Do You Only Love Those Who Love You? (Part 1)

Matthew 5:43-48

Tom Pennington  •  November 4, 2012
Audio
  • Share:

Today I want us to come back to the last part of Matthew 5. Believe it or not, Lord willing, today and next week we'll finish Matthew 5 and move on to chapter 6. I know you thought it would never happen, but it's going to happen, Lord willing. Let me just remind you of the flow that we've looked at so far in this amazing sermon. Jesus begins in verses 3 through 12 describing the character of those who belong to His spiritual kingdom. If you're a Christian, if you have repented of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ, if you have been changed by the Spirit of God, given a new heart in the sense that you have new desires, a new desire to please and follow God, then you belong to Jesus' spiritual kingdom today. You are part of the sphere over which He rules. He is your king, your sovereign. You're a part of His kingdom.

And so in the beatitudes, we see a description of the character of those who have come to be a part of Jesus' kingdom. And it's not because they're wonderful; in fact, the first beatitude says that they utterly lack any qualification personally. They come as beggars acknowledging before God they have nothing that would cause God to receive them into this kingdom. Instead, it is by grace as we studied together. It is by the acknowledgment that only God in His mercy and grace can transplant us, as Paul says, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son.

But after their character, beginning in verses 13 to 16, Jesus describes their influence. If you're a citizen of His kingdom, you have influence. You are salt and light. You are a preservative in a decaying culture just by virtue of being who you are, and you are light. That is, your presence brings exposure to those things that are beautiful and right and good as well as exposure to those things that are sinful and evil.

Now beginning in Matthew 5:17 and running through 7:12, Jesus comes to the body of this great sermon. And the body of this sermon really is about how the citizens of His spiritual kingdom actually live. He begins by identifying the essence of kingdom living. And the essence of kingdom living is this: whole-hearted obedience to the Scripture. If you belong to Jesus, if you belong to His kingdom, then the Word of God matters most to you. You want to understand it and you want to do it. That's where Jesus begins. Look at verse 17:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. (the Law and the Prophets of course being the entire, what we call the Old Testament, the entire Scripture at the time that Jesus was speaking. He said,) Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

He goes on in verse 19 to say that your treatment of even the smallest command in Scripture makes you either a faithful disciple or an unfaithful disciple. The Word of God matters. That's the essence. Living out the Word of God is the essence of kingdom living.

But there are others who try to obey the scripture who aren't His disciples and He compares in verse 20 His disciples' obedience to the scripture to the obedience of the scribes and Pharisees, and He says it's radically different. Notice verse 20: "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Now that doesn't mean our righteousness is the cause of our entering the kingdom of heaven. That is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We looked at it going back to the first beatitude. You come in as a beggar with nothing. That's how you get in. But once you're in, your righteousness manifests the reality of whether you've truly been changed by Christ, whether you're truly in His kingdom. And it's radically different than mere external conformity. And beginning in verse 21 and running down through the end of the chapter, Jesus provides six illustrations of how the righteousness of His true disciples surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. You see, the righteousness of His disciples starts in the heart and flows out to the conduct. It's obedience to the Scripture from the heart, in the heart, that radiates out to the conduct, and that was completely different than that of the scribes and Pharisees. They shaped and remolded the Scripture so that they could keep it after a fashion, but it wasn't from the heart and it wasn't reflected in the heart. That's why Jesus addresses all of these heart sins in this chapter.

Now in each of the six illustrations, Jesus first shows us how the scribes and Pharisees misinterpreted the Old Testament law and then He explains its true meaning. So, Jesus, then, is explaining and applying what God actually meant in contrast to what the scribes and Pharisees had taught the people that it meant.

Now we have so far examined five of the six illustrations Jesus gives. Let me just remind you. Back up in verses 21 to 26, we looked at anger as really the moral equivalent of murder; in verses 27 to 30, lust in the heart as the moral equivalent of adultery; in verses 31 and 32, an unbiblical divorce as the equivalent of adultery. In verses 33 to 37, we looked at breaking your word, even if you played mind games with certain expressions, as equivalent to breaking the ninth commandment against bearing false witness or lying. And then in verses 38 to 42, we've looked at the sin of personal revenge –that that is not allowed by Christ. We're not allowed to harbor grudges or to express revenge to others.

Now that brings us to the sixth and last illustration in verses 43 to 47 and then the chapter ends with this summary. Look at verse 48: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." That doesn't mean in this life we can achieve perfection that matches God's perfection. It means that is the goal toward which we strive and to settle for anything less is to disobey Christ.

So let's look at the sixth and final illustration of how our righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Look at verse 43:

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALLLOVE 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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Now in the previous five illustrations, Jesus singled out individual commandments from the second half of the Ten Commandments, the final six of the Ten Commandments which we call the second table of the Law. Because remember the law was written on two tablets; the four commands pertaining to God probably on one, and the six commands pertaining to man on the other, that second table of the Law. Jesus has pulled several of those commandments in what He's explained. But in this final illustration, He addresses not one of those specific commands but an overarching command; in fact, the command that summarizes the entire Second Table of the Law; the command that summarizes our duty to man contained in the final six of the Ten Commandments. Jesus says keep this commandment and you will not engage in sinful anger or lust or an unbiblical divorce or lying or acts of personal revenge. They're all summed up in this. That's why, by the way, in Matthew 22 when Jesus is asked the greatest commandment, He gives the two greatest commandments. He says the first is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and the second is like it and He quotes this commandment because it summarizes all of our duty to man.

Now the theme of this paragraph is very easy to discern. You picked it up as we read it. It's not however quite so easy to do. I could summarize it this way. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must love both our friends and our enemies, those who love us as well as those who hate us. We must love every human being regardless of how they respond to us or treat us.

Now as Jesus gives this final illustration, He lays it out in the same way that He's laid out the other five. So let's begin then by looking at the Pharisees' distortion of the law of love. Look at Matthew 5:43. "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'" Again here, Jesus begins with the unusual expression you have heard that it was said instead of how He normally introduces Old Testament Scripture with phrases like it is written. And that's because Jesus, here, is not challenging the teaching of the Old Testament. He's not changing what the Old Testament said; rather, He's confronting the teaching of the scribes and rabbis that the people had heard about the Old Testament. And by the way, that doesn't mean that all scribes and Pharisees taught this view without any exceptions. What it does mean is that this was the most common interpretation in first century Israel.

Now it's especially clear in this sixth illustration that Jesus isn't taking issue with the Old Testament, but with the scribes' interpretation. You can tell it on the face of it. Notice verse 43. The first half of the quotation is in all capitals. That's because our translators have noted that that is quoted directly from the Old Testament – "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR." Now keep your finger here and let's go back to Leviticus 19 where this is quoted from. Leviticus 19:18 "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord." That's where this command comes from. And so the first half of the Pharisees' quotation was accurate. It comes from the Old Testament. Although, did you notice something that they left off? Look again at verse 18: "you shall love your neighbor (what?) as yourself…" They just didn't bother to add that because that raises the standard pretty high.

But keep your finger here in Leviticus 19 because I'm going to have you flip back here in just a moment and go back to Matthew 5 again. Notice the second half of the quotation: "…and hate your enemy." That is not in capital letters. That's because the translators have rightly discerned that that expression is found nowhere in the Old Testament. But we do know that this idea was taught in first century Palestine, even apart from what our Lord is saying here. You remember the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered back in the 1900's there near the Dead Sea. And there was a community there who kept these writings. Some of them were the Scripture (the book of Isaiah which I have actually seen, that full scroll of Isaiah dating to a hundred years before our Lord) but also there were other writings of the Essenes, which were a monastic community that lived there. And we get a little feel for what they believed. And one of their common community rules reads this: "Love all that God has chosen and hate all that He has rejected." They believed that you were responsible to love your neighbor, meaning your brother, and to hate everybody else. Clearly, according to Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees had come to hold exactly that same position.

So if you're a thinking person, you should be asking yourself, 'How could any scribe, Pharisee or rabbi, someone who supposedly had some serious endeavor to understand the Scripture –how could they come up with that interpretation? How could they conclude that the Scripture justifies hating your enemy?' Well, they had several justifications and I think we have to see them and answer them so we don't fall into the same trap ourselves. The first justification they had was the immediate context of the command in Leviticus 19. Go back to Leviticus 19. They would say, 'Who is your neighbor? Well, let the context decide who your neighbor is.' So notice verse 16: "Do not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you're not to act against the life of your neighbor…" So they said, 'See? This seems to imply that your neighbor is a fellow Israelite.' Notice verse 17:

"You shall not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but you shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear grudge (notice this) against the sons of your people, but shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord."

So they looked at those texts and said, 'See? The Scripture is defining neighbor as a fellow Israelite.' That's why when Jesus, in Luke 10, says you're to love your neighbor as yourself, what's the scribe who's talking to Him, what's his first response? 'Well Lord, who is my (what?) neighbor?' Who's my neighbor? And Jesus goes on to tell the story of The Good Samaritan because the rabbis argued that the expression your neighbor only referred to fellow Israelites.

Now what's the problem with that? Well, they ignored the rest of the context. Look at Leviticus 19:9 for example:

"Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; (in other words, when you gather the harvest, whether it's wheat or fruit, don't go back and pick up every last piece of grain and every piece of fallen fruit. Why? Verse 10) you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. (that is, the non-Israelite who is there in the land) I am the Lord your God."

Now go to the end of Leviticus 19. Look at verse 33:

"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you are not to do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you (watch this) shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God."

So clearly, the context doesn't limit neighbor to fellow Israelites. You're to love the non-Israelite living among you.

It also runs contrary to the rest of the Old Testament. Let me give you a couple of other examples. Look at Exodus 23:4:

"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey (so we're talking now about your enemy) wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him."

So in other words, that sounds almost New Testament. You're to do good to your enemy and the one who hates you.

Look at Proverbs 25:21. This will definitely sound New Testament because Paul quotes it in the New Testament in Romans 12. Proverbs 25:21

"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he's thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you."

So understand then that the Scripture, both the surrounding context of Leviticus 19 as well as the rest of the Old Testament, commanded love and care and generosity toward the non-Israelite and toward the other peoples. But based on the context of Leviticus 19, the rabbis tried to argue that the definition of neighbor was restricted to their fellow Israelites.

There's another way they tried to justify hating your enemy and that was by looking at the commands God gave to Moses and Israel regarding the Canaanites. You remember when they came into the land, they were supposed to destroy them. Listen to Deuteronomy 7:2 "When the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them." Deuteronomy 23:6 "You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days." The rabbis looked at references like that about the Canaanites and said that must be how we are to respond to those outside of God's covenant people.

Now that's again a total distortion of the character of God. It is true that God commanded Moses and the Israelites of his time to destroy the Canaanites, but that doesn't give you a feel for the heart of God. I won't take the time to take you back there, but one of my favorite passages is in Genesis 15. You remember, God shows up to Abraham, He reiterates the Abrahamic Covenant, says He's going to make his descendants as the sand on the seashore. But He says to him, 'I'm going to have your descendants in Egypt for four hundred years in bondage.' Now that wasn't exactly a warm and fuzzy thought for Abraham. So why? Listen to what God says. This would have been in about 2100 B.C., some six hundred and fifty years before the exodus and before the destruction of the Canaanites. Six hundred and fifty years and God says, here's why, Abraham. Because I'm going to have them as slaves in Egypt "because the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full." You know what God was saying? God says I'm going to leave My own people in Egypt as an act of patience and mercy toward the Canaanites because I want them to repent. And so to say that the Canaanites is an excuse for that attitude toward others is wholly without warrant.

And although God did command the destruction of the Canaanites, that's not how He commanded His people to generally treat the other nations. In fact, again if I had time, I'd take you to Exodus 19. In Exodus 19 where the people are at Sinai, God establishes the constitution of the nation, He says to all those Israelites, 'You will be a kingdom of priests.' What does that mean, a nation of priests? It means they are going, on God's behalf, to be an intermediary to the nations of the world. Let me put it to you this way. God was calling Israel for one primary purpose and that was to be His witness nation to the rest of the planet. That was His heart. Out of His love for the world, God gave His people the responsibility to be a witness nation to the world, but the rabbis went to those isolated commands about the Canaanites to justify the idea that it was okay to hate your enemies.

There's one other justification they had for hating their enemies and that was the imprecatory psalms; by that, we mean those psalms that call for God's judgment on His enemies. Let me just show you one small example. Look at Psalm 139. This is a favorite psalm of many, but you probably haven't memorized these verses. You probably don't have these pasted on your refrigerator. Psalm 139:19

"O that You would slay the wicked, O God; depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed. For they speak against You wickedly, and Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies."

Now how do we reconcile that with our Lord's command to love our enemies? The answer is that the imprecatory psalms are judicial and not individual. Let me explain what I mean by that. The psalmist is looking at how God's enemies are treating God and God's glory and God's people. And in response to that, the psalmist is calling for a judicial sentence of judgment on God's enemies. It's not his own individual hatred toward those who have personally wronged him. Instead, it is a pronouncement of divine judgment, a judicial declaration of what God's enemies deserve from Him if they refuse to repent.

Sadly, the Jews who were supposed to be God's witness nation used those excuses to hate their enemies and they built an unbreachable wall between themselves and their mission field, between themselves and any non-Jewish person. In fact, they even went farther than that. The scribes and Pharisees even built a wall between themselves as the good Israelites and the bad Israelites. You can see this in the gospels over and over again. They look on the people of Israel with great disdain. In John 7:49, the scribes and Pharisees say this about a crowd of Israelites who had gathered: "This crowd which does not know the Law is accursed." This was their attitude. They built walls everywhere. If someone wasn't in their little enclosure, in their little group, then they were enemies and worthy of being hated. Jesus would have absolutely none of it. And so He sits His disciples down there on the mountain and He confronts this idea that the scribes and Pharisees taught that a true follower of the true God could be justified in hating one's enemies.

Now before we move on to what our Lord positively teaches us here, let's just climb down off of our moral high horse and think about how we ourselves are tempted to justify our own hostility against others. We're not exempt from this. In fact, I have to tell you I am appalled when I go online and read blogs, Christian blogs, Christian comments on Christian blogs, and how vindictive and full of vitriol and hatred those things can be; especially when it comes to the political issues of our time. In what ways do we justify our hostility toward others? Well some Christians justify their hostility by the sinful behavior of others. That merits my animosity, they think. Or their radical views, or their false religion (they're Mormon or Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim); their political party (been a lot of that on the internet the last few weeks); their position on the moral issues of our times. Listen. You ought to care about the moral issues of our times. You ought to vote about the moral issues of our times. But what you can't do is justify hatred of those who hold those other moral positions.

More commonly I think, we think we're justified in our hostility and animosity because of what others do to us personally, how they sin against us. 'Well, I'm justified. If you really knew what this person had done against me, you would agree.' Do you understand that there are no sins and no differences between us and others, that justify hatred and hostility instead of a genuine love for another person? That's what our Lord's saying here.

So this passage first explains the Pharisees' distortion of the law of love. May we be careful not to step into the same line of thinking ourselves. But secondly, this passage provides us with Jesus' exposition of the law of love. We see this in verses 44-47. We're just going to look at a couple of these verses this morning and we'll finish it up next time because there's some very rich theology here about God's universal love for all of mankind that we need to take a little more carefully. But let's look at how He begins. In Jesus' response here, again remember He's not taking issue with or contradicting the Old Testament, rather the scribes' interpretation. He is, as He says in verse 17, fulfilling the Law. He's completing its meaning by helping us understand what God really meant to say.

Now as He begins to exposit the law of love, Jesus starts with a comprehensive command to love. Notice verse 44: "But I say to you, (in contrast to what the scribes and Pharisees have taught you, I say to you) love…" Now the Greek word for love here is the verb form of the noun agape. If you've been a Christian any time at all, you've heard about this concept of agape love. But let me give you a warning, alright, about something you may have been taught. Be careful about drawing too great a distinction between the two common Greek words for love, agape and phileo. Both agape and phileo are often used as synonyms to describe various kinds of love. These two words are used in Scripture just like we use the English word love. Think for a moment about how we use the English word love. We use it to describe loving a bowl of ice cream, loving a particular sports team, loving our children and loving God. We use the same word for that full range of the concept of love. This same thing is true with these words, and particularly with this word agape. This same Greek verb, the verb form of agape, is used of Amnon's incestuous love for his half-sister Tamar in the Septuagint in 2 Samuel 13. In Luke 11, Jesus uses the word agape to describe how the scribes and Pharisees love the chief seats in the synagogues, the important places. It's the word Paul uses to describe the love Demas had for this present world, that caused him to desert Paul and the gospel.

In fact, even here in this paragraph we're studying, look at Matthew 5:43ff again. In this paragraph, the only word for love used here is the word agape, but notice the variety of kinds of love described. In this passage, we will see God's love for mankind described by that word, the believer's love for other believers, the believer's love for unbelievers and (are you ready for this?) unbeliever's love for other unbelievers, even a tax collector's love for other tax collectors.

You see, both in Greek and in English, it's the context that informs us of the exact nature of the love.

And in this context, the love we are to show to our enemies is compared to (what?) God's love to His enemies. So we have to ask ourselves, 'What distinguishes God's love for His enemies?' We'll look at this next time, but let me give you just a summary of it. At its heart, God's love for His enemies is an unselfish, self-sacrificing act of His will to meet their needs, motivated solely by His concern for them. That's God's love for His enemy and that's how we are to love our enemies. In other words, how we treat others must never depend on what they deserve or on how they treat us.

Now that is radically opposed to our nature. In fact, listen to Martyn Lloyd-Jones: "One of the most tragic things about us is that our lives are so much governed by other people and by what they do to us and think about us. Think of the unkind and cruel thoughts that have come into your heart and mind. What produced them? Somebody else. How much of our thinking and acting and behavior is entirely governed by other people? It is one of the things that makes life so wretched. Now says Christ in effect, 'You must get out of that condition. Your life must be governed by a new principle in yourself (and I might add, placed there by the Holy Spirit), a new principle of love." In other words, you have to deny what comes naturally, which is to let other people's treatment of you be a mirror in which you reflect your treatment of them, because that's not how our Father acts. And you've got to deny yourself and treat them based on what their need is as opposed to what they deserve or how they've treated you, because that's what our God does.

Now notice love is a command. Jesus commands us to love. If I had time, I would take you other places in the New Testament and see what or whom we are told to love. We are told to love God. We are told to love our brothers, our spouses, our children, our neighbors and even, here, our enemies. Do you see how utterly comprehensive this is? You and I are to love every person with whom we have come in contact. Now don't misunderstand. We're not to love every person in exactly the same way and to the same degree. Christ didn't do that with the disciples and the people He interacted with and God doesn't do that, as we'll see next time. But we are to genuinely love every person in our lives. That's the comprehensive command.

Now Jesus chooses one specific object of our love that's completely contrary to our nature and counterintuitive. Let's look at the surprising objects of the believer's love. Verse 44: "But I say to you, love your enemies…" Do you understand that this is unique in the history of ethical teaching? As John Broadus writes, "This injunction finds no real parallel among the teachings of the heathen sages and those alleged have been misunderstood or overstated." I looked this week at some that are supposedly similar to what Jesus said and they're not at all what Jesus says. But this is unique – love your enemies.

Now the Greek word translated enemies is actually an adjective. It means to be hostile. So an enemy then is anyone who is hostile toward you. Notice the word enemies is plural. That stresses the comprehensiveness of Jesus' command. Absolutely no kind or class of enemy is to be excluded whatsoever – all your enemies' we could say, all kinds.

Now we don't often think of people as our enemies, so we need to ask the question, Who are our enemies? What does Jesus mean here? Well, let's look first at the immediate biblical context. There are several potential enemies right here in chapter 5. Look at verses 10 and 11. Those who insult and persecute us because of our faith are our enemies. Verse 23 - the brother who has something against you may be your enemy. Verse 25 - the person you and I have sinned against who now considers himself to be our adversary or opponent may be our enemy. Verse 39 - the person who, with evil intent, sins against us is our enemy. Verse 39 - the person who intentionally insults us; verse 40 - the person who tries to take our personal property; verse 41 - the government or government officials who thoughtlessly use or abuse their authority may be our enemies; verse 42 - the person who sinfully tries to take advantage of your generosity.

That's the biblical context of enemies, but consider the cultural context. Who are our enemies in the culture in which we live? Obviously, the avowed enemies of our faith –the aggressive new generation of atheists, the Muslim terrorists, unbelievers who ridicule our faith and what we believe, and even professed Christians in the mainline denominations who mock our commitment to Christ and the gospel and to the scripture. Those who carry some radical agenda in our culture – the evolutionists, the abortionists, the aggressive homosexualists, the secularists – those are, in our culture, enemies.

But let's make it more personal. What about your personal contact and context? Who would you say are your personal enemies? An estranged family member? An antagonistic child or parent? A former spouse or perhaps sadly you would have to say a current spouse? Is your enemy a boss who has set himself to cut you down and to limit your advance in the company? Maybe it's a coworker or a client or a competitor or a fellow student. I want you, right now, to think about one or two people who in these terms are your enemies. Who comes to mind? What I want you to understand is what Christ commands of you is that you love that person. Can that be done? Well, scripture's filled with examples of those who have. Stephen in Acts 7 is being crushed by stones and he prays, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Paul in First Corinthians 4 says, "When we are reviled, we bless…" One of the most tragic verses in all the Scripture to me -2 Timothy 4:16. Paul is near death, he's about to be put to death. And he stands for his first defense before Caesar and he says, "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; (every Christian in or near Rome fled and Paul says) may it not be counted against them." Our Lord at the cross in Luke 23 said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." The surprising objects of the believer's love are even his enemies. By the way, notice Jesus doesn't say like your enemies. He says love your enemies. You don't have to like your enemy but, as Lloyd-Jones says, you must treat him as if you liked him.

But what exactly does this love for enemies look like in the real world? Okay. Tom, I'm supposed to love my enemies, but what does that mean? How do I love them? How do I express my love for them? Well, let's look at the commanded expressions of the believer's love, because, as Jesus' own example makes clear, loving your enemies doesn't always mean syrupy sweetness. He loved the scribes and Pharisees, but read His indictment of them in Matthew 23 and you'll see that sometimes love calls for confrontation and rebuke.

But how are we normally to express our love to our enemies? Well, here in Matthew 5 and in a related passage, Luke 6, Jesus gives us three specific ways to express love to our enemies. First of all, pray for them. Look at verse 44: "But I say to you, love your enemies and (here's one expression that takes) pray for those who persecute you…" Pray for those who have in some way made themselves your enemy. You want to see what this looks like? Look at it in the life of David. Turn back to Psalm 35. This is a surprising passage. Psalm 35:11 David's talking about the problems he finds himself in. He says, Psalm 35:11, "Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know. They repay me evil for good, to the bereavement of my soul." These are enemies. So how does David respond to these enemies? Verse 13: "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer (for them) kept returning to my bosom." He said, I was deeply troubled and grieved and I cried out to God for them. I prayed for them. Verse 14: "I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother." That's the right response. He goes on to detail that they responded poorly to him in spite of that, but this is the response that you and I are to have. Jesus says pray. Our love should be shown in our prayers.

You say what do I pray? Well, if they're not in Christ, pray for their salvation. If they are in Christ, pray that they'll come to repentance, really know the Lord's blessing and not His discipline. Let me just ask you. Again, I want you to think of either that one or those couple of people that you would say are enemies in your life. Have you prayed for them? Have you consistently prayed for their good? One writer puts it this way: "It is impossible to pray for someone without loving him and impossible to go on praying for him without discovering that our love for him grows and matures. We must not therefore wait before praying for an enemy until we feel some love for him in our heart. We must begin to pray for him before we are conscious of loving him and we shall find our love breaks first into bud, then into blossom. If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord's prayer for His enemies, what pain or pride or prejudice could justify the silencing of ours?" Pray for them.

Secondly, bless them. Our love must be shown not only in our prayers but in our words to them. Look at Luke 6. This is a related passage; Jesus is dealing with the same themes. Luke 6:27 "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies…" Now how do we do that? Verse 28: "bless those who curse you and (then He adds what we just looked at) pray for those who mistreat you." Bless those who curse you. In other words, our love for our enemies must be shown in our words to and about them. We must respond to their insulting, cursing, spiteful words with kind and gracious words. How do you respond when your enemy heaps up scorn on you, insults you, cuts you down, ridicules you? Jesus says if you're going to love your enemies, you're going to be My disciple, you don't speak back cursing and spiteful words; you speak back blessing.

There's a third way we're to express our love and that is do good to them. Our love must not only be shown in our prayers and in our words. It must be shown in our actions. Look at Luke 6:27. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies (and here's another way to express that), do good to those who hate you…" Do good to them. Respond to their hateful and hurtful actions with kind and gracious actions. Isn't this exactly what God does? We'll see it next week. What does God do to His enemies? Does He treat them like they deserve, immediately? No, He is incredibly kind and patient and good. And so He causes the sun to shine on the fields of those who are His enemies. He causes the rain to fall on the crops of those who hate Him. He does good to them.

Look at Romans 12, Paul pulls in a verse we looked at in the Old Testament in Proverbs 25. Look at Romans 12:20. He quotes Proverbs and he says: "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he's thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head (you'll be a blessing to him). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Let me ask you. How are you doing? Is this how you respond or have responded to the people in your life who have made themselves your enemy? Do you pray for them consistently? Do you return for their hateful, spiteful words blessing, kind, gracious words? And do you respond to their evil with good? Jesus says if you're going to be My disciple, whoever your enemy or enemies may be, you must love them in these very practical ways.

Now how can we do that? Very briefly, let me just give you a couple of thoughts. How can you think in order to express love to people who are that way toward you? Here are some avenues of thinking that will help you. Very briefly, number one: realize that people are not your real enemy. Ephesians 6: "For we struggle not against flesh and blood, but instead against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness…" Do you understand that the hateful and spiteful people in your life are merely pawns in the hand of Satan? Remember that and it will help you respond to them with love.

Related to that, number two: remember that unbelievers are in slavery to Satan and to sin. They are merely reflecting who they are. Titus 3:2 says: "show consideration for all men (why? Titus 3 says) because we ourselves were one time foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures… hateful and hating one another." Paul says, Listen. You want to know how to treat other people well, the unbelievers around you? Remember that, apart from God's grace, that's who you were and that's who you'd still be if God hadn't rescued you.

Number three: remember your own sinful struggles and you'll find it easier to be gracious with others. I find the most ungracious Christians are those who don't understand their own sin and depravity. Hebrews 5:2. I love what the writer of Hebrews says about the high priest. He says: "he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness…" What qualifies him to be gentle and gracious to others is that he sees and understands his own weakness and sin. Remember your own sin and it'll help you to love others.

And number four: remember that our Lord loved us when we were His enemies. Now we are to do the same toward our enemies. Romans 5 says that "while we were yet sinners, (while we were His enemies) Christ died for us." And by the way, I need to be reminded of the cross. I need to hear about that because of how short I fall. You need to hear about it because of how short you fall of this standard Jesus has set. If all we had was to measure up to this, we'd leave here defeated and discouraged, But here's the good news. The same God who shows His love in causing the sun to shine on His enemies, who causes the rain to fall on His enemies, is the same God who most clearly demonstrated His love by sending His own Son to die in the place of sinners so that He could forgive us. And so, although we don't meet God's standard, we never have met God's standard, we strive for that standard. And as we strive for that standard, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Jesus says love your enemies and be like your Father. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for our time together. Seal these truths to our hearts. Don't let us excuse our sin because of the culture or some other justification, but may we follow Christ. May we imitate You in loving our enemies. Lord, help us to pray for them, to return kind and gracious speech for their insulting speech, and to do good to them in the place of the evil they do to us so that we can be like You. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.