Last week we looked at Yeshua's teaching in Matthew 5:38-42. Yeshua taught that we are not to retaliate against those who hurt us, but we are to respond by doing good. This is certainly a challenging task. It is tempting to respond to evil in kind, especially when the mistreatment comes from an enemy! But in our text for this morning, Matthew 5:43-48, we find Yeshua's teaching concerning the treatment of our enemies.
Speaking about Matthew 5:43-48, A. W. Pink wrote: "There has been a strong and widespread effort made to get rid of the flesh-withering teaching of this part of our Lord's ministry. Those professing to be the towers of orthodoxy and the most enlightened among Bible teachers have blatantly and dogmatically affirmed that 'the Sermon on the Mount is not for us,' that it is 'Jewish,' that it pertains to a future dispensation, that it sets forth the righteousness which will obtain in 'the millennial kingdom.' And this satanic sop was eagerly devoured by multitudes of those who attended the 'Second Coming of Christ' conferences, and was carried by them into many of the 'churches,' their pastors being freely supplied with 'dispensational' literature dealing with this fatal error. Slowly but surely this evil leaven has worked until a very considerable and influential section of what passes as orthodox Christianity has been poisoned by it."
As we study this text this morning, we may wish that the Dispensationalists were right in their saying that the Sermon on the Mount is not for us. This is a difficult text. To love our enemies is not natura; human reasoning dictates that you love those who love you and hate those who hate you. And this is precisely where the religious leaders of Yeshua's day had come. They had a twisted belief which they thought was based on Scripture:
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' Matthew 5:43 NASB
Yeshua was referring to the Rabbinic teaching which was supposedly based on Scripture. But the Tanakh will be searched in vain for any precept which required the Israelites to entertain any hatred toward their enemies. Thou shalt "hate thine enemy" was a rabbinical invention pure and simple.
The Tanakh taught them to love their neighbor:
'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am YHVH. Leviticus 19:18 NASB
This teaching is clear enough. The problem was that over time it had become twisted. The religious leaders had distorted the truth in order to accommodate themselves. They taught that you were to love only your neighbor.
Who is my neighbor? Some of the schools of the scribes taught that fellow students of the law were neighbors, so it was limited to scribes and Pharisees. Some schools of the scribes and Pharisees taught that it was wider than that. They taught that your neighbor was every blood relative, every friend, or person living in your locality, i.e., in their community. Other schools taught that it was much broader yet. They taught that every Jew was a neighbor, but Jews only! No person could be a neighbor if they were not a Jew. In other words, they had to hate every person who was not a Jew. Some schools were much more liberal. They taught that Gentile proselytes who had joined the Jewish faith were neighbors. This was the broadest school of the scribes and Pharisees. The most common teaching was that only good Jews were considered as a neighbor. Publicans, harlots, or any public sinner was positively excluded.
As a result of this teaching, they had to hate every person that was not what they esteemed to be a good Jew. The command to "love your neighbor" doesn't mean much if you don't know who your neighbor is. The lawyer that tested Yeshua questioned Him as to who His neighbor was:
And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE YHVH YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Yeshua, "And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:25-29 NASB
This lawyer wanted to justify his hatred for publicans and sinners. He wanted to justify his school of thought, so he asked who was His neighbor in order to distinguish between those whom one loved or hated. He expected Yeshua to give his narrow view of the meaning of the word "neighbor" to mean his fellow scribes and Pharisees. He knew the Law, and he knew what it meant. This scribe, or lawyer, was "...wishing to justify himself..." as having earned salvation by strictly observing the Law of loving God above all and loving his neighbor as himself as he cited it.
Yeshua answered this lawyer's question, "And who is my neighbor?" with the parable about the good Samaritan. In that parable the man who loved was a Samaritan, and the wounded man whom he loved was a Jew. And the Jews and Samaritans were anything but friends and brothers. They had nothing to do with each other. There were religious and racial animosities. There was no scribal school that interpreted the term "neighbor" liberal enough to include those hated, detested Samaritans. The scribes and Pharisees considered the Samaritans as the most hated on earth. So when Yeshua was asked who was a neighbor, He used the act of the good Samaritan to show who was a neighbor.
We see Yeshua's willingness to talk to a Samaritan woman was a great surprise to her. She was so surprised that He would speak to her, a Samaritan, since He was a Jew:
Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) John 4:9 NASB
She was shocked. She couldn't understand why Yeshua was talking to her in a friendly way.
The term "neighbor" is used in the Tanakh in a twofold manner: wider and more general, and narrower and more specific. In its common usage, it includes anyone with whom we may come into contact, having respect unto our fellow men. In its specific sense, it signifies one who is near to us by ties of blood or habitation. But anyone who compares Scripture with Scripture should be clear on the Lord's meaning:
"Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold." Exodus 11:2 NASB
The reference here is to the Egyptians among whom Israel then lived. "Strangers," along with "neighbors," are represented as those we are to love. In the same chapter where we find the command to love our neighbor, we find this:
'When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 'The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am YHVH your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 NASB
So "neighbor" is not restricted to those who are our friends or even those we know.
When Yahweh prohibited His people from bearing false witness against their neighbors, and when He forbade them coveting the wife of a neighbor (Ex. 20:16, 17), the prohibition must be understood without any limitation:
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17 NASB
Does this mean that if you didn't consider someone a neighbor then you could covet his wife, servant, ox, or donkey? No! So, the commandment to love their neighbors, understood correctly, commanded them to love all mankind.
The scribes and Pharisees taught that enemies were to be hated. The word hate in our text comes from the Greek word miseo (mis-eh-o), which means: "hatred; to detest, especially to persecute." So when the scribes and Pharisees taught that you must hate your enemies, they meant you must detest that person, persecute them, and have no love for them. This was the perverted teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, which clearly did not come from Scripture. In the Tanakh, it is clear that Yahweh wants us to love our enemies; let's look at a few examples:
"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. "If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. Exodus 23:4-5 NASB
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or YHVH will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him. Proverbs 24:17-18 NASB
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; Proverbs 25:21 NASB
How they could twist these to teach that you are to hate your enemy is beyond me.
In Leviticus 19:18, it qualifies how we are to love our neighbors:
'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am YHVH. Leviticus 19:18 NASB
It says there that you are to love them "as yourself." This ruled out any kind of superficial and casual application of the word "love." To love someone else as you love yourself is to take great care in loving them. We all certainly take great care in loving ourselves. This phrase, however, was conveniently left out.
The scribes and Pharisees had both taken away from and added to the Scripture. They had limited the meaning of the word "neighbor," which must be properly interpreted to mean: "every human being." They also added to the text of Scripture by saying that you were to hate your enemy. As opposed to their teaching, notice carefully what Yeshua taught:
"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, and 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. Matthew 5:44-48 NASB
Examining this passage of Scripture will reveal the transformed behavior that Yeshua is after in each of us. The point is that Yeshua does not want us to act like the world. He wants us to manifest a behavior that is based upon a supernatural principle of divine life. As a result of his nature, man tends to treat others the way he is treated. There is revenge for revenge, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life with a revengeful spirit. That is our sinful condition and the response of man by nature. Yeshua desires that we live above the level of mediocrity by the power of His Spirit. He desires for us to live a life that in our own strength we cannot live.
The first thing He says to us is that you should love your enemies. This is a powerful and radical teaching about the inclusiveness of love. The kind of love that Yeshua advocates even embraces our enemies.
To those listening to Yeshua that day, this must have seemed like an impossibility. How could anyone love his or her enemy? Enemies don't evoke love in anyone. Yeshua, however, wanted to make a point that He considered our neighbor to include our enemies. In other words, no one is outside the scope of our love. Or no one should be. We then are called to manifest love to all people.
What Is love? Our culture uses the word "love" to mean just about everything except what the Bible means by it. Greek is a language which is rich in synonyms; its words often have shades of meaning that English does not possess. In Greek there are four different words for love. There is the noun storge. This word speaks of the love of family. It is used of the love of a parent for a child and a child for a parent.
There is the noun eros, which is used to describe erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you "fall in love," a passionate attraction toward the opposite sex. That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God. And then there is phileo, which means: "affection, friendship, a feeling of tender affection toward someone else." It is used to describe a man's closest and nearest and truest friends.
The word Yeshua uses in our text is agape. This Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the word agape took on a special meaning; it was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love, a love naturally expressed by divinity, but not so easily by humanity. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love.
Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave His Son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were His enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best of the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe Yahweh's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests.
Yeshua never asked us to love our enemies in the same way as we love our dearest friend or spouse or family member. The word He uses is different than the words used for those kinds of love.
The word love, as used by our Savior in our text, could be seen as synonymous with the word mercy. When Yeshua said, "Love your enemies," He is talking about a merciful spirit, tenderness of heart, which disposes a person to overlook injuries or to treat an offender better than he deserves; while they are cursing, you are blessing. When they come with spite to persecute, you do not respond as they do. You pray for them, do good unto them. This is the love of which Yeshua is speaking.
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44 NASB
In this verse we find the meaning of "enemy." Clearly, by "enemy" He means people who oppose you and try to hurt you. "Persecute" means: "to pursue with harmful intentions." It might include very severe hostility. The same Greek word for persecute is connected with murder in:
"Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; Acts 7:52 NASB
In Matthew 5:44, Yeshua said, "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 that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of Yahweh who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with Yahweh on their behalf. He is not saying that we should pray for them to be struck by lightning or that a house should fall on them. Rather, He is saying that we should pray on their behalf to Yahweh. It may be prayer for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. But the prayer Yeshua has in mind here is always for their good.
When is the last time you prayed for an enemy? When is the last time that you prayed for someone who mistreated you and persecuted you? This is what Christ did:
But Yeshua was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. Luke 23:34 NASB
He was praying for those who had hung Him on the cross; He was unjustly condemned and tortured to death. And He prays for those who did it. This is Christ's example! It is an example that His followers are to imitate.
Stephen followed the example of his Lord in praying for those who despitefully used Him and persecuted Him:
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on YHVH and said, "Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!" Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 NASB
When we pray for our enemies, we are engaging in a Christ-like act. We are interceding for them as Christ intercedes for us. We are beginning to see them through Christ's eyes. Prayer changes us. When Cathy and I first moved here, we met another Christian couple that we spent time with, but I really didn't like the man very much. His personality rubbed me the wrong way. While I was at sea with the Navy, I began to pray for him every day, and by the time I returned home I viewed him as a dear friend. Prayer causes our hearts to reach out in compassionate love for others. Perhaps this is why Yeshua encouraged us to pray for our enemies. It's hard not to like someone you are praying for.
Yeshua tells us that we are to speak well of and pray for those who are our enemies. No matter what they do to us, no matter how they treat us, we are to speak well of and pray for them. That is love!
Yeshua goes on to tell us that if we behave in this way, we will be identifying ourselves as His children:
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. Matthew 5:45 NASB
Some take this to mean that you must first become a person who loves his enemies before you can be a child of God. That is salvation by works, and it is impossible! "...that you may be sons of your Father..." has the idea of: "Love your enemies and so demonstrate yourself to be a child of Yahweh." That is, show you are a child of Yahweh by acting the way your Father acts. If you are His, then His character is in you, and you will be inclined to do what He does. Yahweh loves His enemies--the evil and the unrighteous--by sending rain and sunshine on them instead of instant judgment.
Love your enemies and so show that Yahweh is your Father. Why should we interpret it this way? Well, first of all, you can't love (agape) if you aren't a child of God. Look at what Yeshua says in:
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 NASB
Notice two things: One is that Yeshua speaks to His disciples and calls Yahweh their Father. He does not say, "He may become your Father." He says, "He is your Father." Second, notice that when people see the good works of the disciples (like loving their enemies), they give glory to our Father. Why? Because our Father is in us, helping us and enabling us to do the good works. If we did the good works on our own so that we could then become children of our Father, the world should see our good works and give us the glory. So Yeshua not only says that God is already the Father of the disciples, but this is the very reason that they can do the loving works they do. The light that they let shine IS the light of their Father's love within them.
So when Yeshua says, "But I say to you, 'love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you...that you may be sons of your Father in heaven,'" He does not mean that loving our enemies earns us the right to be a child of Yahweh. You can't earn the status of a child. You must be born into it. You can't work your way into it. Yeshua means that loving our enemies shows that Yahweh has already become our Father, and that the only reason we are able to love our enemies is because He loves us.
Another clue in the Sermon on the Mount that this is the way we should interpret this is found in:
"You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:16-17 NASB
What Yeshua is saying is that you cannot produce the fruit of love in order to become a good tree. You have to become a good tree in order to produce the fruit of love. Becoming a child of Yahweh and being transformed on the inside--becoming a good tree--precedes and enables love, not vice versa.
If you take the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, all the commandments assume --they presuppose--that a conversion has happened--a new birth--before we can live righteously, we must be made righteous. We do not earn or merit our son-ship or our entrance into heaven. We receive it as a free gift, and then we live in a way that shows who our Father is. Loving our enemies is a proof that the power of the kingdom has entered our life, not a payment for the power of the kingdom to enter our life.
This is how the Christian life starts. It doesn't start by measuring up. It starts by realizing that we don't measure up. We are poverty stricken, helpless as a child, and sin-sick in need of a Great Physician. Then we hear the Gospel, the free offer that by trusting Him our sins will be forgiven, God will be our Father, and the power of the Kingdom will come into our lives, and we will have the help we need to live out the Sermon on the Mount. Yeshua said:
"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NASB
We are grafted into the vine by faith in the promises of Christ. And we abide there by faith--drawing on His power and His enabling. So the fruit we produce, like loving our enemies, is not produced in our own strength, but by the strength of the vine: "...apart from Me you can do nothing."
How do we manifest to the watching world that we are truly children of Yahweh? It is through our love and concern. Are you manifesting your identity as a child of Yahweh? You see, we should show this impartial love because Yahweh shows impartial love. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. When you go out in the sunshine in your yard, did you ever notice that the sun is shining on your unbelieving neighbor's yard too? Did you ever notice that the rain falls on his lawn too? That indicates that God manifests His love toward the unbeliever as well as toward the believer. The point is that Yahweh blesses everyone. He doesn't just bless those who love Him. He sends His blessing without regard to whether the one receiving the blessing deserves it.
In this case, love is very practical efforts to meet a person's physical needs. Sunshine and rain are the two things that plants need to grow so that there will be food for human life. This is the kind of thing Paul had in mind when he said:
"BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:20-21 NASB
Loving your enemy means practical acts of helpfulness in the ordinary things of life. God gives His enemies sunshine and rain. You give your enemies food and water.
He goes on to say that we must live on a higher level than those around us:
"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? Matthew 5:46-47 NASB
The tax collectors were at the bottom of the line where the Jews were concerned. It was much worse than today. One got to be a tax collector in biblical times as positions were auctioned off by the Romans. Those Jews who were especially greedy would bid for the positions. The Romans awarded the job to the one who indicated he could get the most for the government in taxes. Let's assume that the highest bid for a particular area was fifty thousand dollars per quarter. The Romans gave the tax collector the privilege of keeping whatever he collected over the fifty thousand dollars which he had bid for the taxes. So if he could get a hundred thousand dollars, fifty thousand dollars went to the Romans and the tax collector had fifty thousand dollars for himself. You can see what such an approach did to the position. Those who occupied this position were despised Jews. First, they had sold themselves to the Romans. Secondly, they were extortioners of their own people. So they became an example of the lowest kind of people as far as the Jews were concerned.
Please notice that in verse 47, loving your enemy means something as simple and gracious as greeting them: "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?" Greeting your non-brothers is one form of the love Yeshua has in mind here. That may seem utterly insignificant in the context of threatening and killing. But Yeshua means for this text to apply to all of life.
Whom do you greet when you come here to worship? Only those who greet you? Only your close friends? Only those you know? Yeshua says, "Greet not only those you don't know. Greet those who are at odds with you." Of course there may be more you should do if there is tension between you. But you have no warrant from Yeshua to snub someone. "Love your enemy" means something as simple as, "Greet them."
Yeshua says here, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?" Does this imply that when we love our enemies Yahweh rewards us? I think it does. Yahweh's rewards are a motive to obedience. What was it that moved Moses to refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, which caused him to forsake the treasures of Egypt and to suffer affliction with the people of God? The Bible tells us it was because: "He looked to the reward..."(Heb. 11:25 -26).
Finally, He tells us to be like our heavenly Father:
"Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 NASB
The constant call to the Christian is to be like Yahweh. It is Yahweh's purpose that each of us reflect the image of our Father.
The word for perfect in Greek is often translated: "mature" and simply means: "to reach a stage of completion. In this context, it has reference to the matter of showing love and mercy; note the parallel passage:
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 NASB
We talked last week about how much we love justice, except when it come to ourselves. But we are to love others as we do ourselves, which means: "We want mercy for them instead of justice." When we display love and mercy to our enemies, we demonstrate a maturity of character--we are like our Father.
Yeshua is telling us that He wants us to be like Him. He wants us to love with the kind of love He has. Our call is to be people who manifest the nature of the Yahweh we serve--it is a call to be like Yeshua.
The Father's love for His elect began in eternity, when He loved His people enough to send His own Son while they were still enemies:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10 NASB
God the Father so loved His dear children that He sent His own Son to take away His wrath upon sin, to be the propitiation for our sins. It was not because we loved God, but that He loved us:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 NASB
Look at the precious admonition there. If we see the love God had for us, then we should love one another. Therefore, we should love our enemies while they are still enemies. While they are still slandering and cursing us and trying to destroy and persecute us, we should be blessing them and demonstrating tokens of love. This is the way to be Christlike. God so loved us, therefore, we should love one another.
We are not called to live on the same level as the world. Indeed, we are called to live on a level that is not only higher, but impossible. The point of what Yeshua is saying is that we must live by the power of God. He is asking us to do things that in our own strength we cannot do. The only possible way to truly love our enemies is to live by the power of God. He is calling us to summit our weaknesses to Him and allow Him to pour His strength into us. When we are weak, then He is strong.
Anyone can live in a belligerent, spiteful, revengeful way. It takes a mature child of Yahweh to live above the level of this mediocrity and walk in love. Just think how astonishing this love is when it appears in the real world! Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?
Let me close this morning with these questions, "Are you acting like our Father who is in heaven? Are you demonstrating to the world around you that you are a child of Yahweh?" Anyone can hate their enemies, but only a child of Yahweh can love them.
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