Love your enemies

One day a truck driver was sitting in a crowded roadside diner ready to eat his lunch. Just as the waitress brought him his meat loaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans, a motorcycle gang swaggered in the door.

Most of them sat down at the table next to the truck driver but there wasn’t enough room for all of them. The gang members left standing turned to the truck driver and said, “Move! We want that table!”

The truck driver calmly said, “I haven’t finished my meal.” One of the gang members took his dirty finger, swiped it through the mashed potatoes and gravy, stuck his finger in his mouth and said, “Hey, not bad grub.” Another gang member took the trucker’s cup of coffee and slowly poured it over the remaining food on the plate and said, “You’re finished now!”

The trucker stood up, took his napkin, wiped his mouth, walked to the cash register, paid for his meal, and silently walked out the door. All the bikers laughed at him.

One of them said, “Ain’t much of a man, is he?” The waitress said, “And he’s not much of a truck driver, either. He just backed his rig over all your motorcycles.”

We all encounter people who are hard to live with. How do you treat the “jerks” in your life? How do you react to people who make life difficult for you?

To make sure there would be no misunderstandings, Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount exactly how He expects us to react when we are mistreated. In His sermon, Jesus gave several illustrations of what He had in mind.

Jesus expects His followers to react differently than the world does when we are mistreated! And He expects one more thing! Before we study Jesus’ final example, it might be good to review the previous ones.

Matthew 5:38-42: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” NKJV

The world says, “Kill if the circumstances merit it and you can get away with it.” The Pharisees said, “Do not kill.” Jesus said, “Do not even be angry.”

The world says, “It is all right to commit adultery.” The Pharisees said, “Do not commit adultery.” Jesus said, “Do not look on a woman to lust after her.”

The world says, “Divorce is all right for any reason.” The Pharisees said, “When you divorce your wife, give her a certificate of divorce.” Jesus said, “Do not divorce your wife except for fornication.”

The world says, “Lying is all right.” The Pharisees said, “You must tell the truth when you take an oath.” Jesus said, “Tell the truth all the time.”

The world says, “Hit first, or hurt others more than they hurt you.” The Pharisees said, “You can get even, but only to the extent that you were hurt yourself.” Jesus said, “Do not avenge yourself; there should be no personal retaliation.”

Matthew 5:38-42 basically emphasizes what we should not do when we are mistreated – retaliate.

Matthew 5:43–47: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” NKJV

Matthew 5:43-47 tells us what we should do – we should love those who mistreat us and find a way to help them.

The world says, “You have no need for love; love is for weaklings.” The Pharisees said, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”

I. Love your neighbor

Matthew 5:43 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” NKJV

You may recognize the command “You shall love your neighbor” from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus called these words the second great commandment: Matthew 22:37-40: “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” NKJV

In Leviticus 19, the immediate context of this commandment is the instruction to love fellow Jews. The verse before says, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman” (Leviticus 19:17a); and the first part of verse 18 says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people.”

The Jews thought the commandment meant that they were only obligated to love other Israelites. Jesus later made it clear that the term “neighbor” includes anyone in need whom we can help (Luke 10:29–37).

The second part of Matthew 5:43 – “…and hate your enemy…” is not found in the Old Testament. The Jews may have justified their thinking based on the Psalms that urged God to do terrible things to Israel’s enemies (Psalm 69:22–28).

They may have also pointed to passages that instructed the Israelites to isolate themselves from the nations around them (Isaiah 52:10-11).

Of course, other passages told them to help their enemies (Proverbs 25:21-22).

Nevertheless, the Jews concluded that it was their right and even their responsibility to hate their enemies.

The Qumran Manual of Discipline said: “…to love everyone whom God has elected, and to hate everyone whom he has rejected…to hate all the sons of darkness.”

II. Love your enemies

Matthew 5:44 – “…but I say to you, love your enemies…” NKJV

When we hear the word “enemy,” we may think of those who do not like us and may have even said bad things to us or about us.

When a Jew heard the word “enemy,” he was reminded of those who had oppressed them, including those who had massacred Jews because they refused to give up sacred rites such as circumcision. The Jews hated the Romans with all their heart and wanted them dead and gone! It is difficult for us to realize how startling, even offensive, these words would have been to many in Jesus’ audience.

What Jesus said was an extremely “hard saying” to the Jews. What Jesus said is still a “hard saying” to many today. It is not difficult to love those who love us, but the challenge to love our enemies provides a check on the depth of our spirituality. Someone has called this “the acid test of love.”

Oscar Wilde said, “Love your enemies. They’ll go crazy trying to figure out what you’re up to.” Jesus did not intend this commandment to be a sly way to get back at our enemies. He intended that we draw them closer to ourselves and closer to the Lord.

Alfred Plummer wrote, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.”

Someone has said, “We are not commanded to like our enemies, but we are commanded to love them.” What then did Jesus mean when He said, “Love your enemies?”

Jesus used the Greek word for “love” which means “seeking the best for the one loved.” Love says that we must try to determine our enemy’s needs and then supply those needs.

Matthew 5:44 – “…but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” NKJV

In Romans 12, Paul gave examples of what is involved in “seeking the best” for an enemy:

Romans 12:17–21: “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” NLT

What if our enemies refuse our help? One thing we can do for them which they cannot refuse is to pray for them. On the cross, Jesus prayed for His persecutors (Luke 23:34). Stephen, the first Christian martyr, prayed for his persecutors:

Acts 7:60 – “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” NKJV

Love and prayer go together. If you love someone, you will pray for him. Then, if you pray for him, your love for him will grow. Fervent prayer for an enemy will drive hatred from your heart.

It’s impossible to love and pray for someone if at the same time we hate them and are holding bitter feelings towards them!

This is one of the hardest things to do. A preacher in a Texas meeting once said, “The best way to get rid of your enemies is to pray for them. It will help them and it will help you.” The preacher went back to his motel room and was asleep when the phone rang. When he answered it, he heard a woman’s very tearful voice saying, “Preacher, I just can’t do it.” He asked gently, “Do what?” She answered, “I can’t pray for someone who has used me spitefully. I can’t do it, and I’m miserable.” The telephone clicked and the conversation was over.

The preacher never knew what the woman’s situation was, but I know this: If you cannot pray for people who spitefully use you, you are going to be miserable!

III. Why

a) To Be Like God

Jesus gave two reasons why we should love our enemies. The first is to be like God: Matthew 5:45 – “…that you may be sons of your Father 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.” NKJV

Sunshine and rain are simple, everyday things that are essential to life. Jesus’ point was that God does not give these gifts only to the good and the righteous. He also gives them to the evil and the unrighteous – in other words, to His enemies. He gives people what they need, not what they deserve.

b) To not be like the unrighteous

The second reason is to not be like the unrighteous. Matthew 5:46-47: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors (Gentiles) do so?” NKJV

Jesus referred to two groups, both despised by the Jews: Gentiles (non-Jews) and tax collectors.

Tax collectors were Jews who collected revenue for the Roman government. Their fellow Jews considered them traitors. In the minds of the people, tax collectors were on the level of prostitutes and pagans (Matthew 9:11; 18:17; 21:31).

However, Jesus loved all people; He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He was known as a friend of tax collectors (Matthew 11:19). The one who recorded the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) was a former tax collector (Matthew 9:9–13).

Jesus even loved the Gentiles (Matthew 8:5–11; 28:18–20; Luke 2:25, 32). Why, then, did He use tax collectors and Gentiles in His illustration? Because, as far as His listeners were concerned, they were the lowest forms of life on earth!

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus told His disciples that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of those they considered to be at the top level of society – the scribes and the Pharisees.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” NKJV

Now, He asks, “Does your righteousness exceed those you consider at the lowest level – tax collectors and Gentiles?”

Most of our relationships are reciprocal in nature. Someone likes us, we like him. Someone says “Hello” to us, we say “Hello” to them. Someone invites us into their home; we invite him into our home. Someone gives us a Christmas card; we give him a Christmas card!

Jesus challenges us to do “more than others,” to be different than the world. What sets us apart is not that we love those who love us, but that we also love those who do not love us.

Luke 14:12-14: “…When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” NKJV

Jesus didn’t die just for his friends. He died for his enemies to make them his friends. He died for all who have ignored God, all who have rebelled against God, all who have denied God – God’s enemies. The enemy of God is anyone who is a friend of the world – the enemy of God is broken and lost! “How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great!”

God sees all the hatefulness and wickedness of His enemies yet He loves them and still wants to free them from their hate, to do them the highest good, to rescue them from their sin, and save their souls. Our “enemies,” of course, do not always come in life-threatening forms. Often they are people who are simply mean, impatient, judgmental, self-righteous, and spiteful – or people who just happen to disagree with us.

Regardless of how we are treated, God commands us to love them. Whether a conflict is with our spouse, our children or parents, our friends, our fellow church members, a devious business opponent, a spiteful neighbor, or a political foe, our attitude toward them must be one of love.

The type of love that God expects from us is the same type of love that God shows to us! Romans 5:8 – “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” NLT

IV. Conclusion

The Bible describes Jesus as a “friend of sinners” who came to seek and save the lost. But in many ways we have strayed far away from the attitude God expects us to have towards the lost and our enemies. When we judge people, we cut them down with a sword that was never ours to swing! In our rush to judgment, we pick up stones and sometimes throw them, forgetting that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that all of us were that lost cause that Jesus came to save.

The world is hurtling towards the Day of Judgment and most people are lost – our great sin is that many of them are tripping over us on the way.

How about for one day, let us be kind, let us forgive, let us talk peacefully with each other, let us do good to all men – let us love our enemies!

Luke 6:35-36: “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” NLT

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