The Jesus Revolution
Matthew 5:43-48—A new kind of love
ILL: A woman and her husband came to their pastor to tell him they were getting a divorce. The pastor told the husband, “The Bible says you’re to love your wife as Jesus loved the church.”
“Impossible; I can’t do that,” he said.
So the pastor said, “If you can’t begin at that level, then begin on a lower level. The Bible also says you’re supposed to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Can you at least love her like a neighbor, as you would love yourself?”
The husband said, “No. I can’t do that either. There’s too much water under the bridge, too much hurt and animosity.”
Then the pastor said, “Well then, Jesus said to love your enemies. Let’s start there.”
That’s a tough place to begin. Love your enemies. It’s one thing to love someone who loves you, who is nice to you, kind to you, generous with you. Almost anyone can do that! But it’s another thing altogether to love an enemy, someone who has hurt you or is seeking to harm you. It’s what Jesus calls us to do. It’s the Jesus Revolution, and that’s what we’re talking about today.
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Introduction: Jesus changes us so that we’re able to love even our enemies!
This is the Jesus Revolution. We are looking at Jesus’ revolutionary teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, considered by many people the highest ethical teaching ever. But I’m suggesting that Jesus is not just giving a new and higher ethic; He is calling us to a new relationship. “Follow me,” He says, and as we follow Him, He changes us and makes us a new kind of person. This sermon describes the changes He makes in us as we follow Him. Follow Jesus and He will change you.
In Matthew 5, Jesus has been taking laws from the Old Testament and filling them with new meaning. He said, “I didn’t come to abolish the law, but fulfill it.” So he took the law, “do not murder” and said that we shouldn’t stay angry; he took the law, “do not commit adultery” and said that we shouldn’t look with the intent to lust. He moves from the external act, to the internal attitude of the heart. Jesus wants to change us from the inside out—deep, inner heart change that then works its way into your behavior.
So far, everything He has said has been challenging, but wait until you hear today’s verses! They don’t sound challenging—they sound impossible!
Matthew 5:43-48 “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. It was said: Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.
Matthew 5:43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
Love your neighbor as yourself—that was the Old Testament law.
Leviticus 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.”
The Old Testament never said, “Hate your enemy.” In fact, there are places that suggest we ought to actively love our enemies.
Exodus 23:4-5 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.
Proverbs 25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
So where did this distortion, “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” come from? The Pharisees and scribes reasoned like this. Leviticus 19 was written to Israel, explaining how they should treat one another. It has to do with the treatment of a neighbor, a brother, one of your own people. So they argued, “My neighbor is a fellow Jew, one of my own people, who belongs to my race and religion. Since the command is to love my neighbor, it must be taken as permission or even a command to hate my enemy, for he is not my neighbor that I should love him.”
Of course they ignored the plain teaching of the OT that said they should have one law, one standard for the Jew and Gentile alike.
Leviticus 19:33-34 When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
God never taught His people a double standard of morality, one for a neighbor and another for an enemy. But that is what it had come to in Jesus’ day.
Centuries later, there are still millions of people who define their neighbors or enemies by race or religion. My neighbors are those like me; my enemies are those who are different. I love my neighbors; I hate my enemies. Things haven’t changed much.
So Jesus said…
2. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for them.
Matthew 5:44-45 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.
Not only should we not hate our enemies, we ought to love them and pray for them. What does Jesus mean by “love your enemies?” What kind of love is this? There are four words for love in the Greek language.
- Storge is the word for love of family, love of kin. This is the love a child feels for his parents and parents for a child, or siblings for each other: family affection.
- Eros is the word for love between a man and woman, husband and wife. It refers to a sexual love, a passion between lovers.
- Philia is the word for friendship, the warm affection between friends. Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love—from this word.
- Agape is the word for deliberate love, an unconquerable benevolence, an invincible goodwill. This is a love of action rather than emotion, a love that begins in the will. This is the love that says, “I will do you good no matter what.” This is the word used in the Bible of God’s love for us. And this is the word Jesus uses here.
When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, He doesn’t expect us to have the same feelings for them that we would for our families, our spouse or our friends. Aren’t you glad? Jesus is commanding action, not sentiment. You probably won’t feel any warm fuzzies or romantic passion or family bonding for your enemy. This isn’t a love that comes naturally, or a love you fall into; you choose this love. This is a love that begins in the will; you choose to do what is best for the other person, even when you don’t feel like it, even when it costs you something. This is the love Jesus commands.
This is God’s love. This is how He loves you: an active unconquerable benevolence, an invincible goodwill towards you. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you rebel, no matter how far you run, God is determined to love you, to do the best for you. There is nothing in all the world greater than God’s love. He is for you, not against you, and His love, His desire to do what is best for you, is the strongest force in the universe! That is the love we’re to show to our neighbors, friends and enemies alike.
A great example of loving enemies in the NT is Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor. A scribe wanting to justify himself asked, “But who is my neighbor?” (He probably defined “neighbor” very narrowly, including only those like him.) Jesus tells the story: A Jewish man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead in the road. A Jewish priest walks by without helping. A Jewish Levite (temple assistant) walks by without helping. Then a Samaritan, a hated half-breed, held in utter contempt by most Jews, stopped and helped his enemy. “Which of the three do you think was a neighbor to the injured man?” Jesus asked.
To understand the force of the story, you have to understand the depth of hatred between Jews and Samaritans. They were bitter enemies. Today Jesus might use an Israeli lying in the road who is helped by a Palestinian. Or an American lying in the road who is helped by a member of Al Qaeda. It was shocking! Jesus made it clear that loving our neighbor includes anyone in need, even if that person is our enemy. Our duty to our neighbor, be he friend or foe, is to love him. And as the story demonstrated, it is practical, active, need-meeting love. It is a love that actively seeks the well-being of others regardless of the harm they seek to inflict on you!
ILL: Eight times the Ministry of Education in E. Germany said no to Uwe Holmer’s children when they tried to enroll at the university in E. Berlin. The Ministry of Education doesn’t usually give reasons for its rejection of applications, but in this case the reason wasn’t hard to guess. Uwe Holmer, the father of the eight applicants, was a Lutheran pastor in a suburb of E. Berlin.
For 26 years the Ministry of Education was headed by Margot Honecker, the wife of E. Germany’s premier, Erich Honecker. When the Berlin wall cracked, Honecker and his wife were dismissed from office, evicted from their luxurious palace, and suddenly found themselves friendless, without resources, and with no place to go. None of their former cronies showed them any kindness; no one wanted to identify with the Honeckers.
Enter Uwe Holmer. Remembering the words of Jesus to love your enemies, Holmer extended an invitation to the Honeckers to stay with his family in the parsonage.
Florian Huber, in his book, Meine DDR (2008), wrote, “Holmer had always taken the words of the Bible literally. Forgiveness was a central value of his Christian faith, and no person was excluded from that. Not even the Honeckers, who had made life hard for both of them for many years. Uwe Holmer said, “Here a person needed help, we couldn’t fail him. Jesus would also have not have turned him down.”
Love your enemies.
ILL: Several years ago, a mom in our church told me that her preschooler, Nate (age 5), was having trouble at school. Another little boy, we’ll call him Conner, decided he didn’t like Nate and picked on him every day. Conner took toys from him, and pushed him and called him names. Finally, Nate had enough. One day, Connor tried to take his toy and Nate decked him—pushed him down. That afternoon, the teacher explained to Nate’s mom that he had a rough day, and told her about the pushing incident. “But Conner had it coming,” she said as she explained his behavior.
Mom went home and told dad the story and the two of them had a little talk with Nate about standing up for himself and not letting someone bully him.
The next day when Nate got to school, the first thing he did was find Conner…and hug him. And the two played like best friends all day.
Maybe Nate knew that what Conner needed was a hug, some love.
Love your enemies. It’s the best way to turn them into friends.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies so that we will be “sons of your Father in heaven.” The Hebrew phrase, “a son of” was used with a noun as a descriptor. Barnabas was a “son of encouragement”—a very encouraging guy. James and John were “sons of thunder”—a couple very loud and hot-headed guys. If you love your enemies, you are sons of God—a very God-like person. Loving your enemies is a God-like thing to do.
God is good to everyone, even to those who oppose Him. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Remember, this wasn’t written in the context of the Pacific NW, where we often complain about the rain. This was written in a land where rain was scarce and considered a blessing from heaven. Jesus is saying that God showers his kindness indiscriminately on the good and the bad; that all people, even the evil and the unrighteous, are the favored recipients of His love and goodness. God loves His enemies. God loves evil and unrighteous people! I’m so glad…if He didn’t, He would have never loved me! If He only loved the good ones, I’d have been left out!
Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. Prayer is an active expression of love. It is very difficult to pray for someone and continue to hate them. Pray for those who persecute you, who misuse you, who hurt and offend you. Don’t pray for God to nuke them, squash them like a bug, or pay them back ten times worse! Pray for God to bless and help and heal them. Ask God to forgive them. That’s what Jesus did: “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He prayed that as they nailed Him to the Cross. When you pray that way for your enemies, you won’t be able to hate them for long! If you are struggling to love an enemy, to love someone who has offended or hurt you, then I recommend that you start by praying for them. Your prayer is an act of love, and prayer will cause your love to grow.
3. Two conclusions: Let me finish with two conclusions from Jesus’ teaching.
A. Be different: “what are you doing more than others?”
Matthew 5:46-47 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?
“What are you doing more than others?” Isn’t that a great question?
Jesus says that if you love those who love you, that is natural. Everybody does that, even the tax collectors and pagans who were considered far from God. Jesus expects us to do more than that. He expects us to love those who don’t love us. He expects us to be different.
Please notice that the Christian difference is not one of externals: what clothes we wear, what food we eat, what shows we watch, what kind of cars we drive. The Christian difference is love; it is how we treat people. Anyone can treat a friend well. But not everyone can treat his enemy well.
ILL: U.S. News & World Report interviewed a 102-year-old artist who had painted alongside Claude Monet. She described the spiritual side of her life: “My spiritual vision means everything to me. I am against all war. It doesn’t solve anything. I have this great interest in the world and in people.” Then she added, “And it annoys me that as I sit here, a little old lady, I, who do not believe in violence, would like to have cannons shooting all the people I don’t approve of.”
Can you relate to that? We can agree in principle with the idea of loving our enemies, but to do it requires something extra. Jesus calls us to have a love that is more than that of others. It is a super-love; a supernatural love that comes from God. And Jesus said it is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
ILL: Chuck Swindoll tells the story of Aaron, a seminary student in Chicago. The only job he could find one summer was driving a bus on Chicago’s south side. One day a gang of tough kids spotted the young driver, and began to take advantage of him. They got on board and refused to pay the fare, and made smart remarks to him and to other passengers. After a few days of this, Aaron spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer told them to pay or get off; they paid, but unfortunately, the policeman got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang assaulted Aaron. When he came to, blood was all over his shirt, two teeth were missing, both eyes were swollen, his money was gone, and the bus was empty.
After a difficult weekend recovering and wondering what to do, Aaron pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. At the hearing, the young men entered guilty pleas, but Aaron found himself feeling compassion, not bitterness. They needed help not hatred. To everyone’s surprise, Aaron stood to his feet and requested permission to speak. “Your honor, I would like you to total up all the days of punishment against these men–all the time sentenced against them–and I request that you allow me to go to jail in their place.” Both attorneys were stunned. The judge didn’t know whether to spit or shave! And the gang sat there with mouths and eyes wide as saucers. Aaron looked at them and said, “It’s because I forgive you.” Aaron was not granted his request, but he visited those young men in jail and led most of them to faith in Christ.
Anybody can love those who love them, but Christians are called to be different, to do more, to love even their enemies.
Are you different? What are you doing more than others?
- B. Be perfect: as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The second, and very startling conclusion is the last verse: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. As if everything else Jesus has said isn’t tough enough, He has to throw in this! What does He mean?
Some people have used this to teach that we can be perfect, sinless in this life. How many of you believe that? I don’t for two reasons. First, after 47 years of following Jesus, I’m still a long, long, long way from perfection in that sense. I don’t see it happening in my life, or anyone else I know. And second, there are too many other Scriptures that indicate that we won’t be sinless until the next life.
ILL: In our first year here in Spokane, a guy named Randy called me up one day and asked me to meet him for coffee. We met downtown; he came with a friend. He told me about the church that he belonged to led by a man who claimed to be an apostle and the closest man to God on earth. This apostle had taught them that they were sinless, and this guy told me that he hadn’t sinned in over a year! He was dead serious! A few minutes later he told me that he had lost his drivers license recently for multiple speeding tickets—that’s why his friend had come along—he was the driver. I guess speeding wasn’t a sin in his book! Randy was part of a cult, and that meeting was his first tentative foray back into the real world. Shortly after that, he and his family left the cult, came to Life Center, and he ended up pastoring a Foursquare church for many years. He laughs about that first meeting now, and he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect.
This isn’t a command to be perfect in the sense of sinless—although that would be wonderful if we could do it!
So what does He mean? Let me suggest a couple ideas.
First, be like God. God Himself is the new standard for righteousness. Remember, Jesus is raising the bar on righteousness, and here He sets the bar as high as it can go. We should be like God. God’s righteousness, God’s character is the standard we aspire to. We want to be like Him. Rather than giving us a new set of rules to follow, Jesus gives us a Father to follow. Be like your heavenly Father. In every situation, ask yourself, “What would my Father do?” That’s the new standard.
Second, be perfect in love. The context is love: the perfect love of God which is shown to all men, even those who don’t return it. Jesus is calling us to love as God loves, even our enemies. He is our model in loving. Some scholars believe that the Aramaic word that Jesus would have used here meant “all-embracing”, that is perfect in the sense of complete and total and all-inclusive. Jesus would be saying, “You are to love everybody, friend and foe alike, even as God loves everybody.” It is an all-inclusive love that knows no boundaries.
ILL: One of the best true stories of loving an enemy is told in the movie, “The Scarlet and the Black.” Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish priest who worked at the Vatican during World War 2 and led an operation that hid and transported Jews, Allied soldiers and conspirators out of occupied Rome to safety. Colonel Herbert Kappler was the head of the Gestapo in Rome and was in charge of the Nazi occupation of Rome. He knew what O’Flaherty was doing and tried desperately, but futilely, to catch him. In the process, Kappler captured, tortured and murdered several of the priest’s friends; and he confined the priest to the Vatican grounds, threatening him with death if they ever caught him outside the Vatican. O’Flaherty continued his work, moving freely through Rome, by wearing dozens of ingenious disguises, including a nun’s habit.
When the Allies neared Rome in May of 1944, Colonel Kappler met privately with O’Flaherty and begged him to spirit his wife and children out of Rome. The priest refused to have anything to do with the Nazi overlord, and left with Kappler yelling at him that he was no different than anyone else, that his rescue work was not done on principle but just on self-preservation. But after his capture, at his interrogation, Kappler learned that his wife and children had mysteriously escaped to safety; and he knew who did it! The man he had sworn to destroy had saved his family.
By the way, the end of that story is even more wonderful. After the liberation, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was honored by Italy, Canada, and Australia, received the US Medal of Freedom and was made a Commander of the British Empire. Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes. In the long years that followed in his Italian prison, Kappler had only one visitor. Every month, year in and year out, Father O’Flaherty came to see him. In 1959, the former head of the dreaded Gestapo in Rome was baptized into Christ at the hands of the Irish priest he’d tried to kill.
Be perfect as your Father is perfect. Love your enemies. When you love your enemies, they probably won’t be enemies for very long!