Pastor Scott L. Harris
August 16, 1992; November 15, 1998
Loving Your Neighbor
Today we reach the end of another section in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. This morning we will look at the sixth and final comparison Jesus makes between the self righteous teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees and the true spirit of the Law, which is a righteousness from the heart. In the next chapter Jesus will begin to contrast the practice of true righteousness with the practices of the self righteous.
It is significant that throughout this section Jesus has not condemned the Scribes and Pharisees. He has only exposed their self righteous hearts. Remember that all the comparisons throughout the sermon are to demonstrate the nature of the righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). The purpose is not condemnation in judgement, but exposure in order to effect change. That is significant because it is very easy for us to fall into the same trap as those religious leaders and start viewing true righteousness by what we do or do not do rather than by who we are in our hearts. We need our hearts exposed so that we might change too, and Matthew 5 certainly has done that.
In Jesus’ first illustration concerning murder, He exposes the selfish anger that occurs in the human heart. (See: Hate & You Lose). In His discussion of adultery, Jesus exposes the lust of their hearts and our own. (See: Lust & You Lose). When Jesus discusses improper divorce, He exposes not only the fact that an unbiblical divorce leads to multiplied adultery, but he also teaches the principle that God is not pleased when we do something morally questionable simply because the law allows for it. (See: Dangers of Divorce). We also find that Jesus says that when we make a promise we are to keep it. That is quite a novel idea in today’s society. (See: What’s In a Promise). Today we will expand on the theme of not being vengeful toward those that do something to us personally. (See: Resisting Revenge). We are to love our enemies.
Each and everyone of these comparisons has shown the sinfulness of all mankind and that includes all of us. No man can live according to what Jesus has taught here on his own. This last teaching about loving our enemies is by far the greatest test demonstrating true righteousness, for only someone who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit could live in this manner. Only someone who has the Holy Spirit within them could strive toward Jesus call to us in Matthew 5:48 of being perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect. Only someone who has been convicted by the Holy Spirit of his sin and is willing to admit his sin and then approach God poor in spirit, mourning over sin and seeking His grace and mercy. Only the person being filled with the Spirit hungers and thirst after righteousness and wants to be transformed into the image of Christ. And it is only the person who demonstrates the characteristics of the beatitudes that will actually live according to Jesus’ teachings. For everyone else the test is too tough and they will demonstrate that they are only self righteous, not genuinely righteous.
If the exposure that Christ will bring upon your heart this morning in this passage does not drive you to a conviction about your own lack of personal holiness and motivate you to confession of sin and seeking after godliness, then there is a legitimate question of where you stand before God. The self righteous will take offense at what Jesus says. Most of the Jewish leaders of that time did take offense and eventually they murdered Him out of their hatred. But there are the few that take what Jesus says to heart. They understand their depravity and their need to come to God poor in spirit. They confess freely that Jesus is correct in what He says, and they ask Him to help them to be different. Your very reaction will reveal your heart, and that is why this last section is the toughest test of righteousness that Jesus gives in the sermon.
Turn with me to Matthew 5:43-48. “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 in order 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 send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In verse 43 Jesus repeats the twisted teaching of the Scribes. The people had heard this teaching from the rabbis. But once again we find their teaching is selective in what it says to the people. It does not record the whole counsel of God, but only certain phrases twisted to communicate what the human teacher wanted. The same goes on today. Paul said told us that people would not want to endure sound doctrine, but instead have their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:3).
Not long ago I was talking with another pastor who told me he recently had some people in his church tell him that they would leave if he preached through a certain section of Scripture. Being a man of integrity, he did preach through the passages as he had previously planned, and those people kept their promise and left along with about 50% of the operating budget. I wonder how much of the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees came about because of this kind of pressure by the people? There are a lot of people that do not want sound doctrine, but only to have their ears tickled. There have been people like that here.
Here we find the Scribes had once again had twisted the Old Testament Scriptures. This time by both what they omitted and by what the added.
First, turn to Leviticus 19:17,18 from which the phrase, “love your neighbor” comes. The full passage reads, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the son of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.” But what is missing from the teaching of the Scribes? This passage specifically says to not hate their fellow countryman in their hearts, take vengeance or hold a grudge against them. This is a good reminder of our message last week about not taking vengeance or bearing a grudge against those who personally defame our honor, strive to control our personal possessions, or take away our personal liberty. In addition, how were they told to love their neighbor? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why did they leave off the end of the phrase, “as yourself?” Simply because it is a lot easier to love your neighbor if there is no standard by which to judge that love. God says to love your neighbor with the same consideration and intensity with which you selfishly love yourself. That is a high requirement. (As a footnote here, let me add that those in the self esteem movement that use this verse to promote the idea of self love have twisted the Scriptures just as badly as the Scribes and Pharisees did. Throughout Scripture self love is an assumed part of man’s nature because every man loves himself). The Scribes omitted the last phrase in order to make it easier to fulfill the command to love their neighbor.
They went on to define their neighbors as only their fellow Jews. One ancient saying of the Pharisees was, “If a Jew sees a Gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out, for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor’; but this man is not thy neighbor.” It was this attitude that caused the Romans to charge the Jews with hatred of the human race.
They not only taught a very restricted love to their neighbors, but they also added the phrase, “and hate their enemies.” This was the logical conclusion to their other teachings. They defined the “neighbor” in Leviticus 19 as only a fellow Jew. They believed they should hate the Gentiles because God commanded the Israelites forefathers to conquer and drive out the Canaanites and other pagan people from the Promised Land. They forgot that God commanded this because of His hatred of sin, not a hatred for people. They also justified their hatred of enemies from the imprecatory psalms where David prays against his enemies. In Psalm 69:22-24 for example, David prayed that that their table would be a snare to them, that they would fall into traps, that their eyes would grow dim and that God’s burning anger would overtake them. These were their arguments for hating their enemies. But that is not the right conclusion from those passages, and neither is it justification for hatred of our enemies.
Even if Leviticus 19:17,18 restricted the definition of a neighbor as fellow Jewish kinsmen, it does not say to hate anyone. Even more important are the other passages that do define doing good to foreigners and even enemies. Deuteronomy 22:1-4 speaks about helping a neighbor by doing such practical things are returning lost livestock to him or helping out if he has an injured or overloaded animal. Exodus 23:4-5 commands the very same things to be done even to “your enemy” and to “the one who hates you.” Job, who scripture describes as “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1), would open his door and house to foreign travelers (Job 31:31,32). He would not rejoice at either the extinction of or the calamity that would befall his enemy. In fact, he would not even allow his mouth to sin by asking for his enemies life in a curse (Job 31:29,30).
We find the same attitude in David. In Psalm 7:4,5 David prayed, “If I have rewarded evil to my friend, Or have plundered him who without cause who was my adversary, Let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it; And let him trample my life down to the ground, And lay my glory in the dust.” David regarded doing wrong to an adversary to be just as bad as doing it to a friend. In Psalm 35:12-14 David adds, “They repay me evil for good, to the bereavement of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting; And my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother.” David treated his enemies with the same kindness and consideration he gave to his friends.
Proverbs also comments on how the righteous should treat their enemies. Proverbs 17:5 “He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 24:28,29 “Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips. Do not say, ‘Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.” Proverbs 25:21 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
The Scribes and Pharisees should have understood these passages, but instead they added to the Scripture the phrase “and hate your enemy”.
But you say, “what about God’s command to destroy the pagan nations and David’s prayer against his enemies in Psalm 69?” I say, “what about them?” God is also judge and it is certainly His prerogative to bring judgement on those who disobey Him. God loved Adam, but He cursed him. God loved Moses, but He punished him. God loves Israel, but He exiled them for a time. God loves the world, but He will destroy it and condemn all those that do not come to Christ. God loves, but sin must also be punished. Both are satisfied in Christ who took on the penalty of our sin while at the same time demonstrating the love of God.
The pagan nations were destroyed because of God’s judicial condemnation of their utter wickedness. Some nations were unbelievably evil even to the practice of human sacrifice. They burned alive their own children as offerings to their idols. And as far as the imprecatory Psalms, examine their context and you will see that the anguish of soul was not over the personal turmoil, but the dishonor that these persecutors had brought upon God Himself. This is righteous indignation, not selfish anger.
The Pharisees should have known all of this, but instead they added to the law their own sinful reactions, “hate your enemies.”
Loving Even Your Enemies
Jesus restores the meaning of the law in Matthew 5:44. Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you. The context is the same as we examined last week. This is dealing with personal situations. This cannot be used to argue for pacifism. It is not talking about what occurs on a battlefield or between countries or when the law itself is broken. The enemies here are your personal enemies. This command brings the nature of righteousness to its second highest operating principle (the first being to love God) and demands a response that is humanly impossible. Men without Christ may go so far as to tolerate their enemies, but they cannot love them.
The nature of this love is not emotional nor is based on human rationality. This is agape love and it is a reflection of God’s love for us. God’s love purposely chooses, commits itself and acts in kindness, grace and mercy. God does not choose to love on the basis of anything He might gain. There is nothing for Him to gain. There is nothing that we can give Him or even offer except that which He already deserves. Scripture tells us that God so loved the world that he sent Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Christ died for sinners! And it does not matter if that is someone entrapped in vile and wretched sins, or someone with one of the more socially acceptable sins such as pride and self-righteousness. This is a love that is internally generated as opposed to human love that occurs as a response. That is why the Scriptures say that “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
This ‘agape’ love is the same sacrificial love that a husband is to extend to his wife (Ephesians 5). It is the love of 1 Corinthians 13 that is “patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but in truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.” This kind of love never fails. And this is the love we are to have toward not only our friends, but even our enemies. That is humanly impossible.
Now take note that Jesus says here to love your enemies, but He does not say to like them. God’s command here is to your mind and will, not your emotions. Your emotions are to follow clear thinking and wise decisions. Emotions are not to be the basis of our obedience to what God says to do.
A little poem Diane found stresses the need to put the mind and will over emotions in doing good.
If you were busy being kind,
Before you knew it, you would find
You’d soon forget to think ’twas true’
That someone was unkind to you.
If you were busy being glad,
And cheering people who are sad,
Although your heart might ache a bit,
You’d soon forget to notice it.
If you were busy being good,
And doing just the best you could,
You’d not have time to blame some man
Who’s doing just the best he can.
If you were busy being right,
You’d find yourself too busy quite
To criticize your neighbors long
Because he’s busy being wrong.
This love is demonstrated in that instead of reviling our persecutors in anger, we pray for them. Why? Because instead of seeing them as against us, we see them as slaves of Satan, entrapped in their own sin and needing to be freed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we learn to see things from God’s perspective, then even our emotions change, and instead of feeling anger toward them, we feel pity. There is a compassion that extends to grace and mercy and pleads for God to save them.
Jesus’ teaching in this example and in the previous one correlates to the end of the Beatitudes in which Jesus says that the one who is persecuted for the sake of righteousness would be blessed. That persecution would come in the form of personal insults, physical persecution and slander. We are to rejoice because that very persecution demonstrates that we are in the same group as the prophets and our reward in heaven would be great. (See: Persecuted, But Joyful). In this passage the teaching of the beatitudes is completed because now the righteous response to those enemies is also given. We do not seek revenge, but love them and pray for them.
This was the very response put into practice by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and was eventually was killed in Nazi Germany. He said of this verse, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.” We are again confronted with the reality that this response is humanly impossible, for only a son of God (Matthew 5:45) can have this response.
Persecution itself does not demonstrate that a person is godly. Much persecution comes from many causes other than for the sake of righteousness. It is also true that some deceive themselves into believing their persecution is for righteousness sake when in fact it is not. According to this passage, the evidence of personal righteousness, being a son of God, is in the personal response to that persecution which is to be love and praying for those enemies. Remember back in Matthew 5:9 that the blessing of the true peacemaker is that he will be called a son of God. (See: Blessed are the Peacemakers).
Why is a person who loves his enemies and prays for his persecutors considered a son of God? Because it demonstrates the likeness of God their father. If we took all your kids and put them on one side of the room and put all the parents on the other, then asked someone from the outside to come in and figure out which child belong to which set of parents, that could be done fairly easily. Why? Because your children bear your image and your characteristics. In a similar way those that are the children of God bear God’s image and His characteristics.
The characteristic demonstrated here is God’s gracious impartiality. God gives what is good to both those that love Him and those that hate Him. He causes the sun to rise on everyone both good and evil. He causes the rain to fall on everyone both good and evil. One of the errors of the health, wealth, prosperity preachers is they fail to recognize this fact about God. He is impartially good to all and gives prosperity even to the wicked. This fact perplexed the writer of Psalm 73 until he considered the final end of the wicked and then he understood God’s justice. Judgement will come, but God is gracious up to that point. We are to demonstrate this same attribute to our enemies. We are to love without partiality and to pray without partiality. We are to be good to both those who are our friends and those who are our enemies.
A Love Beyond the Normal
This love is much greater than what the world demonstrates to its own. Look at Matthew 5:46 & 47 and think how stinging these words were to the Scribes and Pharisees. They saw themselves as better than everyone else, and they had a particular scorn for the tax gatherers and Gentiles. The tax gatherers were considered among the most despised, not just because they collected taxes (like we feel about IRS agents), but because they collected for the enemy, Rome. Gentiles were so despised that if a Jewish man had to travel into a Gentile nation, when he returned to Israel, he would shake the dust off his shoes before crossing the border. And here Jesus declares to the self righteous that their teaching and practice of loving those who loved them and greeting only their ethnic brothers was the same thing the tax gatherers and Gentiles did. They may think of themselves as being better, but the tax gatherers and Gentiles matched them. Again we see the nature of true righteousness surpasses what men can do on their own.
When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37 it was in response to a certain lawyer who was trying to justify himself before Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor.” The underlying thought was, who is the one I have to love in order to fulfill the law? You are familiar with the story. A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was mugged by thieves and left half dead. A priest comes along, sees the man laying on the road and he walks way around him. Then a Levite comes along, sees the man laying there, and he does just like the priest. Then a Samaritan came along, and remember Samaritans were more despised than Gentiles because they were half breeds being half Jewish & half Gentile. These men were enemies by nationality, yet the Samaritan sees him, has compassion, halts his journey and proceeds to help the man. He stays there all night nursing the man back to health. The next day he takes the beat up fellow to an inn and pays out of his own pocket to have the fellow cared for with a promise that if more expenses occur, he would pay them. That is the response we are to have toward our enemies.
What if it was you? What if you found your enemy in that condition? Would you help? Would you pay for his care out of your own pocket? What if it were someone that was always mean to you? What if it was some political figure that was opposed to all you believe in? What if it was some kid strung out on dope having a bizarre haircut and wearing weird clothes? What if it was some known criminal – a drug pusher, rapist, child molester? What would your reaction be?
The last verse caps the argument that what Jesus is demanding is humanly impossible. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The demand is nothing less than being a unblemished image of God’s perfect moral character. Romans 8:29 tells us that we are saved for the very purpose of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Humanly impossible, but possible through regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Only a person whose self interest has given way to God’s interest can live the way Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount. That can only happen to the person who has died to self. George Muller, that great man of faith, described it this way, “There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Muller and his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”
The person who has the righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees and will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven will demonstrate what Jesus has described in this wonderful chapter. It is only the person that has died to self and lives for Christ. Paul said it this way. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
Have you been crucified with Christ?
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