Do You Only Love Those Who Love You? (Part 2)

Matthew 5:43-48

Tom Pennington  •  November 11, 2012
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It's our joy to come back to the Sermon on the Mount and specifically to end chapter 5 today, as we reflect on how our righteousness as the disciples of Christ differs from that of the scribes and Pharisees. We're dealing with the issue of loving our enemies. In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom writes these words: "It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. 'How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,' he said. 'To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away.' His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had taught so often of the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man. 'Lord Jesus,' I prayed, 'forgive me and help me to forgive him.' I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer: 'Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.' As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. Into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me." And she concludes this way: "When our Lord tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command the love itself."

Last week, we began to study our Lord's command to love our enemies. It's the sixth and final illustration that He gives of how the righteousness of His disciples surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Look with me again at this really amazing paragraph. Matthew 5:43.

"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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, He 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."

The heart of our Lord's message to us in this paragraph is that we must as His followers love both our friends and our enemies. We must love those who love us and we must love those who hate us. We must love every single human being regardless of how they respond to us. Now we began last week by looking at the Pharisees' distortion of the Old Testament law of love. In verse 43, Jesus says, "You've heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" He's quoting the Pharisees and what they taught. The first half of what they taught was from Leviticus 19:18 and it's true. We are to love our neighbor. They left out the part about loving your neighbor as yourself, but they were right as far as they went. But the second half of what they taught came from their own unbiblical justification based on faulty interpretation of a number of Old Testament passages, and we looked at that last time. They were wrong. They misrepresented God in what they taught. It wasn't okay, even in Old Testament times, to hate your enemy.

And so Jesus sets out to correct His disciples' thinking. And we have in verses 44 to 47 Jesus' exposition of the law of love. He explains what God really intended. He begins with a comprehensive command to love. Verse 44: "But I say to you, love…" It's a command. And you are to show the same love for all that God shows to His enemies. What is that? Well, God is characterized by self-giving affection for His creatures who bear His image. He has an unselfish concern for their welfare, for their well-being, that leads Him to act on their behalf. That's the kind of love we are to have as well. The way we treat others must never depend on what they deserve or how they treat us.

Now, in the Scripture, there are a number of different commands to love in a number of different venues, but our Lord here chooses the most difficult of all. Notice the surprising objects of the believer's love in verse 44: "But I say to you, love your enemies…" The word enemies simply means someone who is hostile to you – could be interpersonally, could be because of your faith. It's not restricted here - anyone who is hostile toward you. I asked you last time, when I say who are your enemies or who is your enemy, what face comes to mind? That's who Jesus is talking about here – those people. This is how you're to treat and respond to them. You are to love them.

But how exactly are we to love? Well, we finished last time by looking at the commanded expressions of the believer's love. Jesus doesn't leave us vague. He tells us specifically how we are to love our enemies in three very concrete ways. First of all, we are to pray for them. Verse 44, pray for them. Pray for their salvation. If they're in Christ, pray for their repentance. Pray for reconciliation. Pray for them consistently, faithfully, from your heart.

Secondly, Luke 6:28, as we discovered, a related passage, says that we're to bless them. In response to their ungracious, unkind, hurtful words, we are to respond with kind and gracious and loving words.

And then, thirdly, we're commanded to do good to them. We can see that in verse 45 as a reflection of God's own character, but also in Luke 6:27 it's explicit: "Love your enemies, do good to them," Jesus says. Do good to them. Return for their evil actions, for their intentionally hurtful actions, return good. Do that which is in their interest. Look out for them. Be concerned for them and do that which would serve them. That's what our Lord commands us in the way of loving our enemies.

Now today we come to new territory in verses 45 to 47. And in these verses, Jesus gives us the compelling reasons for the believer's love. Why are you and I to love like this? Why is this to characterize our lives? And Jesus gives us two reasons. The first reason is because it's like our Father. Look at verse 45. You're to "love your enemies…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…" Now Jesus doesn't mean that by loving our enemies, we become God's children. We become God's children by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. But notice, in this context He's already our Father. We're already sons of the Father. By an act of His grace, He's already adopted us as sons and daughters. That's not what Jesus is saying. Instead, He means you must love your enemies because God is your Father and this is how your Father acts. In Scripture, God's love always comes first. It always precedes our love and our love is a response to His love. 1 John 4:19. "We love because (what?) He first loved us."

Now notice Jesus' statement at the end of verse 45. He says: "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." Now that statement is profound in a variety of ways as we will see. But notice, first of all, how Jesus describes God's personal interaction with His creation. I love this. He says it's His sun. You look up in the sky and you see the sun, you know, obviously, the sun looks like it's moving in relation to the earth. But you see the rotation of the earth–see the sun moving. That's God's sun, His sun, Jesus says. And the sun doesn't just rise. God causes it to rise. It is an act of the divine will. And it doesn't just rain. He sends the rain.

You know, can I just admonish you, brothers and sisters in Christ? Don't lose sight of that. We live in a world in which evolutionary theory dominates everything. So when people think of the creation, they think of laws and processes. And obviously, God created the systems and processes that we call laws. I'm not denying secondary causes; God uses those. But the testimony of Scripture is that He didn't simply create these sort of impersonal laws and then step away, and now He is detached and uninvolved. The scripture says absolutely the opposite. He is intimately involved with the operation of His creation on this planet. He caused the rotation of the earth that brought the sun to rise this morning. He has sent the rain that you worked your way through to come to meet together this morning. It's an act of His will.

But that's not Jesus' main point. Jesus uses God's supervision of the sun and the rain to make His main point. Look again at verse 45: "for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Jesus wants us to understand why God causes these things. It's because of His universal love for mankind. Jesus' point is that regardless of their character, regardless of what end of the spectrum their behavior falls, God loves them, and He expresses that love to them. In other words, God's love for mankind is universal. That's Jesus' point. The two sets of extremes in verse 45 include every single human being. God loves every person who has ever lived. God loves every person currently on this planet. He loves every person in this city, every person in this room. God loves you personally, individually. That's the character of our God.

Now some, especially younger believers, who come rightfully to embrace God's sovereignty in salvation (and you know how strongly I and our elders embrace God's sovereignty in salvation,) but they take it a step farther. They insist that God cannot love those whom He didn't choose. He cannot love those who never repent and believe. They say God hates the sinner and they're right. God does hate the sinner. Scripture again and again makes that point. Here's one example. Psalm 5:5: "You hate all who do iniquity." Now many try to dodge the clear teaching of a verse like that by saying, 'Well, actually what it is, is God loves the sinner, and hates the sin.' That's not what that text and many others say. It says God hates the sinner.

The truth is, though, as we see here in Matthew 5 and in other places, God also loves the sinner. You see, the truth is God both loves the sinner and hates the sinner at exactly the same time. You say is that possible? Absolutely it is. One great American theologian used the example of George Washington and Benedict Arnold to illustrate this. He said: obviously you know, if you're familiar with American history, the two men were very, very close friends. And when Washington learned of Arnold's treason, at the same moment he both loved him as a friend, a lifelong friend, and hated him as a traitor. Love and hate are not mutually exclusive. And although Scripture clearly says that God hates sinners, it is also clear in passages like here in Matthew 5, that God's love for sinners is as universal as the sun and the rain on this planet. God universally loves all people.

You see this even in the ministry of our Lord. I love the interaction of Jesus with the rich young ruler. Obviously, I wish that he had repented, but I love what it says about our Lord because in the middle of that interchange we read this in Mark 10:21 - "Looking at the rich young ruler, Jesus felt a love for him…" There's no indication this young man ever came to faith in Christ; in fact, the opposite appears to be true from the text. He walked away sad, because he loved his property. And yet Jesus, we're told, loved him.

Of course, the most beautiful expression of the universal love of God comes in the verse that is the most familiar verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

William Hendriksen, I think, (the Presbyterian commentator) explains it well when he writes this: "Just as a human father in addition to uniquely loving his own sons and daughters, has room in his heart for his neighbor's children, yes even for all the children in the world, so also the Father in heaven, in addition to sustaining a unique relationship and love toward those who by His grace are His very own, also loves mankind in general." This is the heart of God.

God's love for mankind universally, primarily expresses itself in what theologians call common grace, a term that was coined by John Calvin. It's not saving grace that God shows universally, but it is His undeserved, temporal goodness to sinners. It is the grace by which God gives to all men common expressions of His goodness in this life. You see, God would be perfectly just to judge the sinner the moment he first sins–to take his life and send him to an eternal hell. God would be just to do that, but God doesn't do that. He lets the sinner live. And He doesn't just let him live, but He crowds His life with goodness and blessing, because that's who God is. He does good to all, even to those who hate Him and rebel against Him.

Look at Acts 14. I love what Paul says to the crowd there in Lystra. In Acts 14, you remember there's a healing miracle on the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. And as a result, the crowd wants to sacrifice to them, worship them as gods. Acts 14:14.

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying (now watch their message to these idolaters) 'Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach (the good news) the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God (turn from the idols to the true and living God, the Creator, the One) who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (Now watch how he describes God, verse 16) In the generations gone by, He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness (God left everywhere on this planet a witness to Himself. And what was that witness? Read on in verse 17) in that (here was His witness) He did good and He gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.'

Paul says, Listen. You want to see the goodness of God? You want to see the witness to His character, His universal love for mankind? Here it is. Look at all of the amazing goodness you enjoy in your life. Friends and family and good food and all of the wonderful experiences that are a part of life, even on a fallen planet – those are all the expression of God's common grace rooted in His universal love for mankind.

God loves all people, but listen carefully. That does not mean He loves all people in the same way and with the same intensity, because God loves those whom He has chosen with a special love. Those whom He chose in eternity past and set His love upon, He loves with a different kind of love. Listen to 1 John 3:1: "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, (we have been the special recipients of a special kind of love) in that we are called the children of God. . ." Obviously, that's unique. That's different.

In John 13:1, "Jesus knowing that His hour had come and that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." The Greek word translated to the end means completely, comprehensively, perfectly, to the maximum degree, with the maximum intensity. So God loves His own with a special, electing, saving, adopting love. Listen. Believer, His love for us is sovereign and infinite and eternal. But He does love all mankind as well, all, even who have made themselves His enemy.

Jesus' point in Matthew 5 is, if we are truly God's sons, then we will reflect His character. We will love our enemies because our Father loves His enemies. Like Father, like son. In Luke 6:35, in a related passage, Luke quotes our Lord this way: "But love your enemies, and do good… and you will be sons of the Most High; (that is, you'll show that you are truly His sons) for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." That's who our God is.

And by the way, did you notice in Acts 17, the reason God expresses that common grace and goodness? It's as a witness to Himself. And that, by the way, is why we are to love our enemies. You're not to love your enemies so that you can feel better about yourself, or so that you can make that person your friend, or so that you can manipulate them and make them feel guilty for what they've done to you. Lloyd-Jones puts it this way: "We must love them for one reason only. In this way, we can display to them the love of God." Think about it like this. In a world given to hatred, in a world given to hating one's enemies, if you love your enemies, that is simply another expression of God's love to your enemies.

There's a second compelling reason that Jesus gives us for loving our enemies - not only because it's like our Father, but because it's unlike unbelievers. We've professed to have been changed. We should live like those who've been changed. Look at verse 46: "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" Now even in our age, tax collector has a certain negativity to it. Would we agree with that? But we have no real perception of how negative a concept this was in the first century. In first century Palestine, tax collectors were the very bottom of the social ladder. You see, when the Romans conquered a territory like Israel, they divided it up into tax regions, and they sold tax franchises for those regions, to men for large sums of money. And then the owners of those tax franchises would sublet their rights to those under them called chief tax collectors. That's what Zaccheus was in Jericho. And then the chief tax collectors would hire others who did the actual collecting. So at every level of the system, there was a quota set by the Romans. And as long as you met your quota, you could charge on top of that whatever you could get and the market would bear, for your expenses and salary. Now you can imagine immediately , how a system like that was rife with abuses. As a result, tax collectors had the reputation of being extortionists, thugs, and lowlifes. Because they were Jewish but in league with the Romans, they were traitors. They were so dishonest that, by law, they couldn't give testimony in court. They spent their lives interacting with Gentiles, which meant for the Jewish people they were constantly unclean and weren't even allowed to walk in the door of a synagogue, much less the temple. Now for Matthew, this illustration hits really close to home because, remember, prior to his conversion he was a tax collector in Capernaum.

Jesus intentionally chose a class of people that were considered to be the absolute worst of sinners. And He said to His followers: if all you do is love those who love you, then you are no better than the worst sinners you can think of, because even they love those who love them. In Luke 6:32, Luke puts it this way: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them." Sinners love. Why do they love? Well, I think partly it's because of the residual image of God. That image may be terribly marred, but there is within man still a residual image of God. But often, frankly, the love that unbelievers have for others is a form of self-love. In loving his friends, often a man is really loving himself. It's a kind of expanded selfishness. I love this person because of what I get out of it. Jesus' point is that unbelievers only love those who love them. They only love where there is reciprocal love, where they get something from it. There's something in it for them. And Jesus says that is completely antithetical to divine love.

Romans chapter 5, Paul points this out. Romans 5:8. You're familiar with this. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And more than that, Romans 5:10, "while we were His enemies, He reconciled us through the death of His Son…" That's divine love. There's no reciprocity there. He did it because of who He is. As Jesus' followers, we must not merely love those who love us. Unbelievers do that. Instead, we must manifest a change, the change that the Spirit has worked in our hearts, by loving in a way that is completely contrary to human nature. Just like our Father does, we must love everyone, even our enemies.

Now notice in Matthew 5:46 Jesus implies that those who love their enemies will receive a reward. We're going to come back to this theme as we get into chapter 6, but according to Luke, Jesus stated it explicitly. Listen to Luke 6:35. "Love your enemies and do good… and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High…"

Now Jesus continues on this theme of loving others in a way that's unlike unbelievers do in Matthew 5:47. Look at it again: "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?" The word brothers here refers to more than just your blood relations, your siblings. Instead, it indicates people who belong to the same group you belong to. And the Greek word translated greet – this isn't just like our sort of perfunctory hello. The leading Greek lexicon defines it this way: "to spend time in warm exchange." Both William Tyndale and the Geneva Bible of the 1500's translate this "if you are friendly to your brethren only." That's the idea. Jesus says if we only engage in warm, personal exchanges with those who are like us, those who are in our group, then we are doing nothing more than unbelievers do.

Verse 47: "Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" Gentiles refers to the nations of the world - in the first century context, all non-Jewish people. And first century Jews regarded Gentiles as unclean, even as dogs. Contact with a Gentile rendered you ceremonially unclean and unable to go to the temple and worship. A Jewish person wouldn't even think of having an uncircumcised Gentile over for dinner. Jesus' point is this: if you only engage in warm, personal relationship with those who are like you and those who love you, you are no better than idolatrous pagans, because they do that because there's self-interest in it. And our love is not to be love based on self-interest. One commentator puts it like this: "All human love is contaminated to some degree by the impurities of self-interest. We Christians are specifically called to love our enemies, in which love there is no self-interest, and this is impossible without the supernatural grace of God."

Now folks, there are several really crucial implications of this passage for us. Let me give them to you briefly. Number one: if you, this morning, would say I am not a follower of Jesus Christ – there's never been a time in my life when I have repented of my sins and believed in Christ, I don't live with Jesus as my Lord – then I want you to know based on nothing less than the authority of Jesus Christ Himself, that no matter what you have done or what you have become, God loves you this morning. God loves you. And all of the good things that you enjoy in this life are an expression of His love to you. But don't misunderstand. God is manifesting His love to you for a purpose. It is, remember Acts 17, a witness to Himself. And He has a specific purpose in mind with the love He's showing you, in the goodness you enjoy in your life.

Look at Romans chapter 2 because Paul explains it to us. Romans chapter 2 - he tells us that God's love for you manifested in His common grace (in all of the good things you enjoy in this life) is intended to lead you to repentance; that is, to lead you to turn from your sin and rebellion against Him, to Him. That's what He's trying to do with all of the love and goodness that He has shown you. Look at Romans 2:4. Are you tempted to think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience? Don't you understand that the kindness of God is intended to lead you to repentance? Paul says, Please understand this. Those expressions of God's common grace in your life, those good things in this life, that enrich your life, and for which you're so grateful – those are not merely for your selfish indulgence. Those are intended as a sign, a road sign that points you away from danger and says turn from your sin to God, the God who loves you.

But if you spurn that goodness and if you refuse the signs of His love and you refuse to turn from your sin to Him, understand this. You will ultimately experience not His love, but His eternal wrath. Look at Romans 2:5 – "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart (if you are stubborn against God's goodness and His love and His common grace in your life) you will store up God's wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," Please hear this. Don't you dare mistake God's kindness and love to you today as His apathy toward your sin, as His indifference toward your rebellion against His way and His Son. It's not that. It's a witness to Him. It's intended to call you to Himself. My plea with you today is, before this day is out, won't you allow the love of God manifested in His amazing goodness to you, to cause you to turn from your rebellion and to put your faith and confidence in Christ alone. That's what He's trying to do.

There's a second implication here in Matthew chapter 5 and that is if you are a Christian, God loves you with a special, saving, eternal love. He has adopted you. You have become His child and He has become your Father. That is a reality. That's not imaginary. That is absolutely true, just as if someone had adopted you humanly. And as your Father, He demands that you imitate His behavior, and that you love your enemies just as He loves His. It's not enough for you to love like unbelievers love–to love only those who are like you, who fit into your group, who love you. Even the worst unbelievers love those who love them and are like them. As Christians, we're supposed to be profoundly different. We must love like our Father loves. We must love all mankind regardless of what they are or how they respond to us.

There's a third implication. This paragraph is a test. It is a test of the reality of your profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Here in Matthew 5, Jesus makes loving one's enemies crucial evidence of a redeemed heart. He contrasts the believing heart with unbelieving hearts. If you only find yourself loving those who do good to you and who love you; but you find it practically impossible to extend love to those who hate you, who persecute you, who ridicule you, who mistreat you; then Jesus wants you to know that you are acting just like an unbeliever acts and you may not be a follower of Christ at all.

Now Jesus finishes this paragraph – in fact, He finishes this whole section we've been studying with an amazing summary. Look at verse 48: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Some have argued that Jesus was teaching that believers can be perfect in this life. Clearly, that's not what He's teaching. It contradicts the context. I mean, back in the beatitudes, we began by saying we are beggars in spirit and we spend our lives hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In chapter 6 in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus says you're going to spend every day praying, "Father, forgive us for our debts." So Jesus never expected that we would achieve moral perfection in this life. So what does He mean, then, in verse 48? The Greek word that's translated perfect means to arrive at a goal or an end. It means to bring something to full completion. When it's used of people, it means to come to full maturity. Here, it's not referring to physical maturity, but moral maturity. Jesus says, I want you to pursue and eventually come to a spiritual mature state in which your character reflects, however imperfectly, the character of your Father. Jesus' point is that you and I should never be satisfied with half-hearted half-way obedience. Instead, although we will never arrive in this life, we should be constantly striving and pursuing to imitate our Father's perfection. God Himself is the standard that all true Christians pursue. Listen. God doesn't want you to imitate the sort of ordinarily decent people around you, the decent people here in Texas. That's not the standard. The standard is your Father. And until you arrive at that standard, you never stop striving.

Now I don't know about you, but that's a little discouraging, isn't it, at least in this life? So let me leave you with encouragement. Someday, you will arrive at a state of true moral perfection. If you're in Christ, you will arrive to be perfect like your Father is perfect. There are a number of places I could turn, but let me just cite one. 1 John 3. In verse 1, John the apostle says you've experienced this special love. You've been made the children of God. And then in verse 2, he says this: "Beloved, now are we the children of God, (that's already true, that's already a reality) but it hasn't yet appeared what we will be. (We don't really fully understand what someday we're going to be. We're children now, but we don't really get a full picture of what we're going to be). But we know that when Christ appears, (in the second coming when He comes to receive us in the rapture) we will be like Him, (underline that. You hear that again? We will be like Him) because we will see Him just as He is." Listen. There's coming a day when you will still be who you are. You will still and I will still have my personality to whatever extent our personalities aren't sinful. We'll still be unique individuals, but you and I will be changed so that our characters are a perfect reflection of the moral character of Jesus Christ. It's going to happen. "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Seal these things to our hearts. Lord, help us to live like Your children and not like unbelievers. Father, teach us to love all men and to show them that love even as You love all men and show that love, so that we can put You on display. Father, I pray for the person here today who doesn't love anyone but those who love them and those who are a part of their group, because they never experienced a heart change. Father, may they respond today to Your love. May they not scorn the expressions of Your love and kindness in their life. May they not take them for granted, but may this be the day when they find a quiet place and before You they cry out for Your forgiveness and turn from their sin and rebellion and turn to You, even as You intend Your goodness and Your love in their lives to do. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.