Love Your Enemies? Part 2

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Today we are revisiting the passage we looked at last week, picking up where we left off. If you weren’t here we looked primarily at verses 43 and 44 and came away with two main points that we were going to consider throughout our week.

The first point was this:

All people are our neighbors and if we are to love our neighbors then there is no place in the Christian’s life to elevate any people group over another. It seems to me that if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love everyone then there is, in my mind, this great leveling of all people groups in the mind of God. We are all equal.

If anyone is not being loved biblically then let’s love them biblically no matter who they are. Tearing a group down to elevate another is not loving the group we are tearing down. We are to love all people.

To love biblically does not mean that we agree with unbiblical things or condone all people’s behavior. To love biblically does not mean to buy into lies or anti-God rhetoric. To love biblically also does not mean to look the other way and never speak out. Jesus spoke out, Jesus spoke truth, Jesus talked about sin; but Jesus also healed sinners, fed sinners, and most importantly saved sinners. So the first point was that all people are our neighbors and we are to love them all.

The second point was more of a question:

But here is what I want you to think about: Do we, by our actions, condone hateful behavior, do we teach people by our actions that it is okay to hate under certain circumstances?

We can make much of the Jews’ wrong understanding of who their neighbors were and what, I would say, was their institutionalized condoning of hating people. To hate was accepted and taught in many Jewish circles. I know we can look at this and act shocked by it. We can say things like, “Well, I can’t believe they taught their people, their children, to hate and that it is okay to hate people!” But do we also teach hate by our actions?

Here is what I mean: Parents, do our children see us doing or saying things that are hateful toward other people? Kids, do your friends see you do things that they would say is hateful toward other people? Do your coworkers observe that you are hateful toward other people? Or are you loving in all these cases? I mean, are we guilty of doing what the Jews did, not by our direct teaching but by our example?

So we are to love all of our neighbors, and if we really are, then we are showing those who see us that we belong to God, that we love and trust Him.

Verse 44 says this:

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

We have instruction regarding interaction with our neighbors and, I’ve got to say this: Jesus says, love your enemies—this loving our enemies is an outward showing of behavior. What I mean is you can see me in action loving my enemy. I can do this, I can act and you can see it but what you don’t know is my heart. You don’t know if I am loving this person as a show of my good behavior, like I am just trying to impress you by how I respond to my enemy. Or am I acting from a heart that wants to obey and please God? You don’t really know, all you see is my action in that moment, right? But the last part is more telling, though you may not see it.

Jesus says, pray for those who persecute you. While praying can be public too, it is most often, for the believer, a private matter. What do we do in private? Do we sincerely pray for our enemies privately?

Do we go to the Lord in our private time sincerely praying for those who have hurt us, those who have mistreated us, those who have taken advantage of us? In private do we pray or do we rehearse the wrongs done to us? Love outwardly, love publicly and pray privately as an expression of love to our neighbors. In Luke Jesus said it this way:

Luke 6:27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Now, Jesus says something about our position with God in this matter of loving our enemies.

Matthew 5:45 …so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Why love?

Jesus does not command us to love just to turn an enemy into a friend, that may not happen. He did not command us to love in order to make our lives easier, that may not happen. Jesus did not command us to love in order to defuse a difficult situation that may not happen either. Simply being nice does not guarantee a better relationship. Don’t teach your kids that it will because it may not.

No, Jesus commands us to love because love characterizes God. We are to be sons and daughters of God and as such we should resemble and characterize Him in our conduct. We are here to represent the Father. You are not here just to be yourself, to go your own way or to show the world your uniqueness. No, we are here primarily to represent God, and loving our neighbors does that.

In human terms, like it or not men, your son or daughter shows many of your characteristics! I have five sons. And some of my boys are really different than me personality wise, yet even those that are very different still show some of my characteristics. We tend to be like those we spend time with.

The children of God should resemble their heavenly Father and that should be our goal as well, to glorify Him and to make Him known as we become more like Him. We are not here just to tell about Him but to practically put Him on display by how we act. So, how does God act? He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Now, it is true that God lavishes a special favor on His spiritual children. Let me give you a couple of examples of this:

Matthew 7:9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Or even a special future blessing for His spiritual children:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

So though we as believers receive this special grace from God, God still lavishes kindness on all of mankind. He sovereignly and providentially does this for His created beings. He provides sunshine and rain for all people. The sun is His, He made it, He controls it and He shares it with creation. The rain is His, He makes it, He controls it and He graciously shares it with creation. He gives it to the evil, His enemies, and to the good, His chosen ones.

God’s care for and provision for all people is what we sometimes call His common grace, air to breathe, sunshine to enjoy, rain to supply water for our bodies and for crops that become our food, gravity that makes it possible for us to be here, fire to keep us warm, and on and on. In this sense, God the Father is giving, graciously giving, to even those who hate Him, to those who will never acknowledge His goodness or even His presence. And in this way we are to be like Him.

Matthew 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus teaches that loving only those who love you, really serves to cheapen and make little of Christian love. Jesus challenges us here. He challenges us with two examples. First, He say, in verse 46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

This follows a common problem even among Christians…If you love, I will love you. If you are kind to me, I’ll be kind to you. Be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you. Unfortunately we may tell our kids this…be kind to people and they will be kind to you. There is this idea of thinking that either we will follow how others treat us and/or we can control people by how we treat them.

Both of these instances really miss the mark of Christian love for others. We should not be motivated to love by someone else’s love for us, and we should not be motivated to love in order to change someone or to get something from them. Instead, the reason we love is because God loves. God loves us in particular and fantastic ways, and He loves all people with kindness. And because we belong to Him, we are His sons and daughters, we also love in order to show the world who He is and simply, simply because He loves us. We have been shown extreme love and so we are to love…period.

And if we love this way then our expressions of love do not change based on other people’s behavior. Our obedience is never dependent on what other people do or don’t do because other people's behavior is not what motivates us…or this should be true of us. So, if your spouse is grumpy and griping and ungrateful, you can still love him or her. If your co-worker tears you down in front of the boss, you can still love that person in return.

Next he gives an example:

Matthew 5:46…Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus’ point is simply that there is an easy sort of love…love your brothers, love those who love you. But we aren’t called to easy or common behavior. If we can, by God’s grace and in His power, grasp this, we can be free to really live for Him. I want to try to walk through this with you in a practical way, so stay with me here and participate by following this example and inserting yourself into it. Are you ready?

Ok, you get up in the morning and you pray and ask God to help you love and honor Him this day. You get up and first thing out of bed, if you are married, your spouse complains about something you did they day before. Or if you are a child in your home, your mom or dad does this. I mean, you haven’t really even woken up well yet and immediately you start hearing complaints in a not so nice way.

So what do you do? Well, not that this would happen but just pretend with me, okay? You snap back at your spouse or your parent, jump right back at them with your own words of complaint about their coarse words.

What just happened? Well, you started the day out well, asking for God’s help but then someone ruined it for you…right? That is what we think! But here is the reality: No one ruined your day. You made choices. You chose to react to another person based on how they treated you. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is addressing here?

Matthew 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

If our motive is to be like God and represent Him well, then what better way to do that than to treat someone lovingly who is not treating us lovingly? In fact, when someone is not treating us lovingly then we are handed a prime opportunity…a prime opportunity to love in a godly way where we don’t have to wonder about our motives. An opportunity for godliness is ours when people treat us in an ungodly way!

This sets us up to love no matter what. Whether treated badly or treated well, our response can be consistent and not dependent on others. Do you see the freedom in that, its like we are not enslaved to everyone around us and who they are acting like. We are instead free to love God and others no matter what. I can imagine that some of the people who Jesus healed hated the Father. Yet Jesus extended a loving hand to them, healed them. We are to be like Him.

I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that this can be very tricky at times. I mean, we cannot love in place of living out other Christian principles. To love does not mean to give up other biblical principles. For instance, God is always a God of justice. We don’t ignore justice to be loving. We don’t overlook sin in the name of love. To love is often times to report a crime, to admonish a brother, to protect the innocent to stand for life. It is not loving to ignore sin or to cover sin, so we have to be careful, we have to be balanced as the Bible is balanced and as was Christ.

Now lastly, Jesus said:

Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Ok, well, there you go. That is all you have to do…be perfect like God is perfect! The word perfect here has been explained in many ways. One popular way in this text is to say mature; however, the word really does mean perfect and especially since it says, “as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Jesus is really defining moral perfection here. He is talking about righteousness. He seems to be combining Leviticus 19:2 which says, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” and Deuteronomy 18:13 which says, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

Since we have been talking about love and loving enemies, this then means love for others, including one’s enemies, is the essence of divine perfection and a key to true righteousness. I don’t know if you have thought of love and righteousness in those terms together. Love must be included when talking about righteousness.

Think of Joseph. Joseph did not want Mary to be humiliated by divorce because the scripture says he was a righteous man. Now, many would have thought, to be righteous he should divorce her, separate himself from her to be seen as righteous, right? But Joseph saw righteousness as more than simply obeying the law—it included love, mercy and kindness in his heart toward Mary as he protected her from shame. So righteousness is mixed with love, it must be.

But what about this idea of perfection? Well, it is a command, we are commanded to be perfect yet we cannot read it and see it as a frustrating demand, as an impossible demand. Instead we need to know that in the Kingdom of God perfection really is the goal, and we really should, as much as we can, strive for it. We really should long to be like our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We should want to resemble the One who is perfect. We do have a power to pursue perfection that non-Christians lack, and God is gracious to lead us in that way. And to whatever degree we get closer to it is God’s grace. But in all of this, we need also to understand that the fullness of the Kingdom has not yet come, our transformation is still future. A perfect day is ahead for us, it is not here yet but will be here. We can watch for our perfection and long for our perfection and move toward it. That day is not now, but by God’s grace it is coming. So for now we wait, and we wait patiently, live patiently with ourselves and with others around us.

Our call is one of love, love God and love other people. Because He has loved us we can love each other. Love your enemies.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”