- Giving Up Enemies
- MATTHEW 5:43-48 & LUKE 19:37-44
- Lyndol Loyd March 11, 2018
Today is the fourth Sunday in the season of Lent which is the forty days, not counting Sundays, that lead up to Easter. Lent is a time for prayer, fasting and simple living. It is a time we as Christians intentionally set apart so that we can be mindful of all that Jesus Christ went through on our behalf as he suffered death on a cross and then rose again so that we might be able to know and experience eternal life.
One of the most common practices of Lent is that people will often give up something such as soft drinks or chocolate or social media during this period of time. The idea is that by giving up such things, each time we desire to have a coke or eat an Oreo or update our status on Facebook, it will cause us to pause and consider Christ’s sacrifice.
In theory, the idea is that by giving up something it is a way of making room in our lives — our very busy, crowded hectic lives. This in turn gives us space to take up more of Jesus Christ.
While it can be a powerful experience to give up things like sweets or social media, this year we are challenging folks here at LakeRidge to consider giving up some more non-traditional sorts of things.
We began by examining the idea of giving up control. Next we looked at the idea of giving up our expectations. Last week we looked at how our faith would be impacted if we were able to give up our status. This morning we are going to examine yet another great challenge for so many of us when it comes to living out our faith – giving up our enemies.
Growing up as a proud Wheeler Mustang, one of the things that I learned very quickly as a child was that if I had a mortal enemy it was surely the Shamrock Irish. You see, Shamrock is located only sixteen miles from Wheeler and in what is a largely rural county they are the only two towns big enough to have football and basketball teams. Each year we would meet for what was billed as the county championship.
Because Wheeler’s school colors are black and gold and Shamrock’s school colors are green and white I grew up despising the color green. You can imagine my horror when, as a fifth grader, my aunt and uncle bought me a green wind breaker as a Christmas present and my grandmother made me a green velour robe as a gift. I refused to wear either one of them. A Wheeler Mustang wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Shamrock Irish green. To be honest, it still isn’t my favorite color.
It has been a heated rivalry for longer than I have been alive and continues on to this very day. As a matter of fact, in October of 2015 a student from Shamrock poured Kelly green paint all over the top of the mustang statue that is on the front lawn of the Wheeler school which as you might imagine created quite a stir in town. You can do a lot of things, but the one thing you don’t do is to disrespect the Wheeler Mustang statue. My Facebook feed blew up with all kinds of posts about that incident.
What the teenager who did this didn’t understand was that the statue wasn’t just a symbol of Wheeler’s school pride. It was erected as a memorial after a young man had been tragically killed in a car wreck several years ago.
After all of the social media outrage and rants I noticed what was a rather heartwarming post by the father of the young man who had been killed in the wreck. The mayor of Shamrock had driven to Wheeler to meet with him, apologized for the incident and bought his lunch. The post served to let everyone know that they could calm down and there really wasn’t a reason to see people from Shamrock as their enemies, rivals absolutely, but enemies no. With a quick power washing of the statue, the mustang was restored and the rivalry was able to be settled on the football field as it should be. (FYI – Wheeler won.)
I realize that is just an anecdotal story of a small town rivalry that got out of hand for a few moments. But all of this got me to thinking about when enmity becomes a very real and serious issue in our lives. What about when we really do have deep seeded feelings that cause us to despise another person or cause us to hate? Can we really live as followers of Jesus and harbor resentment or hate toward another person as the same time?
Jesus spoke to this in Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Let’s step back for a moment and let something Jesus said at the end of his life wave a banner over this commandment to love our enemies. One of the last things Jesus said after He died and rose from the dead, but before He ascended to heaven, is found in Matthew 28:18-20:
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20 implores us to observe all that Jesus commanded us—and that we should do this as long as this age lasts, not just for some distant future time or past time—because all authority belongs to Jesus and He will be with us to the end of the age.
When I read the Sermon on the Mount, I take it to refer to me and my family, this church, and all people Christ wants us to disciple among all the nations. Until I see otherwise from the Word, I assume that the Sermon on the Mount does not contradict the way of salvation that Jesus and His apostles taught.
Let’s go back and look at the command to love our enemies in its context—both the nearby context and the bigger context of the gospels. Matthew 5:43–44 is the last of six statements in the Sermon on the Mount that begin, “You have heard . . . but I say.” The series of six statements begins in 5:21.
I take this to mean that Jesus is explaining in these six statements what the righteousness that He requires looks like beyond what the scribes and Pharisees require.
1 V. 21: “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
2 V. 27: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
3 V. 31: “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery.
4 V. 33: “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne.”
5 V. 38: “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”
6 V. 43: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
Jesus is showing His disciples how some of the scribes and Pharisees applied the Old Testament teachings, and then, over against that, what He was calling them to do—something different, or something deeper.
When V. 20 says, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven,” He was saying, “There is a way of life—there is an authentic, deep, unhypocritical way of life—that you must live if you want to arrive in heaven.”
He is not saying, “I have an impossible standard of righteousness that you can never meet, and so stop trying to meet it, and trust in my righteousness.” That’s not what He is saying.
He is saying, “If you will come to me, trust in me, receive the power of the kingdom, be cleansed on the inside by the forgiveness and love of God that I offer, bank your hope on all my promises, and let my ransoming death cover all your failures and imperfections, then you will be able to live this way (not perfectly, but powerfully). Then your life will be the light of the world that proves you are the children of God.”
In other words, Jesus is assuming that something very profound has happened to people who live the way the Sermon on the Mount calls us to live.
Let me try to show you why I think that, and what it is that has to happen to us so that we can live this way and surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—not to earn our way to heaven but to show that God has graciously and powerfully changed us and promised us heaven.
Look at V. 44–45: “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
That is, show you are a child of God by acting the way your Father acts. If you are His, then His character is in you, and you will be inclined to do what He does. God loves His enemies—the evil and the unrighteous—in sending rain and sunshine on them instead of instant judgment.
The Sermon on the Mount and the command to love our enemies are not isolated ethical teachings. They grow up out of a great foundation of grace in the life and teaching of Jesus. This is where we get the power to love—that He loved us while we were poor, diseased, helpless enemies, and gave Himself for us.
But what does he mean by “enemy”? What kind of enmity does He have in mind? From the context, we can see that He means a wide range of feelings from very severe opposition to minor snubbing. Notice some of these. As we do, ask who in your experience comes closest, and be praying that God will use His Word, even now, to give you the heart to love them.
- Those Who Persecute You
The first meaning of enemy is found in V. 44, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you.” Clearly, by “enemy” He means people who oppose you and try to hurt you. “Persecute” means to pursue with harmful intentions. It might include very severe hostility like the hostility Jesus faced.
Jesus says, “Yes, love them. Love them. If they kill you, love them. If they take away your father, love them. If they destroy your home, love them. Love your enemies. Be that kind of person. Be so changed on the inside that it is really possible.”
- Those Opposing You in Less Dramatic Ways
But Jesus also has in mind situations much less dramatic than that. V. 45b gives another pointer to the kind of hard relationships in which we should love, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and unjust alike.”
The evil and the unrighteous are people who defy the laws of God. They resist His will. They do not submit to His authority.
A lot of these people do not admit that they are God’s enemies. They would resent being told that they are God’s enemies. But Jesus mentions them to illustrate God’s love for his enemies and our love for our enemies.
Another way to understand “enemies” in this passage is that they are people who are repeatedly going against your desires. They may not call themselves enemies. You may not call them enemies. But they resist your will. They are contrary and antagonistic.
In this sense, the enemy might be a rebellious child. He might be an uncaring, non-listening, ill-tempered spouse. He might be a cantankerous neighbor that complains about everything you do to your yard. Jesus says, “Love them. Love your enemies. Love them.”
- Anyone Who Doesn’t Love You or Is Not Your Brother
One other illustration of the enemy is given in v. 46–47: “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?
Here in verse 46 the “enemy” is anyone who doesn’t love you. “If you (just) love those who love you, you are not loving the way I just commanded.” In verse 47 the “enemy” is anyone who is not your brother. “If you greet your brothers only, you are not loving the way I just commanded you.”
The point seems to be: don’t stop loving because the person does things that offend you, or dishonor you, or hurt your feelings, or anger you, or disappoint you, or frustrate you, or threaten you, or kill you. “Love your enemies” means keep on loving them. Keep on loving them.
Let’s try to bring all of this closer to home for just a bit. Chances are that all of this talk about enemies has caused you to think about if there is anyone you consider to be your enemy.
I feel quite certain that we all have people who have done us wrong or caused us pain in our lives. You might even have some people you feel who have intentionally sought out your downfall or wanted to cause you harm. Names and faces have most likely appeared in your mind.
Several years ago I heard someone speak on this topic of enmity. They asked all of us who were listening to visualize anyone we considered to be an enemy. Then they asked us if we would be willing to pray that God would work in that person’s life in such a powerful way that they would end up being our next door neighbors in heaven.
In interest of full disclosure it caused me to pause to consider the thought. Yet, it is exactly the kind of thing that God would ask us to do. Lent is a time for giving things up. What would it mean for you to give up having enemies?