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.
Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV)
This passage reminds us of Leviticus 19:17-18 where God Himself commands the people of Israel not to hate their brother, not to take revenge, and not to hold a grudge against those who wrong them. The second part of verse 17 frees the heart of the one who is offended because it gives him the opportunity to rebuke his offender, which will allow him to release the anger and hatred he may be suppressing.
Jesus gives us a commandment that goes beyond that of Leviticus when He commands us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutor. This does not mean that He abolishes what Leviticus says. Rather, His command gives application to this verse. It prevents us from reacting in a state of anger and frustration, but instead showing love and compassion.
In another context, the fact that Jesus tells us in John 15:18-20: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you....I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you....If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you;" the words "enemies and persecutor" may not refer to believers but rather to unbelievers. In this sense, if we can love our enemies and pray for our persecutor even when we know that they are both unbelievers, it will be easier for us to forgive them and lead them to repentance.
May the grace and the peace of God be with you all.