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.”

The Bible and Christianity are so shocking at times. I mean maybe to you and to me it is not shocking anymore, familiarity makes that true. But really, if we read it for what it is and we really consider what God is asking of us it is really shocking. It is surprising. Think of picking it up for the first time and reading what we just read. It is so unnatural to us. If we are honest, it really is not just strange but mysteriously shocking.

I think it is interesting to hear non-Christians say things like, “Yes, the teachings of Jesus are good, He was a wise man.” What does that mean, really? Does that mean they think His teachings should be followed? Do they, do we, read a passage like Matthew 5:44 which says we should love our enemies and think that is a good way to live, I agree with that?

On the surface many people say, “We should just all love each other and get along.” But the reality in our world is so much different. When we see people wearing shirts that say “love wins” while they are attacking another person verbally or even physically, there is something wrong with that.

We are so divided in our country. There is so much hate, so much animosity. Even for Christians, we may work at tempering our actions but can we love our enemies and love them from the heart? Who are you in conflict with right now? In the conflict are you loving them from your heart? Who is making your life hard? Are you loving them from your heart? Who in your life has done you wrong? Are you loving them or are you avoiding them? Who has hurt someone you love? Are you loving in return?

Jesus is calling us to radical behavior that is so unnatural to us. He is saying, love those with whom you have conflict, with those who make your life harder, with those who have done you wrong, with those who have hurt you and with those who have hurt someone you love. And I’ll add with those with whom you have affection but will not return it.

Now let’s not forget that as these words leave Jesus’ mouth, to love enemies, as He clarifies this command, He is also committing to live this out personally, perfectly. As we fail, He covers it. As we stumble in our obedience, His perfection covers us. Let’s not forget that He lived perfectly and we are hidden in Him so His perfect life is ours through our redemption. But having said that, our aim and our goal should be to live for Him. If we are truly in Him then our goals have changed and our desire should be to live according to His ways, His commands. So this is the great journey, that is, with His help, His Spirit in us, we live for Him, meaning we live how He has described we are to live. This is our expression of love for Him, that we obey His commands, that we represent Him in this world and that we glorify His name.

So as we consider these commands, please think of them in relation to loving Christ Jesus our Lord. If we love Him we will keep His commands, right? But we need Him in us to give us the strength and the will to keep His commands. We can ask for that, pray for that. Pray for a stirring love that directs us to keep His commands; this is how we best glorify Him.

Why do we need Him? Because our flesh is strong and our will is strongly bent counter to this command. What if Christ had said, “Hate your enemies, ignore them, do to them what they have done to you, go after your enemies and get revenge, do to your enemies what they deserve?” What if Jesus would have taught us that? Well, that would be easy! We don’t need the Holy Spirit for that! We don’t really need the strength of Christ in us to carry out that command! No one has to teach us how to respond with sharp and hateful responses to our enemies, to someone who hurts us or treats us badly or just rubs us the wrong way. I don’t know about you but returning evil for evil seems pretty natural to me.

And you know what? The first century Jews who heard these words from Jesus were actually taught to hate their enemies! Yes, they were conditioned by their so-called religious leaders that it was okay and good to hate your enemies. They thought this was a good thing and that their hate was sanctioned by God, so can you imagine their surprise?

Jesus said in verse 43, look at it:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

Where did they hear that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy? They did not get this from the OT; no where in the OT does it say to hate your enemies. Now the “love your neighbor” part is biblical. For example look at:

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

So who was saying “hate your enemy?” Well, not God, not the OT and certainly not Jesus. They were hearing this from the religious leaders. What was happening was that passages like Leviticus 19:18, which commands a love for one’s neighbor, was being taken to mean you don’t have to love those who are not your neighbor.

The Essenes are a sect of Jews taught that they were to “hate the children of darkness.” In fact they were to take an oath and vow to “always hate the wicked and asset the righteous.”

One Jewish scholar commented on Leviticus 18:19 by saying “He is thy neighbor if he is good, but not if he is wicked, as is written, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13). He goes on to say “Although, Jews should not seek to kill Gentiles with whom Israel is not at war, they should not intervene to save the life of a Gentile.”

The tendency for many ancient Jews was to love their fellow Jews and hate all others. They define neighbors only as fellow Jews. This was even noticed by those outside of Jewish communities. Some Roman writers said that they inferred from the behavior of Jews that hating non-Jews was an essential part of the Jewish religion.

Here is the point. Many Jews had been taught all their lives that it’s okay to hate. Hate had been institutionalized among the Jews. It was good and it was excepted. And, you know, it was easy because it was natural, it is what the flesh wants.

Jesus begins here and continues in other parts of His ministry to define the word “neighbor,” and defining correctly who our neighbors are totally changes how we are to respond to and treat our enemies. What He teaches is that our enemies are included in the population of who our neighbors are. And this makes the command to love, sometimes, most difficult. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies.

Now to be even more clear let’s jump over to Luke:

Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

And with that parable Jesus defines who our neighbors are, all people. So who are we to love, our neighbors, all people.

Now I want to make two comments about what we have looked at so far and then I’m going to wrap up. We are going to take the Lord’s Supper in just a moment so this message will be a little short to make time for that. And we are going to pick up on this same passage next week to cover it more thoroughly and in more detail. But for today, I want to make two points, and again, just think of what we have covered so far. I want you to think of two things for the next week.

First of all, all people are our neighbors and 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.

I am not crazy about the popular term that we hear so much right now, the term, “social justice.” The reason I’m not is because usually when I hear it, it is used if you watch carefully to try to single out certain ethnic groups and to elevate them in some way that also tends to tear down another group; or to say it another way, to give to one group by taking from another group and when I say give I don’t mean necessarily to give things, material things, but maybe to give power or position or praise or something else. So it is favoring groups over other groups, it sometimes ends up tearing down more than building up, again, tearing down one group to build up another. Where does that end? Well if you carry it out logically, then in a few years we will need a new social justice campaign now to build up the group that was purposefully torn down just a few years prior.

I realize I’m probably in an evangelical minority here, but it seems to me that we simply need to follow Jesus’ command here which is that we love everyone no matter who they are, no matter what community or ethnic group to which they belong or even gender, that we love all of our neighbors. And if we are not doing that as individuals or as a church or in the Christian community as a whole, then we need to repent of that and obey.

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 the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the kind and the hostile, the black and the white, the devoted Christian and the God-hater, the Republican and the Democrat, the straight and the gay. Who is our neighbor?

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. What are the aspects of love?

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

We are to love our neighbors.

The last point for today is this:

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; that it is okay to hate people!”

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?

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 are 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?

What do our responses to mean people teach those around us? That is what I am asking you to consider and what I need to consider as well. How are we doing in this matter of loving our neighbors? Well, Jesus goes on to further explain His point and Lord willing we will pick up with this same passage next week.

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.”