“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
Thoughts of verse
Jesus has commanded His disciples to love their enemies and to demonstrate that love, in part, by praying even for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:43–45). This is the level of righteousness God desires from those who want to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:48). If that seems like an impossible standard, it is: part of the gospel message is that no person's good deeds can ever earn eternal salvation (Romans 3:10; Titus 3:5). Even from a worldly, unspiritual perspective, everyone loves the people who love them. Nobody gets a reward for that in the kingdom of God. It's easy, and it requires nothing. Jesus says this is so easy that even "tax collectors" do it. The apostle Matthew is writing this story of Jesus' life, and he was a tax collector for the Romans before Jesus called him (Matthew 9:9). These men gathered taxes, ultimately for the Roman occupiers. That, alone, made them hated among their Jewish brothers, who saw them as collaborators and traitors. The job also lent itself to deep corruption: as employees of the Roman government, tax collectors often lined their own pockets by collecting more than was due. Such men became wealthy at the expense of their fellow citizens. Jesus' declaration that "even tax collectors" can love those who love them was meant as a challenge. Tax collectors were associated with a lack of integrity, poor morals, and no loyalty. Even "those people" find it easy to love family and close friends. Loving your enemies, though, requires imitation of God Himself since it is such an unnatural thing for human beings to do.
Most of the pain and anguish we receive from other people is a result of their own pain. When someone is miserable, it inevitably comes out somewhere—and it usually comes out on somebody. We’re never going to be able to prevent people from saying or doing things that hurt our feelings. We will always have opportunities to get offended. But if we do things God’s way, we can choose to save ourselves a lot of misery and hardship.
This doesn’t mean we allow people to abuse us. No, there is a time for confronting people and dealing with situations. However, the Bible commands us to love our enemies and forgive those who have wronged us. In fact, when we choose to love our enemies and forgive those who have hurt us, we are helping ourselves more than anyone else.
A good place to begin is to stop thinking, “I can’t!” Because whatever the Lord commands us to do, He is going to give us the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish it—and that includes loving and being good to difficult people!
Loving someone who doesn’t deserve or expect it is absolutely one of the most powerful things we can do. Because in that moment they see God...and He’s the one Who can truly change their hearts.
Lord, Jesus, today is Your day, and I want Your will to be done. So, whatever happens, hold my hand and let's face it together. Amen.