Sermon preached on Matthew 5:43-48 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/25/2014 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Love Your Enemies”
We continue today in the Sermon on the Mount. And we look at the last of six examples Jesus gives about the lacking righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In this example, Jesus deals with the concern of how we treat our enemies. Should we do as the scribes and Pharisees were evidently advocating in some simplistic way: love your neighbors and hate your enemies? Well, who are even the enemies envisioned in today’s passage? Who would the people hearing Jesus’ sermon here consider as their enemies? We can glean a little bit about them by what is said here. Here, we can see their enemies include those who cursed them and hated them, verse 44. Verse 44 also describes those who spitefully used them or persecuted them. These enemies can be the “evil” people described in verse 45, or the tax collectors in verse 46. In verse 47, the enemies are the ones who are not their brothers, “Gentiles”, in other words.
In other words, they had a lot of categories for their enemies. People of a different religion, or race, those who treated them badly, or even their fellow people who sided with the outsiders, all were typical enemies among the Jewish people. And in this Pharisaical teaching, they had found a convenient way to justify treating them with simple hatred and contempt. But how should they have treated them? And that same question then comes back to us. Whoever would be our enemy, or whoever we might think should be our enemy, how should we treat them? Well, the answer is that Jesus says to them and to us, “love your enemies.” That will be our subject then for today.
Let’s dig into this passage then by first considering this saying of old that Jesus critiques in verse 43: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” For each of these six sayings of old, we’ve recognized that they’ve had at least some root in the Old Testament Scripture, but that the Pharisees had either taken them and applied them in a wrong way, or have changed them enough so as to pervert the original teaching. That is the case again today. Looking at the Old Testament, certainly the first part is a direct quote and command. We are indeed to love our neighbors as ourselves, Leviticus 19:18. Hopefully that was abundantly clear and familiar to us all as we heard that saying of old. It is a clear and unquestionable biblical teaching that we are to love our neighbors. Jesus offers no critique for that part of this saying of old.
But what about the second part? The part where they said to hate your enemy? Probably the default mentality for most of us is to cringe when we hear that and think that is completely wrong. Our culture is one that really has taught us to generally hate hatred. For many of us, we probably have a culturally instilled perspective that hate is something rarely appropriate. And yet when you come to the Old Testament, to be frank, you can see how the scribes and Pharisees might have arrived at the idea of hating your enemy. Now to clarify, the Old Testament does not have such a quote like this. It doesn’t say anywhere, “Hate your enemy.” At the best, this was the scribes and Pharisees coming to this conclusion from the Old Testament. But as we see from Jesus here, it was the wrong conclusion. It was the wrong interpretation of the Biblical passages to say that we should love neighbors, but hate enemies.
But why might the scribes and Pharisees ever came to such a conclusion? Well, there is a notion of hatred in the Old Testament. Not just in the way many evangelicals often say when they say, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” But the Bible actually talks at times about hating the wicked and the reprobate. Remember, God himself even says in Malachi 1:2, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” And listen to the words of the psalmist in Psalm 139:21, “Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?” Or, remember how God sent the Israelites to completely wipe out the Canaanites at the time of the Conquest, telling them to completely destroy them and to not show them any mercy. And so to be fair, the scribes and Pharisees surely had such Old Testament passages and others before them when they came to the conclusion that they should hate their enemies.
But the problem for the Pharisees is that they approached these passages too simplistically. Yes, there are passages like this. There are many others, such as a number of psalms known as imprecatory psalms which are basically calling down God’s judgment on the enemies of God and his people. There is a notion in the Bible of something we could call a holy hatred. A hatred that is directed not only toward sin but those who are slaves to such sin. Those who are not God’s people. Yes, that concept is there. That concept is a concept that is judicial and ultimately eschatological. In other words, such are under condemnation by God, and if not now, then at the end, at the eschaton, will be under a final judgment of eternal hell. There is a holy hatred that is true and right and even good.
That being said, the concept of holy hatred is not a simplistic concept that can be used the way the Pharisees wanted to. It’s one thing for God from his overarching sovereignty to declare a holy hatred for someone he has chosen not to save. It’s of the same sort when an author of the Bible, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, utters the same kind of holy hatred. In theory, we can affirm this holy hatred. But the Bible does not advocate us to generally go around with a campaign of holy hatred. For us in our everyday activities, this holy hatred is a theoretical thing. We can affirm it mentally, but unless we’ve been given specific instructions in the Word of God to apply it to some person or some nation, we must not presume to apply it however we think. The concept of holy hatred is not some simplistic principle that we are at liberty to call down. Rather, Jesus reminds us of this call to instead show love.
But before we get into Jesus’ teaching here, realize that this is something we see in the Old Testament already. Yes, there is the concept of holy hatred. But there is also a balance in the Old Testament that should have clearly communicated to the Pharisees that they were interpreting and applying the Bible incorrectly on this. I point you to the Old Testament example of Jonah. He seemed to act like the scribes and Pharisees. He seemed to want to hate the people of Nineveh. The people of Nineveh definitely would have been considered as enemies to the Jewish people at that time. Jonah seemed to simplistically apply this concept of holy hatred against them. But that was not right. That was not God’s heart. God’s heart was to show those enemies compassion and mercy. He showed them love by sending them Jonah to call them to repent from the wrath to come. The story of Jonah is one example in the Old Testament that the idea of holy hatred is not to be understood simplistically. Jonah and the Pharisees seem to want to say that if you were a member in the visible church in good standing, then we will love you, but if you are not, then we will hate you, plain and simple. But God shows there is nothing plain and simple about it. Too often this is where theology goes wrong. Principles in Scripture that have a complexity about them are taken simplistically. Two principles that are held in tension with each other, and one is embraced absolutely and the other almost completely disregarded. Here in the Old Testament, we see that God is a God that does have both holy hatred and holy compassion and gracious love for sinners. Jonah, in fact, is just one example. We could mention how Daniel ministered unto pagan kings, in a way that resulted in them making confessions about the one true God. Or so many more examples. As much as we could quote a number of passages on holy hatred and imprecatory psalms, we can also quote many passages that talk about how God had a plan to bring blessing and salvation to the nations. That God’s plan of redemption will ultimately involve a worldwide campaign to bring salvation to the Gentiles. So to go to a default of holy hatred is to completely miss this tension in the Old Testament.
Part of the reason for the scribes and Pharisees came to this wrong conclusion is because they had inappropriately distinguished between neighbors and enemies. Yes, making categories is always helpful. But sometimes we can pit one category against another when we should not. In other words, it seems that the scribes and Pharisees categorized people as one or the other: either a neighbor or an enemy. That meant that for them, religious outsiders were in the enemy category and not neighbors. Time and again, you saw them put people like Gentiles, tax collectors, and Samaritans in such categories. They wrongly concluded they could hate such people, because they didn’t think the call to love their neighbor applied to them. But what did Jesus say about? Well, remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Maybe you remember the parable, but forget the context. The reason Jesus told the parable was because Jesus had just taught the verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Then immediately in Luke 10:29, someone asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The verse there says the man asked that to try to justify himself; in other words, justified his hatred of his so-called enemies. Jesus then answered the man by telling him about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story, the injured man was not helped by the priest or Levite, but was helped by the Samaritan. The priest and Levite would have been thought to have been in man’s “neighbor” category, and the Samaritan in the man’s enemy category. But it was the Samaritan in the parable who proved to be a neighbor to the injured man. In other words, it’s wrong thinking to try to limit the scope of the “love your neighbor” command. It’s wrong thinking to try to say that such a call to love only applies to a certain people.
To show this problem of categorization here in this passage, look at verses 46-47. Verse 46 says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Verse 47 raises the same issue. Jesus says that if you only love the people you are willing to consider neighbors, then how different are you than your supposed enemies? If you are only willing to show love to a select group of people, isn’t that no different than what the people do who you won’t love? Isn’t that what the tax-collectors and Gentiles do? They too are willing to love people like themselves. They too are willing to love their friends and family. And so how are you any different than they are? Verse 47 asks, “What do you do more than others?” Jesus was saying to them: “The very people you think aren’t worthy enough of your love — well you are acting no differently than they are, so why do you think yourself so much better than them?” At the end of the day, this was the real issue. The scribes and Pharisees by advocating love for a few and hatred for many, were no different than the world. That is the natural man’s way of love. Love those good to you, and hate those bad to you. That’s the natural, worldly, pagan, way of thinking.
So, in light of this, Jesus calls them and us to something better than the way of the world. He says, “Love your enemies.” Pray for them. Do them good. Bless them. Yes, this is not what the world would do. But the world is enslaved to sin. Let your holy hatred of worldliness see that. See their bondage to sin. See their need. Need for salvation. Need for the gospel. Need for Jesus Christ. Need for you to love them in spite of where they are at. In spite of their pagan spirituality. In spite of their evil and wickedness. In spite of how they’ve cursed you or persecuted you or hated you. Let them hate you — but you love them. If you want to look like them, like the world — then you should hate them back. But Jesus in this sermon doesn’t want his people to look like the world. He wants them to look like God. That’s verse 48. Be rather perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
This is spelled out a little further in verse 45. As God’s people, we are sons of this Father in heaven. We should want to look like our father. That’s what sons do. They mimic their father. And what does their father do toward these people who have set themselves as enemies of God? He blesses them. He gives them good. Now yes, make no mistake, that is a temporary thing. For each of such people, this same Father will ultimately bring a final judgment upon any such enemies. Here’s where again, we have to not approach complex subjects in an overly simplified way. God has a common grace that he shows to both wicked and godly people for now. It is only for a time, and even then only to a degree. Sometimes even in this life, he does withhold rain, for example, on some — but even then, it’s not just only on the wicked. Things are more complex like that. The balance of justice and mercy, gracious love and holy hatred, and then when and how all these things come together in history, is a complex thing. There is a way they all do come together. God knows. He’s teaching us. This is part of that teaching. Here Jesus calls us as sons of God to focus on the love part, particularly in our every day interactions with people. Even toward people who are evil to us, or even just evil in general.
Where the holy hatred part comes in, is that when you see their evil, you should be greatly concerned for them. You should realize that left unresolved, they will face eternal damnation. You should recognize that they need what you have found — salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. What should you do then for such people? Well, for starters, it’s what Jesus said: pray for them! Pray for their salvation. Pray that they would have a changed heart. You can hate their sin. You can hate that they are not part of God’s people. You can hate the evil within them. Yet at the same time love them. Love them despite their evil. Love them in action, by doing them good, and praying for them. Love, love, love! Again, if you want to look like that world which you have been called out of, you will just hate them. But if you want to look like the son of God for which you are, then you will also radically love them. You will graciously love not just the people who are easy to love. You will graciously love even people who don’t deserve your love.
For that is what God has done for us. Each of us here today are sinners. Each of us today need to realize that our sin made us enemies to God. But God did not stop at just sending us sun and rain while were yet enemies. No, while we were yet enemies, God sent his Son to die for us. While we were yet enemies, we were reconciled to God through that death of Christ. His love for us while we were yet enemies was instrumental in making us no longer his enemies. This is the gospel, my friends. We come here today as those who know this gospel. This is our model and foundation and basis for why Christ can call us to do the same. To be like God and to be like Christ. This is the love he’s given us. We are to give it to others. And if you are one here today who is visiting this church, who is not a part of Christ’s church; if you are here like that, as an “outsider” so to speak: We want you to know that we love you. And we urge you to personally know as well, this love of God that is in Christ Jesus. He offers to enemies that you can become friends. Repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus, that on the cross he paid the debt for your sins. That you would be reconciled to God. Believe in Christ and be baptized into his name for this forgiveness of sins. Know this love!
In closing then brothers and sisters, I draw our attention one final time to the words of verse 47, “What do you do more than others?” When you hear that question it comes off sounding a bit rhetorical. And rightly so. It assumes something that should be obvious. That being a child of God should make a difference. Our relationship with God, and his Holy Spirit living inside us, should make us different than the world. No, not perfect in this age. But changed and being changed. The fact that we have been born again by the Spirit means that the Spirit should be sanctifying us. We should look for fruit of that new birth. We should be people then that outdo the world in love. This question comes off a bit rhetorically because this should be obvious. There should be a noticeable difference between the Christian and the world. There should be a recognition that we have been with Jesus. That should leave its mark on us. It should be reflected in our love, 1 John 13:35.
There should be a difference, and yet Jesus none the less asks the question. As much as it’s a rhetorical question in some sense, he nonetheless asks the question. Because the reality is that though there should be a difference, we have to ask ourselves, is there? Am I actually loving people in a way that the world does not? Or am I no better on this than them? There should be a difference between myself and the world, but is there? This calls us to examine our faith. To see that we are hungering and thirsting for this kind of righteousness. A righteousness better than the scribes, and Pharisees, and the world as a whole.
Again, wisdom is needed here on this teaching. If you take such a notion that there should be a difference between you and the world, and if you run with that, so that you are proud and act arrogantly to the world around you, then you’ve missed the point. At the heart of what makes you different is embodied in those opening beatitudes. Not that you are proud and think you are better than the world, but that you are poor in spirit; and meek; and willing to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. And yet still love, even people who would hate you. The difference that your Christianity should make is not one that would make you proud; it’s one that stems from you humility. That makes you love the world because you know firsthand the need for salvation that the world has.
Let us pray then for God to continue to cultivate such a spirit within us. That we would know his radical saving love for enemies all the more. And that having known that first ourselves, that we could grow to show it to others. Because in Christ we are sons of our Father in heaven. Let us then live like him. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.