Loving Those You Want to Hate
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Here we have another one of Jesus’ “you have heard, but I say...” sections. Jesus is not redefining the Law when He says these things, but rather He is clarifying the intent of the Law.
Jesus tells the crowds in verse 38,
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
This is a shorthand way of referencing the laws of retaliation. Remember that many of these laws like “an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth,” while they might sound like God is saying to get even with your enemies, were actually intended to limit retribution and punishment. Sometimes grace was what was really needed.
One of the requirements of the Law was to love your neighbor.
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.
The Jews had taken this passage quite literally to mean that only their own people were their neighbors and therefore the only ones worthy of love. They had even added to the Law by saying that they were not only to love their neighbors, but hate their enemies. This is never God’s intent. God is a God on a mission to save the nations, not just one.
Jesus would address this issue of who is our neighbor. Have you ever noticed that there are some people that we have no problem helping and then there are others we would hardly lift a finger to help? Often it is our prejudices or pride that keeps us from loving our enemies.
Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. A lawyer, one who studies the Law, came to Jesus and sought to justify himself before Jesus. He asked him how he could get eternal life and Jesus told him to keep the Law and love his neighbor as himself.
The man tries to justify himself before Jesus and asks Him who his neighbor is. Jesus proceeded to tell him the parable of the Good Samaritan. You are probably familiar with it. Jesus tells of a man who was beaten and robbed on the road to Jericho and left for dead. A priest comes by and rather than helps, goes to the other side of the road. A Levite does the same. Both of these men should have been the first to help, but instead they try to avoid helping the man.
The twist in the story is that the man who proved to really love his neighbor was the Good Samaritan. He was hated by the priest and the Levite because he was a Samaritan.
Now, our text is not the passage of the Good Samaritan, but it’s important to understand who our neighbor is if we are going to obey what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.
So this morning, we are going to look at how Jesus tells us to love those we want to hate.
1. Love Your Enemies (v.44)
1. Love Your Enemies (v.44)
Jesus first tells His disciples to love their enemies.
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Let’s stop and take that in. It’s easy to say we are to love our enemies, but is it really easy to love our enemies? These are people who want to harm you or hurt you. And, you are supposed to love them? How can we do that and what does that look like?
Let’s tackle the second part first. What does it look like to love our enemies? Romans 12:19-21 gives us some insight.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Instead of trying to get even and avenge, like we just saw with an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, we are to love them. We are to feed them when they are hungry. We are to give them water when they are thirsty. We are to overcome evil with good.
Does this sound like anyone you’ve heard of? It sounds exactly like how Jesus treated others doesn’t it? Think about Judas. Jesus fed him and gave him a place in his ministry. He served him despite his betrayal.
Illustration: Andersonville Prison
Some of you are historians and you will remember that here in Georgia during the Civil War there was a prison named Andersonville. It was known for it’s extreme cruelty during the war. I remember visiting the prison and seeing the line they had marked around the wall. Anyone who crossed the line was shot without question. They were starved and disease ran amok in the prison.
I’m painting a very mild version of what happened there, but we see this image all the time. We saw a version of this with Hitler’s concentration camps. One might ask, how can people do these types of things. The answer lies in man’s hate. When you hate someone, you dehumanize them. It takes away their dignity of being made in the image of God.
So how can we possibly love our enemy? We can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit. We have to release our sense of justice into the hands of God and accept our role as His agents in helping to bring lost people to know Christ. We are in a battle for the souls of men.
2. Pray for Our Enemies (v.44)
2. Pray for Our Enemies (v.44)
The second thing Jesus tells us is to pray for those who persecute us.
He didn’t say pray for those you don’t like.
He didn’t say pray for those you don’t get along with.
He said pray for those who persecute you.
These are the people who are actively coming at you to cause you harm or destroy you or your reputation.
Praying for these people is one of the last things we want to do and yet it is the key to learning to love our enemies. We have a hard time hating those we are praying for.
What are we to pray for? Well, the text doesn’t get that specific, but we can pray for their salvation. Pray for them to come to know Christ.
Jesus tells us the reason we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us:
That we might be like our Father in heaven.
God is the example. He gives all men general grace. Those who love Him and those who who hate him. God sends the rain on everybody. He feeds everyone. You may not realize that, but God gives you life and the ability to work. He gives you a job and and a family. God gives general blessings on all men.
What Jesus is saying is that God is not just good to those who obey Him. Aren’t you glad for that? You know none of us obey God completely and our salvation is the work of God in our lives. None of us would ever believe the gospel if God did not work in our hearts to regenerate us and enable us to believe. Now, you have a responsibility to believe and respond, but God is the one that gives you the desire to be saved.
Jesus explains that it is normal to love those who love you back. It is also normal for us to greet those we know. He says that even the most scoundrel of men, who to the Jews were the tax collectors, do the same. The tax collectors were sellouts to Rome who got rich off the backs of their fellow Jew. They were akin to the Jewish taskmasters of Pharaoh in the Old Testament who got great positions in Egypt off the backs of their own people. Even these people love those who love them back.
The Gentiles are anyone outside the Jewish community. They are the pagans. Most people who were not Jews, worshipped a pantheon of gods and were very licentious with their lifestyles, meaning they felt they had a license to sin and do whatever they wanted to do. Their gods were just like humans with their lustful desires. After all, they were created as a replacement for the one true god and rather than man being made in the image of God like the Bible says, man made gods in his own image.
Jesus said that all of these groups of people do good and love those who do good back to them and love them back. As people of God, we are called to a higher calling. We are called to love those who don’t love us back. We are called to serve those who would hurt us and cause pain in our lives. By doing this, we resemble our Father. We share his character. God is perfect in holiness and righteousness and in love.
Look closely at verse 48.
48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
When Jesus says that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, Jesus is not holding up a standard of sinless perfection as an attainable life on this side of heaven. We can grow in holiness, but we will still sin because we have not yet been glorified and given a new body that isn’t under the curse.
We all feel the pull of our flesh and the temptations we face, though God always gives us a way of escape, we often don’t take the exit strategy. We do the things we don’t want to do. Now the difference between a true believer and a false one is that when a true believer sins, he will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and have a resolve to do better and not sin the next time. We can even be caught up in habitual sin, but if we are really believers, we will struggle with our sin. We will not want to keep on sinning.
A false believer will keep sinning and asking God to forgive him, but will really have no resolve to stop. They will not seek to be perfect as God is perfect. They will look at the grace of God as an opportunity to do whatever they want.
That’s not real faith!
So what Jesus is commanding us in Matthew is to live a life that seeks to be perfect in love. Why? The answer lies all the way back in verse 16.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
As God’s children we should reflect who He is to this world we live in. Proverbs 20:11 says,
11 Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.
When people look at your life, what do they see?
The secret to contentment and having the ability to love those you want to hate lies in understanding the origin of all of our problems in this world. We need to understand that sin has affected everything and everybody. People live the lives they do because they are either saved by the blood of Jesus and brought into His kingdom, or they are lost and under the power and sway of the enemy.
People are born into this world naturally sinners and at odds with God. As we seek to love people like Jesus did, we need to remember this. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. If He waited until you loved Him to die for you, you would never be saved. He had to go into enemy territory and let the light of the gospel shine. He lived his life to serve and bring many sons and daughters to glory.
This morning, maybe you are one of those lost sons or daughters that need to come home. No matter what you have done, the Father is waiting for you. He is calling you home. Will you listen?
Maybe you are here this morning and you’ve had a struggle with someone in your life that has been difficult to love. Jesus will help you love them. God wants you to be perfect in love towards them.
God can enable us to do lot that we think we cannot do. All we have to do is look to Jesus and be like Him. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you can love those you want to hate and be like your Heavenly Father.