The Sermon on the Mount has been one of the most profound life-changing places in the Bible for me, and I have read some amazing books such as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies on the Sermon on the Mount” (you should read this if you have not yet) about this amazing Sermon by Jesus to His followers. It had a profound impact on me, and hopefully, that joy may be shared in sharing one of my studies from this passage. Grace Church Fremont’s Youth Group, the Rock!, has been going through Matthew since earlier this year, and as my turn came up again, I found myself looking at the amazing words of Matthew 5:43 through 48. This is the part about loving your enemies that Jesus talked about.
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, 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. 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? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:43-48
To kind of get you up to speed, we are in the middle of Jesus’ teachings on certain subjects specifically as a comparison of how one is to think and live the Kingdom way in comparison to the already established way that was common at his time. Today’s verses from Matthew 5:43-48, I have broken apart above so as to make it more readable and followable as God has led me to present it. These words after praying and studying them… I find to be the high point… par excellence of Kingdom character and Jesus living. The lesson to be learned in this passage is extremely tough because it challenges our preconceived notions of loving and how we live that love out. This passage is easy to gloss over, but if you read it carefully, there is so much incredible power in what Jesus is teaching.
As I confessed to my students, this lesson is incredibly personal because what it teaches about love, I find myself completely falling short of. As I recently preached on love from 1 Cor. 16:14, I feel that this lesson cuts to the heart about loving and reaching out as the hands and feet of Jesus (since we are His body). This lesson IS a big deal… and as you read this… consider your “enemies” and your experiences with them.
Let us first examine the first few words of Matthew 5:43:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
Jesus has been preaching to his followers and sharing about the Kingdom character and the Way to live it out. Notice first the “you have heard that it was said” and the “But I say to you”… this is a pattern of before and after ways of thinking. If you look at the previous verses in the Sermon on the Mount, you find that this similar pattern is repeated in Chapter 5 before each major lesson (5:21, 22, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33,34, 38, 39). Jesus was challenging the disciples’ old views and giving them new views.
Regarding “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”, there are no Old Testament statements that specify that one is to hate their enemies, but there are references to asking God’s judgment upon enemies. In those passages, the person praying or speaking has a desire to hate anything that opposes God, or is hostile to God. If you think about it… many cultures and their religions and teachings encourage an eye for an eye and revenge killing and treatment of enemies. It is with these thoughts that I pose that it is SO common in our daily lives to love our neighbors and hate our enemies.
This typing of thinking is prevalent in our worlds today and is encouraged. A few examples are like movies, where the main character is greatly wronged, or loses his family as a result of an enemy’s actions, and the remainder of the movie is all about glorifying the main character as he pursues this revenge. Two movies that came to mind are Gladiator where Maximus avenges his family, his emperor, and his honor by killing the evil emperor at the end…
Gladiator: a story about justified revenge
and even Kill Bill, where the unknown woman (Beatrix, we find out later)
Kill Bill: another revenge story
… avenges all the wrongs of her life by killing all the enemies that participated in trying to kill her including Bill with the 5 finger death palm strike. We cheer these stories and this revenge because it is an inherent part of our culture.
Another example is how we classify people in our minds! When we meet people and deal with people at school, work, and at church… isn’t it often that we have a certain ratings level of trust with any of them? For some of them, we know we can be more open and love them more… and for others we tend to be more reserved… this affects everything we do! Our past experiences with the individuals that we meet give them different levels of ratings in our minds and as a result that determines how much we love them. It is almost natural for us to polarize/categorize/classify people to different classes. Just look at your cell phone, email lists, and our instant message lists.
What Jesus teaches is an alternative to this thinking… look at the following verses of 44 and 45. First, Jesus talks about “loving our enemies”. To the critics and skeptics, this teaching is considered one of the most authentic and unique teachings of Jesus. Simply put, no one else teaches this! What Jesus is saying here cuts to the chase… it is an arrow to the heart… it is in YOUR face! Instead of dealing with the hodge-podge of personally concocted classification, calculation, and judgments that we have… Jesus asks us to go to the worst person we know, and to elevate their rating to the fullest that we can give someone… that is to love them. It is to put him in our Best Friend List… our favorite people’s list. By loving our enemies, it covers all the bases! If we can love our enemies, everyone else in between at the different ratings systems can be loved as well; we can love everyone.
It is not that we only love our enemies, but we go a step further… we “pray for those who persecute you”. It is to pray for those that have wronged us and seek to even do us harm. It is interceding on their behalf before God. Why do we do this? The following words in v. 45 show that we do this so that we reveal our sonship in the family of God. This is a logical progression and promise by Jesus. We are not assuming that it is by works that we earn our way to our salvation, but that our works is a manifestation of our desire to emulate our Heavenly Father’s example. It is copying the example of God’s grace!
Notice, that in verse 44, Jesus does NOT change the words of “enemies” and “those who persecute you”. Jesus is not saying that these people will no longer be your enemies, or that you will not get persecuted anymore just because you love them. Our love and our prayers for them is not determined by their character, deeds or teachings. This love we are to have is uncommon, unique… authentic… and completely different. It does not care about the issues… but simply goes forward unconditionally to love. They can still be your enemies! We are called to love impartially, and unconditionally like Jesus Christ.
After he talks about all of this, Jesus uses a very interesting illustration to show God’s all encompassing love. He uses the sun and the rain to segue into two contrasts… one of evil and good, and another is just and unjust. What is Jesus trying to say? The sun and rain… in the old times is of the utmost importance. People, then, were heavily agricultural. No sun/light equaled you couldn’t see, so you couldn’t work, no photosynthesis, no crop or plants growing. No rain equaled no cleansing, no water, no nutrients to feed and mix up things. It was life and death to the people! God did not deny the unjust and the evil sun and rain… it was not as though some people had sun light and others had complete darkness, or that the rain would just fall on one patch of land and not another… God’s common blessing/grace was upon both the unjust and the just, the evil and the good! I want you to note that this does not mean that there’s no judgment, but I believe that it is showing that God is a God that loves all and has a time for all things including judgment and punishment. His ways are His ways and not our ways? How can we as finite beings understand that?! It is also in this, that I want to direct your attention to God’s perfect example of this love… which is Jesus Christ, who was God’s ultimate expression of love (John 3:16).
After showing God’s common grace, Jesus then directs the attention to showing that the way we love needs to be utterly unique and special in relation to the rest of the world. In verses 46 and 47, two similar statements are made using tax collectors and Gentiles. Why these two groups? As many of you know, tax collectors were the hated and viewed as traitors by the Jewish people because they usually were their own countrymen collecting taxes from their people for the Romans… this was often corrupted by tax collectors collecting premiums and additional amounts over the set amounts… so this is why the Jewish people hated the tax collectors. The Gentiles were considered unclean and to be shunned because they did not worship God, and did not know of honoring Him… they were bad!
Yet it is in these comparisons that Jesus shows how these two groups also love people, and greet their brothers. What sets apart one’s love from the love of these two groups of people? If our love is no different from the love around us… what makes people possibly want to consider the Christian Way? Jesus was challenging the people listening to him because the way we love has to be something significantly different from the way others love. Even bad guys love their mothers, friends and family… what makes that different from you or I? The difference then is that we are to love uncommonly. This means loving those that others in the world would even have a hard time loving. Everybody can love those around them that they like to love… but our love as Christ followers is to love like Jesus loves… to love in such a away that our Father in Heaven is glorified, and people see how profoundly different it is! I believe that this is also then to love the marginalized, the homeless, the poor, those that may even disgust or gross us out… this means loving even those that just piss us off/annoy us. Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25… “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers , you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).
It is as Jesus wraps up all this teaching that he says the hardest statement… in verse 48… “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word “perfect” here is defined as complete, mature, perfect, flawless, and/or faultless. A few grammatical points to better understand this passage… the first perfect is in a future tense… an act of becoming… and the second perfect is a already a completed perfection… that is God IS perfect and consists of ALL those qualities. I don’t want you to see this as an encouragement to personally just focus on gaining that “perfection”… but in reading with the rest of the passage, I believe that Jesus is teaching us to seek to love as perfectly as the Father is loving. It is the perfect mixing and integration of the will of God! It is loving the high, the medium and the low… with a perfect love that covers a multitude of sins…
In conclusion, the world has a way of doing things… Jesus is teaching us to do it differently. Love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. It is an uncommon love that is authentic, and completely unique to the Christian Way. God loves impartially, and so we have to consider how we are to love. What sets us apart from this world? What shows differently in the way we live from other people? It is to seek a perfection like God’s perfection in the way He loves. I want this study to soak in your mind for a second. I now want to tell you that it is IMPOSSIBLE to love in any way like this! I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E!
Why Helicon would you say that this is impossible?! Just look at our own lives. We even have the hardest time loving our families… our parents… our siblings… and our closest friends. How much harder is it to love even those that we hate or whom have hurt us?! And then… how do we even have space to love the fringe and marginalized?! Everything in history points us to the revenge cycle… one person wrongs, and another person has to get revenge… a vicious cycle…
If you look at the verses preceding 5:43-48, that is 5:21-42… which were the preceding teachings of Jesus… we can kind of get away by just “doing” them… we don’t have to kill, get angry, we can make peace, don’t look at women, don’t commit adultery… don’t divorce our wives… don’t talk/watch what we say… don’t retaliate… but what Jesus asks us to do here … is to love. What is this love?! It is defined as a love of affection, to caress, love, be fond of… how do you love your enemy like that, when you just want to punch them in the face?! Today’s lesson shows even more so our profound and deep, deep need for Jesus Christ… our King, our Messiah, our Salvation and Saving Grace. We can NOT love like this… the only we can do so is to be born again, regenerate Christians ever living with the Spirit to help us to love in such a manner. It is to know Jesus personally that we can comprehend what is the breadth, length, height and depth of this amazing love!
Consider who your enemies are today. At school, work, home, and when you do any activities such as sports, clubs, fellowships. Let us take time out of our day to seek God and through Him to learn to love as He has loved us first. Let us love uncommonly.