Greatest Sermon in History Part 12
Love My Enemy? Are You Nuts?!?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 25, 2004
Matthew 5:33-48 (NLT)
In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in
the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as
they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was
further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the
accident. It wasn’t a technology problem like, say, a radar
malfunction—or even thick fog. The cause was simple human stubbornness.
Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could
have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain
wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. And
by the time they came to their senses, it was too late.
Those two captains suffered from an attitude that plagues many of us
today. We’re far more concerned about getting our rights and looking
strong than we are about mending relationships and reconciling with our
enemies. The passage that Jim read for us this morning from the
Greatest Sermon in History, the Sermon on the Mount, finds Jesus
directly addressing how we treat our enemies. Do we hate them? Do we
seek revenge for what they’ve done to us? Do we revel at the prospect
of their downfall? Do we wish them harm? Will we oppose them at all
Jesus started out saying…
Matthew 5:42 (NLT)
“You have heard that the law of Moses says,
‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy.”
Believe it or not, that is what the Rabbis were teaching the people of
Israel. That is what the scribes and Pharisees taught. They encouraged
the people to show love toward their neighbour and hatred toward their
Let’s back up. Where did they get this idea? Well, Jesus said it came
out of the Law of Moses. We mentioned last week, the Law of Moses
refers specifically to the first five books of the Old Testament.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Looking at that
Law of Moses, we find in Leviticus…
Leviticus 19:18 (NLT)
“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against
anyone, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.”
So, “love your neighbour” is in there. But I don’t see anything in
there about hating enemies. In fact, nowhere in the Law of Moses does
it say that. So what was Jesus talking about? He was referring to the
way that the religious leaders had interpreted that verse.
They had reasoned: “Okay, we’re to love our neighbour. Who’s our
neighbour? Well, they’re other Israelites. They’re Jewish. They’re of
our same blood and religion. They’re one of us. Sure, we’ll love them.
And we’re free to hate anyone else.”
So they left off part of the command, “Love your neighbour as
yourself,” and they added “hate your enemy.” Problem is, that goes
against the very heart of the Word of God. Look at Proverbs 25:21;
Proverbs 25:21 (NLT)
If your enemies are hungry, give them food
to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
So the Rabbis and other Religious leaders had tinkered around with some
of God’s teachings and ignored others in order to come up with
something that suited them better. They found it much easier and much
more satisfying to love the people they were closest to and hate
basically everybody else. Love your neighbour… hate your enemy.
Adam Clarke in his commentary on this section quotes some Rabbinical
“Hear their own words: ‘A Jew sees a Gentile fall into the sea, let him
by no means lift him out; for it is written, Thou shalt not rise up
against the blood of thy neighbour—but this is not thy neighbour.’ This
shows that by neighbour they understood a Jew; one who was of the same
blood and religion with themselves.”
~ Adam Clarke Commentary
That’s what the people on the hillside listening to Jesus that day
would have been taught. That’s what felt right to them. Doesn’t that
feel right to you, too? It’s a natural response to hate those who hate
us and strike out at them.
Little Johnny was in the garden filling in a large hole when his
neighbour peered over the fence. Interested in what the youngster was
up to, he politely asked, "What'cha doing, Johnny?"
"My goldfish died," replied the boy tearfully, without looking up.
"I've just buried him."
The neighbour was concerned. "That's an awfully big hole for a
goldfish, isn't it?"
Johnny patted down the last heap of earth, then replied, "That's
because he's inside your dumb cat."
It’s natural to hate your enemy. It’s natural to seek revenge. It’s
natural to want to make them pay. But Jesus calls us to be
supernatural. He said…
Matthew 5:43-44 (NLT)
“You have heard that the law of Moses says,
‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your
It’s the sixth time in this chapter that we’ve seen Jesus say, “You’ve
heard this,” and then add three incredible words… “But I say…” Jesus
knows what comes natural for us. He knows how we can become slaves to
our human, sinful desires and inclinations. But He calls us to a higher
way of life… “You’ve been taught this… the world teaches you this… you
natural desire is this… BUT I SAY…”
This time, He says, “But I say, love your enemies!”
“This is the most sublime piece of morality ever given to man.”
~ Adam Clarke Commentary
Okay, so that’s what Jesus said. But why? What good is it to love my
enemy? Why should I? What benefit is there? Why is it even important?
Valid questions. Let me give you four answers.
Should I Love My Enemy?
1. It shows what God has done in
Matthew 5:46-47 (NLT)
“If you love only those who love you, what
good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind
only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even
pagans do that.”
Even little kids know how to love people who are nice to them! Even
dogs develop a loyalty to the people who feed them. There’s nothing
special or noble about that. But to love your enemy… that takes a real
work of God in your life. That takes real spiritual maturity.
2 Corinthians 5:14, 16-18 (NLT)
Whatever we do, it is because Christ's love
controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also
believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live…
So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about
them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were
merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! What this
means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are
not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!
All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself
through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling
people to him.
If God has made you a new person… if He has truly changed your life…
then the proof will be found in the way you love others… even the
people you would consider to be an enemy. It doesn’t mean you won’t
have enemies. Jesus had enemies. But it does mean you will love those
enemies. It means that you will wish them well. It means you will help
them up when they fall down. And it means you will desperately desire
for them to be reconciled to God. Read this with me…
1 John 4:16 (NLT)
God is love, and all who live in love live
in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows
Our love for our enemies is the proof that God is working in our lives.
“Loving your enemy has nothing to do with who they are and everything
to do with who you are.”
2. It directs others to God.
Loving your enemy takes away their power, it
defuses the situation, it softens their demeanour, and it shows them
the heart of God.
Colossians 3:12-14, 17 (NLT)
Since God chose you to be the holy people
whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy,
kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance
for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you.
Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the
most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what
binds us all together in perfect harmony…
And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord
Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.
When you love the person who offends you… when you love your enemy… you
can do it as a representative of Jesus. Not in a self-righteous or
holier-than-thou way, but in a compassionate, merciful, humble way.
That’s the way Jesus loves. That’s the way we’re to love.
As children of God, we don’t strike back and return evil for evil. If
someone does evil to us, we do good to them, and in so doing we direct
them to God.
Romans 12:17-21 (NLT)
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do
things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. Do your
part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.
Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is
"I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it," says the
Instead, do what the Scriptures say:
"If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them
something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to
Don't let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.
“Jesus sought to eradicate evil, not by eradicating the evil doer but
by redeeming them… by changing them.”
~ Denn Guptill
That’s what returning good for evil can do. It can redeem them. It can
change them. It can direct them to God.
3. It follows the example Jesus set
Romans 5:8 (NLT)
But God showed his great love for us by
sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
God loved us, even when we were still wallowing around in our
sinfulness. When we were still sinners and therefore enemies of God, He
loved us enough to become a man and suffer a terrible death all so we
could be forgiven and come to know Him personally. That’s the extent of
His love, and that’s the example He set for us to follow.
Ephesians 5:2 (NLT)
Live a life filled with love for others,
following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a
sacrifice to take away your sins.
1 Peter 2:21-23 (NLT)
Christ, who suffered for you, is your
example. Follow in his steps. He never sinned, and he never deceived
anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he
did not threaten to get even.
The word “love” sometimes seems like such a fluffy word. It’s so sweet,
so sugary, so sentimental. But the truth is, loving is not always easy,
particularly when it comes to loving an enemy. It wasn’t easy for
Jesus, but He did it. In the midst of being tortured to death, Jesus
prayed for the forgiveness of the very people killing Him. It’s not
always easy, but it is our calling. To love. No matter what anyone does
to us, to love.
That’s part of growing up as a Christian. That’s part of maturing
spiritually. Many children want to grow up to be like their fathers. We
have a Heavenly Father. Do you want to grow up to be like Him?
After Jesus told us to love our enemies, He added;
Matthew 5:45 (NLT)
“In that way, you will be acting as true
children of your Father in heaven.”
4. It is the purest form of love.
We use the word “love” in a variety of ways.
I love your shirt, I love my wife, I love this church, I love my car, I
love Star Trek, I love Harrison Ford, I love the Stanley Cup playoffs,
I love pizza. And yet I love each of those in a different way.
The Greeks got around this problem by using different words for love.
Let me explain four of them for you. All four of these words refer to
different kinds of love. And they’re not exclusive… Sometimes they
Four Kinds of Love:
- Storge - family love
This is the kind of love you would feel toward your children or your
- Eros – Sexual love
This is the love you feel toward your husband or wife. It’s where we
get the word erotic.
- Phileo – Friendship
This is the love you’d have for a close friend. Philadelphia is known
as what? “The city of brotherly love.” (I’m not sure how that relates
to Philadelphia Cream Cheese.)
Then there’s a fourth word the Greeks used for love…
- Agape – Unconditional
This kind of love is an act of the will, not of the heart. It’s not an
“if” or “because” love—“I’ll love you if you do this” or “I love you
because of that”. This type of love is not based on the actions of
others. It’s a pure, unadulterated, unconditional, no-holds-barred kind
of love, and it’s the type of love that Jesus commands us to show to
others, even our greatest enemy. Why? Because that is the kind of love
God has for us. A love not based on external factors. A love that He
had for us, even as sinners.
Maybe you’re saying, “All that sounds great.
I agree, it’s a good thing to love my enemies. It’s what Christ
modelled and it’s what I’m called to do. But how? How can I ever
develop Agape love for my worst enemy?” Well, I admit it can be
difficult. Let me give you four critical steps to moving toward this
kind of love.
I Love My Enemy?
A. Decide you want to love them.
The first thing is, you’ve just got to
decide. Establish in your own mind and heart that this is important.
It’s Godly. It’s what you’re called to. Decide that you’re going to
follow the example of Jesus and learn to love others, even your
enemies. You may not get it right every time, but strive to get better
every day. Learn to control your anger. Learn to show love, not hatred.
Learn to overcome bitterness and contempt.
Deuteronomy 30:20 (NLT)
“Choose to love the LORD your God and to
That’s a verse in the Old Testament telling us to choose to love God. I
believe Jesus in the New Testament is calling us to choose to love our
enemies. We may not always feel like loving them, but Agape love does
not depend on feelings. It’s a choice.
B. Pray for them, not against them.
Mathew 5:44 (NLT)
“Pray for those who persecute you!”
Pray for them, not against them. Don’t pray that God will get even with
them for you, don’t pray that God will destroy them or bring them harm.
Pray for their well-being… Pray for their prosperity… pray for them to
be reconciled to God… pray that you might even play a role in that
I think the reason that Jesus told us to pray for our enemies is
because it’s impossible to pray for them and remain hostile and bitter
toward them. As you pray for them, those feelings of animosity and even
hatred melt away. You begin to be filled with a love and compassion for
them instead. Doesn’t mean all the problems between you disappear, but
your perspective of them changes.
Psychiatrist Robert Coles tells an amazing story of a girl who had
learned to pray for those who were hostile to her. Coles was in New
Orleans in 1960 when a federal judge ruled that the city schools must
be integrated… blacks and whites attending school together. A
6-year-old girl, Ruby Bridges, was the only black child to attend the
William T. Frantz School. Every day for weeks as she entered and left
the building, a mob would be standing outside to scream at her and
threaten her. A 6-year old girl! They shook their fists, shouted
obscenities, and threatened to kill her. One day her teacher noticed
her lips moving as she walked through the crowd, surrounded by burly
federal marshals. When the teacher told Coles about it, he asked Ruby
if she was talking to the people. “I wasn’t talking to them,” she
replied. “I was just saying a prayer for them.”
Coles asked her, “Why do you do that?”
“Because they need praying for,” came her reply.
That’s a great amount of spiritual maturity being displayed by a
6-year-old girl. She’s been called a hero. Disney has even released a
movie about Ruby. Instead of responding with anger or hatred or even
fear, she prayed for the very people who were threatening her and she
developed a compassion… a love… for them.
“Prayer is the forerunner of mercy.”
~ C.H. Spurgeon
C. Remember: If they matter to
Jesus they matter to me.
I have a magnet on my fridge that says that
(“If they matter to Jesus they matter to me.”) Some of you have seen
it. The way I see it, if God is God and is completely Holy and Just,
yet He decides to love me despite all of my flaws and sinfulness, then
I have right to treat anyone else with hatred or contempt. If Jesus was
willing to go to the cross because of His great love for me, then by
what right can I withhold love from anyone else? If I declare my enemy
to be unlovable, I’m essentially declaring myself to be more holy than
God Himself! If God can love them, then so can I.
What does Jesus tell us about how God the Father treats His enemies?
Matthew 5:45 (NLT)
“For he gives his sunlight to both the evil
and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too.”
I used to think this verse was telling me that God blesses both the
evil and the good… that’s the sunlight… and He allows bad things to
happen to them, too… that’s the rain. But I’ve come to realize that
Jesus was speaking to an agricultural society. Both the sunlight and
the rain are important. So there’s nothing in what Jesus was saying
about bad things happening… it’s all good. God blesses us, regardless
of who we are. And no matter how evil I may become, nothing will ever
change His love for me.
Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)
And I am convinced that nothing can ever
separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels
can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about
tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away.
Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in
all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that
is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The simple truth is, people matter to Jesus. Regardless of how good
they are or how evil they are, they matter to Him. And if they matter
to Jesus they matter to me. That’d be a good phrase to memorize. Say it
“If they matter to Jesus they matter to me.”
D. Ultimately, you must submit to
You can’t truly develop a pure and
unconditional love for your enemies apart from the work of God in your
life. It’s all part of the process. It’s all part of the refining that
takes place in our lives as we obey Him and allow Him to transform our
2 Peter 1:6-7 (NLT)
Knowing God leads to self-control.
Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to
godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally
you will grow to have genuine love for everyone.
But it all starts with knowing God. Having a genuine love for everyone
is a by-product of knowing God.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives,
he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These qualities are only truly formed in us after we’ve entrusted
control of our lives to God… to the Holy Spirit. Then and only then can
we see this kind of fruit in our lives.
The thing about fruit is that it takes a bit of time to grow. Some
fruit grows quite quickly, some can take a while. Whether fast or slow,
it does take time. So you’re not going to decide today that this is
what you want and wake up tomorrow morning with all these fruit of the
Spirit formed in your life. They may have started to grow, but it will
take time. It’s a process. And that means that you’ll still mess up on
occasion. That’s okay. The key is, don’t give up. If you decide that
you’re going to love your enemy and then something happens and you
respond in a way that’s not so loving, don’t throw in the towel. Learn
from it. Apologize if necessary. Press on. Allow the Holy Spirit to
continue His work in you.
Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
And I am sure that God, who began the good
work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on
that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.