You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I love this challenging part of the scriptures! I love that it challenges traditional thinking, literalism and legalism. There are parts that I find difficult, as I had to admit in the previous study.
I could have hidden this by giving a study on the ‘original’ Greek (which still is not the original because Jesus did not speak in this language) and some support of the traditional thoughts on the subject. It would have made me appear ‘orthodox’ or ‘correct.’ Well, maybe this will be a disappointment to you, but I have no interest in appearing ‘orthodox’ or ‘correct.’ I have no interest in supporting traditional positions either. I believe in being truthful and honest. I believe in admitting when something is difficult for me, or if I can’t explain something. And most of all, I support the central tenets of the Gospel, because the wonderful work of the sacrifice of Christ is the best news this world can hear. It leaves no room for those who would place chains of bondage over God’s people, whether through legalism, traditionalism, or any other kind of ‘-ism.’ We have no righteousness of our own and we can’t earn a better standing before God, either before or after the point of salvation, by following the letters of the scriptures slavishly. At every point in the Christian walk, we are subject to a work of grace – and the love of God that is revealed to us through Jesus.
This section has the heading ‘Love for enemies’ in my bible, but I think even a cursory reading of it shows that there is a lot more going on here. But if we start only with the thoughts revealed in this heading and spoken of particularly in vs 44, then certainly we have something that is very challenging and very revealing at the same time.
It is challenging, because this goes contrary to natural thinking and the normal ‘acceptable’ thinking in society as a whole. If you promote this kind of idea, you are frankly considered crazy. This is one of the most revealing ideas to show the difference between fallen mankind and the life and standards of the Kingdom of heaven. Indeed, Jesus tells us here that to love in this way is ‘that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’
And so I look to what is happening in the political arenas at the moment. I see politicians claiming to have a Christian faith, and yet moving to increase xenophobia and to increase hatred of those with a different religion or philosophy. And then I see endorsement of such ideas by so-called Christian leaders, particularly of the protestant and so-called fundamentalist evangelical sector. I don’t know how they would argue such action and support for hatred and discrimination against scriptures like that which we read today…
I would go further. Because one thing I have become convinced of more and more is that, in the modern world, there is much deception and false teaching in the church. There are many in ministry who chose that path as either a career or a business opportunity, and not because God called them, and because God planted a deep love and caring heart for His people in the heart of the minister. This is serious and it can be seen everywhere! In the TV ‘big name’ ministries, where there are many ministers taking photo opportunities with hungry and ragged children from the poorest 3rd world countries, making impassioned appeals for generous giving ‘for their ministry’, and yet at the same time planning the next extension to their multi-million dollar mansion (or mansions plural!). They justify this by preaching a prosperity gospel, and thereby even increasing the feelings of guilt and unworthiness in poor Christians who are made to feel that they do not have the ‘faith’ as they should. Or worse, that they are not giving enough – because does not Jesus tell us that it is not possible to out-give God?
Honestly, forgive me if this offends you, but these TV ministers and ‘big name’ ministers make me want to puke. They are an abomination before God and before man. They are greedy and disgusting and the true church needs to make a stand and say out loud: you do not speak for us and you will not get a penny from my pocket!
So many are misled by these people, so many give out of what they do not even have to give… And yes, they write appealing books that seem so scriptural and helpful… but I warn you, look further in the gospel of Matthew and you will find Jesus talking about not all who come to Him saying ‘Lord, lord’ will enter the Kingdom. Read carefully that passage. He is talking about ministers with miraculous ministries who perform great deeds in His name! Does this ring any bells yet? He is talking about those who have a faith – and so we see here that, although our righteousness before God is not by works, but by faith, yet there is something more… It is to do with relationship with Jesus and doing as He teaches us. And the scripture before us today is one of those revealing scriptures that shows us how these leaders do not follow Jesus, despite ministry in His Name.
I think that it is impossible to overstate the importance of this!
The Sermon on the Mount is much more than a ‘put-down’ of Pharisees. It is a very clear guide as to why literalism and legalism are both going to take you into error. And it is also very clearly Jesus saying, ‘This is your way, but here is my way.’ Which way will you follow? On the answer to this question rests your future not only on this earth, but in your eternity.
But here is another ‘kicker’ – a thought to challenge you away from complacency. I have spoken before in these studies about light and darkness in the world. And Christians complain about ‘growing darkness.’ I explained that darkness can’t grow, because darkness is not a thing that exists. It was not created by God. But light was created by God, and if the world seems darker it is because the light is dimmer or, in some places, being hidden. As sons of the Father, we have no choice but to shine. We are the light of the world, because the holiness of God is at work in our hearts. But if we hide away, then the light is hidden from the world. If there is ‘growing darkness’, it is not because of increased activity by Satan, but because of wrong, or ineffective, or lack of activity by the true church.
One way of shining the light is to simply be who we are: children of the Father in heaven. And today’s scripture is very revealing about an important difference between children of the Father and everyone else who claims to be ‘Christian.’ Children of the Father will be seen to love their enemies.
No-one ever said that the teachings of Jesus were going to be easy! And to some, this idea is sheer madness. And especially when you consider some of the bloodthirsty warlords that are in the world today. Although, it has to be said at the same time that the ‘Christian’ countries of the west, through greed, imperialism and expansionism (that is continuing today), has created the fertile soil in many parts of the world for the hatred to grow and that now so violently expresses itself. Yes, with a right study of history, most if not all of these problems originate from those who claimed to be ‘Christian’ and yet were not followers of Christ.
So how do you speak about those who oppose you? Do you try to destroy their reputation and character? Can you claim that such behaviour is love? Or do you have what it takes to be a follower of Jesus and so say no more than: ‘I do not agree with that person, but I know that Jesus loved that person enough to die for them. I will pray for that person to be blessed, in good health, and safe.’ Wouldn’t it be a surprise to us if any politician was to speak like that!
Although the sad thing is, that even many who claim to belong to Christ would call a politician who speaks this way ‘weak.’
The ways and standards of the Kingdom are radically different from the fallen human ways!
I hope that this study has been as much a challenge for you as for me. There is a lot more from this short part of the Sermon, and so I will return to it in the next study. For now I will rest with this challenge of how different it is to be a child of the Father who is in heaven.