Enemies: love and prayer Matt 5:43-48

Introduction (247)

Jesus has purposely set himself against the Jewish religious elite.  He was now their enemy no. 1; and because of their relationship with the Roman rulers he would become their enemy too.  This is the six and final time that Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I say to you”.  He has been correcting the misinterpretations of the Pharisees.  In this final one he makes it clear that he is not setting up another elitist, better-than-you, shut-you-out religious grouping.  This was not Christ’s manifesto of superiority.  No, the distinctive of Christ-followers was to be their sacrificial and inclusive love.  If you want one statement that Jesus said that sums up what Christianity ought to be like: love your enemies.

What Jesus says in our passage this morning brings to a conclusion what he started in Matthew 5:17-20.  Jesus has come to fulfil the Law and the Prophets.  And he calls us to a righteousness that greatly exceeds that of the Pharisees.  Jesus is going to correct the Pharisees’ misinterpretation of the OT.  It is not evil for evil, or good for good.  Christianity is good for evil.  So listen to the passage…  READ Mat 5:43-48

Two distortions

‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ is an enormously faulty misrepresentation of the OT.  Let start with the second half.

Evil for evil (fear of the outsider)

There is no warrant for this in the OT – the statement does not even exist.  To get there the Pharisees had made gross assumptions.  Basically they reasoned: the Torah teaches us to love our brothers (which is does) and that also implies the opposite – we must hate our enemies.  Their reasoning sounded rational enough to those who wanted to close the circle and exclude all outsiders.  They supported their theory by pointing to how God had dealt with the enemies of the people of Israel in the OT.  Now it is certainly true that God judged nations – but that was his prerogative as the all-seeing, all-knowing God.  But God never intended his people to hate the others.

The Pharisees were so far gone that they had this saying: “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 neighbour, but this man is not thy neighbour.”[1]

What does the OT say?

The problem is that the OT actually taught the exact opposite:

Exodus 23:4-5 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.  5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

Leviticus 19:33 “‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Proverbs 25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

All the Pharisees wanted to do was heap the coals – burn!  But did you hear that Leviticus reading: you were aliens.  That is a shadow of what the NT is going to say about how we were sinners but we are saved by grace so we too should love the other.

Good for good (pride and self service)

The statement “love your neighbour” is in the OT (Lev 19:18).  But it us missing something: love your neighbour… as yourself! = love you neighbour as yourself – which sets an incredibly high standard for this love.

Think about how you love yourself.  It sets the standard very, very, very high.  There is no one on this earth that you love more than yourself!  If you use a definition of love: serve the needs of.  Whose teeth did you brush this morning?  Whose hair did you comb? Whose body did you feed breakfast?  Whose bank account do you pay your salary into?  It is a sincere, unhypocritical, necessary kind of love.  You don’t fall out of love with yourself.  You may get angry with yourself for mistakes or imperfections, but that is only because you want the best for yourself and your mistake compromised that best.  This is not a criticism – I am establishing the fervency and the dedication and passion of this love.  And it is that high, high, high level that the Pharisees conveniently leave out other statement, AND out of the way they love others.  But more importantly…

There is nothing extraordinary or unexpected when you love someone who loves you, or greet someone who greets you.  Those that the Jews considered the definition dishonesty and corruption = tax collectors love each other, and the definition of someone who doesn’t deserve to be noticed = pagans greet each other.

Jesus: you lower the standard by leaving out ‘as yourself’, and what you’re doing is pretty normal anyway!  Rather, he says this is core of God’s heart and should increasingly be ours.

One truth: good for evil

What Jesus calls us to do is arguably the most counter cultural words of he speaks: READ 5:44-45.  Jesus means that we should serve the needs of, sacrifice for, give ourselves towards, persevere in embracing our enemies.  Who are our enemies?   It is the person that has set themselves against you, who opposes you, who tries to hurt you.  That can take the form of overt abuse or attack, but also minor snubbing or ostracism.

If this is the core of Christianity, then I do not know of a statement that is more difficult to live.  Only Christians who live in a bubble, who never venture their faith and love into the world know nothing of this.  In fact, the more you live out your faith, the more you find enemies.

The wonderful thing about God’s word is that it answers both the ‘what are we to do?’ = love enemies; and the ‘how are we to do it’ = look at the passage.

As simple as greeting (Words – Luke 6:27-28)

Something non-threatening and seemingly insignificant is a greeting.  To the outsiders, the other, the one who has set themselves against you it is a first move towards them: “hello”.  And it can take a tremendous effort to be courteous.  But it is our first decision on acting in love: be courteous to your enemies.  How often does a simple greeting develop from there?

Who do you greet at church?  Those in your circle?  Those with whom you are getting on well?  Those who greet you?  Those who (apparently) snub you?

As practically as meeting their physical need (Deeds – Luke 6:27, 35)

God shows that he loves both the righteous and the unrighteous, the good and the evil by sending rain and sunshine for both of them.  These are the very practical things needed for everyday life.  Paul has the same idea in mind when he quotes proverbs in Romans 12:20, “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

We love those who have set themselves against us with acts of helpfulness in the ordinary thins of life.

As spiritual as praying for them

One of the deepest meanings of loving your enemy is praying for them.  Bonhoeffer says, “Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”  It means looking past the offence or hurt or distance there is between the two of you.  It means looking upon their need with compassion and bearing it to God.  You cannot really pray for someone without loving them.  In fact, John Stott[2] suggests that you don’t wait until you feel love before you pray.  Rather you pray and love will grow up in your heart.

It is a powerful thing to realise that this is what Jesus did as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

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 WANT their best, and to express those wants in prayers when the enemy is nowhere around[3].

One fulfilment: Christ

We will finish today’s sermon in the same way that we have the last 6.  Jesus is the one who supremely fulfils this call to love; and in so doing empowers us to do the same.

Romans 5:6-10 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

The point is that, if you only see yourself as the victim first you will never be able to love your enemy.  You first have to see yourself as the enemy who is loved – and then you will be able to love your enemy.

We were enemies of God because of our sin.  While we were still enemies God loved us in the most gracious and sacrificial way – he sent His Son to die on the cross in our place, so absorb the punishment that we deserved.  When we find the forgiveness of Christ we are set free: (a) from living in conflict with and out of hatred for (which just eats you up from the inside) other who have REALLY hurt us painfully and deeply and, (b) to set other free to become the humans that God designed them to be.  Yes it is costly, but so was the cross.

But it is only when you realise the how severely offensive and ugly your sin is before God; that you and I are the servant with an unrepayable debt (John Scheepers).  And only when you experience the joy of the freedom the cross bring.  When your hearts has received that embrace you will be able to offer that embrace.  The cross will shatter your pride and it will empower your love.


Who is your enemy?  How can you start loving them?  Who should you greet and be courteous to? Who’s ordinary needs do you need to meet?  Who do you need to pray for, and how?



[1] Adam Clarke, 1831

[2] BST, Sermon on the Mount

[3] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/but-i-say-to-you-love-your-enemies-part-2