First Mennonite Church
June 8, 2014
Jesus says: Love Your Neighbor, But Also Love Your Enemy
Text Matthew 5: 38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Have you ever wondered how confusing Christians some times are to outsiders? Here, let me tell you what I am referring to. Evangelical Christians often say that Scripture and particularly the New Testament should be taken literally and everything written there is the Word of God for them. Some Evangelicals argue that when it comes to the Bible, people cannot pick and choose what to believe or practice. It is either everything or nothing. So therefore, their argument against having women pastors is because of what they read in 1Corinthians 14 verse 34: Womenshould remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. Or 1Timothy 2 verses 11 and 12: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet. End of the discussion. And yet their literal approach to Scripture changes when it comes to certain practices such as foot washing, holy kiss, and fasting. Then they would say, “Oh, our church does not practice these. These might be applicable to the culture of biblical times; not ours.”
But what is even more confusing is when these same Christians come to the words of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 to 7. There is a whole list of ideas floating about as to the intentions of Jesus in these chapters. Some believe that the Sermon on the Mount was intended to be idealistic. Jesus only intended to set the bar high for his disciples’ morality, but in the end the Sermon on the Mount is simply impractical. Some others think these teachings are for the Millennium or when the kingdom of God comes. Yet, others say that the Sermon on the Mount was given in view that the end was imminent. Therefore giving to anyone whatever he or she asks for is not only good, but also wise because life would not continue for too long.
These last two antithesis of Jesus mark the climax of his series.
His series includes:
You heard it was said you shall not murder; but….
You heard it was said you shall not commit adultery….
It was also said “whoever divorces his wife, give her a certificate of divorce….”
You heard it was said you shall not swear….
And the last two are:
You heard it was said, “An eye for an eye….”
You heard it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate you enemy….”
Let us hear the words of Jesus again (Read Matthew 5:38-48).
Some Christians are ready to dismiss this passage by referring to Jesus’ cleaning of the Temple. It is argued that Jesus used a whip when he drove everyone outside the Temple. This, they say, shows that the use of violence can be justified under certain circumstances. Let me read to you the verse in reference to that “violent whip.” Here is what John says, and let me tell you that Mark, Matthew and Luke do not have any reference to that whip. John 2, verse 15 reads: So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. The text does not say Jesus whipped anyone, but we can assume he did use the whip to drive the cattle out. What is more important in the Gospels regarding the temple cleansing is that Jesus had just been given a hero’s welcome by the crowds. Jesus’ triumphal entry was viewed as God ushering salvation to his people. God was coming to take possession of the city and institution which was believed to be His dwelling place. The Messiah is God’s instrument in this takeover. With this in mind, any attempt to justify violence with that one reference to a whip not only overlooks the Gospels as a whole, but also misses the meaning of the triumphal entry of Jesus and his symbolic action in the Temple.
Another attempt at avoiding the serious call in this passage comes by way of posing a hypothetical situation. When people read or hear that non-resistance is the way of Jesus and should also be for his followers, they readily pose the following question: what would you do if someone comes and wants to harm your family? Will you not defend it to the death? And they add: out of love for your family. Yet, behind this hypothetical question lies a subtle argument that the words of Jesus cannot be taken literally. Even the way the question is posed gives the implication that Jesus’ call to love the enemy and pray for those who persecute you are optional. The question every follower of Jesus should ask is: What should I do as a child of the Father who is in Heaven? Not what would I do. Jesus is clear as to what happens when this command becomes optional. He says: If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? But as a citizen of the kingdom of God and as a child of the heavenly Father, we are called to love and show mercy even to those who do not deserve love and mercy. That is because our Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. His love is for all without condition. He blesses everyone regardless.
According to Jesus, any other response his disciples would give to the enemy other than showing them the love and mercy of God is wrong. Jesus does not give us alternatives as to what we would do to the enemy and those who hurt, insult, and do us wrong. Jesus simply tells us what we should do. You and I do not have the option to allow an imaginary situation to become the guide of how we should obey the words of Jesus in any matter. “You heard it was said to those of old, love your neighbor but hate your enemy, but I say to you do not resist an evil person; love your enemy,” Jesus says.
Did Jesus show us how that looks? In Luke chapter 22, we have the account of Jesus’ arrest. A large crowd came armed with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. Verses 49-51 reads:When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Matthew tells something more about this incident. Matthew 26 verses 52-54 tell us what Jesus told the one who used the sword in an attempt to defend Him. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
What Jesus says and shows about self-defense is pretty clear. Do not resist the evil doer. If Jesus did not use the sword to defend himself against those who were to deliver him to his death sentence, why should we? If the Father did nothing to prevent Jesus’ death from happening, am I any different? I should realize that whatever the situation, my goal should be to always be true to the nature of God. My goal in all situations should be to do the will of God for me and to show the love of God working in me.
The Apostle John writes: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him or her (1John 1:6b). There is nothing as moving as when someone expresses love and mercy to another, especially when the situation is difficult or challenging. As Christians, all our actions should be guided by the love of God in us. (The story of Mark Claassen: An Excerpt from “A Beautiful Way” (YWAM Publishing, 2005, pp.147–149) To read the story go to: http://www.nonviolentworm.org/FeaturedArticle/LovingYourEnemy
There is a more profound truth in the words of the apostle Peter than we might ever think there is. 1 Peter 4, verse 8 says: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. The love of God never returns evil for evil or prevents evil with evil. The love of God turns the other cheek, walks the second mile, and forgives seven times seventy times. If an imaginary situation becomes the guiding principle to how I obey the law of love of Christ, then the love of the Father is not in me. Any form of hateful defense on my behalf or on the behalf of my family will prove to be the worst harm I can do to myself or to my family. For if my family is Christian and God-loving, it would not want me to sin in order to save it from danger.
But let us see this problem again from the perspective of eternity. What would you do if your family was threatened, is the hypothetical question. Although heaven and hell seem to some people as antiquated ideas and fantasy worlds, these are not for you and me. From the pages of Scripture we believe that every action we do dictates our destiny in either of these places. God gives us the freedom to choose to obey or disobey. God offers his obedient child the promise of eternal life with Him. God warns of eternal separation for those who refuse to accept His love and salvation. Loving the enemy can be costly. The loss can be not only of material things; it can be of life. But for the Christian that means entering the presence of God. But if you kill the intruder, you not only disobey the law of love, you also rob the intruder of the opportunity of repentance and salvation. Confronting the evil doer with evil, not only places you in the same condition as he is, but fails to show him God’s alternative of embracing personal loss for the sake of sacrificial love. That is the way shown by Jesus. The answer to that hypothetical question should be: What is better, from the perspective of eternity: for me to be sent to heaven, or me to send someone to hell?
Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Amen!