Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
In August 1983, Russell Stendal was taken hostage into the jungle of Columbia, South America, by a band of guerrilla soldiers. For nearly 5 months he learned what it really means to love one’s enemies. He wrote a letter home, saying, “I am in danger only of losing my life; they are in danger of losing their souls.” Through kindness, Russell befriended his guards. One day the commander told him, “We can’t kill you face to face; we like you. So we will have to kill you in your sleep.” God enabled Russell to forgive, but for the next 10 days and nights he couldn’t sleep. A submachine gun was repeatedly thrust in his face under his mosquito net, but the guards couldn’t bring themselves to pull the trigger. On January 3, 1984, Russell was released. When he said goodbye, tears filled the eyes of some of his captors. (Our Daily Bread)
If Russell were here today I think he’d have a thing or two to teach us about loving our enemies.
As we come to the conclusion of our series, Loving God, Loving People this morning let’s look at Matthew 5:43-48 where Jesus instructs us to love our enemies. For the past several weeks we’ve taken a closer look at loving our neighbor and today we’ll see how loving our neighbor includes loving our enemies. Let’s look at Matthew 5:43-48.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 “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, 45 “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. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The Jewish tradition was to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus challenges that thinking and makes it clear that we are to love even our enemies. In verse 44 it’s significant that Jesus uses the word, “I”. In the Greek, the use of the personal pronoun, “I” indicates force or emphasis.
John MacArthur comments on this emphasis…
In placing what He said above what tradition said, He placed His word on a par with Scripture-as His hearers well understood. Jesus not only placed emphasis on what was said but on who said it. It was not just that His teaching was the standard of truth, but that He Himself was the standard of truth. (John MacArthur’s commentary on Matthew)
The tradition of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy was wrong and Jesus makes that clear. Instead of excluding enemies when we love our neighbors, Jesus includes enemies. Jesus defines love in a way that includes your enemy.
Defining the enemy
First let’s define who our enemies are. If we are to love our enemies, who exactly are our enemies? If my enemy is only someone who threatens my life I may think I’m off the hook. I haven’t had my life threatened lately so I could say I don’t have any enemies. We could easily think we don’t really need to worry too much about loving our enemies because we really don’t have any true enemies.
But let’s understand that our enemies can be those who hate us or they could be those who mistreat us. It could even be a spouse or one of our children at times. There may be times when your spouse isn’t very loving to you. They may even look for ways they can irritate you. And in those times it’s easy to get caught in the trap of retaliation and pettiness. And in those times your spouse is your enemy.
There are times when we experience conflict in other relationships and those who are dear to us may treat us as if we are an enemy. It could be someone you’ve cared a great deal for and even worked side by side with over the years in the church.
You need to realize that your enemy isn’t limited to someone who would threaten your well-being but it is someone who causes you enough consternation to tempt to you to want to retaliate.
An enemy is defined for us in verse 44. It’s someone who curses us, or hates us, or uses us spitefully (or maliciously) and persecutes us (tries to make us suffer).
Demonstrating our love for the enemy
Having defined the enemy, remember—no matter how much harm others inflict on us or how badly they mistreat us, we need to love them in return. In spite of their mistreatment of us Jesus tells us we must love them. And He tells us how we are to demonstrate our love for our enemies.
Along with the definition of an enemy in verse 44 we’re told to bless those who curse us and there are three ways given that we should love our enemies. We should love them in our speech, our conduct and our prayers.
Think of your speech when you’ve been wronged. The natural tendency is to retaliate with our speech. For those of us who are more verbal than others we often do our best retaliating with our speech. We can also do some of the worst damage with our speech. When others insult us or verbally attack us we shouldn’t respond in a way that returns the blow. Our speech should be gracious and kind.
Listen to the words of 1 Peter 3:9…
not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
The word reviling is translated insult in the NASB, which probably makes it a little clearer for us. Don’t return evil for evil—don’t return insult for insult. It’s our human nature to want to come back with a quick retort when someone else insults us but Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5:44 to do exactly the opposite—“bless those who curse you”.
We need to practice Proverbs 15:1 when someone is verbally attacking us.
A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
Note that I said we need to practice this verse when we are verbally attacked not recite this when we are attacked. I’ve heard people recite this when in an argument and the volume begins to crank up. “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” And then they turn and walk away. That’s not right either.
But when we are gentle and kind in response to being insulted it disarms the individual. That isn’t what they expect. Bless those who curse you. Don’t return evil for evil. Don’t trade insults. Give the out of the ordinary response and give a gentle reply.
We can also love our enemies through our conduct. Jesus says, “do good to those who hate you,” As Matthew Henry puts it…
“Be ready to do them all the real kindness that you can, and glad of an opportunity to do it, in their bodies, estates, names, families; and especially to do good to their souls.” (Matthew Henry)
There’s another passage in Proverbs that speaks to the way we should treat our enemy,
Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
Even people who don’t treat you right and those you think don’t deserve it should be treated kindly by you. God’s Word tells us we should be concerned about their welfare regardless of how badly they’ve treated you. Is it easy? Not really but it’s what God’s Word instructs.
“In THE GRACE OF GIVING, Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor.
One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.”
“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata—no longer an enemy but a friend.” (Lynn Jost, bible.org)
Do good to your enemies. Be kind to those who mistreat you. Love your enemies by doing good to them.
There’s another way we can love our enemies mentioned in verse 44 and that’s by praying for them. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. In Luke 23:34 we’re told,
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do…”
Do you pray for your enemies? It’s difficult to have the right attitude toward others who hate us or who mistreat us or who persecute us. But praying for our enemies has a way of changing our hearts attitudes toward them. When we pray for our persecutors and those who hate us we’ll begin to see them as those in need of God’s grace just as we need His grace. It will give us the power and the desire to bless them when they curse us and to do good to them when they hate us.
This is also what they need. They need to have a right relationship with the Lord. They wouldn’t be mistreating us if they were right with Him and what ought to concern us is the condition of their heart not the mistreatment we’re receiving. We should pray that they would be reconciled to God, that they would repent of their sin and get right with Him.
“In Christianity Today, psychiatrist Robert Coles told an amazing story of a girl who had learned to pray for those who were hostile to her. Coles was in new Orleans in 1960 when a federal judge ruled that the city schools must be integrated. A 6-year-old girl, Ruby Bridges, was the only black child to attend the William T. Frantz School. Every day for weeks as she entered and left the building, a mob would be standing outside to scream at her and threaten her. They shook their fists, shouted obscenities, and threatened to kill her. One day her teacher saw her lips moving as she walked through the crowd, flanked by burly federal marshals. When the teacher told Coles about it, he asked Ruby if she was talking to the people. “I wasn’t talking to them,” she replied. “I was just saying a prayer for them”
Coles asked her, “Why do you do that?”
“Because they need praying for,” came her reply. (Our Daily Bread)
We could learn something from Ruby Bridges. Pray for your enemies! They need it and you need it so you’ll have the right attitude.
Displaying our relationship with God
There’s and even greater reason for loving our enemies than personal peace and good attitudes toward those who mistreat us. When we demonstrate love for our enemies, it displays to others our relationship with God. The phrase, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; in verse 45 doesn’t mean that we will become sons of God the Father but rather that when we love our enemies it displays the relationship we already have with God. When we love our enemies it’s evidence that we belong to God the Father. If we love our enemies then we are loving like God loves who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
The nourishing elements of sunlight and rain that we need to survive are given to the evil as well as the good and the just as well as the unjust. God’s provision of sun and rain is experienced not only by those who love God but also by those who don’t love Him. And that’s how we are to love others. We see clearly the example of God’s love for us in the familiar passage John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God loves the whole world. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. God loved us while we were His enemies. Romans 5:8-10 makes that clear.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Just as God makes His sun rise on the evil and sends rain on the unjust, so we will display that we are His children when we love our enemies.
Deeper than man’s love
And our love for others is to go deeper than man’s love. Jesus says in verses 46 and 47,
46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
Big deal if you love people who love you. Even the world does that. So what if you greet your brothers? It’s natural to love those who love you and to be kind to those who are kind to you.
Tax collectors were held in low regard in the time of Christ. The extra money they collected beyond the taxes due was theirs to keep. They had a bad reputation for taking advantage of that and being dishonest. They weren’t very well liked. Jesus points out that even they love those who love them.
And our love for others is to be deeper. Our love for others is to be genuine. We shouldn’t just love those who love us. We should love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us.
Jesus calls us to a love that is deeper than the kind of love we see in the world. Jesus calls us to a kind of love that’s out of this world. Because it can only be demonstrated by those who are followers of Christ—only he lived the ultimate illustration of love for this world when he suffered and died for our sin. It’s a love that loves the unlovely and unlovable. The kind of love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.
We’ve been given a divine standard to follow in loving our enemies.
48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
We’ve been given a divine standard in how we are to love others. God’s love is perfect. We won’t be completely sanctified until we are in Heaven. While we walk this earth we are still plagued with sin, but when we do fall short in loving others, even our enemies as we should, we need to confess that sin and seek to be more like our Heavenly Father. We should never have the attitude, “oh well, I’m not perfect and never will be.” We should always be striving to be like Christ and growing and maturing in our spiritual walk with Him.
Warren Wiersbe says of verse 48,
“The word perfect in Matthew 5:48 does not imply sinlessly perfect, for that is impossible in this life (though it is a good goal to strive for). It suggests completeness, maturity, as the sons of God. The Father loves His enemies and seeks to make them His children and we should assist Him!” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1, Warren Wiersbe, pp 24-25)
We’re not capable of loving others the way we should in our own strength. We need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love others, even our enemies, as we should.
This morning we conclude our series, “Loving God, Loving People” but our obedience to the commands given to us in Matthew 22:37-39 should never end.
37 Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the first and great commandment. v39 “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Let’s be a church that’s characterized by our love for God and our love for people.