The Greatest Sermon in History Part 12
Love My Enemy? Are You Nuts?!?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 25, 2004

 

Main Passage: 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 costs?

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 enemy.

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 teaching…

“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
http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/print.cgi?book=mt&chapter=005

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 enemies!”

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
http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/print.cgi?book=mt&chapter=005

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.

 

Why Should I Love My Enemy?

 

1. It shows what God has done in you.

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 more perfect.

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 written,
"I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it," says the Lord.
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 you."
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 for us.

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 overlap.

 

Four Kinds of Love:

  1. Storge - family love
    This is the kind of love you would feel toward your children or your parents.
     
  2. Eros – Sexual love
    This is the love you feel toward your husband or wife. It’s where we get the word erotic.
     
  3. Phileo – Friendship love
    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…
     
  4. Agape – Unconditional love
    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.

 

How Can 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 obey him…”

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 happening.

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 with me…

“If they matter to Jesus they matter to me.”

 

D. Ultimately, you must submit to heart transformation.

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 lives.

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.


 

 

Copyright © 2004 SunriseOnline.ca