We are less than one week removed from Valentine’s Day where family and friends exchange cards and gifts that are meant to express their love for each other. Christians refer to Scripture passages such as 1 Corinthians 13, John 15:13 and 1 John 4:18 to highlight the subject of love throughout the month of February. In our efforts to connect the Scripture to the theme of love, we often miss God’s most powerful references to the true nature of love. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-44), Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In these verses, we find the most powerful teaching in Scripture about the meaning of love. The love that God showed us and in return commands His people to show others is so great that it even encompasses our enemies. Did anyone send their enemies a box of candy, flowers or a card for Valentine’s Day?

To understand Jesus’ teaching, we must understand how the scribes and Pharisees added to the Old Testament Law. Leviticus 19:18 states that we are “to love our neighbor” but the scribes and Pharisees added that we are to “hate our enemies.” They added to God’s command so that it would best suit their wicked hearts. The scribes and Pharisees were proud, prejudiced, judgmental, spiteful, hateful, vengeful men who masqueraded as the custodians of God’s law and the spiritual leaders of Israel. They felt that they had a right to hate their enemies. Has the Church today fallen into that same mindset?

Human tendency is to show love based on the desirability of the object of our love. It is easy to show love to those we like and those that we agree with, but what about those who oppose us or persecute us? Today we see division nationally and locally. In our own community to find deep-rooted division. Where do Christians stand on this issue? Are we peacemakers or agitators? Do we respond to hate with love or do we return hate back to those who come against us? Are we failing in our responsibility to be salt and light because our hearts are consumed with anger, hatred, jealousy, bitterness and pride?

As Christians, we are to follow God’s heart as He models love and justice simultaneously. We are to be thankful for God’s justice, yet we are never to take pleasure in the sufferings of another person. In Revelation 10:10, John was thankful to know that God would be completely victorious over His enemies, yet he was heartbroken because of the billions of people who would be destroyed because they never turned to God. We are to share God’s balance of love and justice. The scribes and Pharisees had no such balance. They had no love for justice only vengeance. They had no love for their enemies, but only for themselves. Are we really expected to love our enemies?

Loves’ question is not “who” to love — because we are to love everyone — but “how” to love most helpfully. The hatred, division, jealousy, bitterness and anger that has infected so many hearts today would not continue to spread like wildfire if the Church would build up herd immunity against these emotions. When God’s love has filled our hearts, there will be no room for hatred of our enemies. While the Bible never suggests that Christians live as weak pushovers, the Bible does teach that we live as meek peacemakers. Join me in following God’s command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us! Perhaps this change in us is what is need to spark revival.

Chuck Sprouse, a lifelong resident of Greenwood, is the Senior Pastor of the Ninety Six First Baptist Church. You can reach Chuck at csprouse@fbc96.org or 864-543-2333.