Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love Your Enemies

Part 16 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:43-48

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (vv. 43-44). 

How Is It Possible to Love Our Enemies? 

In the English language, “love” has many meanings. John 3:16 helps us understand the biblical meaning of love: “For God so [in this way] loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” To love as God loves means to give of ourselves for the benefit of others.

An enemy is someone who hates you (e.g., someone who “revile[s] you and persecute[s] you,” Matt. 5:11). An example of someone in Scripture who loved his enemies was Stephen, who prayed while he was being stoned to death: “Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:60). [1] How is it possible for us to love our enemies?

We will never be able to love our enemies unless we see God's grace as amazing. 

The apostle Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Later, he says, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). God sent Jesus to this earth to die for his enemies.

My Enemy Is My Neighbour

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (v. 43). “You shall love your neighbor” is from Leviticus 19:18, but nowhere does the law say, "Hate your enemy.” [2] According to Exodus 23:4-5, people were to help their enemies: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him” (cf. Prov. 25:21).

The Jews wanted to restrict who their neighbour was. [3] Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). He answered by telling the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). The Samaritans and the Jews were enemies, but the good Samaritan helped the Jew who was in trouble. The Samaritan’s enemy was his neighbour.

Being Like Our Father

Jesus declares, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 44-45a). Jesus is saying that when we love our enemies, we show ourselves to be God’s children. [4] “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” [5]
Jesus did not command this response to persecution for pragmatic reasons. He did not teach, for example, that loving one’s enemy would transform the enemy into a friend, though it may. He did not teach that His disciples should pray for their persecutors because love defuses hate, though it may. Jesus’ disciples were to love their enemies “so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:45). Jesus commanded His disciples to love their enemies because this is the kind of love that characterizes God. Jesus’ disciples are sons and daughters of God who should resemble their Father in their character and conduct. [6]
Jesus states that God provides sun and rain for all people—even his enemies: “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45b). We are to love like God, which means that our love is to be very different from the world’s love: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

Our Goal

Jesus declares, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48). [7]

Our goal is the perfect love of God. 

To obey God’s law, we must love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8; cf. v. 10). “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).

Warmed by God's Grace

At the age of seventy-five, Abraham was given an incredible promise from God. He and his wife Sarah would be given something that they had desperately wanted for so many years: a son. But years after the boy’s birth, a shocking command came from God to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2).

We know the end of the story: the command was a test. God didn’t really want Isaac to die. But the question still remains: how could God ask a father to sacrifice his own son? Perhaps God wants us to put ourselves in Abraham’s place—to think about how heart-wrenching it must have been to be told to put one’s own son to death. Yes, the divine command given to Abraham is disturbing, but maybe God wants us to be disturbed. Why? Because the more we are disturbed, the more we should be amazed by God’s grace. What Abraham was told to do, God actually did. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

We will never be able to love our enemies unless we see God’s grace as amazing. Like hot coffee makes a mug warm, God’s grace warms our hearts.

[1] Stephen was following the example of Jesus, who prayed for his enemies while dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We also see from Stephen and Jesus that love is not incompatible with rebuke (Acts 7:51-53; Matt. 23:1-36).
[2] Psalm 5:5 does say, “You [God] hate all evildoers” (cf. Ps. 139:21-22). But Ezekiel 18:32 says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” I do believe it’s true that “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”
[3] Generally, the Jews of Jesus’ day considered fellow Jews as their neighbours and Gentiles as their enemies.
[4] Jesus is not saying that we become God’s children by loving our enemies. “He is not giving the means by which one becomes a child of God but indicates that love makes explicit the relationship between God the Father and Jesus’ disciples” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 253).
[5] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 89.
[6] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3442-3447.
[7] Luke 6:36 says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

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