We are also prohibited both from loving that world and, if we understand rightly, are commanded to love it. We are prohibited, of course, where it is said to us, “Do not love the world.” But we are commanded when it is said to us, “Love your enemies.” They are the world, which hates us. Therefore we are both prohibited from loving in it what the world itself loves, and we are commanded to love in it what the world hates, namely, the handiwork of God and the various comforts of his goodness. We are prohibited from loving the fault in it and are commanded to love its nature. The world loves the fault in itself and hates its nature. So we rightly love and hate it, although it perversely loves and hates itself.1
Love is commanded when it is said, “Love your enemies,” so that the saying which was uttered already before the church may be fulfilled: “Set in order love in me.” For love is set in order when the precepts of love are formed. See how it began from the heights and cast the law underneath the backs of the gospel’s blessing. The law commands the revenge of punishment. The gospel bestows love for hostility, benevolence for hatred, prayer for curses, help for the persecuted, patience for the hungry and grace of reward. How much more perfect the athlete who does not feel injury!2
Temporal goods are to be despised in favor of eternal ones, as things on the left are to be despised in favor of those on the right. This has always been the aim of the holy martyrs. A final just vengeance is looked for, that is, the last supreme judgment, only when no chance of correction remains. But now we must be on our guard, more than anything else, not to lose patience in our eagerness to be justified, for patience is to be more highly prized than anything an enemy can take from us against our will.3
How will you love your enemies and pray for your adversaries and persecutors? We see what happened in the case of Stephen. When he was being killed by the violence and stones of the Jews, he did not ask for vengeance but forgiveness for his murderers, saying: “O Lord, do not lay this sin against them.” So it was most fitting that the first martyr for Christ who, in preceding by his glorious death the martyrs that were to come, was not only a preacher of the Lord’s suffering but also an imitator of his most patient gentleness.4
The practice of mercy is twofold: when vengeance is sacrificed and when compassion is shown. The Lord included both of these in his brief sentence: “Forgive, and you shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given to you.” This work has the effect of purifying the heart, so that, even under the limitations of this life, we are enabled with pure mind to see the immutable reality of God. There is something holding us back, which has to be loosed so that our sight may break through to the light. In connection with this the Lord said, “Give alms, and behold, all things are clean to you.” Therefore the next and sixth step is that cleansing of the heart.5
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
He cuts away from our minds a very unmanageable passion, the commencement and begetter of pride. While it is people’s duty to examine themselves and to order their conduct according to God’s will, they leave this alone to busy themselves with the affairs of others. He that judges the brother, as the disciple of Christ says, speaks against the law and judges the law. The lawgiver and judge are One. The judge of the sinning soul must be higher than that soul. Since you are not, the sinner will object to you as judge. Why judge your neighbor? But if you venture to condemn him, having no authority to do it, it is yourself rather that will be condemned, because the law does not permit you to judge others.
Whoever therefore is guided by good sense, does not look at the sins of others, does not busy himself about the faults of his neighbor, but closely reviews his own misdoings. Such was the blessed psalmist, falling down before God and saying on account of his own offenses, “If you, Lord, closely regard iniquities, who can endure?” Once again, putting forward the infirmity of human nature as an excuse, he prays for a reasonable pardon, saying, “Remember that we are dirt.”6
EPHREM THE SYRIAN:
Alternatively, it was on account of the judges, those who seek vengeance for themselves, that he said, “Do not condemn.” That is, do not seek vengeance for yourselves. Or, do not judge, from appearances and opinion and then condemn, but admonish and advise.7
- TRACTATES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 87.4. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPOSITION OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 5.73. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER 138. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOOD OF PATIENCE 16. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 109). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER 171A. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 110). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 29. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 110). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON TATIAN’S DIATESSARON 6.18B. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 110). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.