Description / Transcription
O Lord, we have just sung these words, “Though I may speak with bravest fire and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass and hopeless gain.” Surely that is true. It’s true for the preacher, it’s true for the listener. We want to love as You have loved us. So we pray with the words we have just sung, come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole, let inward love guide every deed, by this worship and are freed. Change us and transform us, by Your Word we pray, O Lord. Amen.
We come to Matthew chapter 5 in the Sermon on the Mount, beginning at verse 38 through the end of the chapter. Yet another one of these sections where Jesus is going to refer to a misunderstanding of the Law and then give a proper understand of the Law and apply it to His disciples.
So we read, beginning at verse 38:
““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.””
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies 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 do 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.””
It may not be one of the most inspiring stories in Church history, but it is one of the most memorable. Gregory VII, born Hildebrand of Sovana, was Pope from 1073 until his death in 1085. Pope Gregory VII was a reforming Pope. He ministered there in the 11th century when Henry IV was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Now, the Roman Empire, you think of the Caesars, had long since passed away but what was known as the Holy Roman Empire, what was left of this region, think sort of Germany and that part of central Europe, that was the Holy Roman Empire. And the Holy Roman Emperor was Henry IV. Gregory wanted to get rid of something called “lay Investiture.” Lay, meaning the laity, and investiture referring to the appointment of clergy. Lay investiture held that those who were not bishops or cardinals or members of the clergy could yet install bishops and clergy members, and what this meant practical purposes was that kings and emperors had the authority to install priests and bishops.
Well, you can think this was a pretty important piece of power to have in the 11th century when you have not quite the fusion of church and state but very much overlapping and as we’ll see, sometimes competing spheres of influence, so to have the emperor, or the king, have the ability to put into place his people to serve as priests and to serve as bishops, was quite a power for a laity to have. Gregory VII wanted to do away with it.
Not surprisingly, Henry IV, that’s the Emperor, felt that it was crucial for the Emperor to have the authority to appoint those who would support him. You can’t just have any clergy and bishops running around, you need to have your people there.
In September 1075 Henry installed a new bishop of Milan. He deposed the old one and he installed a new one, which upset Gregory. Soon after the Pope was attacked while leading the Christmas celebrations. He was taken to jail by a mob. It is just important, when we think things are so bad and the Church is so bad everywhere, well, the Pope was attacked by a mob during his Christmas mass and he was thrown forcibly into jail. That’s bad.
The next day, however, his followers mobbed the prison and they brought him back to the church and he picked up the mass right where he left off.
Gregory, then, ordered Henry to appear at Rome or else he would be deposed and his soul would go to Hell. Henry thought, “Well, I’m not going to do that. I can’t let the Pope tell me what to do. I’m the Emperor.” So he called a council of his supporters and they declared that Gregory, the Pope, was deposed. So mutual deposition.
Soon after that Gregory gathered a synod of his supporters and they together put Henry under Church discipline. They told him he could not rule anymore and they forbid anyone from obeying him as King and Emperor.
Well, with this coming from the Pope and from his synod, and the threat of excommunication and even worse than that, the eternal judgment upon your soul, support for Henry began to erode. The people thought, “Well, if we support Henry the Emperor when he’s been excommunicated from the Pope, who knows what will happen to us. We may be cursed just as he has been.”
Before long Henry knew that he was in a precarious position and he needed to get on the good side of the Pope, so in one of the famous or infamous moments in Church history, Henry hiked across the Alps to meet Gregory at his papal residence in Canossa. He came to beg for mercy. Sometimes you still hear this expression, “on the road to Canossa,” which means abject contrition and apology.
When he arrived at his papal residence, Gregory was not too eager to allow Henry in, so famously Gregory kept Henry waiting outside the castle door for three days in the snow, from January 25 to the 27th, 1077. Eventually he did open the door and met Henry and he pardoned him as Henry begged for mercy. Historians still say, “Well, was this an act of utter humiliation on the part of Henry or was this just a political coup on his part, that he made up and he got the Pope back on his side?”
Now you might say what a happy ending. I can see why you’re telling that story because Jesus talks about loving our enemies and they came together. Well, not at all. When Henry then returned to Germany, his enemies were emboldened. He had all these difficulties with the Pope, after all, so they rebelled against him. Gregory, of course, did nothing to discourage the enemies who were mounting their attack on Henry. The rebels elected their own Emperor.
But as they fought, Henry eventually gained the upper hand over his enemies. Gregory decided he was still going to support the new Emperor, so Henry’s the Emperor, there’s new Emperor appointed, Gregory supports him, and once again he re-excommunicates Henry after having pardoned him in the snow in Canossa. But this time Henry’s followers are not scared off, and so just as a rival Emperor had been elected, some of Henry’s followers elect a rival Pope. The rival Emperor was killed in battle. Henry once again now is in a position of strength, the unrivaled Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He marches on Rome against Gregory. The only possible support for Gregory could be found from the Normans in southern Italy but the Pope had earlier excommunicated them as well, so they weren’t too keen to help him out.
Eventually Gregory and the rival Pope Clement, who were together trying to withstand this invasion, the Normans intervene, Henry was able to escape, the Normans burned part of the city, killed a good portion of the inhabitants, sold thousands away as slaves. Henry escapes, Clement is now the acting Pope, Gregory is in exile and he dies in 1085 and Clement a few years later was ousted by Pope Urban II while Henry IV went on as the King of the Holy Roman Empire.
It’s a dramatic story, with lots of twists and turns, and to be fair, the stakes in this story are higher than they will be for most of us. Dare I say, few of us will serve as Pope or Emperor. And yet, the emotions, the bitterness, the strategizing, the recriminations, the grudges, the retaliation, all of that are all too common, even among Christians. When we are insulted or offended, when we have been wronged, when we feel belittled by our enemies, when our character has been maligned, when we have been victims of petty slights or victims of deep injustices. When we have enemies of any sort who oppose us, who hurt us, the natural human response is to give as good as you got. You hurt me, I’ll hurt you.
Remember back in Genesis, it’s Cain – I will avenge a man 77 times. You strike me, I will strike you dead. You hate me, I hit back. That is the human spirit and it requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to transform us so we do not respond to our enemies in such a way.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Christians in the Western world increasingly have enemies. Now they look different, but we have enemies more so than we have in the last, I don’t know, nearly 2000 years. Certainly we must be aware that there are people who disdain what biblical orthodox Christians believe and teach and how you live your life, and yet that realization is not an excuse either to go sulk, some pity part, let alone to respond with anger and vitriol against those who would persecute us.
This is now the second or third time already in this sermon that Jesus has talked about those who revile you, those who persecute you, and how you are to respond. Jesus teaches us two things, and they may be the two most difficult counter-cultural things we’ve seen, and everything Jesus seems to be telling us is difficult.
Here are the two realities that Jesus gives to us, the two over-arching exhortations. Number one, do not retaliate when you are wronged. Number two, love your enemies.
So number one, we see in the first paragraph, do not retaliate when you are wronged. Again, as we’ve seen in so many of these sections, Jesus begins by saying you have heard that it was said, and He quotes from the Old Testament. But Jesus is not saying the Old Testament got something wrong, He’s saying your understanding of the Old Testament has been wrong. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, which you’ve probably heard me explain before, this lex talionis, the law of the tooth, sounds very barbaric to us. Wasn’t it Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”?
But you have to understand that when this law was given, it was actually a restraining act of justice, because an “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” means if you insult my mother, I don’t get to burn down your whole village. If you take out my tooth, I don’t get to kill you and your whole family. It means that the punishment should fit the crime. So far from being a barbaric response to injustice, it actually was meant to have a restraining effect.
And yet you can understand how many in Jesus’ day and in our day would have misapplied it. Ah, an eye for an eye. You hit me, I hit you back.” The law was meant to punish wrongdoers and to protect the community. No disproportionate penalties, no vigilante justice, no personal revenge. But what they had done was misapplied a public law code, remember this is given to the nation of Israel, this is how your judges are to adjudicate, a public law code they turned it into their personal right for retaliation.
In essence, what Jesus is doing is trying to restore to this the true biblical intent of this law and correctly re-interpret. He says, following in verse 39, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” That phrase, “Do not resist,” is often used in a legal context, meaning do not sue the one who has wronged you, do not try to extract your pound of flesh.
Now as we’ve seen with so many passages in the Sermon on the Mount, we need to understand that Jesus is speaking with something of a hyperbole, and we must interpret Scripture with Scripture. 1 Corinthians 6 warns against lawsuits among unbelievers [sic], but it sort of leaves it out as a last ditch effort, not an absolute prohibition, but isn’t it best as believers to sort things out with your own courts before you rush to the legal courts. Jesus is not here overturning the rule of law. He’s not arguing against the legitimacy of the governing authorities. What He’s speaking against is the bitterness, the machismo, the misplaced family honor, the insatiable appetite for revenge that says if you cross me, I promise you will regret it.
What would Jesus have thought of Inigo Montoya? You know the movie. My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.
Now on the one hand, okay, just do a little exegesis of The Princess Bride. In one sense, you could say that Inigo Montoya’s quest had biblical elements, justice is important. You notice it was life for life. He didn’t say, “I’m going to burn down your whole village because you killed my father,” so there’s something there. But in another sense it was profoundly unbiblical to make your whole life about revenge.
As the quip goes, when you make your whole purpose revenge, you end up killing two people, your enemy and your own soul.
To pursue as a matter of life goals personal vindication and vengeance, is not what Jesus would have for us.
Notice He gives four illustrations. So do not resist the one who is evil, but if anyone slaps you. So this is likely the backhanded slap from a right-handed aggressor, the sort of against your honor slaps you. Slapping. Suing. By the first century, literal retaliation among the Jews had largely given way to suing for damages. If anyone would sue you, let him have your cloak, verse 41. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. This likely requires, refers to soldiers requiring citizens to haul supplies and weaponry of the army, kind of quartering of troops. There’s a natural resistance among almost all people to a government intrusion, let alone when an army that was occupying your land like they were in Judea, who comes and says, “No, no, no, we need to move these supplies one mile down the road.” That’s what forcing to go one mile. Jesus says, “Hey, if they make you go one mile, say “Hey, could we go another mile?””
Begging, verse 42. Could be the poor, the disabled, someone who depends upon alms for survival, family members in destitution, the one who begs from you. Do not refuse the one who borrows from you.
How are we to understand these examples? Well, there are two mistakes we can make. One, as I just said, is to take these four examples and not understand them in light of the rest of Scripture. So we know in Romans 13 that the governing authorities bear the sword to punish the evildoer. Romans 12, do not seek revenge, leave room for God’s wrath. Paul in Acts is often defending himself, often when someone wants to mistreat him, doesn’t he insist upon his Roman citizenship? He says, “Don’t you know who I am?” He does stand up for his rights.
In fact, you could do a whole Bible study. When does Paul say, “All right, I’ll suffer” and when does Paul say, “Uhhhh, hold on a minute. I have rights here.”
Well, the best way to know where Paul’s going to go is whether other people are going to be helped or harmed by his example. That if Paul is just thinking of himself, this is going to be inconvenient and I’m going to suffer for myself, he seems more or less willing to endure it. But insofar as Paul standing up for his rights will help other Christians in the Empire with their rights, Paul wants to say, “Ah ah ah, no, bring me all the way to Caesar.” Why does Paul do that all throughout the book of Acts? Because he wants to make the case before the highest ruler in the land that this new thing, the followers of Christ, are not a dangerous cult, but they are the fulfillment of all the Jewish promises.
So sometimes Paul says, “All right, I’ll suffer” and sometimes he insists upon his rights.
This word, when Jesus says “do not resist the one who is evil,” that same word is what Paul says he did to Peter’s face when Peter was getting the Gospel all wrong by refusing to eat with Gentiles, so there Peter says he resisted him. There’s no record of Jesus literally giving the other cheek to the official who slapped Him on the face in John 18:22. In fact, Jesus challenged the high priest that this was a sham of a trial.
So we should not think that Jesus is forbidding every form of self-defense, or if someone suffers unjustly all they can do is just invite more injustice, that believers can never use the court system, or that begging in that day, where you have no social safety set, you have no charitable services, you have just people depending upon the good wishes of those in their small, tightknit community. These are not exactly parallel situations. Does not Proverbs actually warn you against being a lender to people? Say no, no, no, borrowing can get you into big trouble.
So Jesus is not trying to give absolute financial advice as if after this service, in light of verse 42, anyone can go up and say, “Hey, I gotta borrow money. Jesus said you gotta, gotta let me have it. Nothing down. No interest.” That’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s not forbidding every kind of self-defense, every kind of common sense application.
Luther told of a crazy saint, he called him, who refused to do anything about the lice nibbling his head because he thought he should not resist evil, according to Jesus’ commands. Well, get the shampoo.
Here’s what John Stott says, always balanced: “Christ’s illustrations are not to be taken as the charter for any unscrupulous tyrant, ruffian, beggar or thus. His purpose was to forbid revenge, not encourage injustice, dishonesty, or vice. He teaches not the irresponsibility which encourages evil but the forbearance which renounces revenge.”
To sum up the teaching of this antithesis, Jesus was not prohibiting the administration of justice but rather forbidding us to take the law into our own hands.
So one mistake with these very striking examples is to take them and not interpret them in light of the rest of Scripture.
However, there’s a second mistake, and that is to be so careful, as I’ve just tried to do, and to try to lay out the guardrails and explain where Jesus may be speaking with some hyperbole, that we walk away and it all feels very safe. Ah, that’s good, that sounded a little bit scary, a little bit radical, but Pastor explained that it’s not such a big deal.
So the other mistake would be not to see that Jesus is calling us to a radical other worldliness. Think about these four examples. People who slap you, sue you, force you, and borrow and beg money off of you. In all four cases, those are people who either seek to do us harm or harass us or embarrass us, or very literally hurt us. What Jesus says is in return, you must not seek to harm them, hurt them, embarrass them, or harass them. This is much easier said than done.
Don’t you and I both seek after that retaliation when someone does us wrong? Have you ever had it, you know, someone gets right up on your bumper, and you think, “Why are you doing that? What are you proving to follow this close? Okay, you think I’m going too slow?” and then when the lane goes from one to two or they see that they can make it across the dotted yellow, they go from 45 to 85 as fast… Now you’ve never done that, none of us have ever done it, but someone else does it to you, and they vroom right by you after following on your tail, and they go 40 miles over as if to say to you, “I had to put up with a lot to drive behind you.” That just happened to me the other week. Very first thing out of my mouth, “I sure hope they get pulled over.”
Now, you’re more spiritual and you immediately say, “Honey, let’s pray for them.” Or you say to the kids, “Why is mom driving like that?” You are more spiritual. I think I would love to come down the road and see them pulled over. I would love to see them get their comeuppance.
Our desire for retaliation runs deep. The sin in us beneath the very shiny exterior is very dirty.
So we took off our, we have an above-ground pool, and we took off our pool cover this week and we are trying to do better this year with the pool cover and it’s real taut and we drain the water off of it and we were taking it off and everything was going well until you get to the very end and it’s heavy, there’s still a little water in it, and it’s all the sludge that didn’t get sucked up from the pump, just four months of leaves and slime, and as we’re trying to lift that heavy part, wouldn’t you know it sags in, all of that, all of our hard work over those months, falls right into the pool. So now a week or so later it looks rather blue and we’re getting the thing filtered and getting it looking shined up, and it looks rather nice until we attach the big pool pole and you get the big leaf net, and you scrape along the bottom of what looks to be a pristine blue pool, and you get that and you come up and it’s 25 pounds of muck, dirty black leaves and sludge. You go haul that out. And you go back in your blue pool and wouldn’t you know, 15, 20, 25 times I did that. The only good that came of it is a sermon illustration, because I kept thinking, I kept thinking, “This is the human heart. Look.”
It’s not perfect, there’s some pollen dusted across, but it’s pretty nice, it’s pretty blue. We’ll get it shined up pretty quick. And when you scrape along the bottom, there’s a lot of dark sludge that you don’t like anyone to see, and it’s there.
And Jesus keeps exposing it. We smile and inside we think, “I wouldn’t mind if that fast car, I mean not seriously hurt, but a little hurt. A little time in jail might just teach them something.” And let’s be honest. All of you, you have somebody who if you’re honest on those raw sort of days, you wish they would get what you think they have coming.
I don’t want you to write down the name of that enemy, don’t want you to turn around and point to them, but you have somebody in mind. It’s an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, it might be an ex-spouse. It might be a mom, a dad, a child who’s hurt you so deeply. It might be someone professionally who stabbed you in the back, someone academically. It might be somebody online. The way they talk about you and they never give you the benefit of the doubt. They twist everything against you. And everything inside of you, and my heart as well, thinks “I wish, I wish that they could get a punch back for all the punches that they’ve given me, for all the shame that they’ve done in my life, for all the pain that they’ve done, all the times they’ve hurt me, harassed me, embarrassed me. I wish they would have a little hurt, a little harm, a little harassment, a little embarrassment in their own life.”
But Peter tells us, 1 Peter 2:23, how did Jesus, when reviled, not revile in return? It says He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.
See, the thing deep inside of you that wants justice, the Inigo Montoya principle, that’s part of being in the image of God, to want justice, that we want rights to be honored and we want wrongs to be exposed. But what God tells us you’ve gotta trust Me to do it My way, My time. Jesus could endure the derision because He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly. Okay, this sham of a trial is not going to give Me what I really deserve, but God knows, God sees, and I’m living for the final tribunal, not for this one.
That’s how you overcome evil with good. Not because you think evil is not a big deal, that’s not what we’re saying. Evil is a big deal. But you overcome it with good because you believe that God sees the good, sees the evil, and God alone will do what is just in all the earth.
This is a radical call to other worldliness, to return not evil for evil, but evil for good.
A somewhat silly illustration. Years ago in the Stanley Cup playoffs, hockey, you know there’s Canadian teams, American teams, and so they play both national anthems. The Boston Bruins were playing the Montreal Canadiens and when they played the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” the fans there in Montreal, we’ll just say they must have been having a bad day, but they booed, they booed all the way through, because they’re Canadians, of course, they’re playing Americans. Booed all the way through the United States national anthem. So the next playoff game was in the US, in Boston, played the US national anthem, they play “O Canada,” and wouldn’t you know it. All the way through “O Canada” the Boston fans give a standing ovation and cheer for the whole thing.
Now, it might have been trolling. But it was also something classy, all right? You boo our national anthem, come here, we’ll cheer as loud as we can for yours.
Overcome evil with good.
Jesus gives this first lesson, don’t retaliate.
And here’s the second lesson, more quickly. Second paragraph. We’ve already hit at it: Don’t retaliate, but love your enemies.
Again, Jesus shows that the law has been misinterpreted. We know the law says “love your neighbor,” that’s in Leviticus, but some people were concluding, “Okay, love your neighbor, but enemies, nah, that’s not there.” That’s why they want to know from Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Okay, I know that the law says love my neighbor, but this person is not my neighbor. This person is my enemy. I can love my neighbors, but what about nasty people? What about people who have always been mean to me? What about people from ethnic groups, or skin colors, who have typically put down people like me? What about people who never speak a kind word?
Well, Jesus wants the law correctly interpreted. Leviticus 19:18 – you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.
So the Jews could understand, all right, don’t take vengeance, don’t bear a grudge, against the sons of your own people. Love your neighbor. All right, yeah, our own people. We’ve got to treat our own people right.
But Jesus says, “What about your enemies?” And let’s go one step further. The law says “don’t take vengeance, don’t bear a grudge.” Jesus says, “No, it’s not enough to just withhold this vengeance.” That’s the first paragraph. Maybe people could have thought, “Okay, Jesus, all right. Somebody forces me one mile, I’ll go two miles. I won’t go and get my sword and try to kill him. All right? I’ll leave that for you.”
Jesus says, “Yep, that’s a start. But one step further. I want you not just to forego vengeance. I want you to love your enemies.”
And this, too, was already there in the Mosaic Law, if they had ears to hear it. Exodus 23:4 and 5 – “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it. You shall rescue it with him.”
That’s what love for our enemies is like. The person who hates your guts you find his wallet and you give it back to him. The woman who never treats you right at work, you see her car spun out from the ice in the ditch and you stop to help her. You love your enemies.
Notice Jesus as before He gave four examples of retaliation. Here He gives four reasons for His command: So I say to you, verse 44, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Now it’s not enough for Jesus to say do it, He’s going to give us some ballast, some reasons.
Number one, verse 45 – You do it because you are sons of your father.
Do you know what God is like? You all have this, if you have children. At some point, someone says, “Oh, he looks just like you.” We get this all the time, “Wow, that one, they sure are a DeYoung.” We say, “Is that good or bad? But you’re right, they are a DeYoung” and they have just that look.
So Jesus says, “You’re a son, a daughter, of your heavenly Father. There should be a family resemblance.”
Second. Your Father is gracious to everyone. That’s the second half of verse 45: He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, sends rain on the just and the unjust.
All of Charlotte got sunshine today. Who deserved it? Maybe some, maybe strictly speaking no one. But God gave sunshine to everyone in Charlotte. Your Father, Jesus says, is gracious to all sorts of people who don’t deserve it. He gives sunshine to people who deserve storm clouds. Can you do the same?
Third reason. Jesus says, “You can do better than the status quo.” That’s verses 46 and 47. Oh, you love those who love you. That’s not hard. That doesn’t take the Spirit of God. When people scratch your back, you scratch theirs. When they like you, you like them. When they say all sorts of nice things about you, you say nice things about them. If they blurb your book, you blurb their book. They give you a nice recommendation, you give them a recommendation. That’s the way the world works.
That’s fine, but you don’t need the Spirit of God to like people who like you. Jesus says if all you do is like the people who like you, and are nice to the people who are nice to you, how is that any different from anyone else?
Isn’t that a challenge for us Christians? Because a lot of us want to live our lives just loving the people who love us, and increasingly as we see people who actually do hate us, and hate what we believe, we say, “Well, I gotta draw the line somewhere.”
Jesus says, “Do you want to be different or not? You can do better than the status quo.”
Then He gives a fourth reason in verse 48: Your heavenly Father is perfect and you should be, too.
Don’t get thrown off by “perfect” meaning sinless perfection. Here it probably means something more like “fullness, maturity, godliness” in other words. Your heavenly Father is holy, don’t you want to be holy?
The motivation for living out this radical life of love is because of who the Father is and because of what the Son has done.
Romans 5:10 – For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled should we be saved by His life.
So here’s the very practical application for each of you. Again, don’t have to write it down, don’t say it out loud, but I want you to think. You have enemies. Now it may be someone you consider an enemy or someone that they just treat you like an enemy. Either way, you have an enemy. For a lot of you it’s a family member. You just, it’s so estranged, it’s so messed up. Others, it’s a former friend, it’s a colleague. For others it’s people online and the way they interact. Or maybe it’s somebody at a distance you’ve never met but just ah, every time you see them, hear them say something, just everything in you gets all wound up. You have an enemy. People who don’t like the way you live your life. People who don’t agree with the decisions you’re making. Let’s not kid ourselves – we have enemies.
I want you to think about one or two or a dozen of them. Very practically, can you love them? And what does Jesus say after that? Because you think, well, that’s sort of abstract. Jesus is very, very specific. Love them, pray for them.
Can you pray for enemies? People who feel like an enemy, people who may think you are an enemy. Can you pray for those who persecute you? This is a different kind of love. Right now there are people in your life who are seeking your harm. Can you seek their good?
There are very justifiable reasons why some of you are feeling tonight, “I’m hurt, I’m harassed, I’ve been harmed, I’ve been embarrassed.” Now by the work of the Holy Spirit, here’s what Jesus wants you to say: “But yet I want that very person who has done that, I want them to be helped and I want them to be healed. I want them to be happy. I want them to be blessed.” That is the way of the Christian.
To like people who like us is normal. To pray for people and love people who hate us is Christian.
May it be that one of the things the Lord will give us to do in the generation ahead as some manner of persecution or opposition mounts against the Church, is to say, “Okay, Church, now you get an opportunity to show what My kind of love looks like.”
Because isn’t that what it’s all about? That Jesus on the cross prays, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” There’s a lot of people out there, of course they hate the Church, of course they hate Christians, of course they hate the Bible, they don’t know God. They’re pagans acting like pagans. That’s what they do. And we’re to love them because Jesus loved us when there was nothing lovely in us.
If you are waiting for people to get lovely before you love them, then you have not understood the Gospel in your own life. God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. As Christ has loved us, His one-time enemies, and now calls us His friends, so surely are we called to love those who are our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, give us an opportunity this week to show kindness to someone who has not been kind to us. May we not advertise it, may we not run to them and say “I heard a sermon and here’s why I’m doing it.” Just help us, Lord, give us an opportunity in prayer, in concrete actions, to show kindness, decency, forgiveness, blessedness to those who if it were up to us deserve to be cursed. Lord, help us to have this heart and to do so we really need to know how much You have blessed us when we deserved to be Your enemies. So as we have been changed by Your love, may we show a different love to others. In Jesus we pray. Amen.