Matthew 5:43-48 — Jesus Calls Us to Love Our Enemies! Wow, JC! Do We Have To? My Enemies? Love Them Too!

Posted: October 8, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew
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Matthew 5:43-48
Love for Enemies

There is an old saying that says, “it is easier to attract bees with honey than it is with vinegar.” Last night, at small group, we were studying what David Platt’s book, Counter Culture, says about sexuality and his discussion of the biblical response to sexual sin (including homosexual and heterosexual sin alike). In particular, our discussion led us down the road to the issue of the proper response to homosexuality. What is the Christian response? Do we gloss over unrepentant practice of sinful behavior? Do we not challenge those who blatant shake their fist at God and rewrite Scripture at best or reject God’s Word altogether at worst? How do we respond? The answer is not the vinegar of protest signs. It is not the vinegar of saying they are all going to hell. It is not the vinegar of calling them “those people” or “they”. It is with the honey of God’s eternal Word. It is with the honey of unconditional love. Love includes telling people the truth. Love is not making enemies out of those who are not just like us. Even the tax collector does that.

In this final passage of Chapter 5, Jesus again amplifies what has been popular belief based on the Law as set out in the Old Testament. In the last passage, Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus says we should lay our vindication at the Lord’s doorstep instead of taking it into our own hands. Now, Jesus takes it to a personal level when he says in Matthew 5:43-48:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

As in the previous passages where he harkens back to things said in the Old Testament, Jesus is saying it is time to grow up from the mere observance of the letter of God’s Law and extend ourselves, strive for the righteousness of God. Although this passage has no specific reference that I can find in the Old Testament law, there are many references throughout the Old Testament that expound upon the necessity, as God’s chosen people, to love you neighbor as if they were your own family and to also to disdain or even hate those things or actions that are not holy, those things that do not give glory to God. Here, in this passage of Scripture, Jesus is again saying that true righteousness, the purity of God’s own heart, requires us to love more than just those that agree with our way of thinking. Jesus says even the tax collectors (the most hated public officials of the day) do no less than that!

Using tax collectors as the imagery of what he compares us that only love those who love us most certainly hit a chord with the people of Jesus’ day to whom he was directly speaking. As Dr. Ralph F. Wilson states in his message, “Calling Levi The Tax Collector”, “tax collectors (KJV “publicans”) probably weren’t numbered among the poor. Their profession, if it could be called that, made many of them wealthy. Rome’s method of collecting taxes was to employ as tax collectors locals who knew who had money and where they kept it. A province was divided into tax districts. Locals would bid for the contract of collecting taxes in a district. The bid was the money they were contracted to pay the government; whatever they collected over that amount was theirs to keep. The chief tax collector (such as Zacchaeus in Luke 19:2) owned the contract for his region. Then he would employ others to collect taxes in the various villages. Tax collectors were widely regarded as thieves and robbers. Perhaps, because of this known hatred for the tax collectors of their day, first century Jews told “tax collector jokes” in the same way we tell “lawyer jokes.” This hatred for the tax collectors is still with today. Name one person you know that loves to pay taxes. We loathe the IRS. Maybe our hatred of tax collectors is not quite as deep though. We do, at least, have representation in the seat of government who provides the IRS its ability to collect taxes whereas the Jews had no say in Rome about their taxes. Enough collective angst in our society will eventually lead to changes in the tax code. Enough collective against amoung the people will cause Congress to reform the way the IRS goes about collecting taxes, particularly delinquent taxes, as it did in the IRS Reform Act of 1998. However, Roman occupied lands had no such representation and to react against it would bring down the wrath of the occupying Roman government and military.

So, the concept of a tax collector was the most loathsome thing a person could. Pious Jews could not associate with them or they would be considered unclean themselves. As you can see, then, Jesus says just loving those who love and accept us is no better than the most loathsome person in Jewish society – the often corrupt tax collectors.

This is where our small group discussion led us last night. Jesus calls us to something higher. Just as God loves all humans on earth regardless of whether they do not even know Him, have turned from him, or even hate Him, we are called to love those who do not love us. We are called to even love those who persecute us. We are called to love those who do not look like us. We are called to love those who do not act like us. We are called to love those do look like us. We are called to love those who blatantly practice sexual lifestyles that are sinful based on God’s Word. We are called to love the homosexual. We are called to love the adulterer. We are called to love those who practice sexual intercourse outside the marriage covenant of a husband and his wife. We are called to love those that do not desire to change their lifestyle. We are to love them toward the truth of God’s Word. We pray for God to convict their hearts through God’s Word. We are to pray for loving opportunities to demonstrate what God’s Word says about their sin. We are called to love because everyone deserves to accept the love of God through Jesus Christ. All of us, except the lucky few that truly accept Christ in childhood, are hard-headed and through our lifestyles shook out fist at God and were blatantly stubborn about it. We rejected God ourselves. How are those who practice sexual sin any different from us? We are to love them even when they are being blatantly stubborn in justifying why their lifestyle is acceptable and right. Did we not justify our adultery, our premarital sex, our pornography? And, yet, God still loved us through our hard-headed rejection of Him and His Word. Are we not then called to do the same? We must love those who reject Him. We must love those who do not even realize that they need a Savior. How else are they going to be directed toward His Word.

As in the previous passage, Jesus tells us that we should lay our need for vindication at His feet. We are called to love even those that hate us so much that they would kill us if given the chance. To drive home this point the thing that I see that would immediately come to mind is to show Jesus’ brand of love to the most hardened American-hating terrorist. To show love to a man that has a gun to your head just because you are who you are. We are to show God’s love to a person that is about to crash your plane into a field in Pennsylvania just because you are American and he wants to prove a point. It is like a black man about to be lynched by a bunch of white racists telling them that he loves them and that God loves them too. It is to show love and obedience to a tyrannical boss who messes with you and your career just because he has the power to do so. It is to show love without cause to do so. It is to show love when there is no obvious reward. It is to show love even when you cannot see the immediate results of your generosity and love. It is to show love to a person burned out of their home when you give them cash for groceries but not getting to see the payoff. It is to love others as God loves us. It is to love others as a parent loves a rebellious child. A parent loves his child no matter what he does. A parent sacrifices for his child without certainly no thanks or reward directly from the child. Children often do not see that sacrificial love that we have for our children until we have children of their own.

So, we are to love others when there is no expectation of return. We are to love others even when our ego does not get massaged in return. We are to give, love, forgive, all without expectation. We are love others who hate us. We are to love others enough to die for them. Jesus did no less. If we are to have a heart for Jesus, we are to demonstrate that love in an unleashed manner on a daily basis not just as part of special day at church. That is how we should be living our life every day. We are to be looking for opportunities to serve others in God’s name so that we can share his love with them. Even if we are not there to see them accept Christ in our heart. Each act that we take to love on others, particularly those in need or those who are non-believers or both, as collective groups of Christians has a cumulative effect that will eventually lead to a person getting on their knees and thanking God. Thanking God for the love that has been shown them collectively in the past and then asking Jesus to come into their heart.

That is what we should do. That is what Jesus would do. Seeds of love planted 2,000 years ago still yielding new fruit today. What is my legacy as a Christian? What is yours? Will it be said of us, “They will know we are Christians by our love”? That Jesus love. Unconditional and unwarranted. Love.

Tomorrow, we will be back in this passage to discuss the point in the passage that Jesus says, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That tall order deserves a discussion of its own but yet in the context of what we are talking about in this passage. See you tomorrow.


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