Love Your Enemies
Before we get into our text this morning I need to make sure the ground is level, so I want to start in another text found in Matthew 28. This is the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is about to return to the Father, He looks at the disciples and says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Many of us are here this morning because someone introduced us to Christ, we grew in our faith and accepted God’s gift of salvation through baptism. Some of us are here this morning because we are trying to check this whole Jesus offers mercy and grace idea out and see if it’s real. All of us are investigating this call to be a disciple, or follower, of Christ. We want to to see what God has to offer us, and see if we are willing to pay the price to be His child.
As you look at the last words of Christ you will notice there is a progression in what Jesus is telling His followers to do: Go, make disciples, baptize, and then teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. If we are really interested in growing as a disciple, it doesn’t stop in the waters of baptism. Baptism is simply the place where I put my faith and trust in Christ and start trying to obey everything Jesus commanded. We need to understand that, because not everything Jesus commands is easy. Actually the commands of Christ are some of the most difficult, controversial, and radical teachings known to mankind. His teachings often go against our human nature and desires.
Jesus doesn’t just give us these impossible commands because God wants to see us fail, or struggle. Jesus gives us the commands because He loves us. Jesus lived out an example of these commands because He loves us. He is a loving and compassionate God who desires for everyone to have a chance to come and know Him. But if we are going to truly know Him, we have to submit our will, give up our selfishness, and obey everything He has commanded. We need to understand that because, our text today is one of those texts that seems impossible, but it is vitally important.
This year we have been in a series called Model City, Model Love. And one of the things that we have noticed is that as time passes cities, churches, and people begin to drift away from their original purpose. So over the past few weeks we have been trying to reestablish our moorings and get back to the basic principals. This is imperative for us if we want to be a light in our community because churches as a whole seem to have drifted and lost their identities. We were created to be the vessel that God uses to bring hope, compassion, and love to the lost. We were created to be a body that strengthens, encourages, and accepts people created in His image. We exist so that people can come to know God and obey everything He has commanded, even the difficult things.
This morning we get to one of those difficult texts. It is a command that seems impossible to follow, but Jesus is so straight forward with what He is communicating here that it’s hard to ignore. So this morning if we are seriously striving to be a Disciple of Christ, if we truly want to be a Church of Christ, a Church that strives to look and love like Christ, then we need to take an honest look at what Jesus is calling us to do in this community. Look with me at our text this morning starting in Matthew 5:38-48. (Read Text)
This is such a straight forward text and at the same time one of the most difficult teachings to ever come out of the mouth of Christ. I mean when God tells us to love our families, I understand what He wants me to do. I don't always do it real well, but I always want to.
When God tells us to love other believers, I get that as well. I mean if we can find a way to love the folks that we worship with, it will just make it easier to encourage and support one another. If we can love each other then we can trust each other with our struggles and our successes.
When God tells us to love our neighbors, that’s a little more touchy, but I can work on that. I can be a good neighbor, participate in small talk, take their garbage can in from the street every once in a while. I mean we are mostly isolated from each other, but we wave and smile when we see one another out mowing the yard.
When God tells us to love strangers, I can do that as well. After all, even our neighbors are basically strangers until we get to know them. And honestly I am a bit intrigued with the stranger because the Hebrew writer says that we need to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! (Hebrews 13:2) So technically every stranger could be an angel and that’s kind of cool.
But when Jesus says Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Maybe just maybe He crossed a line that He didn’t really mean to cross. Maybe, just maybe, He just got caught up in the moment. This is one of those teachings that sounds ridiculous.
But Jesus didn’t get caught up in the moment. Jesus actually says that our very identity as God's sons and daughters is expressed through the way that we fulfill this commandment. Earlier in this sermon Jesus called His followers to be the light of the world (5:14), to stand out, to be different than the culture. And now He is teaching us how that looks. Jesus is taking this teaching of being different from the culture from the abstract and making it very concrete. If you want to stand out from the world, if you want to be a light, show that through the way that you love your enemies.
So who is your enemy?
For just a moment, I want you to think about what Jesus is commanding you here, more specifically I want you to think about the who in Jesus’ command. Your enemy is someone that you know, your enemy is someone that is close to you, your enemy is someone that has harmed you. We usually want to think and talk about our enemies in the abstract. But the truth is the enemy is much closer than that. It could be your coworkers or you boss. It could be your parents or your children, or your siblings. It could be an ex-husband, or an ex-wife, or your current husband or wife.
Jesus gives four hints of whom our enemy could be in the text. In verse 39 He says, If someone strikes you on the right cheek. Jesus is not just being overly specific here when He said right cheek. If someone were to strike you on the right cheek, that suggests that you were being hit with the back of the right hand. That’s not just violence, that’s an insult. It’s the way you would dismiss someone who was beneath you. In this instance Jesus is talking about those people who act like they are better than you. We have all dealt with folks who treated us with contempt. This would be your enemy.
In verse 40 Jesus says, And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic. In this scene you are in a court of law where a powerful enemy suing you. You don’t have the funds to pay what they are requiring so they demand the very shirt off your back. Your enemy is someone who is using their power or position to make your life difficult. This person not only wants to take from you, they want to cause you heartache and shame.
Then in verse 41: If someone forces you to go one mile, Which is clearly a reference to the Roman military occupation. Roman soldiers had the right to force civilians to carry their equipment for one mile. But the law was quite strict; it prohibited them from forcing someone go more than that. This example can be referring to someone who is in a position of authority, someone who has a legal right but maybe not a moral right. But they are going to use the law to get their way, they will use the law to place you under a burden or a struggle that is unfair. Or this could be someone who is bigger, or more powerful than you who uses that power to make your life miserable. They treat you with contempt and you have no power to protect or help yourself.
Finally in verse 42, Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Albert Barnes says that this is referring to a worthless man who would throw away our property and encourage laziness, crime, and the ruin of our families. In this situation our enemy is the person who we believe is not doing their fair share. These are the people that are homeless or the folks living off the system who refuse to work to help themselves. In our society these are the people who are standing on the side of the highway with a cardboard sign or the folks who approach us in a parking lot. In this scene the person is our enemy because they are taking advantage of us.
When Jesus talks about our enemies, He is talking about people we know, people we see on a daily or weekly basis. Folks we struggle with or struggle to be around. There was a time when we would designate our enemies as those folks over there, our enemy is the North Koreans, or the Muslims, or Isis or whomever is the big bad wolf out there causing fear and heartache. But over the last 10 years there has been a shift in our culture, and now your enemy is anyone who disagrees with you. We tend to wholesale people based on what they like or who they vote for and we have forgotten that people are a wonderful dichotomy of ideas and gifts.
For example someone can vote republican and like President Trump’s stand on the economy and we wholesale this idea that they blindly agree with everything he says or does. It was the same way with President Obama, someone who voted for him and liked that he passed Wall Street Reform we wholesaled this idea that they blindly agreed with everything he said or did. When we wholesale people they lose their identity and uniqueness, they lose their ability to be human. And once we have reduced them down to a racist, or a criminal, or a sexist, or a deplorable it becomes easy to hate them and make them my enemy.
After Jesus has laid out who our enemies are, He says; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. (verse 43) When Jesus mentions the old way of justice it was not God’s original idea, you are not going to find that we are to hate our enemies in the Law of Moses. That came from the Talmud, or teachings of the Rabbi’s about the law. When the Jews were trying to figure out who qualified as their neighbor, they were trying to limit the number of people who they owed love and compassion. That’s why last week we had to look at the question who is my neighbor, because we want to limit our obligation as well. The Rabbi’s taught this idea that if I am to love my neighbor then it only makes sense that I am supposed to hate my enemy.
But Jesus is calling us back to a better way of life. Notice I didn't say an easier way of life. An eye for eye, and tooth for tooth is the easy way. You harm me the I am going to get you back. You slight me I’ll find an opportunity to slight you back. You cut me off in traffic I am going change lanes, speed in front of you and cut you off. I might even tap my breaks just for effect.
A disciple doesn’t act like the world. A disciple lives a life of sacrifice. Paul says it this way in Romans 12:1-2 I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
Jesus is calling us to better. He is calling us to the only thing that will make us stand out as a light in the darkness. It is better to replace vengeance with a creative way forward, reflecting the astonishingly patient love of God. It is better to obey everything God has commanded so that His nature of mercy and amazing grace will be seen in the world. This is what is so unique about our God who is the real God. No man made god would ever encourage people to respond in love.
Your enemy is still your neighbor. These are the people that Jesus wants us to offer a new sort of justice, a creative, healing justice. Jesus calls us to turn the tables and do what no one following the rules of our culture would expect. Refuse to waste one minute of your lives fretting and fuming, plotting your revenge. Act like the name you wear, act like Christ and do what Christ not only commands but demonstrated with His own life.
When someone dismisses you, offer your other cheek as well. But this time not as a subordinate but as an equal.
If someone wants to take from you and cause you heartache and shame, give them your tunic and and your cloak and allow them to see that your value and worth is found in God who created and redeemed you, not in their opinion of you or the way they think of themselves.
If someone forces you to go a mile, if they use their power to treat you with contempt and make your life miserable. Acknowledge their brokenness and the pain that they have caused in your life, but realize that Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Freely give of your possessions to folks who need to borrow from you. Don’t question why they cannot go to a home they do not have and get cleaned up in clothes they do not own to find a job that doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about how they are going to waste or spend your gift. Live under the understanding that people are more important than things. Astonish the world that there is a new and different way to be human. In God’s kingdom, the disciples don’t plot revenge, they find victory when they return violence, injustice, and hate with love.
God’s call for us to love our neighbors, or enemies, or one another is tied to the fact that God loves us, and God loves the evil and the good, … the righteous and the unrighteous. God is not asking us to invite them over for Christmas dinner, God is asking us to love them in 100 different ways every day. God is asking for us to return hate with love, return evil with kindness, so that the world will See Christ and be saved.
This morning Jesus calls us to love. I have always admired the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. preached many sermons from this text. This teaching of Christ was the centerpiece of His teaching and his efforts to bring about civil rights to our nation. As we close this morning, I was reminded of what He said in a sermon he delivered in Montgomery on November 17, 1957: “Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”