Examine your life. Have you taken the Law and changed it to suit your preferences? Take for example, this command to love your neighbors as yourself, which includes your enemies.
There are some who have no enemies, which is hard to believe, but if you stay away from everyone and do your own thing, I guess it’s possible to not have any enemies. But if you are in this group, I bet you are not really loving anyone. Because you are living on an island. By yourself.
We all know how to love ourselves. If we are hungry, we feed ourselves. If we are tired, we rest. We are very sensitive to our needs. If you have no enemies, it’s likely that you are not engaged in the lives of others and so you are not loving anyone with the same level of dedication that you love yourself. If you are in this group and your world revolves around 1 person, yourself, I would challenge you to love just one other person. One person, love him, love her all the way. Not just when it’s easy, not just when it’s convenient. Love that person the same way you would love yourself. Which is a tremendous amount of love if you are honest with yourself.
There are others among us who think we are quite loving, but you’ve fallen into the trap that the Pharisees and scribes fell into. You’ve divided people into 2 groups: 1) the neighbors or those whom I love and 2) the enemies or those whom I hate.
And the funny thing is that people in this group can think they are quite loving, but here Jesus clarifies two types of love. One type of love that is human generated and another type altogether, a love that is generated from the Spirit, or from God.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Many of us fall into this category. We love those who love us in return. We love our friends. We love our family. We love those who are good to us. We love others who look like us, talk like us, dress like us, others who are just like us. And there is nothing wrong with this, but we might fool ourselves into thinking we are loving people and that the grace of God is the source of that love. However, if our love is limited to only those who are good to us and who love us, then we might be no different than a non-believer, who can love only out of his or her own human effort.
That’s why love for the enemy is the true litmus test. If you can love an enemy, that’s proof that the love of the Father is in you. Because love for an enemy is humanly impossible to do.
How many people do you know who can’t attend family gatherings because someone did something several decades ago and they can’t forgive? The victims are good to their own families. They are good to their friends, but they can’t love their enemies because they haven’t forgiven them.
They say, if only the person who wronged me confessed their sin, then I would gladly forgive. In an ideal world, there would be confession of sin every single time a sin is committed. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Our world is fallen. So the reality is, the person who wrongs us seldom confesses. And you and I are stuck with bitter hearts. You’re imprisoned by unforgiveness. And of course, if you are bitter toward your enemies, love for your enemies is impossible.
I want to challenge you this morning to forgive those who’ve wronged you. But that person hasn’t apologized. They haven’t said sorry. Where in the Bible does it call us to withhold our love and forgiveness from someone until the person confesses? Show me. If you can, I stand corrected. If that is your view on forgiveness, then you’ve added something to the Bible that is not there. You’re doing the same thing the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did. You’ve added things. You’ve deleted things. You’ve made up a religion with your own version of the Law. The Bible is clear. Love your neighbor as yourself, even if the person standing in front of you is an enemy who wronged you and mistreated you and made your life miserable. Love that person. Can you love like this on your own strength? No. It’s impossible. Only someone who understands God’s love and grace can love an enemy.
There’s a saying. If you respond to good with evil, then you’re a scoundrel. If you respond to good with good, then you’re human. You’re following the natural order. If you respond to evil with good, that’s divine.
There are 3 applications straight from the text about what love for the enemy looks like. In verse 47, loving your enemy means something as simple and as gracious as greeting them: “if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?” Greeting your enemies is one form of the love Jesus has in mind here.
Whom do you greet when you leave this service? Only those who greet you? Only your close friends? Only those you know? Jesus says, Greet not only those you don’t know. Greet those who are at odds with you. As Christians, we never have a right to snub someone. Love your enemy means something as simple as greet them.
Second, verse 45 illustrates what love is:
45 …He [referring to God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
In this case, love refers to making practical efforts to meet a person’s physical needs. Sunshine and rain are the two things that are needed for growth and food and human life. This is the kind of practical concern Paul had in mind when he penned Romans 12:20-21–
20 …“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Loving your enemy means practical acts of helpfulness in the ordinary things of life. God gives his enemies, the unrighteous, sunshine and rain. In your power, you give your enemies food and water. Meet their practical needs.
Third, and this is the most difficult. Verse 44 gives one of the deepest meanings of love for your enemies. It says,
44 I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love because it means that you have to really want something good to happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer is different because you are praying for them in the presence of God. You are praying before a God who knows your heart and who knows the heart of the person you are praying for. Prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. It may be for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. It may be that they would be awakened to the hatred in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes some type of calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for the good of the other person.
This is what Jesus did as he hung on the cross–
34 Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
And it’s what Stephen did as he was being stoned in Acts 7:60–
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
These are examples of obedience to Jesus command: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Jesus is calling us not just to do good things for our enemy, like greeting them and helping supply their needs. He is also calling us to have their best interest in mind and to express those desires for their good in prayers when the enemy is nowhere around.
How will you know when you are truly loving your enemy and praying for their best interest? One way that you’ll know is this. You will no longer speak a negative word about your enemy. A mention of their names will no longer spark bitterness in your heart. You will be free because you have been released from the prison of unforgiveness. This is the kind of deep, inner righteousness of the heart that Jesus is inviting us to.