Scriptures: Matthew 5:43, Leviticus 19:18, Psalms 21:9-10, Psalms 58:6-10, Matthew 5:44-45, Matthew 5:46-47, Matthew 5:44
Sometimes life hurts. It's not that you or I have been singled out to hurt. Life's hurts happen to everyone. We all go through times that hurt. It's how we handle those times that make us successful people or failures. Hurt is not always bad.
A preacher named Alexander Whyte almost lost his arm when he was a little boy. It would have been amputated had a neighbor lady said that she would nurse him back to health. She did. There was intense pain as it healed and the woman would say, "I like the pain. I like the pain . . ." The pain meant Alexander had feeling in his arm and it was healing. That revelation became a part of Alexander Whyte's preaching. He would say, "I like the pain. I like the pain."(1) That meant something was still alive within to change and heal and grow. It's that way with the Sermon on the Mount. It's when it hurts inside that something good is happening inside. It's when our hearts hurt that we are alive and changing and growing. They are not seared and too hard to change.
As we have been seeing, kingdom righteousness is not easy. This is the sixth of the six standards given by Jesus as to how the righteousness of his kingdom surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes. If we activate today's lesson into our lives, it will hurt.
1. MOST POTENT TEACHING ON LOVE FOUND IN A BIBLE: Today we come face with the most potent teaching about Christian love found in the Bible. Facing up to this is most difficult and it hurts. However, the pain is positive. It shows that Christ is alive within.
Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy."
Jesus began this standard of righteousness as he did the others. He referenced the Old Testament law. A problem here is that the Old Testament does not say ". . . and hate your enemy." That part was added by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Let's look at the scripture in the Old Testament.
Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
2. SCREWY THEOLOGY: Why did the Pharisees add "and hate your enemy" to the law of God? It was because that was how they interpreted the scriptures. Their teaching was that a neighbor could only be an Israelite. They felt that God's historic dealings with the people and the nations that became enemies of Israel showed to not only hate, but to bring genocide to them. God had commanded to exterminate the Canaanites. Also, many Psalms taught to pray imprecatory prayers upon enemies. Let's read a few of those imprecatory prayers from Psalm 21 and Psalm 58.
Psalms 21:9 At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace. In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them.
Psalms 21:10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth, their posterity from mankind.
Well, Hallelujah, right! Let's read another one.
Psalms 58:6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out, O LORD, the fangs of the lions!
Psalms 58:9 . . . the wicked will be swept away.
Psalms 58:10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
OH, GLORY TO GOD! Let's talk in tongues and shout and dance about that. Amazingly, many Believers are taught and encouraged to do so. Those Psalms sound too much like the theology that I hear today. Some preach the Lord's coming so the wicked can be thrown into a fiery furnace and consumed. You know - blood up to the horse's bridle, boils and sores and buzzards. Does it bother you that I don't preach that stuff? Friend, that is not New Testament Theology. Jesus changed that theology and it's time that we did. We must change if we want to live in the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees actually thought they were honoring God by hating people - their enemies. Some groups today actually feel that same way. If a person is not my race then I should hate them. If a person is not American then we should hate them. If a person commands jet aircraft to be hijacked and flown into buildings then we should hate them. Right? Let's see what Jesus said.
Matthew 5:44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 5:45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven . . .
3. RADICAL CHRISTIANITY:How many of us want to be a radical Christian? Here is what radical Christianity is all about. It's all about love. We must be radical about love if we want to be sons of our Father in heaven. Alfred Plummer said in his book Saint Matthew, "To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine."(2)
Isn't it interesting that in Matthew 5:44, Jesus said "enemies" as in more than one? It's not that we won't have enemies. We will as long as we are attempting to make a difference. It's that we make certain that our hearts are kept in the proper place even though we have enemies. To do that, we must have a radical love and that love is completely contrary to our human nature. Kingdom love is love without limits. It's a God kind of love.
4. TWO EXAMPLES: Jesus gave two examples to explain the radical love we are to exemplify.
Matthew 5:45 that you may be sons 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.
The first example is to show that we truly are children of God. When Jesus said "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" he meant that we would be like God. That is the Hebrew thought of being a son. We have our Father's blood and genes - body and blood of Jesus. Our DNA matches. The DNA that identifies us as being children of God is love. Loving people, even our enemies, determines if we are truly children of God. It's not a sinner's prayer that determines it. Love determines our true relationship with Father.
Have you ever noticed that the rain fell on field "A," which was owned by a righteous man, but did not fall on field "B" which was next to field "A" but owned by a wicked man? Or that the sun rose and shined on you who go to church every Sunday, but does not shine on your neighbor who never goes to church? Have you noticed that the sun has stopped shining on Pakistan and Iraq, but has continued to shine on the United States? You haven't noticed because Father does not work that way. Father loves the wicked as much as he loves anyone else. He does not love what the wicked do, understand. But he loves people. We cannot comprehend that when we only love people who love us.
Matthew 5:46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
Matthew 5:47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Do we want a blessed life? Do we want a rich reward? Then we must learn to love without limits. That's tough. It's like when people have driven nails in your hands and feet and mocked you as you hung naked on a cross and you say, "Father, forgive them."
The second example is that this love distinguishes us from the lost. Returning love to people who love us is no big deal. Jesus said the tax collectors of that day loved people who loved them. That was an "in-your-face" statement because everyone hated the tax collectors and continue that feeling to this day. The Roman empire would hire people to collect taxes. Those collectors had to give a certain amount to Rome, but could keep anything above what they were required to give to Rome. The tax collectors were rich crooks. Jesus said you are no better than the people you loathe if you only love the people who love you.
Let's take a second on this point and "hurt" some. How many would be honest enough to say that at some point along your road of life there was someone that you literally hated? You wished they would die and not just die, but dies a horrible death. Some of us may have more than one. Some of those feelings we were able to work through and forgive, but some have severe hatred in our hearts. Jesus said that our not dealing with that hatred brings us to their level. There are no rewards at that level. We have made ourselves like the people we hate.
The next verse is where the pain really awaits. It's not good enough only to forgive them. That's a great start, but we are not there yet. We must "greet" them. Jesus said, ". . . if you GREET only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" The Greek word translated greet in the NIV and salute in the KJV is aspazomai pronounced as-pad'-zom-ahee (Strong's #782). It means to greet, bid welcome, wish well, receive joyfully. Ouch! Receive joyfully? I can wish well, but "greet" and "receive joyfully?" I don't know about that.
Several years ago I had a very traumatic experience. I was literally fighting hate. I found myself praying imprecatory prayers. I couldn't sleep. I was being consumed with hatred. During that time, I unexpectedly came face to face with the person who was the center of my hatred. Every evil and dark emotion within me arose. I honestly did not know that I was capable of such diabolic feelings. The worst part is that I liked feeling that way toward that person. I actually enjoyed hating that person. I enjoyed speaking evil "prayers" about them. I finally came to the place that I knew I had to do something about me. I could not go on living and do what I was called to do with such malice in me. I ran to God and I cried out to him for help. I knew that within me there was not the ability to forgive, but I knew that with his help I could. I didn't know how to do it but I knew the Lord had said to pray FOR your enemies. I began blessing that person and asking God to do good things for them. At first I didn't mean it, but after a few days and a few prayers, the hatred began to lift and a true forgiveness happened. The next time I saw the person face to face, I was able to nod my head, speak, and smile as I would to anyone else. That action totally blew my enemy away. On their face was hatred still. On my face was a smile and a peace. The person probably hates me to this day and probably has not changed. However, I changed. From time to time even now, I find myself searching my heart to see if there are any malicious feelings in there. If so, I deal with them.
5. RADICAL CHRISTIANITY IS MORE THAN A SINNER'S PRAYER:Not only do we forgive our enemies. Not only do we love our enemies. We are to come to the place that we can greet our enemies. I desire to live in the kingdom of God more than I desire anything else in my life. This requires radical Christianity. Radical Christianity is not a "sinner's prayer" or shouting and jerking. It's not prophesying and tongues. It's being a son and a daughter of our Father in heaven. It is something that the natural person cannot do. It is something that the true Christ follower will do.
How about us? Do we only love the people who love us? Do we wish evil upon those who hate us? That is not living in the kingdom. We are no different from pagans and there is no reward for us.
Matthew 5:44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
That is Kingdom Love. That is Living in the kingdom of Heaven.
I want to pray for people today. I believe that many of us desire to be freed from the hatred buried within our hearts. We know it is hurting us and is a dark spot in our hearts. I am going to ask you to come down if you truly desire to be a radical Christ follower. You desire to be like your Father in heaven. You desire to be like Christ who said, "Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing." If that is your desire today then please come down and make a commitment to love and to greet your enemies.
1. Warren Wiersbe, Walking With The Giants, p. 96
2. Alfred Plummer, Saint Matthew, p. 89