One of the hardest things to do is to love, because before we know Jesus as Lord, we see love from a human perspective. Too often people see love as “what can I get out of this relationship?” Love is taking. Then for others, perhaps more so men … love is lust. It is also … “what can I get out of this relationship?” The point I am making is that humanly speaking we are generally very immature when it comes to love. We might be well educated, yet emotionally we might be preparatory. Our reading today is:
Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.:
1) The Old Testament teaching about love and hate.
Lev 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.'”
A neighbor was seen as your own people. That means people who have the same culture, speak the same language and belong to the same nation. For Israel this included the same religion. Love for your neighbor (an Israelite) meant no harm, equality, friendship and commitment because God required it … and He stamped His authority by saying … I am the LORD.
Dt 23:3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. 4 For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. 5 However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. 6 Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.
Although the word “hate” is not used in the text, it is implied by … Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live. The concept of hate did not mean eradicate them or hurt them … it meant not having anything to do with them … no trade, no inter-country agreements, etc. Just ignore them … and above all, don’t follow their gods. The Psalmist picks up this idea of avoiding those outside of God’s people by declaring:
Ps 139:21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? 22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
2) Once again we find Jesus saying … “You have heard that it was said” … referring to the Law of Moses. Remember He adds … But I tell you. Jesus is saying that He is interpreting what has been said as God’s Word in a Gospel way! Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is all about higher righteousness … meaning … real … true Christlikeness. The way one looks at life and interpersonal relationships between all people needs to be motivated by the Gospel … and not as … you have heard that it was said.
3) The New Testament / Gospel’s teaching about love and hate.
Mt 5:44 “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Immediately you reads these words you find them right in your face. This is revolutionary … love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. This sounds so counter culture in any culture. Why … O why must I love my enemies and why … O why must I pray for those who hurt me? Israel ought to have reached the world for God but they failed. In Jesus, we who are His are mandated to reach the world for Him.
Ac 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It’s almost like Jesus is saying … “Go and evangelize your enemies!” The Gospel is for the world … how can we have enemies if we are to evangelize? How can you go to those you “hate” and tell them about God’s love for them?
(1) The enemy might see you as an enemy but you don’t need to see the enemy as an enemy … and this is possible because in Jesus Christ you are able to love the unlovable. You are able to love those who persecute you, stab you in the back, gossip about you, steal from you and hurt you. The reason you can love is because God loved you first!
1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
The world cannot do this because they have not experienced God’s love at Calvary. Only the one who has been redeemed can love “everyone”. The reason for saying this is:
1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(2) Enemies are enemies because they don’t know God and they don’t know their anger and hatred is sin. Take this marvelous example:
Lu 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Sinners do not know what they are doing … but saved sinners can pray, asking God to forgive them … and save them. In Stephen’s dying moments as he was stoned, we read:
Ac 7:60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
These two examples inform us that it is possible to
(a) Forgive enemies;
(b) Pray for enemies and
(c) Once we pray we cannot hate … we can only love. True prayer for people drives us to love them.
(3) We too were God’s enemies. Look what He did for us. He left heaven and came into this evil world to pay the sin price for us so that we might confess sin, believe, repent and be saved. He loved us when we were His enemies. This is what God wants from you and me. He is our example. He loved the unlovable. He loved the rebel. He reached out into our lives in love … the love of Calvary. In Jesus we can do this too. We can love the enemy and the persecutor. We can reach into their lives through prayer … seeking God to save their souls. The only place where enemies can become family is in Jesus Christ.
Lord, thank You that You loved us first. Thank You for amazing grace. Help us to love our enemies so much that we literally pray them into Your Eternal Kingdom … for Jesus sake. Amen.