There was some difficulty with the video for this sermon. It did not properly upload last week, and this week when we checked, YouTube was certain it was already up. Next week I will grab a copy and upload it to my own YouTube channel if it is not resolved by then.
For what it's worth, I've done some revising to the manuscript here, in some cases aiming toward what I delivered in church, in some cases making it more broadly relevant.
Matthew 5:43-48 Redeemer ICC Love Your Enemy June 3rd, 2018
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward to you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
Wow. Love your enemies? It’s so hard, so contrary to our nature. Loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute us. And let’s face it: how many of us really have enemies? Please raise your hand if someone has literally tried to kill you in the past month. Not including times you thought you were going to be hit by a car. Lousy drivers don’t count as enemies, otherwise Busan would be full of enemies. And yet when people come into our lives who do not treat us as we want to be treated, we decide that they are our enemies.
Recently I found that I had an enemy at work. He was insulting. He was new at my workplace, but acted like he knew better than I how to do my job. He sent me messages that had the tone of a boss talking to the guy who brings coffee. I’m pretty easy going, but he pushed all the right buttons, and I snapped at him in a message exchange.
When I talk with my coworkers about him, they tell me not to bother apologizing. “With a guy like this, it’s just permission to be more of a jerk.” I nod. “That makes sense,” I say.
Fortunately, I have been meditating on today’s scripture for the past six weeks, so I knew that I had to pray for him. And I did. I'm afraid the first few prayers sounded like this:
“Dear God, please put you-know-who in his place. And if you don’t mind, make that place far from here. Amen.” There. That should do it.
No, something’s wrong. Let me try again. “Dear God, I am praying for my enemy. Help me to love him. Help me to understand him. Help me to stop him from acting like a jerk! Help me to…” Wait a minute. I’m not really praying for him, am I. I’m praying for myself! Dangit!
Why is it so hard to just say, “God, please give peace to him”? Why is it so hard to say, “God, forgive him”?
When I pray for myself, it’s easy! “God, give me what I need, not what I deserve!” Why am I so quick to turn it around for him? “God, give him what he deserves, not what he needs!”
Let me check the instructions again.
“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:43-44
Yeah. Looks like I’m getting something wrong. Maybe we can figure it out later.
But for now, I want to point out a pattern: This is the sixth time in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus has said, “You have heard something-something,” followed by “but I tell you something-something different.” The first few were almost direct quotes, but Joshua pointed out to us that “You shall not swear falsely…” is sort of gathered from many places in the Torah--the Old Testament. But in verse 43, things get kind of strange.
Here are some questions that might help you figure out how it is strange. To see the answers, highlight the space after "Answer:" to reveal... you know.
1. True or false, the Bible says: “You shall do no injustice in court.”
Answer: True! Leviticus 19:15
2. True or false, the Bible says: “God helps those who help themselves.”
Answer: False! But it does say that in Aesop’s fables, sort of. It actually reads, “The gods help those who help themselves.” So if you have said this, congratulations! You might just be a polytheist!
3. True or false, the Bible says: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Answer: False. But Ghandi said it, so if you guessed true, you might just be a Hindu! To be fair, though, there are roots of this in Jude 1:22-23 “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” So a “garment stained by the flesh” is the sin, I suppose. Forget it, you're not getting a point for this one.
4. True or false, the Bible says: “Money is the root of all evil.”
Answer: False. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” 1 Tim 6:10. Isn't it just like humans to shift the blame from ourselves to a thing? Next best thing to idolatry!
5. True or false, the Bible says: “We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar.”
Answer: False again. That’s an Epiphany hymn, one you should sing after Christmas. But it does come from a Bible story, and it’s essentially true. I guess I’ll give you the point if you said true.
6. True or false, the Bible says: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
Answer: Of course it’s really in the Bible! We just read it here in Matthew! But can you find it anywhere else?
“Love your neighbor” is all over the place, Old Testament and New. But “hate your enemy” only pops up here in Matthew, where Jesus says we’ve heard it before. I take that to mean that we today still do.
Let's check out the Ten Commandments. Any hate in there? Nope. How about the rest of the commandments given to Israel by God through Moses, all 613. Care to guess how many of them instruct us to hate anyone? If you guessed zero, you are correct.
So “hate your enemy” isn’t in the Torah, or the Prophets, or any of the other Jewish writings of the period. What Jesus and his followers would have called their Bible and study guides. So why does Jesus bring it up in this context?
I am guessing that there are two reasons, one wrong and one right.
First, this “hate your enemies” attitude was, and still is, quite popular in the world. Just look at all the places where people are shooting at each other. Just look at all the ways we put up walls to separate “us” from “them.” Just look at what American politics has become.
So yes, the world can be a hateful place, and that makes us sad, and we look out from our church here and say, “How pitiful it is to be one of them. They have it pretty bad out there.”
Yeah. I think that's the wrong reason. I think you will agree with me when we look back again at our previous five Sermon on the Mount sermons. Jesus has set a pattern in which the religious traditions of the time are compared to God’s intentions:
The 10 Commandments say, “Do not murder,” but Jesus tells us, “Murder starts with anger in your heart!”
They also say, “Do not commit adultery,” but Jesus tells us, “Adultery starts with lust in your heart!”
Moses says, “If you get divorced, do it right,” but Jesus tells us, “Marriage is sacred to God!”
The Torah says, “Do not swear falsely,” but Jesus tells us, “Let your words carry nothing but truth!”
The sacred law says, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but Jesus tells us, “Be humble, non-confrontational, and wise!”
Now Jesus tells us, “Love and pray for your enemies,” but where do we find “Hate your enemy,” if it’s not in the Bible?
The right reason Jesus is bringing up “Hate your enemies” is that we find it in the church, now as then. It has worked its way in, the same way the smell from our bathroom here sometimes seeps into our place of worship.
Some of you listening to this message will know exactly what I am talking about. Someone in the church has decided that you were the enemy, and acted accordingly. You got hurt. Maybe you are still hurting. Maybe you are listening to me on YouTube rather than being here because you were hurt so bad that you couldn’t bring yourself to turn the other cheek again.
And maybe you know what I am talking about because you have decided that a brother or sister in the church was your enemy. You let your anger grow. You talked behind their back. You hated them, just like you heard it was said. You secretly believed that the church would be better off without so-and-so.
Brothers and sisters, we were made to be better than that. We were called to be better than that. We are called to love our enemies
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. Matthew 5:4-5
Anyone who has prayed with me more than once has heard me refer to God's blessings falling on us like rain. Remember that Jesus and the people he taught lived in a desert. Water was a scarce commodity, usually found in wells and oases. Rain was the gift of life, bringing hope to everyone. Refreshing everyone. Soothing everyone, good and evil. Just and unjust.
People also give life, hope and refreshment to others around them. And not just us Christians, either. Everyone loves someone at some point. Jesus makes that clear when he says,
For if you love those who love you, what reward to you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? Matthew 5:46-47
Jesus is saying that everyone loves. Even those nasty, money-grabbing tax collectors. Even the gentiles, who don’t even believe in God. Even the academy owners. Even they love. The ability to love is part of being created in God’s image, and it is part of EVERYONE.
If you love your parents, that’s fine. If you love your friends, that’s natural. But that love is intended to be a starting point, a model for how God loves us so that we can go beyond the easy love.
We are called to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us,
so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:4
Children are such blessings, but ask any parent and they will tell you: children are little mirrors, doing what they see their parents do. If you are consistently polite, they will be consistently polite. If you say nice things about other people, they will too. If you give generously of your time and money, they will also let go of these things easily.
We are children of God. Part of loving God means copying God.
...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
We were God’s enemies. Loving your enemies means that you can’t keep thinking of them as your enemies. You have to forgive. You have to let go of the the need for revenge, the part of you that demands justice. You have to be like God. Not because God is commanding you, but because when you look at God you think, “That is the best way to be. I want to be like that.”
So I forgave my coworker. I forgave him, and I kept praying for him.
At first my prayers keep shifting, like walking on a sliding dune, and I found myself telling God about all the ways that this guy had offended me. But I got better at it, and my prayers became more true, more loving. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us,
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy, Matthew 5:7
How true it is. That even giving this seemingly minor mercy, which my coworker wasn’t aware of, brought mercy to my soul. Because holding onto that judgment was like carrying around a brick; it didn’t stop me from doing anything, but it slowed down everything, and made my life more difficult. When I forgave him, I dropped the brick. My heart became lighter, and my life became easier.
Now my prayers are solid, because mine is the Kingdom of Heaven, even though I don’t deserve it. God gives me the will and the ability to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, even though I can’t do either on my own.
Mine is the Kingdom of Heaven, and as such I am working at loving my enemy. This means that I have to do something different than I was doing before. I can’t just ask God for love then sit back and wait for it to strike me like an arrow from a flying baby.
And let’s be perfectly clear: Loving my enemies does not earn me this citizenship. Loving my enemies is what I do in response to my citizenship.
I still haven’t apologized for my unkind words, but I have prayed for this guy. Daily. Multiple times on some days. I’ve prayed for him to be blessed, to be happy. I’ve prayed for the pain that is in his heart to be lessened. And of course I have still prayed for myself to have patience, but also for me to love him.
Now when we talk it feels different. I compliment his work, and decide to not be offended when his words feel like attacks. It is still difficult, but it stopped feeling like a chore assigned to me by God. The more I pray for him, and practice kindness towards him, the easier both become.
Now when my coworkers talk about him, I defend him. I remind them of his strengths, and suggest that he is misunderstood. And I may be getting some side-eye, and even a little push back. But I don’t mind. It's worth the price.
Jesus is asking us to be seriously counter culture. Not counter-American culture, or counter-Korean culture, or counter-Gabonese, counter-British, counter-Indonesian, counter-Chinese, or counter-South African. Jesus is not just counter to our culture, Jesus is counter to World culture! Jesus is counter to your culture! The Psalmist tells us
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118:22
If we are building off of Jesus, the world will reject us along with him. The world-culture that Jesus is calling us to rebel against is not just a product of the media, or science, or liberal education. It’s not our politics or history or system of government. Our culture has been set against the culture of the Kingdom of God since The Fall.
And here Jesus is calling us to love our enemies, to pray for the people who persecute us! It goes against our nature! It flies in the face of every culture!
Remember, Jesus also tells us that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. He isn’t just talking about the line for lunch, or getting the next iPhone, or seeing Jurassic World 2. Jesus is calling us to surrender. Surrender the opportunity to attack first. Surrender the advantage of position. Surrender the need to appear better than someone else. Surrender being right.
But here’s the big secret: forgiving your enemies may be good for them, but it is even better for you. Because what does surrender mean? It means giving up.
Giving up what? Yourself.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
Maybe you’ve heard that a thousand times, or maybe it’s a new one for you, but it is a profound, deep truth that Jesus preaches over and over, until he demonstrates it at the cross.
Every week we come in here and sing and pray and talk about giving ourselves up to God, and we’re happy with that. We are happy because we imagine that denying ourselves means coming to church Sunday mornings. Reading our Bible and praying. Maybe serving in some church ministry.
But this talk of loving enemies is real surrender, even more than loving your neighbor as yourself.
For application this week, I invite you to let God get up in your face. Maybe you think you don’t have any enemies just because you don’t use the word “enemy.” Honestly, i hope you’re right. I hope that you have eliminated the idea of an enemy from your mind. But just in case:
1. Memorize this bit:
“But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44
2. Consider your enemies. Think about the people who annoy you. Inconvenience you. Look down on you.
3. Pray for them.
5. Let it show in your actions towards them.
6. Lean on God for the strength and will to do so.