San Jose

Mercy Hill Church of San Jose | Sermons

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies
Matthew 5:38-48

Let’s turn to Matthew 5:38-48.  If you need a Bible, go ahead and raise your hand and we will bring one to you.  Matthew 5:38 is on page 810 in the Bibles we are passing out.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.  Over the years he saw more and more clearly how evil Hitler was – lying to the public, killing those who opposed him, invading defenseless countries, persecuting and killing Jews.

And Bonhoeffer knew that some were plotting to assassinate Hitler.  So he faced the question – should he help them?  What was Jesus calling him to do?  And one of the passages he wrestled with was Matthew 5:38-48.  Look at what Jesus says --

38            You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

39            But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40            And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

41            And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

42            Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

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 and pray for those who persecute you,

45            so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

47            And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

48            You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Once again we see that Jesus is correcting something – both in vv.38-39, and in vv.43-44.  So what is Jesus correcting?

In v.38 Jesus quotes from Exodus 21:24 – “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”  The surrounding verses show that this is talking about how judges should determine the punishment for crimes.  It’s not talking about how we respond in day-to-day relationships.

But the Pharisees took this verse about crimes and turned it into a verse about relationships -- teaching that if someone hurts you then it’s OK to hurt them.  So if someone gossips about you – you can gossip about them; if someone dishonors you – you can dishonor them.

But this was a terrible distortion -- because the Old Testament never said to seek personal revenge.  In fact, Leviticus 19:18 says “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people.”  So in vv.38-39 what Jesus is correcting is not the Old Testament, but the Pharisees’ distortion of the Old Testament.

The same is true in v.43 –

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

Now you could think that whole quotation is from the Old Testament, but it’s not.  The first half is from the Old Testament – “you shall love your neighbor.”  But the second half – “you shall hate your enemy” -- is just something the Pharisees made up.

The Old Testament does not command us to hate our enemies.  It taught that if you found your enemy’s lost donkey you should bring it back to your enemy.  And Proverbs 25:21 says that if your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”

So in both of these verses – v.38 and v.43 -- Jesus is not correcting the Old Testament – He is correcting the Pharisees’ distortion of the Old Testament.

But now I have to warn you.  Jesus’ teaching in these verses is so shocking, so startling – that you could easily just give up and say “I could never live that way.”  So – before we look at what Jesus calls us to do – let’s look at what Jesus says about how this is possible –

How is it possible to do what Jesus commandsThe answer is in vv.44-45 --

44            But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

45            so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

Now if all we had was this verse – we’d think this meant that first we have to love our enemies before we can be children of God.  That the way we come to have God as our Father is by loving our enemies.

But there’s tons of verses showing that’s not what Jesus means.  And one of them is the very first verse of the Sermon on the Mount – blessed are the poor in spirit.  Everything starts with us seeing that we are poor in spirit – we have no goodness -- no love for our enemies – no spirituality.

So we come to Jesus poor in spirit, admitting our sinfulness, confessing our sinfulness, trusting Him to forgive us, change us, and satisfy us -- and at that moment something amazing happens. 

At that moment you are forgiven for all of our sins – and for the first time God becomes your Father.  Before – your sins separated you from God.  But when – through Jesus – your sins were taken away—God became your Father.

And that changed everything.  You experience His love pouring into your heart – and are filled with joy.  And you see His promises to take care of everything – and are filled with security.  When you know God as your Father your heart is profoundly changed – and one of the results is that you will love your enemy.

So what Jesus is saying in vv.44-45 is – love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you – so that you may show that you are sons of your Father who is in heaven.  Everyone who through Jesus has God as their Father is so filled with joy and security that they love our enemies.  So – when we love our enemies – we show that God is our Father.

So what comes first – loving your enemies – or having God as your Father.  Having God as your Father.  When you have God as your Father – with all the joy and security that means – your heart will be changed so you will be able to do what Jesus calls us to do in this passage.

So with that in mind -- will happen in our hearts when God becomes our Father?  Jesus gives us three answers in these verses. 

First – we won’t seek revenge when someone hurts us.  Look at vv.38-41 --

38            You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' [The Pharisees used this to show that we can seek revenge against those who hurt us.]

39            But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  [That is, don’t seek revenge when someone hurts you.  Then Jesus gives three illustrations to show that it’s better to suffer more loss than seek revenge.]  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40            And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

41            And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

Think about life before you had God as your Father.  You had earthly joys and securities which people could take from you.  And when they took them – you wanted revenge.

But when God became your Father -- everything changes.  You have received infinite, undeserved mercy.  You have God as your all-satisfying Treasure.  You have His promises to take care of your every need.

So – when someone hurts you – you won’t seek revenge.  Why?  Because you have received such mercy, because you have God filling your heart.  And you have His promises for your every need.  So you won’t seek revenge when someone hurts you.  But this will look different depending on the circumstances.

For example – when I was doing real estate I gave a referral to a fellow-agent and we agreed that I’d get a certain percentage at close of escrow.  Well – the deal closed and there was no check in my box.  After a week I asked him and he said that he was a little short on money and could he have another month.  I said “sure” – but I never saw the money.  But I knew that I had received astonishing mercy, and I was experiencing the joy of knowing God and the security of all His promises.  So – by God’s grace – I didn’t seek revenge.  I forgave him.  I let it go.

But let’s say someone breaks into your house and steals a bunch of your stuff.  Because of God’s mercy, your joy in God, your security in the promises – you won’t seek revenge.  But I can also see that for the sake of others he might victimize – for the sake of law and order – you might decide to press charges.  You would not be seeking personal revenge – but you are seeking that justice be done.

So when we know God as our Father – we won’t seek revenge when someone hurts us.

Then second – we will want to give freely to meet needs.  That’s the point of v.42 --

Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Before we had God as our Father – all we had was earthly stuff – and we wanted to keep it all to ourselves.

But when God became our Father – our hearts were filled with joy in knowing Him – and we knew that all our needs would always be met.

So -- when we see someone in need – because of all that we have in God – our hearts want to give.  We want to help.  We want to do something.  But again – that impulse in our hearts will express itself differently depending on the circumstances.

So let’s say a friend from the past knocks on your door and says he’s in a financial bind and needs $500.  So because you have God as your Father – you will want to help him.  So if as you talk it all looks on the up and up – and if you don’t need that $500 to feed your kids – you will give him the $500.

But what if a friend has just gone into rehab and knocks on your door and asks for money for alcohol.  Well, because God is your Father you will want to help him.  but in this case you know the money would cause him harm.  So maybe instead you could invite him in, make him dinner, and talk and pray with him.

When we know God as our Father – we will want to give freely to meet needs.

Then third – we will want to do good for our enemies.  That’s the point of vv.43-44 –

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 and pray for those who persecute you.

Before God was our Father all we had was earthly joy and security.  So when someone took some of our earthly joy and security – we wanted to hurt them. 

But when we trusted Jesus and God became our Father – we have our hearts filled with joy in Him – and we have the security of knowing that He will care for our every need.  This joy and security so fills us that we want to do good for our enemies.

But that will look different depending on the circumstances.

Let’s say you’ve done well at work and gotten a promotion – but it made another employee jealous.  So he walked up to you one day and said – Blank you—I don’t give a blank about your promotion – you’re nothing more than blank.  And walked away.  But you are humbled by God’s mercy, filled with God’s love, secured with God’s promises.  So you care about him.  So if his wife comes down with cancer and the medical bills are piling up and he needs help with the mortgage – you write him a check  He’s been your enemy – but because God is your Father you will want to do him good.

But what about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Hitler is rising in power – lying, killing, committing genocide.  Because God is his Father he is humbled, satisfied, and secured.  And so he wants his good.  But he is also called to love others and do what he can to protect them.  So he joined in the plot to assassinate Hitler – out of love for those Hitler otherwise would kill.

Do you see how this works?  When through Jesus you come to have God as your Father – He will so humble you with His mercy – fill you with His presence – secure you in His promises -- that you --

Won’t seek revenge when someone hurts you

will want to give freely to meet needs.

Will want to do good for your enemies.

But now there’s one last question to ask -- why is this so important?  Why is it so important that we give to others and love our enemies?  Jesus tells us in v.48 --

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus wants this to shock us.  We must be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  To enter heaven we must be perfect.  Jesus’ point isn’t that we can’t be perfect – that’s exactly what He does not say.  What He says is that we must be perfect.

So what does that mean?  It means three things.

By faith in Jesus Christ you are counted as perfect – as He has forgiven you for all your sins and given you His perfect righteousness as a gift.

And – by faith in Christ Jesus you will be actually perfect the moment you enter heaven.  God will powerfully remove all the rest of your sin and transform you so you are actually morally perfect forever in heaven.

And in the meantime – by faith in Christ -- you are becoming perfect as you experience so much humility, joy, and security in having God as your Father that you –

won’t seek revenge when someone hurts you.

will give freely to meet needs.

will do good for your enemies.

You – understanding all that means – you must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

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