Matthew 5:43-48 | Love Without Boundaries
This week, we are going to look at one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.” This can feel like a mammoth task and a difficult command to practice.
Why are we to love our enemies?
Do people who cause us pain deserve our love and prayer?
What does Jesus mean by loving our enemies?
Matthew 5:43-48 | Love Without Boundaries
HF: We are going to look at Jesus teaching his disciples regarding love and as to how we can follow this very difficult command.
Love For Enemies
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In Matthew 5, Jesus touches on the root issues regarding murder, adultery, divorce, how you talk to one another and how you treat your enemies, etc.
These words of Jesus are like mountains in human history. No one has said anything like this before and then actually lived by it truly. We stand here today looking at the depth, the beauty, and the profound implications of the teaching of Jesus. These teachings of Jesus have the capacity to completely transform a human community.
The response of a disciple of Jesus towards evil done to you is not to do nothing, but to do agape or love. This is love in action. You go that extra mile even towards your enemy and love them. This has the capability of so transforming human relationships that there is a reason why this stands like a mountain. Everybody in the world, expects Christians to behave like this.
Let’s see how Jesus unpacks this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
So what did the Pharisees and the teachers of the law teach the Jews during Jesus’ time? Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. It was taught in their synagogue by their rabbis to love their neighbor and hate their enemy. Is this what God commanded in the OT?
The context of this teaching of Jesus comes from the OT, the law of Moses. God spoke to the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai, about how they are to live in their community life together.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.
In the OT, it says ‘love your neighbour’ but it never says hate your enemy. But looking at the history of Israel and how they behaved in the OT, we know thy loved their neighbour but hated their enemies. Now the rabbis during Jesus’ time were teaching: Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.
What is Jesus doing here?
Jesus said this command has been mishandled and misunderstood and is giving the right meaning to it.
Let us read the context of this command from Leviticus: Here we find who our neighbor is:
(Put the below verse in one screen if possible)
15“‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.
16“‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
Now, the neighbour in the immediate context of Leviticus 19 is a fellow Israelite. Look at the stress on neighbour, your people, your neighbour’s life, fellow Israelite, your people, your neighbour etc. They can be immediate or distant family members, their tribespeople, and people from other tribes of Israel.
God knew right in the OT that it is sometimes difficult to love people who are close to us. He gives them a command to love their neighbor.
According to this context who is our neighbor? Our immediate family members, relatives or distant family members, church members, people in our neighborhood. There can be occasions where we find strain in these relationships, nevertheless, followers of Jesus are to love their neighbor. Have you ever badmouthed your neighbor? Is there any resentment or anger in any of these immediate circles of relationship?
If there is hostility in any of these relationships God is calling us to set things right. God wants you to first work on those relationships. Love your neighbour as yourself.
35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The OT also gives further explanation/details of a neighbor.
33“‘When a foreigner (God is also including a foreigner in the neighbor category) resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
So the Israelites are to love foreigners as well. Israel had immigrants or foreigners who had come to their land for work, for the opportunity, and Israel had to show hospitality, treat them well, love them, and welcome them to their community.
God in the OT had given a clear definition of who a neighbor is: A neighbor is everyone we come across in our lives. God had asked Israel to love their fellow Jews and also love foreigners as well.
Now coming back to Jesus’ time: Who is the neighbour for the Jewish community? Their own Jewish people.
Who are their enemies? They had treated everyone other than the Jews as their enemies.
Enemies of Israel at Jesus’s time
The Roman soldiers, the tax collectors, the outsiders like the Samaritans and the gentiles were all considered their enemies. Instead of loving them, they had created a wall of hostility towards them and hated them.
The tax collectors were exploiting, them charging exorbitant taxes for the Romans and they in turn becoming rich. The Roman soldier is there to punish them if they do wrong. Even the Temple area had hundreds of soldiers waiting to arrest any uproar against the Romans. Jesus’ people had been living under the thumb of oppressive military dictators for over 600 years. They lived under Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Egypt, Rome; all of them were terribly oppressive and violent. Jews were the persecuted religious minority in the Roman empire.
So the Jews were good at loving their neighbour but they hated their enemies.
So Jesus picks up Leviticus 19 and he expands it beyond what any rabbi did in his day. It is not just loyalty to the people of Israel, it is not just care and loyalty to the people outside of Israel who comes as immigrants. Jesus says that the love that God is commanding in Leviticus 19 is Love without boundaries. It is the love for your friends and your enemies as well. Love the people who love you, and love the people who hate you.
Why Should We Love Our Enemies?
God Loves Enemies.
That is the nature of God. We were once enemies of God, but God loved us.
Colossians 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.
Romans 5:10 For while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son..
God loved us while we were his enemies, therefore we are called to love our enemies as God loved us.
We Reflect Our Heavenly Father When We Love Our Enemies.
44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (why should you do that?) 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Loving the enemy is the nature of our God, and we as his children are to imitate him.
Now where did Jesus get that principle of Loving enemies?
In the context of Matthew 5, we can see that Jesus got this principle from two different ways: One is the weather pattern and secondly the scripture.
Matthew 5:45b He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus is looking at how things work in the created world. Have you noticed that when you go for a drive, there are areas with good lush green vegetation, beautiful trees, waterfalls, rivers and everything is so wonderful about them. Then you drive for another 2-3 hours you come across dry land, dry mountains and instead of green vegetation, you have only thornbushes there. So one can be tempted to think that the green vegetation is a friend of God and the dry ground is an enemy of God.
Jesus says that is horrible theology. This is like the retribution principle of Job’s friends, “You are suffering because you did something wrong.” No, God does not work that way.
Can you imagine two farmers who are farming wheat in adjacent lands. One farmer is just, pays his worker wages, does not cheat on measurement nor on taxes. Whereas, the other farmer is wicked, does not pay his workers right wages, and cheats on measurement and taxes.
Jesus observes that the farmer who is good receives the same weather as the farmer who is bad. They both get the same lifegiving rain and the sunshine. God does not treat the wicked the way they need to be treated. God is fair and loving and God causes the rain and the sun to come upon both the good and the evil.
Jesus has a God-saturated view of the world. There is something in the weather that reveals God’s bounces of generosity. God does not treat people differently, he does not give his gifts to people according to how they behave. Now Jesus firmly believes that finally God will put all things right and God will hold humanity accountable both individually and collectively based on how we behave. But this moment is a period of pure grace and generosity and everyone enjoys the same favor from God.
Secondly, Jesus god this principle from the scripture.
8The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The LORD is good to all;
He has compassion on all he has made.
15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
Probably, Jesus is having this Psalm in mind. God is generous to people who love and him hate him, he gives them both rain and sunshine. That is who God is. God is generous. God’s love goes beyond all boundaries.
Jesus draws a very powerful conclusion. Jesus says, “If that is what God, what must be the people of the kingdom be like?” Loving both good and evil people.
This is what is meant by agape. We translate this word as love.
This is just a common word in English. We say, “I love pizza. I love my family. I love my dog” All of these love expressions are so different from each other and we use one-word love to describe all these. In English love primarily refers to a feeling and emotion towards others who are in our comfort circle. Jesus means something totally different when he means agape your enemies.
We are talking about an attitude, a mindset, and then an action of love that flows from that mindset.
God has chosen to perform actions of kindness and generosity towards people regardless of how they behave to God. Jesus asks us to choose to view the person as God sees this person. Within God’s plan, this person is valid. They are human beings, they are made in God’s image. They might be messed up but they are made in the image of God. God has chosen to come in Jesus and do an act of love on their behalf.
If I am a disciple of Jesus, I do not have the authority to treat someone as unloved since Jesus showed love in action to them. In the kingdom, I don’t have the right to deny someone kindness and generosity. You don’t say, “I can’t stand that person.” God says, “They are made in my image, love them and pray for them.”
See what Jesus says:
46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Human beings are pretty decent and mostly loving to their own people. The problem is that we tend to love people who are in our community and tend to hate others from other groups.
We are self-centred with our agape. Most of us when we get into a room of people, we will probably connect with someone we know and have shared something with them. We are so self-centred in how we behave. But what about the people who are unconnected? Who are new to the area? Jesus says, “Show agape and generosity to them.”
Theologian Paul Reinhold Niebuhr “Groups are immoral than individuals.”
Means groups of people as a community are more immoral than individuals in a group.
Sometimes there is certain behavior that we do not do as an individual but when we get together as a group of people, we may participate or approve of doing harm to another group of people.
What kind of community are we?
Are we teaching our kids some sort of animosity towards others, other communities? Most of the time a child learns this animosity and anger to others and other communities from their mother’s breast. They have heard it right from the time they are born and they grow up having inborn hatred towards some society. This is not what Jesus taught us.
Do you talk ill about others in your homes? Parents do you badmouth your loved ones or others around you in your homes? Are you sowing the seed of animosity towards someone among your children by your words and deeds? God loves even his enemies and we as parents must be careful not to sow the seed of hatred in our children.
The kingdom is not a community where we operate how the world operates, but the kingdom is a community where God’s children reflects how our Father operates.
That is what Jesus means in Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We read this and hang up, Oh! I cannot be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Scholars say, a good translation for this word is the word mature. This is a word used to describe someone who has reached a maturity point in their growth and development as a human. Jesus is giving us the idea here of being complete, and mature. A mature Christian will treat everyone equally, love his friends and enemies.
To choose to relate to all with dignity regardless of their behaviour or what they have done to me and to do a concrete act of kindness.
This is a command to be mature Christians, but it is also a promise. Jesus said if we do likewise, we are behaving like our Father in heaven.
Apostle John gives us the same teaching in: 1 John 4:7-12 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
When we love without boundaries, we the disciples of Jesus are participating in the very heartbeat of God. We are entering into the meaning for why God created us.
Martin Luther King Jr.
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Jesus is placing before us high expectations for his followers. He wants us to live out our new life, the kingdom life, and grow in maturity. Jesus practiced that. He loved his enemies. He came into this world, a world full of enemies of God and walked in love, and He gave his life for me, an enemy of God and he turned an enemy into a friend. As Jesus was on the cross, He prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The same pattern is shown in Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7. We recognize that Jesus has already set the model for us and we trust Jesus and walk that way in our day-to-day life, have the agape love of attitude and action to our neighbors and our enemy. When we live this way, we enter into the very heartbeat of God.
In life you will invariably come across people whom you find it difficult to be around, and Jesus wants us to practice this message at such times.
Think about the people around you and think about what could you do to adopt the mindset of Jesus, the attitude of love and do something, do some action towards them. The problem with this text is that this text is perfectly understandable, but the difficultly is to live it.
Jesus taught us to forgive. Matthew 18:20-21 21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Pray For Them.
Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Consider Them Victims Too.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Do Good When You Have The Opportunity.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Are you able to love your near and dear ones?
Is there any hostility in your immediate relationship?
God is asking us to love them.
Do you have any enemies?
Do you have a competitor in your career or studies?
Is there a group of people that you have hatred to?
Ask God to forgive your heart of hatred and fill you with love.