Matthew 5:43-48 New International Version (NIV)
Love for Enemies
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.'44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So we have come to a turning point in our series, as this is the last time that Jesus speaks on the internal application of the law. Tonight is the last time Jesus says; you have heard, from next week we start to see application rather than internal ethical demands.
Now that is important; because what we have been speaking on up until now have been heart issues; these are the ethics on how someone who is a part of Christ's kingdom is; who they are in their inmost being.
And tonight this last one, is probably the most crucial the most encompassing and is the highest ethical demand on someone who is in the kingdom!
This is the ethic of loving those who are your enemies.
Now, this message and last week's message almost intertwine and make a whole together, so if you were not here last week, download the message and give it a listen to. And like last week we will see that the application of this will be impossible without some help.
So, what Jesus says, here when we take it to heart is extremely difficult. So let's look at the context and what Jesus is saying; he starts again by referencing the law;
So let's look at the first point;
1. Love your neighbour but who is my neighbour?
Jesus say's you have heard it said, love your neighbours, but hate your enemies. Now what is interesting about the statement of Jesus here is that we can easily find the passage love your neighbour. This is found in Leviticus 19:18
18 "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.
So, that is clearly love your neighbour, but where in the Old Testament does it say; "Hate your enemy"? Simply put it never does!
In fact the rest of the Old Testament infers and teaches Israel to be good to her enemies. So what is Jesus talking about here? Well in the time of Jesus; and again for us today; we have no issue loving our neighbour, our issue is who do we define as our neighbour?
I mean, I can love people as myself, as long as I get to select the people. Why, because there are people that tick us off! We all have those people who are just difficult to love, and care for.
Now Jesus does say you have heard it said; because this is what the theological debate was about in his time. Who must I love, and surely God doesn't require me to love these type of people.
People had justified the text by reading it in context; you see in Lev 19:15-18 you will read that this passage is clearly talking about Jews, however, if you read just a little further; you will see in verse 33-34 talks clearly about the foreigner and alien, those who can offer you nothing and are a burden on the state.
So there were some theologians stating we only have to love our people. While others were saying no we have to love the desperate, the refugee, those who have nothing.
None of them would ever dream of pushing it as far as Jesus. No one, but Jesus, dared say that you should love the enemy. And this makes perfect sense; the Jews had been an occupied people, a captured people for almost 600 years. Under the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and now the Romans.
Now there is nothing redeemable about being an occupied people. Telling people to love them was beyond insane, and would have been extremely difficult for the audience to hear, yet Jesus calls us not just to love people like us, to love those who agree with us, those who act like us, or like us. In fact, Jesus qualifies it saying; even tax collectors (which is like saying even the worst people do this) and he says the pagans do this, saying those without the Law of God.
But Jesus says it is not enough just to love those who are loveable, but we must love the worst of the worst, our enemies.
How could he ever say this to an occupied people? Well he justifies this by asking the crowd to look at two things that reflect this kind of love, nature and God.
Which is our second point;
2. Becoming like God
Jesus calls His audience to look at God and how He sends the rain on those who deserve it and those who don't.
I mean if we were God there would be people who would be in permanent drought right. But the reality is that you simply cannot tell who is righteous and who is not by the rain that falls, to put it another way, but their material blessings.
In fact the book of Job stands as an entire book of the Bible dedicated to dispelling this idea. Go read through it and it starts by describing Job the most righteous man who has ever lived and he is utterly cursed! And the rest of the book describes his friends basically saying; "come-on give in what did you do wrong?"
Now, we all know this, bad people don't get all bad and good people don't just get blessings, to put it as Jesus does; the rain doesn't just fall on the righteous.
So, the call is be like God: God blesses graciously, he causes the love of His blessings to fall on all, and this is way that you are called to live your life and how openly you should share your love.
Now in saying this we have to understand what kind of love is being talked about here. It is not love as understood in English; in fact love as a word in English is profoundly unhelpful.
I mean I can love pizza and my kids and wife. But that means two very different things!
Now in the Greek there are 4 main words for love Eros (erotic love - never used in the Bible) Storge (familial love; used of the love of family) Philia (brotherly love - the love between good friends) and Agape (Divine love - love that does what is demanded regardless of the cost) There are 8 actual words for love in Greek, but for our purposes these will do.
Now, Matthew in writing this passage is not talking about brotherly love, or familial love and definitely not erotic love. Jesus was talking about Agape love.
Now this is important; because the way we think about love, is loving feelings right; I love people because I feel affection for them. However in the idea of Agape is this idea of actionable love that acts selflessly regardless of personal cost.
This idea of love to the Greeks was so lofty and high that it was a concept and was never really used. However, Jesus comes and calls us to pour out costly actions of goodness soaked love to those who hate us!
Effectively, Jesus is commanding us to love others without boundaries and without limitations; why because look around you; that is the way God loves. He acts towards his creation undeservingly causing the sun to rise on both the righteous and unrighteous causing the rain to fall whether we deserve it or not!
Now, this sounds good, but does work… right? I mean if we just act lovingly to everyone we are going to be eaten alive out there!
You are probably looking at me and saying Ja as a pastor you have to say this; but have you dealt with the people out there? And I would answer yes; because they are the people in here!
So how do we do this?
3. Love's perfection
Jesus calls us to do this because the call is to (as verse 40 says;
"Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Now I want to unpack just two things in this; firstly, this love is only found in God, and secondly it's going to be hard it's going to cost you.
a. This love is found in God alone
Jesus says be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, in other words the only way we are going to do this is in Him, and through Him. But what does this mean? I mean to quote the colloquial term; "I'm only human after all." How can I possible ever be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect. Even if I understood this; I am really going to struggle to live this out.
And to that I would reply; yes, this is going to be difficult; in fact it is going to be impossible. But with God's help we will get there.
You see, the Greek word used here for perfect is the Greek word Teleos - meaning end, or mature. This is deeply profound because it is the goal end of man to be like God, and we display this most profoundly when we live out His kind of love, a love that gives what is needed no matter the cost.
The embodiment of this is obviously Jesus Christ; who not only loved his enemies throughout His life, more-so on the cross when He had been crucified by those who hated Him, He cried out forgive them Father for they know not what they do.
So, what I am saying here, is Jesus not only asked us to live out this love, but then he embodied it and lived it out for us as a great example.
In saying all this, however, I have not helped you! For I can guilt you into feeling like you should love your enemy, however, that doesn't help.
Saying Jesus is a great example does nothing but remind you how you are not living up to this; and I want to just say flatly tonight, church, you are not living up to this…
How we do this is realising
b. It's going to cost you
Now, not in the way you think. Many of us think of the emotion cost that is required of loving those who hate us and being kind to those who are our enemies. However, this is not the cost that is required in this ethic.
This demand of Jesus most displays that the cost of grace is everything.
I'll explain; you see why most people fall for religion over grace, is religion says, be good and God will bless you. This means that because of my effort, I can earn my way into God's favour. The great problem with this is that, in a perverse way, God ends up owning me for my obedience.
Grace is difference. Grace states that God accepts you on His merit; because He sent His son to die as a payment for your sins, which means that there is absolutely nothing you can add this to get God to love you. And consequently, it means that you are secure in your love of God. Because if you can contribute nothing, then nothing can take you away from the love of God in Christ Jesus; because it is depended upon Him and not you.
But because you can bring nothing to this; it means that you are completely dependent upon Christ's favour because of this; which means there is nothing God cannot ask of you. You are wholly His. You have nothing to negotiate with.
So, and this is where it gets hard; this ethic of underservant love is not something we can negotiate; it is not up for negotiation; we owe God everything. Therefore being like Him in his love towards others is literally the least we can do!
Which means; can I say; I can't love those people you don't know what they did to me, I just can't. I would say Jesus paid it all; all to Him you owe.
Now in saying all this we have the resources to love, if we understand grace, then we understand more than anyone, underservant love. God loved us when we least deserved it, so even if our feelings are not there, we must agape, which means give what is needed no matter the personal cost!
This is the highest ethic of the Kingdom of God, and this is literally you living out the awesome love of God in Christ Jesus; you are living that love out when you love the least, the enemy, and those who hate us.
Will this be easy? Absolutely not! Will this free you, with God's grace absolutely; for as you live this out so you will living out God's love for you.