We come this evening to a passage of Scripture in Matthew 5:43-48 that deserves our greatest attention for perhaps no other passage in all of the New Testament sums up the heart and attitude of a Christian as well as this one. Jesus sums up what Christianity ought to be like, "Love your enemies."
But we have to begin tonight with a little background information because it's absolutely essential that you understand this. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains God’s standards and requirements for persons who want to enter the kingdom of heaven, and they include not only external standards but also internal heart motivations.
Jesus’ standard is a higher standard. In fact, He's indicting the whole pharisaical religious system as being substandard. What sets you apart? If you are a part of God’s kingdom, you would not be doing like them. God requires for His kingdom a different standard, unique, separate and holy.
And that's hard for these Pharisees, it's hard in Jesus' time and it's tough on us today to try to live according to a high standard different from the worldly standard that engulfs us and traps us. That is very difficult, but that's what God requires.
Sadly throughout the centuries that followed the giving of the Law, Israel kept forgetting their uniqueness. They kept forgetting that theirs was another standard and they kept falling into sin. So that Scripture tells us this sad statement in Psalm 106:35, "they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did."
From the very beginning God has always called His people to uniqueness. He has always called His people to another standard, to a higher level. And yet it came to be that in Israel they desired to have a king and their statement in 1 Samuel 8:20 says this, "that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."
It's no different in Jesus' time and today. God wants His people to be unique. And the standard that Jesus presents here regarding loving your enemies is not an earthly standard. It is a far higher ethic than either you or I could ever keep on our own. It's way beyond our ability to love our enemies.
This sermon draws a contrast between the best of men and God's standards. And even the very best, the most legalistic, ritualistic, religious people on the earth, the Pharisees, couldn't qualify. So you can't live that way unless you are infused with divine power. And so Jesus is saying to the Pharisees you're system is substandard. And until you come to Me for power you will never be able to live by My standards.
And now as we come to Chapter 5: 43-48, Jesus contrasts their love with the kind of love that should characterize the people of His kingdom. God is calling us out of the world system to be separated people with convictions and commitments and standards that we live by that are not the world's standards.
Matthew 5:43-48 says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
This is the supreme statement here on love and loving your enemies is the greatest thing that love can do. And that kind of love only comes from God. 1 John 4:8 states it correctly, “God is love.”
Romans 13:8-10 says, "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
And in so saying, Jesus indicts the Pharisees because they don't love their enemies. Now in each of these contrasts and there are six of them in Matthew 5, we have compared three major points, the teaching of the Old Testament, the tradition of the Jews, and the truth from Christ. And those are the same three points in all six illustrations.
So let's begin with the teaching of the Old Testament. Where did the Pharisees get these ideas? One would be the Old Testament promises to exterminate the Canaanites. When God brought Israel into the Promised Land, the land was filled at that time with the Canaanites who were wretched people. John MacArthur says that archaeology has shown us that there has not been a race of people found that were worse than these Canaanites.
They were the kind of people who practiced human sacrifice, blood letting, massacres of babies, you name it they did it. They are not to be treated with kindness. Deuteronomy 23: 3 - 8, that whole section there says that all of these people, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites are to be done away with.
Many people have been confused by this. They say how could God be the same God who said love your enemies and the God who wanted to wipe out all these nations? Then you have these Psalms in which David prays for judgment on his enemies. How can the Bible say love your enemies while David is praying for God to punish his enemies?
But if this became a justification for the hatred of the Pharisees, they missed the point of both God’s order to destroy the Canaanites and these Psalms. Just like our last study on an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, there are certain things that are judicial laws that do not apply to personal relationships. The Pharisees had taken the judicial act of a holy God in preserving a righteous seed, and they had dragged it down to become a justification for their own personal hatreds.
When someone goes to the doctor with cancer and the doctor cuts the cancer out, we don't say the doctor is cruel, unloving or uncaring. We thank him for cutting the cancer out and similarly when God said to get rid of the Canaanites, that was not an act of evil. That was an act of goodness to take out of human society a terrible filthy vile people that would do nothing but sin. And that is a judicial act on God's part.
Just as I love my child, when I punish my child, the punishment comes because of the evil. It does not deny the love. So there is a judicial element. If Israel had followed those Canaanite customs, Leviticus 18 says, she would have shared their fate but God wanted to preserve a righteous seed.
Why? Because God wants to bring out of Israel a righteous Messiah to redeem the world. And so the preservation of Israel was a great concern within God's heart so that you would have a sinless witness in the world and He was cutting a cancer out of human society.
We have enough sense even today, at least in a few places in the world, to set apart individuals in our society who do nothing but bring cancer on our society, who kill, maim and steal. We set them aside and God was doing the same in a collective way and setting aside those evil people for the good of society. We love the lost, and yet we pray that God would be vindicated and their sin would be stopped, correct?
Now let us look at the rabbinical religious teaching which is really what self- righteousness says. And what is it? Verse 43, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Now that's what the Israelites were taught. That's pretty open- ended wouldn't you say? The first thing you do is figure out who your neighbor is and then you can hate everybody else and be okay.
So it all depends on your definition of neighbor and that's exactly what Christ gets into. So God’s Word in Leviticus 19:18 says, " You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Did you notice something? They left something out. You have heard it said "You shall love thy neighbor," but they left out, "as yourself." That's a convenient omission isn't it? They were so puffed up that those words at the end of that sentence would only confuse their desires. And so rather than to have to treat others equal to themselves, they just dropped it.
Have you ever thought about what that means to love someone as you love yourself? If you were just to love someone and it didn't say as yourself, you could just sort of love them at a distance. Whatever you do for yourself, you do half for them or a third or a tenth. I mean if you just could drop that little phrase it would be so convenient.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself. How do we love ourselves? Whose teeth did you brush this morning? Whose hair did you comb? Whose wardrobe hangs in your closet? Whose savings account is in your bank? To love means to serve your own needs, let's face it, you have a total love for yourself.
You love yourself all the time. Whenever you have a want, you want to supply it. Whenever you have a desire, you want to fulfill it. Whenever you have a hope, you want to realize it. Whenever you have an ambition, you want to see it come to fruition.
And now Jesus says that you are to have that same totally consuming love for your neighbors which brings into your heart their needs, their desires, their hopes, and prompts you to do everything you can to make sure that all their welfare, safety, comfort, and interest is met and that whatever they need and whatever they want, you are anxious to fulfill on their behalf.
How do love your neighbor? The last time you had a choice between doing what you want or sacrificing yourself, which way did you go? Who do you really care about? Love your neighbor as yourself is very, very difficult. Humanly speaking, it is impossible, because humanly speaking we are totally absorbed in ourselves.
But the Pharisees weren't interested in that and so they omitted something, but beyond that, they also added something. What did they add? "Hate your enemy." Now where did that come from? Did that come out of the Bible? No, nowhere does the Bible command us to hate our enemies. Where did they get that? It was the logical extension of their perverted thinking.
They said all right, we are to love our neighbor. Now we've got to figure out who is our neighbor, right? So they said our neighbors are the Jews not the Gentiles. That's what the Pharisees believed. Only the Jews qualified and among the Jews only certain Jews, right? Certain Jews didn't qualify as neighbors.
For example look at Matthew 9:10, "Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples." Here you have those trader, rebel, extortionist Jews that were despised by the people because they had sold out to Rome for money. And then there were the public sinners, the prostitutes, and the criminals.
In John 7:49 we read, "But this crowd who do not know the law is accursed." There is this mob of uneducated people with no commitment to Pharisee or tradition who are cursed. So they have eliminated the tax collectors, the sinners and they eliminated the people that weren't committed to the law as they were. So in fact their neighbors were only those people within their own group.
Let us look for a moment at Luke 10 and how in the story of the Good Samaritan, he came along and saw this man who was a Jew (and Samaritans and Jews didn't have any dealings - there was tremendous hatred between the two of them) and yet he went over and he saw that man.
And he said, "That man is my neighbor," and he bound up his wounds, and cared for him, and wrapped him, and he put him on his animal, and took him to the inn, and paid his bill, and he made sacrifices in doing that. A sacrifice of time, a sacrifice of energy, a sacrifice of money, a sacrifice of prejudice, a sacrifice of all of the factors of his life to stop and do all of that because there was a man that needed his help.
And Jesus says that's the way it should be. Your neighbor is anybody in your path with a need. But in Luke 10 and the Good Samaritan, Jesus really is making an opposite point as well. Because the lawyer asked, "Who is my neighbor?" So when Jesus came to the end of the story, He said, "Who was that man's neighbor?” Or which one of the three that came down the road proved to be his neighbor?
In other words, Jesus turned the tables. Instead of going through life trying to pick out who your neighbor is, He says, "If you're a neighbor and your heart is filled with love, any object that gets in your path is going to receive that love.” He's saying, "Be a neighbor to everybody, and then you won't have a problem." This means we need to love everybody exactly the same, be it a friend or a foe.
By the way, the Pharisees didn't read far enough in Leviticus. Leviticus 19:34 says, "The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself." If they'd really read God’s word, they would have known that even a non-Jew, a stranger, was to be loved as they love themselves.
Jesus is teaching us to love our enemy and to pray so God would save him, and if God doesn't save him that God would judge him so that Christ will be the king of this world and set righteousness in its proper place again.
God punished Adam, but He loved him. God loved Cain, but He punished him. God loved the nation of Israel, but He set them aside for a time. God loved His only begotten Son, but He let Him bear the sins of the world and die. Let us pray.