Love Your Enemies | Matthew 5:38-48
Good morning, Raintree. Children ages Preschool-2nd grade can be dismissed out this door to your right for Children’s Church. I want to mention for any children on Sunday mornings, if they’d like to draw a picture for God or anything like that, we’d love for them to hang them up right back there at the KIDS station, a fun way for kids to be involved in worship, and just communicate to them in a small that Big Church is for them too, because they are part of the church. As PreK-2nd grade are heading to Children’s Church, and before we get to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, I want to ask Michelle Cason to come up and share with us a bit of her life story.
We believe that God is in the business of changing lives, and part of worship is sharing what God has done in our lives, and so I asked Michelle, especially with what we’re talking about today, to share a bit of her story. So I’m just going to give it over to her, and then I’ll come back to you in just a bit.
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing. God is good, isn’t he? This morning we are looking at a pretty well known passage of Scripture, but yet again, an incredibly challenging passage. And I want to encourage you, to try as hard as possible, not to come to the Word with presuppositions. It’s very easy to come to the Bible with what we already know to be true, just from life experience and knowledge, and try to fit what we see in the Word with what we already know and believe. We’re such reactionary and emotional beings that it’s so easy to put our experience in life above the Bible when it comes to determining truth. But we’re not to do that. We’re to come to the Word recognizing IT as absolute truth from God, that trumps what we think we know.
If you grew up in a very strict, perhaps even oppressive-feeling home, you may react very strongly to any type of talk about commands and obedience and rules, because you associate those types of things with your childhood home life, whether that’s the heart behind the biblical text or not. On the other hand, you may see all of this talk about love and tolerance in our culture and this distaste toward authority, and that may frustrate you, so you run to commands and rules and the Law of God, whether that’s the heart behind the biblical text we’re looking at or not. As much as possible, we’re to actively put our experiences and opinions aside and realize that if the Bible is the Word of God, there is no source for truth that is higher.
If it is God-breathed, according to 2 Tim. 3:16, then we should come to the Word checking our presuppositions and opinions at the door, coming open-handed saying, “God, show me what is true, and who you want me to be.” Our hearts should reflect that of David’s in Psalm 25:4-5- “Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all the day long.” So, I pray that that is your heart in coming to the Word today.
In Matthew 5, Jesus, if you recall, has gone through four statements of, “You’ve heard this, but I say this.” And today, we get two more, the last two, and then next week we’ll start into chapter 6 of Matthew. I want us to jump right in to what Jesus had to say about retaliation and about loving our enemies, and see what truths God can teach us and lead us in this morning. Let’s read Matthew 5:38-48.
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.
43 “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.
There are two primary commands from Jesus here. We’ll look at each of these.
- Don’t retaliate against those who wrong you (vv. 38-42).
So Jesus brings up this Old Testament Mosaic law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This is something that was part of the justice system for the Israelites. But something you may not know is that this law was put in place to prevent unjust punishment. I mean, we hear, “and eye for an eye” and think, “Man, that’s so harsh!” And often people will use this verse as a reason to weaken punishment for crime, claiming that Jesus was soft on crime or justice. But yet again, Jesus is not delegitimizing Old Testament justice or law; he’s addressing the Jews and their misinterpretation of the Law.
We’ve seen that throughout these six statements, “You’ve heard this, but I say this.” What was happening with this particular law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” was that instead of treating this Old Testament law as something that was for civil authorities to make sure that unjust punishment didn’t occur, many Jews were using it as an excuse to seek out personal revenge. This is exactly what Jesus is addressing here. He is, by no means, saying that the government and those in authority shouldn’t bring about justice or should always be overly merciful. He’s addressing individuals who put their own personal rights and properties above their love and service to others!
He says, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” “Resist” means to “set yourself against” with resentment or the desire especially for personal vengeance. Don’t set yourself against the one who is evil. Then he gives a few examples.
In vs. 39, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” To that, we likely think, “Heh? Does he really mean that? If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Jesus meant what he said, but it’s worth noting that a slap on the cheek is not just hurting someone physically, it’s really more of an insult. For Jews, there wasn’t a more degrading thing to do to a person than to slap them in the face with the back of your hand.
And think about it: Naturally, what do we want to do when we’re insulted, or even slapped? We want to slap back, insult back, throw it back in their face! I used to wrestle with my brother growing up, especially on the trampoline we had. It was the perfect place to wrestle. We were goofing off, not trying to hurt each other, but as soon as one us did accidentally hurt the other, man, it escalated quickly. Pretty soon, we were in a full-fledged fight, and mom or dad had to come out and stop us. Why did it happen like that even though we both knew that that first actual hit that hurt someone was an accident? Because if he hurt me, he deserved to get hurt right back!
But, instead, Jesus is saying here that we’re not to return the insult, which would likely just escalate the violence anyways, just like for me and my brother. We’re to have a humble and gentle spirit. That’s what Jesus is getting at here, not literally that when we’re assaulted, we turn the other cheek and say, “Here too please.” We need to take what Jesus said in context with all of His Word and everything that He said. In Romans 12-13, we see that God is one who instituted authorities who are to bing about justice. He’s not forbidding self-defense, or saying that we’re just to remain in abusive situations. That’s not the outrageous thing we’re to do. The outrageous thing we’re to do is be humble and not retaliate when someone wrongs us.
This is something that we sometimes forget about Jesus, is that he spoke out and defended those who were being wronged, but never when He Himself was wronged, at least with any sort of personal vendetta. Obviously, if you are assaulted, you should consider pressing charges! Again, this isn’t a prohibition on civil and legal justice. But it is a prohibition on personal revenge and vengeance.
This is an incredibly countercultural idea. You think about many of the most popular movies: What’s one of the most common themes within many of these movies? Revenge. Standing up for your own honor and reputation. Maybe the most famous movie like this is The Godfather. For me, any movie with Denzel Washington usually fits within that realm. But why are those movies so popular and intriguing to us? Honestly, because they feed this desire we have to never let anyone mess with me. “Don’t even think about it; Don’t you dare.” There’s something mesmerizing and even toxic about revenge, and for clarity, it’s not justice that’s mesmerizing to us.
Justice is a good thing to desire. But with personal revenge, or bitterness, or the desire for others to experience what they put us through; that’s not justice that we desire; it’s vengeance. It’s our pride wanting to defend our name and ego.
This is the same point he is making with the other examples he uses: vs. 40- “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Yet again, the principle that Jesus is pushing here isn’t about avoiding lawsuits, or literally turning the cheek when someone slaps you. He’s speaking to the heart, like he has throughout the Sermon on the Mount. What’s the HEART of what he’s addressing? That as Christians, we are to have radically unselfish mindsets when it comes to our own personal rights, what we own, and even our time and labor!
We see that in vs. 41-42- “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.” Jesus has moved from his first main thing he’s teaching us here, which again is “Don’t retaliate against those who wrong you,” to now going way beyond that. The heart of personal revenge is pride and selfishness. The heart of Christ, though, is completely ignoring the need for personal revenge, and instead treating others as if they deserve better than you do.
Part of having Christ’s heart for people is not ignoring their needs! This last example Jesus uses might be particularly convicting for some of us in this room. “Give to the one who begs from you! Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” This doesn’t mean that we throw cash at anyone who asks. But it does mean we CANNOT ignore people who are in need. We can’t! Jesus says DON’T DO IT! I know we’re concerned with people taking advantage, and we should be, but don’t ignore them. Instead of giving them cash, go to the grocery store with them and get them $10 in groceries. Whatever the need is, we cannot let convenience come before people. Can I say that again? We CANNOT let our personal convenience come before other people.
Ultimately, the love that Jesus has for people should manifest in our hearts as followers of Christ. We should love people so much that we even love the very people who seek to hurt us, which brings us to the second command we see from Jesus in our text, from verses 43-48.
Love your enemies (vv. 43-48).
Once again Jesus brings up traditional teaching, and compares it to what the Old Testament actually taught. He says, in verse 43, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Now that first part is true, and is found explicitly in the Old Testament, “Love your neighbor.” In fact, in very similar context to what Jesus has already addressed, Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
However, what the Jews did, in order to interpret the Old Testament to fit their desires or lifestyles, which is, again, what we must be warned not to do, they asked the question, “Well, who is your neighbor?” They interpreted neighbor as friend, and therefore added the command to “Hate your enemies.” Here’s the problem, though: never once in the Bible are we told to hate our enemies. Plain and simple; never once, which is why Jesus so clearly makes the point, “Love your neighbor” means love everyone, even your enemies.
You know, maybe you’re ok with the idea of no revenge: “I get that; that makes sense. I need to leave that to God.” But Jesus goes so much farther than simply don’t seek revenge. He says, just outrageously, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” This love isn’t just some façade of smiles and civility, just being polite and nice. This love is more than that. Some of you may know “agape,” this word for love. It means to take pleasure in them, to esteem highly or wish well of them. I don’t know about you, but I hear that, and I’m just wondering, “Really, God? I don’t mind being nice and civil, but to genuine in my heart wish them well and esteem, think of them highly? It’s an outrageous though. But that’s what he says: Love those who hate you. Love those that seek your harm. Love those that talk bad about you. Love those that don’t care about you, or aren’t considerate toward you. Love all people, including your enemies. Why?! I’m glad you asked. Jesus answers as clearly as can be in verses 45-47:
“…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the 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?”
Why #1: Our Father loves all, so we should love all (vs. 45, 48).
Why are we to have genuine love for all people, even our enemies? Because we are sons and daughters of the Father. We’re His sons, and so we’re to act like Him! Just like young children who love trying to be like their parents, we are to want to be like our Heavenly Father, who “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” What does that mean?
It means that God does not only care and provide for his children. He cares for all of humanity. He provides sunlight, life, and rain, nourishment to all of humanity! Theologians call this “common grace.” Common grace refers to the care that God shows for all his creatures, including those who are actively rebelling against Him. So here’s the question that comes to my mind. If God, the perfect, holy God who provides for all people looks past how particular people treat Him and love them anyway, why do WE, sinful human beings that do hurt others at times, have such a problem looking past how people treat us? If God can love His so-called “enemies,” when the chasm between them is infinitely massive, why can’t we love our enemies, who are really on the same level as us?
The simple answer, again, comes down to pride. We are selfish. We don’t see the world through God’s eyes. We see the world as revolving around us. So when we’re mistreated, it feels as if the entire world is amiss. If feels as it’s the biggest issue to address, the most important thing for us to do, is to fix this mistreatment, or at a minimum attack back, have disdain, give nasty looks, if you want to get really trivial. As Christians, though, we’re sons and daughters of the Father, and we’re to pursue being like Him. In the same way that He cares for all, despite their status with him, we’re to genuinely care for, love, and even just wish the best for all, despite their status with us.
Do you wish the best for those that don’t like you, that treat you badly, that even persecute you? Those whom you consider your enemies, or closest to being your enemies, do you genuinely love them despite their actions or attitudes? This might be one of the most difficult parts of this journey we’re on toward Christlikeness. Verse 48, which is the last verse of our text, and really the summary verse for all of Matthew chapter 5, says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
To that, I imagine some of us responding with, “How in the world are we supposed to be perfect? Like, seriously?” It helps to know what the actual Greek word means. The word for perfect means “mature,” “complete,” “whole.” 100% submitted and integrated into the will of God. Basically, that means truly reflecting the character of the Father. If you were to sum up what we’re to be doing as Christians on earth, I’d summarize it with pursuing Godliness and spreading the Gospel. I mean, really, you could sum it up with just becoming like Jesus, because that includes being completely committed to spreading the Gospel, making disciples.
So this is one of those perfect moments to really examine ourselves and ask, “Do I look like my Father by loving my enemies?” If you’re not sure what the answer to that question is for you, or it’s a complicated answer, how do we learn to truly love all people? There’s lots of potential answers to those questions, but I think for our purposes here, it’s worth focusing for a moment on the most compelling reason to love all people: and that is because of the Gospel.
I’ve said this once before, but it’s worth saying again: To hold a grudge against a believer in Jesus, or to hold back forgiveness from a believer, is saying that Jesus dying on the Cross was enough for God to forgive them, but not enough for me. Similarly, to hold a grudge against a non-believer, or to hold back forgiveness, is saying that God’s wrath manifested in an eternity away from him in a real place called hell is enough punishment for God, but not for me; I need to add to it my grudge.
I don’t know what you’ve had to go through because of other people—maybe it’s repeated abuse, maybe for most of us it’s just tension or disagreements or conflicting personalities. (Maybe for you, you don’t have anyone you’d call your enemy, but know that we’re talking about anyone with whom you may have issues). I don’t know what you are even going through right now because of other people, but please hear me:
No one went through more pain and suffering at the hands of other people than Jesus Christ, who never hurt even one person, and yet even with that incredible injustice, Jesus sought no personal revenge. Instead, HE GENUINELY LOVED ALL PEOPLE! He esteemed all people highly. He wished all people well. He loved his disciples who followed Him, but some of whom betrayed him, or at least abandoned him. He loved the very Jews who before Pilate cried out, “Crucify Him!” He loved the criminals who were mocking him while being crucified themselves right next to him. He loved the very Roman soldiers who were in the midst of crucifying Him. He loved the entire world for whose sin he died and whose sin he defeated three days later by raising from the dead.
If you need a reason to forgive even if they’re not asking for forgiveness, whoever it is, look to Jesus! He died “while we were yet sinners” and in rebellion against Him. Like our Father, we need to care for all, genuinely. Like the Son, we need to put others before ourselves, genuinely. Not suddenly deciding, because you hear this message, to start acting like you love everyone, just putting on this façade– But instead by coming to the Father broken and asking Him to change your heart. That’s why we’re here. If you’re not here seeking to be transformed by the Word of God and becoming more like Jesus, you’re missing the point. I implore you: give this grudge, give this resentment, bitterness, anger, give it to God. Give it to him, and seek to become more like him. The 2nd why for loving all people, including our enemies, and this is brief, and I want to close with this:
Why #2: Christ-like love for all is one of our most distinguishing marks.
This is a pretty straightforward point that Jesus makes in verses 46-47: He says, “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?”
As Christians, we have been transformed by the Gospel. When we look like the world, that does not fit our identity as followers of Jesus. This characteristic, of loving our enemies like Christ did, might be, honestly, THE most distinguishing mark of our faith, or at least it should be. No one else out there in the entire world has reason to love their enemies. Think about it: They really don’t. They’re enslaved to sin, and can’t help but be looking out for number 1, themselves. And we, as those who are sons and daughters of the Father and are loved by Him despite our sin and rebellion, we have more reason to love all people than we can even fathom. As Christians, we should be known for our love, outrageous love for those who have hurt us, who have betrayed us, and who have abandoned. Like Jesus, who genuinely loved all, even those who cried out for his death, and even those who actually put him to death, we too can genuinely love a world that hates us, from the individual who has hurt us to the country that seems to not want up with with us. Let’s seek to be perfect, mature, complete, whole, because our Father is mature, complete, whole.