Today in the United States we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. King is remembered for his non- aggressive demonstrations for civil and social justice, but he should also be remembered as a preacher, pastor, and theologian. His PhD was in theology; he was a pastor for six years; and he was a preacher nearly all his life. In a well-known sermon, he emphasized Matthew 5:43–48 and the importance of loving one’s enemies.
In today’s text, the word love is used several times (vv. 43, 44, and 46). The word phileo conveys affection, fondness, or friendship. The word eros refers to love or passion. And agape, used here in Matthew 5:43–46, is the form of love which delights in giving and reflects God’s own nature.
Jesus takes the old Law and adds to it. Notice the contrast between the old rule (v. 43) and the new (v. 44). We are called to love (agape) and pray for our enemies. Why? Because you are not representing yourself, but “your Father in heaven” (v. 45). We are called to “be perfect” as we grow in likeness to our heavenly Father.
King preached, “It’s significant that [Jesus] does not say, ‘Like your enemy.’ Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. . . . But Jesus says, love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody. . . . And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does.”
What does it look like to love your enemies? Jesus Christ was not only the first to preach this message, but the first to live it out. Even while He was being crucified and killed He continually, unconditionally showed love.
>> I gave my students the assignment to listen to King’s I Have a Dream speech this weekend. I want to challenge you to do the same. As Christians, God calls us to love others with agape love.