Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

SermonOnTheMountMatthew 5:43-48 – “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. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

My wife and I are the proud parents of an adopted daughter. Without going into any details, as one can imagine, the reason a child is placed in foster care is due to the inability of the biological parents or immediate family to provide the proper or necessary level of care the child deserves. So needless to say, this can involve improper behavior on the part of the biological parents.

Why parents decide to reject their role as guardians and caretakers of their children is a subject for an entirely different discussion, but let’s just say the underlying reason is sin. Their desire to pursue the urge of their sinful nature overtakes any desire to show love for their child. In turn, they take out their sinful desires on their child in any number of ungodly ways, resulting in the child being removed from the home if sufficient evidence demonstrates that the home is no longer a healthy environment for the child. In essence, the biological parents turn from fulfilling their role as guardians to being enemies of their child through their complete lack of concern for their child’s well-being.

As adoptive parents, we face the dilemma of being our child’s parents, yet not her biological parents. The memories of the past still remain. While counseling and the work of wonderful social workers and foster parents, along with the work of God in her own life have helped our kiddo move on in large part from the past, her past is still part of her life, though it no longer defines her future.

Having a godly attitude towards those who presented themselves as an enemy to our daughter has been one of the most difficult challenges we have faced. To be quite frank, there has been times when, after looking up on the internet to see their faces for myself, there was the thought of “Boy if I see them on a deserted road I would (you fill in the blank).” As time has gone by, I have contemplated more and more the reality that such a thought is wholly ungodly and must be taken captive and under subjection of God.

What does Jesus tell us to do? He commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This is truly an incredible statement and one I would argue most of us overlook. Even if we never act out on our mental impulses, all of us, if we were truly honest, would have to admit, we have shown less love towards our enemies and those who have done or wanted to do us harm, rather than doing that which Jesus commands, namely showing the love of God to our “enemies.”

This is crucifying the flesh 101. Our flesh cries out in a desire for revenge. It cries out with the desire to strike back at those who have harmed us or those we love. My friends, that is not godly behavior as it demonstrates the lust of the flesh rather than anything even remotely related to a fruit of the Spirit. It will be very difficult to crucify the flesh and to repent of this ungodly harboring of hatred and contempt for our child’s biological parents. It will be a challenge to get down on our knees and to pray for them. With that said, there really is no way around it. If we love God, we will obey His commandments. One of those commandments is to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.

The old saying “There but for the grace of God, go I”, seems rather fitting in this type of situation. There was a time when we thumbed our noses at God and were enemies of God. What did God do for us when we were in that place? “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Think about that for a second. When we were enemies of God which is what a life lusting of after the flesh is, God showed His love and mercy for us by sending His Son to atone for our sins and to restore our relationship with God. So what does that mean for us in our day to day life? Remember that we are commanded by God to be holy as He is holy. Part of that involves doing what God did on our behalf and what Jesus did on the cross. Remember what Jesus said to His Father as He was giving His life on our behalf on the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

It will be very hard to think anything positive towards our child’s biological parents. What they did was deplorable as they rejected their God given role as parents and protectors instead choosing to pursue the flesh regardless of the consequences. Regardless of how difficult it may be, loving our enemies is a command given by God and it is imperative to obey such a command. There is no justification for harboring anger in your heart and furthermore, Scripture declares “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Prov. 14:30). While that passage speaks about envy in particular, the larger idea and one found throughout Proverbs is the comparison of one who is wise, meaning one who obeys God’s commands and finds life and joy and the one who embraces sin and finds sorrow.

In fact, Jesus ends this section of the Sermon on the Mount with a profoundly important statement – “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While in this life we admittedly will never reach that standard of perfection, it is nevertheless the standard we must seek. Hatred towards our enemies is not an option. A demonstration of moving towards a place of maturity in the faith involves this idea of perfection. Interestingly, the Greek word adjective translated as perfect is teleios which speaks of the idea of the consummation of integrity and virtue. Admittedly that is not easy; however, we are commanded by Jesus to pursue that standard. In our home, we have made it a point to pray for our daughter’s biological parents that God may move in their lives. There is a great deal of crucifying the flesh involved in praying for them, but if we are to be obedient to this command of Jesus, loving them is our only option and showing honest love instead of feigned tolerance is a must. Mere lip service simply will not do.

Those who have hurt you or those you love need the saving message of the gospel. Pray for them with all sincerity and earnestness. Do not return their deeds with sinful deeds of your own. While you may not physically respond in anger to these individuals, harboring anger in your heart and mind is equally as dangerous. If you are struggling with this issue in your life, the only One who can help you is God. He knows what it is like to be mistreated. He is able to take that anger in your life and through the work of the Holy Spirit, transform it into the fruit of the Spirit. But for the grace of God, go I is a truism many of us overlook. God, in His marvelous grace, took us filthy sinners and embraced us in His arms of love. Should we not do the same with those who have made us their enemies?