“Only a refusal to hate or kill can put an end to the chain of violence in the world and lead us toward a community where men can live together without fear.”
Martin Luther King
Big Picture: God’s love is not determined by the object of His affection, or the potential of return, but by the sheer nature of His will!
How can we carry out the teachings of Jesus? How do we stay away from hatred, adultery, lust, and murder? How can we turn the other cheek? How is it even possible to love those that hate you? Or, love your enemies? Some would say work harder, be more disciplined, which certainly will help, but it’s not the answer. The kingdom of God invades our soul, when we are truly satisfied in Christ. When our love quota is filled to the brim, we need not turn to other things to make us happy and whole. As with everything else Jesus is teaching, the issue is the heart motivation of why and what we do.
Last week, we looked at the idea of “Turning the other cheek…” which can easily be misinterpreted, as our passage today can be. Once again, Jesus is not mitigating proper justice, but infusing our justice with grace. There will be times that we have been personally insulted that we are called to take it for the gospel, while there will be times that His justice will prevail. God is both just and loving, and what this kingdom teaching helps us with, is understanding that we do not always need to seek revenge for our injustices done to us, because we have a holy God that will do so. We just need to trust Him.
In our passage today, there are 4 Observations in regard to Jesus’ teaching about love
From the Head…
Jesus’ Correction of the Problem (Matthew 5:43)
Once again we see that Jesus isn’t bringing in a new law, but He is correcting the one way they have misunderstood. The Old Testament never commanded anyone to ‘hate your enemy.” As a matter of fact the opposite was true. Leviticus 19:18 had taught that the Israelites were to “Love their neighbor,” and that had often been interpreted to include only those considered your neighbor. In Luke 10 Jesus is asked, “Who is my neighbor?” After telling the story of the Samaritan that helped the Jewish person, the conclusion was a neighbor is one who “Showed him mercy.” However the parable was told to expand the disciple’s idea of neighbor to be even the hated Samaritans. Jesus was teaching that hatred is never an option? What He says after this does not deny justice, but once again reminds us that hateful, bitter revenge is never a kingdom ethic.
Jesus’ Commands to Obey (Matthew 5:44-45a)
Love Your Enemies
The love Jesus is talking about is not to be confused with the weak, sentimentality of our modern understanding of love. As one writer says, “Jesus knew that love, not sentimentality, is the only powerful antidote for all human ills.” This kind of love takes courage and boldness, and is motivated not by feeling, but by the will.
This is the ethic of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, two modern day examples of how love and forgiveness can reconcile great evils. The truth and reconciliation council created by Desmond Tutu and Mandela is a great example of how justice can be obtained through repentance and forgiveness.
Pray For Those That Persecute You
It is one thing to forgive and love, but to actually pray for our enemies can be very difficult. Our prayers are so often directed toward our own needs, without understanding that the Kingdom of God is beginning to direct our thoughts outward and upward. Jesus says that when we love our enemies and pray for them, we are acting as children of the King. God is not asking His people in His kingdom to do anything He hasn’t done.
Persecution and oppression is the way of this kingdom. Jesus is teaching His disciples that we are to live in a new way to be human. Instead of exercising rights and “Justified” violence, we are to act in Grace and humility, like our Heavenly Father.
Jesus’ Reasons for the Commands (Matthew 5:45b-47)
If we are going to mirror our Father in Heaven, then we are to emulate His goodness. While Jainism and Buddhism and some other ancient religions alluded to a similar teaching, they could never connect their teachings to any kind of foundation. In the latter part of v. 45, Jesus reminds us that the kingdom ethics come from a moral being, whose essence defines and shapes morality. Whereas all religions understand the commands, they fail to see the foundation, and place it in the goodness of humanity, rather than the good essence of our creator!
The Common Grace of God (Matthew 5:45b)
God shows kindness to His enemies (Romans 5:8). He could and should take us all out, but He not only saves some, He shows kindness to those that hate him.
The Uniqueness of God’s Grace In the World (Matthew 5:46-47)
Jesus is clear that if we only love and greet those that love and greet us, then how are we any different. To “Greet” someone, was to wish “Shalom” (Peace) on them, and while it was a standard greeting, and usually not thought through, Jesus uses it to highlight an attitude of bitterness. Do we love those that hate us, and are we truly wishing the best for the other person, or are we just trying to get ours? Do we love the other in the speaking of the truth? What is the motivation for our justice?
Grace, apart from the teaching of the bible, is not common in the world. There are some that naturally are more “graceful” than others, and some that act within the ethic Jesus is teaching, but the fact is the idea to love someone that hates you is not normal to the human intellect. Even within the religions that have a similar teaching (Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, etc.), the motivation to love is not motivated by the grace of God, but only the commonality of all living things, which loses its force when you consider that these religions are monistic, meaning they believe everything is one, which leaves no room for the “Other,” mitigating the purpose of compassion, love, etc..
Jesus’ Reminder (Matthew 5:48)
Our holiness is the result of God’s love transforming us and our actions, it is not the result of our discipline, but it is our discipline that is the result of God making us holy! Thus the disciplines of our faith are not the cause, but the affect of God’s love taking root in our lives. True holiness is connected to God’s love in a way that is displayed in the lives of His people. Holiness does come from believing the truth of the gospel, and then living in accordance with the gospel, because of the love we have been given.
…to the Heart
At the core of all of this is the human heart. Jeremiah 27:9 gets it right when it says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus isn’t preaching against football, the MMA and the need for a military at times, but He is pushing hard against our desire for revenge, and the bitterness and slander that appear to accompany it.
In the midst of a relational problem, are you seeking your rights, and your needs? Or are you truly seeking to love the other in a way that allows you to care about their needs and their rights (See Philippians 2:3-7).
Questions To Ponder
- Why is Jesus teaching His disciples to “Love their enemies?”
- Does God want His people to be walked on?
- IS this teaching weak? How so?
- What is it in you that bristle when you hear words like this?
- In what way(s) can we live like this?
For Further Reading
A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener
The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti