Matthew 5:43-48 Loving our Enemies
Tonight I want us to reflect upon this radical teaching of Jesus that we love our enemies. In five ascending statements Jesus proclaims the kind of love that God has always required of His people and that must characterize everyone who goes by the name of the Lord.
1. Love your enemies (5:44a)
Illustration of the little girl's letter. Here is the most powerful teaching in Scripture about the meaning of love. The love that God commands of His people is love so great that it even embraces enemies. When Jesus said, “I tell you, love your enemies,” he must have startled his audience, for he was saying something that probably never before had been said so succinctly, positively, and forcefully. In placing what He said above what tradition said, He placed His word on a par with Scripture—as His hearers well understood. It was not just that His teaching was the standard of truth, but that He Himself was the standard of truth. It was as if Jesus was saying,
“Your great rabbis, scribes, and scholars have taught you to love only those of your own preference and to hate your enemies, ” Jesus was saying. “But by My own authority, I declare that they are false teachers and have perverted God’s revealed truth. The divine truth is My truth, which is that you shall love your enemies.”
The human tendency is to base love on the desirability of the object of our love. We love people who are attractive, we love hobbies that are enjoyable, a house or a car because it looks nice and pleases us, and so on. The Greek language has four different terms that are usually translated “love.” Philia is brotherly love and the love of friendship; storgeµ is the love of family; and eroµs is desiring, romantic, physical love. But the love of which Jesus speaks here, and which is most spoken of in the New Testament, is agape. The love that seeks and works to meet another’s highest welfare.
Above all, agapeµ love is the love that God is, that God demonstrates, and that God gives. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us“ (Rom. 5:5, 8). Because of His love, we can love, and “if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11–12).
Agape Love sees all
the hatefulness and the wickedness of the enemy yet desires to free him from his
hate, to do him the highest good, to rescue him from his sin, and save his soul.
Our “enemies,” of course, do not always come in life–threatening forms. Often
they are ordinary people who are simply mean, impatient, judgmental, self–righteous,
spiteful—or just happen to disagree with us. In akk our personal relationships,
God commands us to love. Whether a conflict is with our spouse, our children or
parents, our friends and fellow church members, a devious business opponent, spiteful
neighbor, political foe, or social antagonist, our attitude toward them must be
one of prayerful love. So first of all, love your enemies.
2. Pray for your persecutors (5:44b)
Because persecution is so often the world’s response to God’s truth, the Lord assures us that, just as He was persecuted, so will we be (John 15:20). Therefore His command for us to pray for our persecutors is a command that we will all eventually have opportunity to obey. Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the forerunner of mercy. ” I like that - the forerunner of mercy. I'm sure you have found that when you start to pray for someone you don't get on with, God begins to answer your prayer by softening your attitude toward them. We must love them because of who they are—sinners fallen from the image of God and in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, just as we were and do.
We must pray for them that they will, as we have done, seek His forgiveness and grace. Chrysostom said that prayer is the very highest summit of self–control, and that we bring our lives into conformity with God’s will most of all when we can pray for our persecutors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany, wrote of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:44,
“This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God” Love your enemies and pray for them.
3. Demonstrate your adoption (5:45)
To love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors shows that we are children of our Father who is in heaven. The aorist tense of (may be) indicates a once and for all established fact. God Himself is love, and the greatest evidence of our divine sonship through Jesus Christ is our love. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Loving as God loves does not make us children of the Father, but gives evidence that we already are His children. God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Those blessings are given without respect to merit or deserving. If they were, no one would receive them. God is indiscriminate in His benevolence.
“The eyes of all look to Thee, and Thou dost give them their food in due time,” the psalmist testifies. “Thou dost open Thy hand, and dost satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15–16).
His divine love and providence in some forms benefit everyone, even those who rebel against Him or deny His existence. An old rabbinic saying tells of the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. As the story goes, when the Egyptians were destroyed the angels began to rejoice; but God lifted up His hand and said, “The work of My hands are sunk in the sea and you would sing?” There is no good thing—physical, intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual, that does not come from the hand of God. If God does that for everyone, we His children must reflect that same generosity. So, love your enemies, pray for them, demonstrate your adoption.
4. Love unconditionally (5:46–47)
the scribes and Pharisees were certain of any one thing it was that they were
far better than everyone else. But Jesus again cuts through their blind hypocrisy
and shows that their type of love is nothing more than the ordinary self centered
love that was common even to taxgatherers and Gentiles. These were therefore probably
the most devastating and insulting words these religious leaders had ever heard.
They must have been enraged. Tax–gatherers were traitorous extortioners, and
almost by definition dishonest, heartless, and irreligious. In the eyes of most
Jews, Gentiles were outside the pale of God’s concern and mercy, fit only for
destruction. Quite simply, Jesus expects from His disciples such conduct as can
be explained only in terms of the supernatural.
Honecker illustration.... Love your enemies, pray for them, demonstrate your adoption, love unconditionally,
5. Be like your heavenly Father (5:48)
The sum of all that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount—in fact, the sum of all He teaches in Scripture—is contained in these words. The great purpose of salvation, the goal of the gospel, and the great yearning of the heart of God is for all people to become like Him. Lets just dwell for a moment on the idea of perfection. How can Jesus can demand the impossible? Jesus gives the answer a little later, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). That which God commands, He provides the power to accomplish. Our own righteousness is possible, but is so imperfect that it is worthless; God’s righteousness is impossible for the very reason that it is perfect. But the impossible righteousness becomes possible when we daily, willingly, lay aside our reputation, lay aside our rights, lay aside our self-righteousness, lay aside our pride, trusting Jesus Christ to give us His love for all, friend, neighbour, enemy. That is precisely our Lord’s point in all these illustrations and in the whole sermon—to lead His audience and us to an overpowering sense of spiritual bankruptcy, to a “beatitude attitude” that shows us our need of a Saviour, who alone can make us perfect.
I am grateful to John McArthur for some of the ideas contained in this sermon