Matthew 5:43-48 (NKJV) 43 “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? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
This week we have been looking at part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. One of the characteristics of the teachings of Jesus is that they tend to be the opposite of what had been taught before. Where the world tends to see greatness as obtained through domination of one form or another, Jesus says greatness comes through servant hood. In this chapter, Jesus tells his followers that the age-old tenant of justice, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, must be replaced by a philosophy that does not resist evil but instead repays evil with good.
All of these things seem counterintuitive. To our mind, they just will not work in the real world. However, the history of the church tells us that it is this kind of behavior that has made Christianity virtually impossible to destroy. I believe the reason for this is simple. God is behind Christianity. When we obey the words of Jesus, we release the power of God. Even if we seem to be defeated in the short term, we end up winning in the long term. People respond positively when we maintain the lifestyle and attitudes preached in the Gospels.
This brings me back to what we talked about yesterday. We need to take the “red letters” of the bible more seriously and more literally than we do. By the “red letters”, I mean the custom of printing the words of Christ himself in red. We need to understand that if we do the “red letters,” we will automatically live the way God wants us to. If we do not do the “red letters,” all of the other doctrinal things we may do will be useless. The key to success and victory are the “red letters” of the bible.
I want to look at the next section of Matthew 5. In these verses, Jesus gives us the real key to the previous teaching on responding to evil people. Once again we see the contrast between what had been taught and what he teaches his disciples.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies.” Jesus quotes anther Old Testament verse here.
Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
I find this very interesting and very telling. Jesus quotes the scripture but adds something to it. In Leviticus 19, it says that Israelites should not take vengeance upon their own people but that they should love their neighbor. In Matthew 5, the words “you shall love your neighbor” are in italics indicating a direct quotation.” The words “hate your enemy” are not in italics. This indicates that these words are not a translation but are, instead, an interpretation traditionally added to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Jewish culture, anyone who was not an Israelite was considered a potential enemy. It was acceptable to treat a non-Israelite differently. You should not seek vengeance upon an Israelite. It is quite acceptable to seek it on an “enemy” or someone who was not an Israelite. Their cultural interpretation of this thought was that it was acceptable to hate an enemy or anyone not of their people. That is not what the bible said.
This is an example of how cultural interpretation of the Word of God can cloud the spirit of what God was saying. The purpose of the statement in Leviticus 9 was to emphasize the love that Israelites should feel toward one another. The cultural interpretation emphasized the hatred for outsiders. We still make these kinds of mistakes.
Jesus leaves no room for misinterpretation. He makes it clear that the requirement is that we must love our enemies in the same way we love our “neighbors.” How must we love them? He gives us a number of practical keys.
We must bless those who curse us. We must speak well of people who speak badly about us. The natural tendency is to strike back at those who curse us. He says we must speak blessing over their lives. One of the best examples I have heard of this involves two preachers most would recognize if I named them.
One man believed that the other was preaching something that was not right. Instead of going to his brother as the bible says we should, he decided to attack him in his national publication. Large numbers of people read this magazine. He would publish cover stories about how bad this brother was and how damaging his teachings were. I cannot remember if he called him by his name but I know there was no doubt about whom he meant.
The second brother was someone I listened to a great deal. He did not have the wide audience that the first man did. However, whenever he spoke about this first preacher he always had wonderful things to say about him. He would say, “That man is just a preaching machine. He has probably preached to more people than anybody I know!” I never heard a negative word come out of his mouth about this man who was destroying his ministry in print.
Some years later there was a great scandal surrounding the first preacher’s ministry. He was caught in sexual immorality and eventually he became a reproach to the church. There have been attempts to do the same to the brother who refused to return cursing for cursing. None of the accusations stuck and to this day, although there are some who do not like his message, his integrity has never been questioned. When we choose to bless those who curse us we can rest assured that God will defend us.
He tells them to do good to people who hate them. I have had people who hated me and usually it was without reason. I did not want to do good things for them. I tried to not speak badly about them. I would not do bad things to them. I did not go out of my way to do good things for them either. However, Jesus says that to love them means I must do good for them if I can.
He says that we should pray for those who spitefully use us. To me this is even more significant. Someone may curse me out of ignorance. He may hate me because he has bad information. If he is being spiteful, it implies that he knows what he is doing and that he intends to hurt me even though he knows it is wrong. Love requires that I pray for him.
It is obvious that this is a type of love that the world has never known. Even the Israelites who had the greatest revelation of the creator in the world at that time did not understand this kind of love. Yet Jesus is very clear. The “red letters” tell us that we must do this kind of love if we are his disciples. I know that, in myself, I would find it very difficult to follow what Jesus says. Nevertheless, he did say it.
Maybe you would pray this with me. “Jesus, I see the kind of love that you say we must have. I am not sure I have that kind of love. I know I don’t in myself. Holy Spirit help me to yield to this love. Help me to respond according to the words of Jesus. Help me to love as Jesus tells us to love.”