies when we realize that to do so is to resemble our “Father who is in heaven” (5:45). Our heavenly Father himself loves those who are opposed to him, and he shows this love daily by bestowing good gifts like sun and rain, indiscriminately on the evil and on the good.
Ultimately Jesus himself “loved his enemies” to the uttermost. Everything he commanded us to do, he did—literally. He was slapped, stripped naked, and walked the extra mile, bearing the burden of the cross that wasn’t meant for him—all while praying for his persecutors. Out of a response of worship to Jesus, we seek to resemble him to a watching world.
One tangible way we begin to practice loving our enemies is by praying for them (5:44). When we pray for someone, we are standing before God, on their behalf, and asking for their good. As we worship Jesus, we will increasingly become people who show a radical love for our enemies.
• The Meaning of Loving Our Enemies (5:38-42)
• The Motivation to Love Our Enemies (5:43-48)
• A Method for Loving Our Enemies (5:44)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage(s): Matthew 5:38-48
The Meaning of Loving Our Enemies (5:38-42)
1) Re-read Matthew 5:38-42. How do you think people responded when they initially heard these words? How would they have been regarded?
2) Re-read Matthew 5:38-42. Pastor Bobby shared about how each of the responses to harm that Jesus commanded involved neither fighting back, nor fleeing/avoiding conflict. What might a “fight back” response have looked like in each of these scenarios? What might a “flight” (run away) response have looked like in each of these scenarios? What is your most common way of responding when you’ve been wronged?
3) In his sermon, Pastor Bobby defined loving our enemies as “refusing revenge and willing their good”. How does this definition of loving our enemies inform what “loving our enemies” is and isn’t? Does it provide added clarity for you?
4) One of the common responses to Matthew 5:38-42 is to say that what Jesus is commanding is completely impractical—it would never “work” in real life. How would you respond to the charge that Jesus’ commands in 5:38-42 are impractical? Are they?
5) Is there a situation where you need to “turn the other cheek”, “let someone have your cloak”, or “go the second mile”? What would it look like to do so? How can your brothers and sisters in Christ support you in this?
6) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby said that sometimes a group of people, rather than an individual, may feel like an “enemy” to us—a group of people has caused us harm or suffering, or who we feel are “opposed” to us. If you’re honest, are there any groups of people who you’ve found yourself regarding as “enemies”? Why? What might it look like for you to will their good?
The Motivation to Love Our Enemies (5:42-48)
7) Re-read Matthew 5:43-48. What motivation does Jesus give here for why we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?
8) Why does Jesus differentiate between what Christians are to do, and what the tax collectors and Gentiles are already doing? What point is he trying to make?
9) How did Jesus himself perfectly fulfill his own commands not to retaliate, and to love our enemies? How can seeing this help motivate us to do the same in our own lives?
A Method for Loving Our Enemies (5:44)
10) Re-read Matthew 5:44. How might praying for someone who is an “enemy” to you or who has wronged you, help you come to love them (even if you don’t “like” them)? Who can you pray for?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.