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Life Upside Down

Loving Your Enemy

Matthew 5:43-48

April 29, 2018


In these final verses of Matthew 5, Jesus gives us the sixth and final contrast between the self-righteousness produced by us through ritual obedience and righteousness from the heart that God produces through His transforming work in our lives.  Each of these six contrasts have been prefaced by Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said” (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and now 43).

The Scribes and Pharisees believed they were righteousness by the things they did in obedience to the Law.  Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, we cannot be right with God.  In other words, we can never do enough to merit God’s favor.  But through faith in Jesus Christ, His righteousness is applied to us and He begins a transforming work in our hearts that results in righteous actions.

So, in thinking back over the past few weeks we have found that it is not about doing what justice demands, but giving to those in need, going the extra mile, paying what we owe, and turning the other cheek when we are dishonored.  It is not about making an oath or a vow to establish the truth of what we are saying but making sure that every word that comes from our mouths is true.  It is not about giving a divorce for any reason, but rather being true to our commitment to each other.  It is not about adultery or murder, but about the lust and anger that consumes our hearts that leads to those actions.

Jesus’ sermon is not a pronouncement of judgment on the Scribes and Pharisees, but it is to expose the religious trap they were in and if we are honest, a trap we often find ourselves in.  Righteousness is not in what we do, but who we are in our hearts.  A changed heart then in turn produces right actions.  The teaching we will be looking at today is no different.  The only possible way we can love our enemies is when Jesus has transformed our hearts.

God makes it clear in Ezekiel 36:26-27 that it is the work of God’s Spirit within that causes us to live our lives in obedience to Him.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 

It is not about obeying God to change your favor with God, but about having a new heart the brings about obedience to God.  In fact, when we come to the last verse in Matthew 5, it becomes obvious that perfection in righteousness can only happen through the Holy Spirit that lives within us.

It is not only too difficult to do this without the Holy Spirit, but our attempts to do so will result in self-righteousness.  Those who are self-righteous will take what Jesus says as offensive, but those are experiencing heart transformation will understand their inability to be righteous and allow God to do His transforming work in their hearts.  Our reaction to Jesus’ teaching can reveal a lot about our heart condition.  This was Jesus’ point to the Pharisees and Scribes, and it is His point to you and me here today.  It is all about our heart in the matter.

Let’s read our passage:

Matthew 5:43-48

43 “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.

A Distortion of Love (v. 43)

Just as He has done 5 times before, Jesus begins by stating what the rabbis have been teaching in verse 43.  In each of these exhortations to us, there is some element of distortion that has taken place in the Pharisees teaching.  The teaching found here is no different, in fact it almost seems more blatant to us.  Look what He says in verse 43.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

This is never stated in this way in the Old Testament law.  This is a distortion of what we are taught in Leviticus 19.  Leviticus 19 talks about leaving the corners of your fields for the poor, not stealing or lying to one another, don’t oppress your neighbor, don’t slander your people, and much more.  Then when we come to verses 17 and 18, God makes loving their neighbor very clear.

17 "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is nothing about hating your enemy and in fact it says you are not to “hate your brother in your heart.”  The idea here is that you are not supposed to take vengeance out on your brother and you are not supposed to bear a grudge against your own people.  Truly this almost seems to be the opposite of hating your enemy.  Where did the Scribes and Pharisees get this?

The Scribes and Pharisees would take a passage like this and attempt to define who it is they are to not hate.  The Law says do not hate your brother, bear grudges against the sons of your own people, and your are love your neighbor.  Well, these are people who are not your enemies, so God must mean we should hate our enemies.  Do you see what they are doing?  What Jesus indicates in Matthew 5 is that what the rabbis were teaching is something different than was taught in the Old Testament Law.

Even the standard by which they were to gauge their love for their neighbor has been left off.  Did you notice that?  How are we to love our neighbor according to Leviticus 19?  We are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves!  That is a pretty high standard to leave off, but if you don’t have a standard, then any aspect of love can do.  Do you see what is going on here? 

Enemies are to be hated and any kindness you do toward your brother or your people is love.  It is a distortion of God’s standard.

Now, we shouldn’t be to quick to judge them because people of faith all around our world today do the same thing.  They twist and manipulate Scripture to mean things God never intended.  When we distort God’s standard to fit our lifestyle, we deceive ourselves into thinking we are right with God.  This is exactly the problem Jesus was addressing with the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees.  They were deceiving themselves into thinking they were right with God by the standards they twisted from God’s word.  But in other places Jesus refers to them as whited sepulchers, they look good on the outside but are full of death inside.  Though they did all these righteous acts according to their standards, their hearts were far from God.  Here Jesus is addressing their distortion of what it means to love.

The Right Perspective of Love (vv. 44-45)

In verses 44 and 45, Jesus takes this to a much higher level of understanding of what genuine love looks like.  It is like He is saying to us, “Let me show you the right perspective of love.”

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.

This love that Jesus is talking about is not brotherly love, not emotional love, nor is it erotic love.  The word used here expresses a love like God loves.  It is the word ἀγαπάω (agapao).  It is the verb form of agape.  Agape love is sacrificial love.  Our immediate reaction is to say that “this is impossible to love our enemies this way,” and you are right, it is impossible unless the Spirit of God has begun a transformational work in your heart.  People without Christ in their lives may go as far as tolerating their enemies, but I believe it is impossible for anyone to love their enemy without Christ transforming their heart.

Our response to this seemingly extreme exhortation often sounds like this, “We don’t feel like loving them.  If God wants me to love my enemy, wouldn’t He put those feelings in my heart for them?”  But we need to remember that agape love is not a feeling, it is a choice.  God-like love is choosing to love the unlovable.  It is choosing to love without a loving response.  When we love our enemies, we are reflecting the very love God has for us.

God purposely chooses to love us, even while we are yet sinners, the love of God is seen in Jesus’ death on the cross for us (Romans 5:8).  God does not love us on the basis of anything that He might gain from us, what could we give Him that He doesn’t already have?  Everything we offer in worship to God is what He already deserves anyway.  God chooses to love us, yet we do not deserve to be loved by God.  When we love like God loves, we choose to love those who do not deserve any love.

When we chose to love our enemies we are saying, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  Think about this for a moment.  We stand as sinners in opposition to a holy God.  According to our standards of loving people, God should have never made a way of salvation.  Thankfully God’s love is nothing like our standards for love.  This kind of love is in opposition to pride and self-righteousness.  This kind of love is internally generated as opposed to all other love that is a response to the circumstances around us.

This is the same kind of sacrificial love a husband should have for his wife according to Ephesians 5.  This love is expounded on in 1 Corinthians 13 where is tells us what this love acts like towards others.  It is a love that is patient, kind, does not envy, boast, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful.  It is a love that does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth.  It is a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.  It is an unending love.

Unfortunately, this is why so many marriages fail.  We base love on our feelings and we respond to how we are treated.  We struggle to love our spouses, our close friends, and even our relatives in this way, and now Jesus says we are to love our enemies with agape love? . . . The problem is we base our love on our emotions and feelings.  We need to choose to sacrificially love those we feel are unlovable.

Then Jesus says to pray for those who persecute you.  When a person became a Christian in Jesus’ day, they were persecuted.  Sometimes physically (Steven was stoned to death), sometimes mocked and ridiculed, sometimes they were kept from selling their goods at the market.  Many things happened against Christians.  Jesus says to pray for their persecutors.  He doesn’t mean to pray for bad things to happen to them either.  Jesus is talking about showing agape love by praying that they will be blessed and come to know Jesus also.  This is partially what sacrificial love looks like: praying for those who hate us and want us out of their life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor who suffered tremendously at the hand of persecutors 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.

In verse 45, Jesus says that when we do this, we are showing others that we are the sons and daughters of our Father who is in heaven.  In other words, we are putting Him on display in our lives.  Others are seeing the love of God when you love like He loves.

God shows His grace and love by allowing the sun to rise on all people, those who are evil and those who are good.  God sends rain upon the just and the unjust.  We need to understand something important here.  Just because you put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior doesn’t mean God’s love for you is greater than other sinners.  God loves all sinners and He sends blessings on everyone to point them to Himself.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are blessed in knowing God.  When we come to Him in faith believing, we become a part of His family, we are a treasured possession, we are a royal priesthood, and so much more.  But God’s love extends to all sinners.  In order to love our enemies, we need to understand this love that we have received from God.  We need to have the right perspective on love before we can love our enemies.

The Rationale of Love (vv. 46-47)

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?

I find it interesting that Jesus uses tax collectors and Gentiles as a point of reference for making a comparison for loving others.  Tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people.  Though tax collectors were generally Jews themselves, they were hired by the Roman government to collect taxes.  Their wages were determined by how much they could overcharge the people and many of them were rich by over taxing people.  People hated them not just because of the taxes, though that was huge for people of meager means, but they were collecting taxes for the enemy, Rome.

Gentiles were also despised.  Jewish people would shake the dust off their feet after traveling through a Gentile nation showing their disdain for them.  Remember, how they felt toward the Samaritans?  The point Jesus is making is that they are no different than even the people they despise when they only love those who love them back.  Tax collectors and Gentiles only love the people who love them and the Scribes and Pharisees are no different when they only love those who love them back.  They may think they are better than the people they despise, but when they only love the lovable they are acting just like the people they hate.

You may remember Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer.  The lawyer asks Jesus, “What should I do to inherit eternal life.”  Jesus asks him, “What does the Law say?”  The lawyer says, “The Law says to love God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus said, “You are right.”  The lawyer then asks Jesus, “Well who is my neighbor?”  You see, the lawyer wanted to know who it is that he had to love.  Maybe he had a neighbor that was unlovable and so he wanted to make sure it was not that person.  Jesus proceeds to tell this lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.  Remember Samaritans were hated by the Jews.

A Jewish man fell among thieves.  He was left half dead lying by the road to Jericho.  A priest came and upon seeing the beaten man walked on the other side of the road.  Later a Levite came upon the man left for dead and he also went to the other side.  But when a Samaritan came along, he helped the beaten man, bound his wounds, set him on his donkey and took him to an inn to stay till he healed up.  The Samaritan payed for all the costs.

Jesus then asks the lawyer, “Who proved to be the neighbor to this man.”  The lawyer had to admit it was the hated and despised Samaritan who was the neighbor.  Jesus simply tells him, “You go and do likewise.”  The lawyer learned not just what it meant to love God, but that this kind of love is an extreme love.  Loving the one he thought as unlovable, a Samaritan.

The rationale of this love is clear.  If our love looks no different than the rest of the world, what more are we doing than others?  Do we love those who we don’t agree with?  Do we love those who do not act like we do?  Do we love those who have offended us or persecute us?  Now look at that last verse.  Jesus wraps this all us with the perfection of love.

The Perfection of Love (v. 48)

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfection, now what how does this fit into all of this about love for our enemies?  The word translated perfect is the Greek word τέλειος, meaning perfect, complete, or mature depending on the context in which it is used.  Jesus is not talking about sinless perfection here.  Christians cannot live sinless in this life and we can only be accepted by God on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus.  we know that.

Jesus is teaching us that loving only those who love us is incomplete love, a love that has not matured, a love that has not grown to its fullest maturity, it is a love that is not fully developed.  Our love should be like the Father’s love.  A love that is complete and fully developed.  Simply put, we should strive at loving like God loves.  Never should we be satisfied with half-way or incomplete love, but a love that is perfect like the Father’s love.

God’s love for all people is proven in that God sent His Son to die for the sins of anyone who would believe on Him.  God’s love for all is shown in that he sends rain on the just and the unjust.  God’s love for the evil person and the good person is put on display every day of our existence.  It is a love for the human soul that is not twisted by the sin of the person.  God loves and is willing to forgive anyone, no matter how evil and sinful they appear to us if they will simply turn to Him in faith.


That should be the goal for every single one of us as a child of God.  Not an incomplete love or a halfway love, but our goal should be perfect love.  The word “as” in Jesus’ statement of being perfect as the Father is perfect is not necessarily indicating equality with the Father’s love, though that should be our goal.  The word “as” indicates likeness.  Our love should look like or be similar to the Father’s love.  Our love should have such a likeness to the Father’s love that others can see in our lives.  A love that has developed and matured to God-like love.


In contemplating this, I have determined that the only way this can happen is when my self-interest, my pride in thinking I am better, my self-righteousness in thinking I am such a good person is put out of my life and I allow God to fill me with His Spirit.  It is only then that I can love the unlovable.

I like how George Muller describes what is going on inside us as believers.  He said, “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 apostle 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” (Galatians 2:20)

Again, like every other part of Jesus’ sermon, it comes down to a matter of the heart.  I think this loving attitude toward others is a good test concerning our relationship with God.  Are there people I can’t talk to, people I avoid, people I hold a grudge against, people who I wish evil against, people who have wronged us?  How do I love them?  We get on our knees before God and ask Him to change our heart toward them and we choose to love them the way God chose to love us.  This is only possible when we have Jesus doing His transformational work in our heart.

Do you know Him as your Lord and Savior?