Home ยป What Was So Radical About Jesus’s Teaching About Love?

What Was So Radical About Jesus’s Teaching About Love?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

“But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)

There is one value that no one else before Jesus ever taught: the grand idea of demonstrating sacrificial and unconditional forgiving-love, even to one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44).

The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12), is a principle found in various forms across different cultures and religious traditions. Ancient Egyptian wisdom (The Instruction of Amenemope, 1300 BCE) encourages restraint towards adversaries and avoiding excessive retaliation. Confucius (551-479 BCE) emphasized the importance of treating others with respect and fairness, regardless of whether they are friends. Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha, 5th century BCE) promoted nonviolence towards all, including enemies, and taught compassion even for those who caused you harm. The Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism, 2nd century BCE) contains passages that encourage tolerance towards others, even if they hurt you.

Beyond historical examples, parents are (or should be) well aware of the idea of freely forgiving their children and loving them sacrificially and unconditionally.

And yet, although the concept of love and forgiveness exists in various forms in other belief systems and in the human experience, Jesus was the one to extend the importance of loving unconditionally and forgiving freely even your worst enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), which was – and still is – a radical idea.

He didn’t only teach it, but also demonstrated it to his followers.
Jesus not only washed the feet of his disciples but also those of Judas, his enemy, knowing full well what Judas was about to do (John 13:11).

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) goes beyond highlighting the importance of helping others in need, regardless of their race, religion, or background. Considering that Samaritans and Jews were sworn enemies, often fighting and killing one another, the parable emphasizes loving even one’s worst enemy.

Religious people saw the woman caught in adultery (John 8) as a sinful “enemy” of God, wanting to destroy her. Yet, Jesus freely forgave her sins before she could even apologize. He didn’t say, “If you sin no more, you’re good to go”; instead, he said, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus didn’t free the woman from punishment because she promised never to sin again. He hoped she would stop sinning because she had experienced forgiving-love.

Despite this, pastors like John MacArthur insist that “God only accepts absolute perfection.”[i]

I don’t know what kind of father John MacArthur had, but a good and loving parent knows their children are not perfect and extends grace to them as they learn and mature. When a child receives grace instead of punishment, they learn to show grace to others who sin against them as well.

Isn’t this what the gospel is all about? Jesus freely forgave the paralytic man (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26), freely forgave a woman known to be a sinner who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50), and freely forgave the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Even when Jesus was humiliated and crucified on the cross, He promised forgiveness to one of the criminals being crucified alongside Him (Luke 23:43) and used His last words to express the very heart of God, saying, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:32-43). Jesus also freely forgave His disciples after they turned their backs on Him (John 20) and then encouraged them to forgive the sins of others (John 20:23). There is a clear logical conclusion here: God knows we are imperfect and therefore forgives us, so we can also forgive others.

To love someone means being willing to sacrifice for their sake. Loving your children involves sacrificing your time, energy, resources, honor, reputation, and even your life for them. But what about your enemy? Are we willing to love our enemies in such a way?

Loving and forgiving, including our enemies, is the cornerstone of Christianity. However, I think most of us still struggle to fully understand and practice this concept.

Enjoyed? Many more are waiting for you here: “Spiritual Nuggets: 30 Devotions Filled with Grace and Hope

[i] https://faithgateway.com/blogs/christian-books/no-merit-of-my-own-righteousness

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist