Good morning everyone. I pray that you have all had a blessed week. Today we are going to talk about the spiritual concept of love. For many in life, searching after love has driven what we have sought after in this life. Whether we are talking about the love of a spouse or girlfriend, the love of a child or parent, or the love of things in this life, from power to possessions. Our understanding about what love is and how it impacts our lives is driven by our relational experiences of this life. Our understanding of what love is should not be driven by the experience of this life, it should rather be driven by the love of our Lord experienced within our own lives. In Leviticus 19:18, Moses was giving the law to the people of Israel when it was said “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This instruction given by our Lord to the people of Israel had developed an understanding that was shaped not by the heart of our Lord but rather the experience of the people. They had come to understand that according to this law they were instructed to love their neighbor which had included their relatives and people within the Israelite nation but not those outside of their experience. In fact, they had come to this understanding with such fervor that within even those nations that were related to Israel, namely the Samaritans, they focused not on the love of God, but rather the anger and wrath of God. The people of God had taken this verse and rather than focusing on the second half of it, they rather focused upon the first half which was not to seek revenge or a grudge against their own, but rather those that were not their own.
So then, knowing that the people of God did this resulting in our Lord’s instruction in Matthew 5, where do we as Christians stand within the context of God’s love for, in and through our lives? Many Christians throughout time have focused on the context and intellectual understanding of God’s loves. We have become aware of the three types of love evidenced throughout scripture.
- Eros Love (Greek) – which is the understanding that love is longing after, a sensual love that fulfills a need within. This love being a love being focused on the love between a husband and wife.
- Philos Love – is a love that is focused upon similar experiences within life, between brother and sister, between friends, etc.
- Agape Love – with is a love that is shared upon mankind by our Lord, not because of what great creatures we are but because of the grace of God.
These understanding of the love of God, are evidenced throughout the scriptures in various aspects and are truths that you and I need to understand. However today, we are going to step into another love of God, one of which draws us into a blessed life that we can experience that this world can and will never understand.
Scripture – Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)
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 and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Engaging the Word
Not of this world
So here we are with the disciples and all those that are listening to the words of our Lord and the first thing our Lord teaches upon is the truth drawn out of Leviticus 19:18, that the people have come to this understanding that they are called to love their neighbor and to hate their enemy. As our Lord said these words, if we were standing there amongst the crowd that day, we probably would have seen a number of people agreeing with our Lord as he said these words, only to stop when he said the word “but” in verse 44. We see here today, that our Lord comes not to puff them up with their understanding of the scriptures but rather to draw them into a truth that they have failed to see. For each of us as believers, unfortunately we probably would have also stopped in our tracks. Some of us may even be saying, well I have this understanding of the scriptures down, so Pastor let’s just move onto the next passage.
Before we do, let’s just ask ourselves a few questions. Who in this world do you disagree with, most? Who do we look upon with disgust, hurt or disdain? Adolf Hitler, Sadam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, maybe one of presidents over the years, maybe a group of people, maybe an ex-husband, ex-wife, a sibling, an ex-friend etc. For a moment, I would like you to write down the individual that you most disagree with in this life? It could be someone who has hurt you or someone that you have no connection to. However, we may look at it there are individuals in this life that unfortunately get under our skin and as believers we are called to love and pray for them not hate. So, what does this mean for you and me? For a moment let’s look at our example of what it means to love and pray for our enemies. In Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul tells us that “But God rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved.” Even when you and I were spitting upon the face of our Lord in our sin and disgust, our Lord still went to the cross for our salvation. In fact, even on the cross itself, our Lord cried out “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”. This is the love, mercy and grace that our Lord shed upon us as his children, not because we were great people, but because of who he was. As such for you and me as believers, if we are to experience the fullness of God in our lives we are called to embrace this truth within our lives. This is not truth that we can learn in a step process, but one that only God can give us as his children. There is story after story of men and women in the mission field that have lost all that they have had before their eyes. Their children, their husbands or their wives and they have remained true to the cross of Christ for the salvation of the lost. Our enemy is seeking our destruction, we are called to seek his good.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a Christian pastor during World War II, although he was begged to leave the country for his own safety, he remained in Germany so that Christ might be revealed in the hatred of mankind. Bonhoeffer said this within the context of today’s passage.
“This commandment, that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge, will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle that lies before us… The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind. We are approaching an age of wide-spread persecution… Soon the time will come when we shall pray…It will be a prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us…Yes, the church which is really waiting for its Lord, and which discerns the signs of the times of decision, must fling itself with its utmost power and with the panoply of its holy life, into this prayer of love”. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Folks this is a holy life, a blessed life, one that is not fixed upon the momentary purpose of haves and have nots, action and revenge; but one that is focused upon the purpose of Christ, eternal blessedness. Note that in verse 44, not only does our Lord call us to love our enemies, but to pray for them. This is a spiritual action to which we are called. One that no believer can experience without the heart of change. Whether you are talking about Bonhoeffer in Germany or the Elliot family that returned to the jungle and people that slaughtered their husbands so that salvation could be realized deep in the Amazon Jungle; each of these experiences and many more throughout history were not the result of some spiritual mechanism that these individuals engaged. Rather it was spiritual perfection, perfection of Godly love realized in the life of these men and women.
Spiritual Perfection Realized
So how do we as believers realize this spiritual perfection in our lives? Well, quite honestly before we can ever fully engage in real prayer for those who seek to destroy us, we have to embrace the love of God in our lives. If we desire to experience what the Elliot family did or Bonhoeffer; we have to set aside our revenge, our desire to see justice, our hate so that God’s love can be revealed in our own lives first. As Augustine put it “Many have learned how to offer the other cheek, but do not know how to love him by whom they were struck”. So how do we embrace this spiritual perfection of love? We have to cancel the debt that is own to us, because the debt that we owed was paid for us upon the cross. We have to embrace the forgiveness of worldly malformed heart and mind so that we can experience the fullness of Christ in the worst of moments. It is only in embracing the forgiveness of God in our lives in these moments that we can ever come to a moment of prayer for our enemies. Real prayer requires persistence, it requires earnestness of heart, it requires submission of will, it requires a life left at the foot of cross. It is here in these moments that we will not only experience renewed perspective in Christ, but true purpose in Christ. As it indicates in verse 45, our Lord sends the rain and sun upon the just and the unjust. This is what is termed as the “common grace” of God which is that God gives grace to all mankind, good or evil. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV) It is not for us to search after the wrath of God, but focus upon the grace and perfection of Christ in our lives. It is there that we will experience the fullness of Christ that could never be imagined. It is there that we will experience the blessed life.
In verses 46 and 47 of this text we see as our Lord then illustrates to the Israelites and to you and me today, that our inaction to this calling upon our lives brings forth that which we despise. Our Lord illustrates to the Israelites that in their unwillingness to embrace the love of God makes them no better than that of an animal or the dregs of society. That that which they called the dogs of society (the gentiles) and the scum of society (the tax collectors) were illustrations of who they were if they could not come to place of forgiveness, grace and love that we are called to as believers. Our Lord was illustrating this for the Israelites so that they could understand the severity of their inaction to embrace this truth. So, it is with you and me. We too are called to be a people of action. Individuals who do not search after a life of luke warmness but rather blessedness. If we as believers search after revenge and hate for those who would do us wrong, our enemies, how different are we from the rest of the world. As 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” If we are to be a people called unto holiness our lives cannot fit within the context of this world. If it does then we have lost our saltiness, we have lost our light, we have lost our blessedness.
As in all the other passages that we have discussed throughout the past few weeks as we have gone through chapter 5 of Matthew, it is very evident by what we read and hear today from our Lord; that this blessed life that we are called to as believers is not something that we can learn. It is not a theological understanding that we can dissect and mentally debate to be able to grasp as intelligent beings. Because in all these illustrations that have been placed before us, it is very evident that on any human level this calling our life cannot be grasped without God. Whether we are talking about anger at the beginning of the chapter or loving our enemies at the end of the chapter, these spiritual concepts can only be grasped when the heart of mankind is changed. This is a condition of the heart, not a condition of the mind. It is a submission to our will, our intellect, our desires; so, that we can experience a blessed life like no other. In verse 48 of this chapter, the very last verse of this chapter, our Lord closes the thought of this chapter with a calling to be perfect. This is a calling for each of us to see the perfection of our Lord and Savior in our lives as we embrace these elements that we have discussed over the past few weeks. These elements are not normal within the world of any day, but within the creation of our Lord they are perfect, they are blessed.