02 June 2005

On Neighborly Love (Even Toward Our Enemies)

Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote for the July issue of Tabletalk, now in your mailbox. If you want the whole article, get the magazine from Ligonier Ministries. The theme of the July issue is "The Image of God."

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39).

The Second Great Commandment is really just a practical extension of the First. Loving one's neighbor is simply the natural and necessary extension of true, wholehearted love for God, because your neighbor is made in the image of God.

God's image in every person is the moral and ethical foundation for every commandment that governs how we ought to treat our fellow humans. Scripture repeatedly makes this clear. Why is murder deemed such an especially heinous sin? Because killing a fellow human being is the ultimate desecration of God's image (Genesis 9:6).

In the New Testament, James points to the image of God in men and women as an argument for allowing even our speech to be seasoned with grace and kindness. It is utterly irrational, he says, to bless God while cursing people who are made in God's own likeness (James 3:9-12).

That same principle is an effective argument against every kind of disrespect or unkindness one person might show to another.

The prevailing rabbinical tradition in Jesus' day claimed that "enemies" are not really "neighbors." In effect, that nullified the Second Great Commandment. It was like saying you don't really have to love anyone whom you hate. All kinds of disrespect and unkindness became impervious to the law's correction.

Jesus confronted the error head on:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 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; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45).

Your enemy is made in God's image and therefore deserving of your respect and kindness. More important, Jesus said, if you want to be more like God—if you want the image of God to shine more visibly in your life and behavior—here's the way to do it: love even your enemies.

Remember, "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Such love—expressed even toward our enemies—is the mark of the true Christian, because it is the most vivid expression of God's image in His own people. "As he is, so are we in this world" (v. 17).


skh said...

I've stayed away from commenting so far but my resistance was futile. I'm so glad you're blogging and I'm checking regularly for new posts. As with all of your stuff--I can't get enough.

frostykaiser said...

Jesus acted with love as a servant and calls us to do the same.

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." (John 20:17-20)

We show Christ love by loving His children, not choosing those we consider worthy. Thanks Phillip for a good reminder of this as I start my day.

burttd said...

Interesting, is it not, that a post like this gets so few comments, as compared to the last one?

Andrew said...

It was great to hear you speak at the Shepherd's Conference this year ("Dead Right" was a wake-up call we fundamentalists desperately needed), and I was very happy to have found your blog!

Looking forward to reading the full article in Table Talk next month.

centuri0n said...


It's early. And the crowd is thin this early.

James Spurgeon said...

Another admonition to be nice? Just where is an angry internet Calvinist supposed to go to get authentication these days?

Is it too late to go back to my hyper-dispensational roots and claim that the sermon on the mount doesn't apply to me today?


Matthew said...

I've enjoyed your site for a couple of years now and I'm glad to see that you have a blog. Consider yourself added to my blogroll. :)

Preach on, brother!

Frank Martens said...

It's interesting and amazing how scripture is so thorough and perfect.

While scripture says that being friends with the world is emnity with God. We are still to show love to the world. It's also interesting how each of the ten commandments build upon the first two.

These verses that Phil quotes have been a huge focus area in my life for the last two years. While I know that there are verses positioned on election and soveriegn grace. And whether a calvanist or not, both sides need to realize and apply these simple verses, and me most of all. :)

Good post Phil.

Rand said...

I wonder sometimes, if we kept in our minds, the final end of the unbelievers that surround us, would there be any room for amnimosity and hatred towards them in our hearts?

When I see a man suffering from cancer, I feel sorry for him. It doesn't matter if he had been or is an enemy of mine, I genuinely feel sympathize and empathize with him, because he is suffering.

Should we not have the same attitude toward our unbelieveing enemies?

Take care,


Frank Martens said...


You pose an interesting point. I was thinking about one of the guys that goes to the High School bible study I lead...

His brother is going into heart surgery in a couple weeks and is a complete regector of the gospel. Completely hates it and anyone who has association with it (well sort of, he will associate with the people, but has a hard time with people like us). Anyway, I know for myself that I wish I could just sit the guy down and be like... "DUDE! You need to think about what's going to happen here..." and try to explain the gospel.

My heart goes out to people like that. I don't want to be responsible for passing up an opportunity to make sure someone understands the gospel on their death bed.


thefierceFriesian said...

More important, Jesus said, if you want to be more like God—if you want the image of God to shine more visibly in your life and behavior—here's the way to do it: love even your enemies.

I suppose we can forgive and love you for your baptistic, moralistic interpretation as opposed to the reformational understanding of the relational hermeneutic and its concomitant ontological transformative outflowing of the neighborly love ethic as grounded in the communal relation with the Trinity but love requires that your misappropriation of the relations between love of God and love of nieghbor be pointed out, for first comes the knowledge of God and ourselves and then comes the ethical manifestation

Luthersrose said...

Dear "Pyrobro":

I continue to greatly appreciate the faithful work you do for the kingdom Phil.

Biblical love is not an emotion or conditioned upon a response. It does not love because the object of the love is lovely, loveable or doing lovely things. Though God's love is not unconditional (an Oprahfication term - John 3:16; 14:15); it is unmerited (1 John 3:1); undeserved (Rom. 5:6-8); unfailing (Rom. 8:35-39); unreciprocated (Eph. 2:4-5); and self-sacrificial (John 17:19; Eph. 5:25-26). And as you pointed out, no greater place to demonstrate His love than to our enemies. How ironic and tragic when our enemy sometimes turns out to be our brother or sister in Christ or those closest to us. May we truly love one another as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us...

Thank you again Phil.