Love Your Enemies Meaning in Matthew 5:44 Explained - Importance (2024)

It is something that is easy to say and nearly impossible to do: love your enemies. In this article, we hope we can help unpack the meaning of two critical passages that guide us in this area: Matthew 6:44 and Luke 6:27. We will seek to understand the presenting issues and context that brought about that statement from our Lord Jesus and discover the meaning for our lives. “What are the real ways that believers can love their enemies?”

What Does 'Love Your Enemies' Mean in Matthew 6:44

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." -Matthew 6:43-45

In this passage, Jesus is seated before a crowd and teaching the Word of God that is being fulfilled in His own person. John Donne (1572-1631), the poet-preacher of St. Paul’s, London, wrote of Matthew 5: “All the articles of our religion, all the canons of our church, all the injunctions of our princes, all the homilies of our fathers, all the body of divinity, is in these three chapters, in this one Sermon on the Mount.”1The Sermon on the Mount, on a hill north of Galilee, has been called a radical re-interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures by Jesus. As the late Dr. John Stott wrote, In each antithesis (‘You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …’) he rejected the easy-going tradition of the scribes, reaffirmed the authority of Old Testament Scripture, and drew out the full and exacting implications of God’s moral law.2So, we can say that the presenting issues we observe in the text have to do with a misunderstanding of loving one’s enemies. This remains a challenge for our generation, as well.

'Love Your Enemies' Meaning in Luke 6:27

The other contextual factor that exists in Jesus’ statement in the sermon on the mount is pride, position, and power. These are people who are under the oppressive regime of the Roman empire. This humbling situation is magnified by the appointed Jewish governors and other public officials who are seen as turncoats. These, like Matthew, and Zacchaeus, were tax collectors. They and other unscrupulous figures who use their delegated authority from Rome to fleece their own people represent an existential threat to Israel’s identity. This undesirable state creates a culture of suspicion, intrigue, concealment, treachery, and sabotage casting a shadow on unity, and turning a nation into a divided people. How easily a unified people become “Balkanized” (broken into competing groups, divided) when pride and self-interests supersede love and a common heritage in God.

We are also concerned with Luke 6:27: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

The passage in Luke 6 refers to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plains.” The Lord Jesus had descended the mount after a night of prayer. A crowd awaited. They wanted more teaching, more application for living, more understanding, and, thus, more hope. Jesus began to teach a message very similar to the Sermon on the Mount. Dr. Luke’s “Sermon on the Plains,” is shorter than the Sermon on the Mount. According to David E. Holwerd in The Lectionary Commentary, “Luke’s sermon is much shorter (30 verses to Matthew’s 107), and it contains only four beatitudes compared to Matthew’s eight.”Yet, both of these divine sermons have the same goal. As David Holwerda wrote of Luke 6:17-26: “Thus both the beatitudes and the woes [of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plains] are intended to shape the lives of disciples who live in this world as citizens of God’s kingdom.”

3 Lessons on Real Ways to Love Your Enemies

In both Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27, Jesus calls for believers to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We can learn how to apply Jesus’ command in our own lives by following the fullness of the teaching. In both passages, Jesus provides the theological necessity for loving our enemies, as well as the blessed consequence of obedience. These three components of our Savior’s sermons provide practical ways that we can love and forgive our “enemies.”

Lesson 1: Remember the Concept of “Enemy” Is Not a Permanent State but a Temporary Position

There was nothing wrong with the Old Testament teaching of recognizing the enemies of God. But the casual, easy interpretation by the Pharisees and the Sadducees led the people of Israel to see all the Gentile nations as prominent and perennial enemies. Hatred of others is a useful tool used by ungodly authorities to create a unity based on rage, roots of bitterness, and the past sins of others. Jesus taught that we, who were enemies of God, are now called friends of God, through Jesus Christ. Moreover, those who persecute us today may, in God’s grace, become those who protect us tomorrow. Therefore, we are taught by Jesus in the same passages to pray for them. We must always remember Saint Paul; he was the persecutor of the believers – the enemy of the Saints — who became the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Always remember that life in the community of man is not divided into the 'Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.' We are in no permanent position of hatred and enmity with others. Because of the love of God in Christ and the transforming power of the gospel, many who curse God today will be preaching His Word tomorrow.

Lesson 2: We Must Realize That We, Too, Were Once Enemies of God

The Lord Jesus says that when we love our enemies, we prove that we are His children. Yet, His children—that is, you and I—are children by holy adoption. God adopted His enemies to be His sons and daughters. Think on what is, perhaps, the most famous verse in the Bible: John 3:16. Read beyond verse 16 to consume the fullness of the meaning:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

God saves because we need saving! If we look upon those who oppose, hurt, or persecute us as irredeemable, unchangeable Creatures of the Black Lagoon that are undeserving of our love and our forgiveness, then we must quickly run to the cross! Meditate on the truth that is proclaimed throughout all of the Bible and personified in the person of our Lord: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield (1851-1921) of old Princeton reminded us that the greatest truth of John 3:16 is that God pursues those who rebelled against Him that He might bless them. David was a type of this kind of searching love when he returned to Jerusalem. “And David said, ‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake’” (2 Samuel 9:1)? We might hate the wicked ways of those around us as they represent an affront to God’s holiness. However, those living without Christ are not unreachable. Pray for them. Pray that God will help you to love them and forgive them as you remember how God loved and forgave you.

Lesson 3: We Love Our Enemies So That We Might Please the God Who Loved Us

Jesus emphasizes the reality of reward in loving others. Luke 6:35-36 states, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The practical implication of this teaching is clear: There is great reward in loving our enemies and forgiving them for their sins against us.

Several years ago I wrote a book called Hit by Friendly Fire: What to do when other believers hurt you. The thesis of the book is simply is this: as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, the cross of Christ was transformed from an instrument of shame to a sign of salvation. Such radical gospel transformation is, now, the operating hypothesis for the people of God. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones taught, we should not be surprised when unbelievers are converted to Christ. We should be surprised when they are not. The gospel is, like C.S. Lewis’ Aslan, “on the move!” When faced with the enemies of God, it is best to take those who have hurt us or even persecutors and leave them at the foot of the cross in prayer. To continue hating, resenting, or holding a grudge against another person is to remain on the cross. There is no transformation in such scenarios. There is only greater pain.

When we follow the rich, life-giving teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, we become spirits set free, free from yesterday’s pain, free from the ugliness of sin that stains and infects our relationships, free from the life-crippling burden of unforgiveness. To love as Christ loved us is to receive and share the reward of such love: new life.

There is no reason for you to remain on a painful cross of unlovingness, or in the shame-shrouded tomb of lifelessness. Christ loves you. He forgives you as you come to Him. You come down from the cross, out of the tomb, and are, like the Lord, renewed to eternal life. And that is not only how to love your enemies, but also why we must love them. There is no other alternative for one who knows such love in one’s own life. This is why Paul writes, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV).


Further Reading

What Did Jesus Really Mean by 'Love Your Enemies'?

What Does it Mean to 'Love Your Enemies'?

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Tinnakorn Jorruang / EyeEm

Love Your Enemies Meaning in Matthew 5:44 Explained - Importance (1)Michael A. Milton (PhD, Wales) is a long-time Presbyterian minister (PCA) and a regular contributor to Salem Web Network. In addition to founding three churches, and the call as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, Dr. Milton is a retired Army Chaplain (Colonel). He is the recipient of the Legion of Merit. Milton has also served as chancellor and president of seminaries and is the author of more than thirty books. He has composed and performed original music for five albums. He and his wife, Mae, reside in Western North Carolina. His most recent book is a second edition release: Hit by Friendly Fire: What to do when Another Believer Hurts You(Resource Publications, 2022). To learn more visit and subscribe:

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy-to-read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. We hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in your life today.

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  • Love One Another
  • Blessed Are the Meek

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Love Your Enemies Meaning in Matthew 5:44 Explained - Importance (2)

Love Your Enemies Meaning in Matthew 5:44 Explained - Importance (2024)


Love Your Enemies Meaning in Matthew 5:44 Explained - Importance? ›

We are supposed to love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us. That's a tall order for even the most righteous Christian. We all have to cope with them—people who seem to delight in making our lives miserable; people who detest who we are, whose we are, and what we stand for as Christians.

Why is it important to love your enemies? ›

Jesus very clearly spells out why it's important to love our enemies. It's so we may be “children of [y]our Father in heaven.” We don't love those who hate us to get what we want or to manipulate a situation. We do it because that's what children of heaven do. That's what it means to be citizens of God's kingdom.

What is the message of love your enemies? ›

He taught extensively on the subject starting with Luke 6:27-28 and he was crystal clear: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “ He is telling us to love our enemies and treat them with kindness, blessings, and prayer.

What does Jesus mean when he tells us to love our enemies? ›

Thus to love your enemy is to obey God's law with respect to them. So we do not steal from, murder, commit adultery with, or lie, about even our enemies. St. Paul is clear about the nature of love in Romans 13:10, stating that love is the fulfillment of the law.

Why does God teach us to love our enemies? ›

There are two reasons for us to love our enemies. One is simply because God said to, but the other is because God loved us first. It was when we were still God's enemies (Colossians 1:21 and Romans 5:10) that He demonstrated His love for us. Through Jesus (Romans 5:8) God's love brought salvation to us.

Why is it important to keep your enemies closer? ›

Sun Tzu advises that it is wise to keep your friends and enemies close because these are people it is important to know and understand. If you want to be victorious in battle you should know your enemy better than you know yourself so you can always be ahead of him and wise to what he may be planning.

What does the Bible mean by enemies? ›

In the Bible, my enemy is someone who does not like me, someone who wants to do me harm, never someone I don't like or to whom I want to do harm. Jesus doesn't allow us to be that way. In fact, He said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44).

What is the message of Matthew 5 44? ›

In verse 44, he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” So love intercedes in prayer for our enemies. Think of Stephen, the first Christian martyr in the book of Acts, praying for the very people killing him, asking that the Lord would forgive them.

What does love your enemies for they tell you your faults mean? ›

The aphorism “Love your Enemies, for they tell your Faults” not only reflects Franklin's belief in the essential importance of listening to your critics, but also the idea that by listening to your enemies one can improve your own material success.

Who are the three enemies of the believer? ›

In Christian theology, the world, the flesh, and the devil (Latin: mundus, caro, et diabolus; Greek: ό κοσμος, ή σαρξ, και ό διαβολος) have been singled out "by sources from St Thomas Aquinas" to the Council of Trent, as "implacable enemies of the soul".

How does Jesus love his enemy? ›

Christ loved his enemies by feeding them, teaching them, and having compassion on them even when he knew they would later kill him (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 12:15; Matt. 14:13-21).

What is the full verse of love your enemies? ›

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44).

What does love your enemies mean in Luke 6 27 36? ›

As Christian people, we need to learn how to deal with those we can identify as our enemies. Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you.” That is what it means to love your enemy: do good to those who hate you and bless those who curse you.

What is the meaning of Proverbs 25 21? ›

So, taken together, these verses suggest – when I see my enemy struggling with something (hungry, thirsty), I should do something to help (food, drink). In doing so, I can really destroy my enemy – destroy them by making them my friend. As the modern wise saying goes – “kill them with kindness!”

What is the meaning of turn the other cheek? ›

This quote from the Sermon on the Mount is often shortened to the cliché “turn the other cheek.” It is a convenient excuse for inaction; a rationalization for being passive and accepting whatever injustices or unfair treatment we witness or experience.

What does Matthew 5 43 48 mean? ›

In this gospel, it teaches us to love and accept our enemies. Do not hold any hatred. Pray for the people who hurt you for He knows the right thing to do. Treat people the way you want to be treated — whether it's an ally or an enemy. Your kindness will be rewarded for you are doing what the Father desires.

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