“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?
(Matthew 5:43-47 ESV)
Today we come to the sixth and final clarification from Jesus regarding the discrepancy between man-made righteousness and godly righteousness. The topic of today’s verses is how Christians should love.
Back in Leviticus 19:18 God gave the following command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. The problem was that over time the definition of “neighbor” was diluted to include only people the Jews approved of (this did not include Gentiles). The command was also distorted by removing the phrase “as yourself” and replacing it with “hate your enemy“. In other words, love became a selfish act directed towards those who were subjectively valued and was withheld from those who were not valued.
Sadly, our culture today uses this same distorted definition of love. Love to us is a self-serving emotion that we direct toward people or things than we assign value to. We love someone we find attractive. We love certain foods because they taste good. But this is not love. It is lust. It is self-serving.
The Greek word for love in these verses is αγαπαο (pronounced: ag-ap-ah’-o). It is one of four ways to express love in Greek and is the only one that is not an emotion. Agape love never seeks to satisfy self. It seeks the welfare of others, even if they are our enemies.
True love is not a factor of our own needs but the needs of others. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates this clearly [Luke 10:25-37]. Agape love is expressed with action, not with sentiment. It is not something we feel; it is something we do.
This is exactly how God loves. He makes the sun rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He also sent His son into the world to die for every human being who was ever conceived even though we disobey Him, reject Him, and even claim He doesn’t exist. God does not stop loving people just because they are His enemy.
One way we can express love for our enemies is to pray for them, even those who persecute us. The result of this is that we will be sons [and daughters] of [our] Father who is in heaven.
There are certainly plenty of people in the world who are enemies of Christians. It can be difficult to love them because of what they say and do. But God commands us to love them anyway because of who they are – His creations, made in His image and who, like us, are sinners in need of His forgiveness [Genesis 1:27; Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:9].
While many have declared God to be their enemy, no one is God’s enemy. Nor does He want those of us who are His children by faith [John 1:12] to view anyone as our enemy. He wants us to see everyone as our neighbor. His standard of love for human beings has always been for us to demonstrate care and concern for everyone’s well-being, whether they like us or not.
One of the great things about the words of Jesus is how direct they are. They cut right to the core. Notice how Jesus tells the Jews they are no different than tax collectors and Gentiles. Tax collectors and Gentiles were despised in this culture. For Jesus to tell the Jews they were no better than these people would have been an enormous insult to their egos.
But that is what this passage of the Sermon on the Mount is all about. Human beings – including those of us alive today – think more of ourselves than we should. We make up our own rules in life by creating loopholes and redefining sin. We lower the bar.
Jesus raises it back up again.
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