Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount - Enemies

Once again we will be continuing in our series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is today's text.
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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. And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.  Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV
This is more of a case of Jesus correcting the Pharisees adding something to the law rather than an issue of letter vs. spirit.  In this case, even the letter was wrong.  There was never a command to God to hate your enemies.  In fact, God told the Israelites to be kind to strangers in their land.  This belief probably grew out of the Psalms where David was praying bad to come upon his enemies or the commands of God regarding wiping out the enemies of Israel.  The Jews were taught to hate those who were not Jews and Jesus is correcting that.  In terms of the Psalms and the commands to wipe out those in the land, those were about the judgment of God and not about personal hatred.  Personal hatred has no place in the life of a Christian as we will see in this passage today. 

Jesus goes on to give a litany of how we are to relate to people we are at odds with.  He beings with "But I say to you, love your enemies."  The first thought that pops into mind is that if I love someone, they are not my enemy.  That is exactly right.  While others may consider themselves our enemies, we are not the have the same attitude.  We are to treat no one as though they are our enemy, but we are to share the love of God with everyone.  All we do is in the example of Jesus who died for us while we were still His enemies.  We may have by attitude or actions been enemies of Jesus, but Jesus was never enemies with us, but loving us enough to die for us.

Next Jesus tells us "bless those who curse you."  Again, this is against our very nature.  If someone comes and says disgusting and vile things to you, the reflex response is to return in kind.  Jesus tells us to do the complete opposite.  He tells us to bless them.  We need to bless those who curse us. If someone wishes bad on you, we should wish good on them.  Again, this is in the example of Jesus.  For those who beat Him, tortured Him, humiliated Him, and insulted Him, he told God to forgive them.  They pronounced death on Him and He asked for forgiveness for them.  That is our example.  We need to bless others, even those who curse us. 

Jesus then says "do good to those who hate you."  This again goes against our nature.  Why would we want to do nice things to those who utterly hate us?  I mean, we can understand to not to hate them, but to do good things for them?  The reason for this is that love is not just a word.  It is not enough to just say we love our enemies, but to actually love them.  Jesus does not say "tell your enemies that you love them"  He says to actually love them.  This is that love in action and a wonderful living testimony to the love of Christ Jesus.  You see, if His example was to not to good (for example suffering and dieing for sins) to those who hate him, none of us would be saved.  But Jesus did die for us while we still hated Him.  That, again, is our example.

And, finally, Jesus says "and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."  We are called as Christians to pray for people, not against them.  Jesus gives us two example.  They are related in that many will take advantage of us for our faith and many will persecute us for our faith.  I need to make the note that these things are supposed to happen.  If you are just like the world, you will not be persecuted or used for your faith.  If you are following Jesus and doing the things Jesus tells us to do, these things will happen.  If you do good for those who hate you, those who hate you will have no problem using you for your generosity and probably persecuting you at the very least behind your back for doing it.  Jesus tells us to expect that it will happen and tells us merely to pray for them.  When you think about it, that is the only answer.  Our witness along with our prayers can lead the hardest of hearts to accepting the Lord Jesus Christ.  Again our Lord is the example.  I already used the example of praying for those who persecuted Him while on the cross.  We also have the example of Saul who persecuted Jesus with a murderous zeal.  What did Jesus do?  He found  Him on the Damascus Road and saved him leading to him becoming model for all evangelists to come. 

Jesus then gives us the reason. He says "that you may be sons of your Father 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."  If we are sons of our Father in heaven we will follow the example of our Lord.  I have already discussed that as we went through each example Jesus gave, therefor it is clear that following what Jesus said in our text today is following in His example.  More than that, we are following in the footsteps of our Father.  A good son of a good Father always looks up to and follows in his father's example.  Such is the same with a child of God. In God's example of making sun and rain fall on good and evil is part of God making His witness known in all the earth.  God desires that all should come to Jesus and so God has revealed His witness to all of mankind.  We need to live in that same example.  We must have that same heart-felt desire that all should be saved.  That is why we love our enemies.  That is why we bless those who curse us.  That is why we do good to those who hates us.  And that is why we pray for those who spitefully use and and persecute us.  We do all of those things to show the world the love of Jesus that is in us and we do it because, like our Father, we desire all to be saved. 

Jesus now continues in teaching us that we are not to be like the world.  He says "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?"  What he says makes perfect sense.  Even evil people have friends and family.  Even evil people have people who love them and in turn they love back.  There is nothing special in loving friends and family or those that love you back.  We are called to be above and beyond the world.  It is that love for even our enemies that separates us from the world.  It is that goodness we show towards those who show evil towards us that shows the difference God is making in our lives. Living in the way Jesus is teaching us today is a very large part of our witness to the world.  I can not emphasize the point enough that if we do not show how God is real in our lives, we will never convince others that He is real at all. 

Finally, Jesus says "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."  Is Jesus telling us to be perfect?  Is that even possible?  Well, in a sense, our calling is to be perfect.  That is sanctification.  That is Christ's life work within us.  Now this perfection will not be achieved until we are with Him in Heaven, but it is something we should be ever growing towards.  Please do not mistake justification for sanctification.  Justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed upon us when we accept Him as Lord and Savior.  Sanctification is that work Jesus does in us for the rest of our lives until we meet Him in Heaven.  That is when our imputed righteousness becomes our actual righteousness.  That is when we are entirely free from sin, fully and forever cleansed from every spot and wrinkle we have inflicted upon our souls for the sins we commit in this life. 

And that is where we end this week in our Sermon study.  We have ended chapter 5 in Matthew as well and what an end it is.  Jesus tells us to be perfect as God is perfect.  Note Jesus does not say to be perfect "because" or "like" He is perfect, but as He is perfect.  This message spans back all the way to the beginning of the Beatitudes, continues through to today, and will continue for the rest of the Sermon.  The message is the denial of self.  The message is emptying of ourselves to be filled by God.  You see, we can never be perfect on our own.  We can not even grow towards perfection on our own.  In fact, the more of self that remains, the less we will grow in sanctification.  Perfection is a kind of purity.  Think of purity. There is no such thing on this earth.  24k gold is still only 99.95% pure gold.  Noting is ever 100% pure under scientific analysis.  There is always some impurity.  The impurity in our lives in Christ that keeps us from perfection is our selves. The more you deny yourself, the more you will be filled by Christ.  The more you are filled by Christ, the closer to perfection you will become.  That is because the only way to be perfect as God is perfect is to abide in Him and His Spirit in us.  We have no perfection of our own, but only that which comes form God.  Please also keep in mind that on this earth, being "closer" to perfection is a very relative term.  We are all still very far off and still have so much to grow and none of us will approach even 24k status in this life.  We would be lucky to make it to 10k (41.67% pure gold).  But as we grow and God tests our faith through many means including the enemies He puts into our lives, our faith is purified.  Just as gold is refined in the fire, so are we by the fires of the trials God puts in our lives.  When someone makes himself into an enemy and says and does horrible things to you and you are able to deny yourself and love him as Jesus loves him and through that love you bless him, do good for him, and pray for him, your faith will be that much stronger.  Your trial will lead to amazing growth so as other people who would consider you an enemy come into your life, your reflex will eventually grow to love that person and not to retaliate in kind.  That may seem a far way off, but it is the direction Jesus is calling us.  Hatred, retribution, bitterness, and strife will never lead to peace and joy.  In fact, those things are the very opposite of peace and joy.  Love, forgiveness, and selflessness will lead to peace and joy. Love your enemies.  Respond to hatred with love.  Respond to insults with blessings. Respond to persecution with prayers for the persecutor.  Respond to others as Jesus responded to you while you were still a sinner. 
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:6-9 NKJV

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