Why Should I Love My Enemies?

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a sermon Wang Yi, pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, preached on Matthew 5:38-48 before he was imprisoned in 2018. Over the next weeks, we will eventually publish the entire sermon, which is an in-depth meditation on what it really means to love those who hate us.


38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Mt. 5:38-48

Why Should I Love My Enemies?

A preacher once shared with me that, years ago, his father called him about a sister in the church who asked to borrow money. His father inquired, “Why? What is the matter?” The sister responded, “Don’t ask, just lend it to me,” citing the Scripture we just read: “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

Who are our enemies? What is love? These terms are practically antonyms. They are inherently opposed, like two people who cannot stand each other and argue upon meeting. Yet, in this passage, Jesus commands, “Love your enemies.””

This preacher’s father thought about it all evening, but couldn’t figure it out. He called his son and asked, “Is this how we should interpret this verse? Should we lend without questioning?”

Today, we will explore the passage that deals with challenging concepts such as revenge, hatred, enemies, and being struck. It also covers positive aspects like love, loving your enemies, and blessing those who persecute and curse you. Both the negative and positive sides of this are sharp and striking. May the Lord help us.

Did Jesus Really Teach This?

There are two crucial questions in this passage: First, who are our enemies? Second, what is love? These terms are practically antonyms. They are inherently opposed, like two people who cannot stand each other and argue upon meeting. Yet, in this passage, Jesus commands, “Love your enemies.” Why should we love our enemies? Who are these enemies? How can we possibly love them?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not describing our current state, but the state of life we should have in heaven. There is a significant gap between these two. Jesus’ words always place this gap before us, creating pressure. Some say this method of teaching, a tradition among rabbis, often involved hyperbole – not falsehood, but a way to shock us because we live in the current state, having forgotten and become numb to what our lives should ideally be like.

Christ’s words pull us out of our current state and all its concepts, as if pulling us out of water, or lifting us above foggy skies to see what the sky should look like. God’s creation is not meant to live under these clouds.


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If you only love those who love you, that’s not really love.


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Some modern educators might say that Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount resemble shock education. We hope our preaching can shock our current thoughts and the life we take for granted – a life mired in mud, darkness, bitterness, resentment, and sorrow. This shock makes us realize that the literal meaning of his words, such as “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well,” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” puts pressure on us because their literal meaning is almost too clear to require explanation.

Yet, on the other hand, perhaps Jesus’ words should not be taken only at face value. The sister who borrowed money interpreted it literally: “Brother Zhang, do not delay in lending; why so many questions? I want to borrow, just lend; do not be afraid. Just believe, do not fear.” Did Jesus really teach this? If taken literally, should we not ask for reasons and just lend, not expecting repayment? Perhaps some of you struggle: does anyone actually live like this?

Misinterpretation of Love

Thus, we return to our two questions: Who is the enemy? What is love?

Consider this: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Then, “Love your enemies.” From a negative perspective, if you only love those who love you, that’s not really love. So, what is love? Although the same word is used, the love of reciprocation is not the love Jesus defines here. He defines love as “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In today’s society, the greatest crisis is not simply a lack or devaluation of love. In a sense, today’s society highly values love; love is a central theme. Whether on national television, in street advertisements, or in schools, the word “love” is not absent from our society. People talk about and call for love. The real crisis lies in defining love outside of Christ. The famous writer Kafka once said, “What is love? It’s quite simple: anything that elevates, enriches, and enriches our lives is love; anything that leads to all heights and depths is love.

How do you feel about his definition? It’s similar to how society today defines love – as something that satisfies us, makes us feel good, comforts us, fulfills our desires, achieves our personal goals, and realizes our dreams. Love is about feeling our lives have reached certain heights and depths.

In today’s society, the greatest crisis is not simply a lack or devaluation of love. In a sense, today’s society highly values love; love is a central theme… People talk about and call for love. The real crisis lies in defining love outside of Christ.

I once told a story about two ways of teaching archery. One person says, “Come learn archery with me, and I guarantee you’ll hit the bullseye every time.” He teaches you to shoot an arrow at the wall, then run and draw a target around the arrow. Shoot first, then draw the target, ensuring every shot is a bullseye.

In today’s world, individuals can act according to their own definition of goodness, but struggle to embody the goodness as defined by God. Love is not absent in our world; if we consider the love that only extends to those who love us back, it certainly exists. I recall a story from my childhood about a murderer who also possessed love. In a film I watched, the murderer killed out of love for his mother and his child, driven by their suffering and need. People can love according to their own definitions, even committing murder for those they love. However, they find it challenging to love according to the sacrificial love demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the cross. This love, as Jesus described in the scriptures, involves loving one’s enemies.

When discussing the Sermon on the Mount, it becomes clear these teachings are not meant to be followed literally. For instance, the hyperbolic commands to cut off one’s hand or pluck out an eye are not literal directives from Jesus, nor are they promises that doing so will grant entry into the kingdom of heaven. These examples are meant to address matters of the heart rather than physical actions. The distinction between Christianity and other religions lies here: other religions might say sinners must physically mutilate themselves for their sins, but Christianity preaches that it was the blood of the Lamb, not human blood or self-mutilation, that God recognized when he passed over during the Exodus.


Wang Yi is a Chengdu pastor who was arrested on December 9, 2018, as part of a crackdown focused on his church, Early Rain. He was sentenced to nine years in December of 2019, and is currently in prison.  

Pray for Chinese Christians to have strength to love those who persecute them.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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