************ Sermon on Matthew 5:43-48 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 22, 2001
"Love Your Enemies"
Title: Turning the Other Cheek
Eight times the Ministry of Education said no to each of Uwe Holmer's 8 children when they tried to enroll at the university in East Berlin. The Ministry of Education wasn't in the habit of giving reasons for why an applicant was rejected. But in this case the reason was not hard to guess. Uwe Holmer was a Lutheran pastor.
For 26 years the Ministry of Education was headed by Margot Honecker, the wife of East Germany's premier, Erich Honecker.
When the Berlin wall cracked Honecker and his wife were dismissed from office. He was under indictment for criminal activities including the shooting of people trying to escape from East Germany.
The January after the collapse of the wall the Honeckers were evicted from their luxurious palace. They suddenly found themselves friendless, without resources, and with no place to go. All of their former cronies refused to lend them a hand. No one wanted to be identified with the Honeckers.
Enter Rev. Uwe Holmer. Remembering the words of Christ in our Scripture reading, Rev. Holmer invited the Honeckers to stay with his family in the parsonage.
-Gordon J. Peters Leadership-Vol. 12, #1.
Or, consider this story from the days of the American Revolution:
Topic: DutyPeter Miller, like Rev. Uwe Holmer, lived up to the words of Jesus in our Scripture reading: he showed love to his enemy.
Subtopic: To Enemies
Peter Miller, a Baptist pastor, lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington.
In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor.
One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled the seventy miles to Philadelphia on foot and pleaded for the life of the traitor.
"No, Peter," George Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have."
"What!" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I'll grant your pardon." And he did.
As I have been going through the Sermon on the Mount I've contrasted the view of the Pharisees with that of Jesus. We will follow the same pattern today.
I The Teaching of the Pharisees
A Let us start off with the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. They said: "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." That was actually what they taught. They further said that only an Israelite is a "neighbor" and all others are the "enemy." So they taught the Jews to love the Jews and to hate all others. Indeed they went so far as to suggest that it was their business, even their right and their duty, to hate all those who were not Jews. Many zealous Pharisees and scribes thought they were honoring God by despising everyone who was not a Jew. This attitude explains why the Jews regarded all others as dogs and why many Gentiles despised the Jews. This attitude helps to explain the hatred and the bitterness which divided the ancient world – a hatred and bitterness which exists to this day.
B This teaching of the Pharisees and scribes raises a question in my mind: where did they find this in the Old Testament? Is there anywhere in the Old Testament a statement that says, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy"? The answer, of course, is "No." Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." In fact, the Old Testament teaches the opposite. For instance, we read in Exodus, "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him" (Ex 23:4). Proverbs says, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov 25:21). And, by custom and law, strangers at Israel's gates were to receive a warm welcome. God's law, in other words, commanded "love" rather than "hate."
C Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find the statement "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But we do find many statements that may have encouraged people to hate their enemies. Let us consider some of them.
When the Jews entered the Promised Land they were commanded by God to exterminate the Canaanites; though they did not in fact do this, they should have. Then they were told that the Amorites, the Moabites, and the Midianites were not to be treated with kindness. That was a specific command from God. Later we read that the memory of the Amalekites was to be blotted out from under heaven because of certain things they had done. Not only that, it was part of God's law that if any man murdered another, the relative of the murdered man was allowed to kill the murderer if he could be caught before he entered one of the cities of refuge.
When we turn to the words of Jesus in the New Testament we hear the same problem. In our text Jesus tells us to love our enemies. But in passages like Matthew 23 He thunders out woe upon woe on the heads of the Pharisees. How do we harmonize the two things? How do we harmonize the command to love our enemies with the woes pronounced upon the Pharisees?
It is especially certain psalms that create the greatest difficulty (they are called the "imprecatory" psalms). These psalms call down curses, misfortune, and disaster upon enemies (Ps. 5; 11; 17; 35; 55; 59; 69; 109; 137; 140). Listen to Psalm 69:
(Ps 69:22-25,27-28) May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap. (23) May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever. (24) Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them. (25) May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents ... (27) Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. (28) May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.Psalm 109 speaks even more strongly:
(Ps 109:6-12) Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. (7) When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. (8) May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. (9) May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. (10) May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. (11) May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. (12) May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.These are strong words, to say the least.
These Psalms are an embarrassment to many Christians who see them in tension with Jesus' teaching to love our enemies (Mt 5:43-48). However, it is important to recall the theological principles that underlie these Psalms and the other passages that I mentioned. These include the principle:
The Pharisees' mistake was that they made "hate" a personal, individual matter. It had nothing to do with God, the things of God, the glory of God. Thus, they ignored God's command to love.
- that vengeance belongs to God and not to individuals (Deut 32:35; Ps 94:1); that's why the psalmists appeal to God to punish the wicked (compare Rom. 12:19).
- that God's righteousness demands judgment on the wicked (Ps 5:6; 11:5-6).
- that the glory and honor of God are at stake.
- that out of His covenant love for His people God will intervene on their behalf (Ps 5:7; 59:10,16-17).
- that believers, trusting in God, can come to Him in prayer with all their thoughts and desires.
II The Teaching of Jesus
A The Pharisees said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ..." He tells us this is exactly what God does:
(Mt 5:45) that you may be sons 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.
Jesus is calling us to be like God. There are people who are evil, foul, and unjust; nevertheless, God sends rain upon them and causes the sun to shine upon them. Their crops are blessed in the same manner as the crops of a good man. They experience what is called "common grace." God does not bless only the efforts of the Christian farmer; no, at the same time that He blesses the Christian farmer so also He blesses the efforts of the unjust, the evil, the unrighteous farmer.
What is true for God's common grace is also true for His special grace. God shows love to His enemies:
(Rom 5:8) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Rom 5:10) ... when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son ...
Like God, we are to love our enemies. That's what Jesus is saying to us this evening.
Topic: ForgivenessThose men were acting like God. They were loving their enemies.
Title: Forgiveness on the River Kwai
During World War II, Scottish soldiers captured by the Japanese were forced to labor on a jungle railroad.
One afternoon a shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious the officer meant what he said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing.
Indeed, the officer had miscounted the first time. The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! ... The incident had a profound effect ... The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors (and instead of attacking their captors) insisted: "No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness."
-Don Ratzlaff, "The Christian Leader"
B Many people don't understand this love of God. There are people who have foolishly interpreted this to mean that the love of God is universal. They interpret this to mean that everyone will be saved and no one will be lost. They interpret this to mean that it does not matter whether you sin or not. Everybody is going to heaven because God is love.
God is love, say these people. And, because God is love He can never punish. But that is to deny the teaching of the Bible from beginning to end. God punished Cain. He punished the ancient world in the flood. He punished the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He punished the children of Israel who didn't have the faith to enter the Promised Land. As for Jesus, He tells us that a final judgment coming. All the wicked and impenitent will be thrown into a lake of fire.
We are called to love just like God loves. But this does not mean, it can not mean, it must not mean that there is no judgment for the wicked, the ungodly, the impenitent.
C We are to love like God does. We are to love even our enemies. How can we possibly do this? After all, they are unkind and cruel. They hurt us and attack us. They gossip about us and say untrue things about us. They rejoice when we have troubles and trials. So how can we possibly love them?
Think of God loving us while we were still sinners. Think of God loving us when we were enemies. God's treatment of us does not depend on what we are or what we do. For if that were the case we would get only judgment, drought, and flood from His hands. God acts the way He does regardless of what we are or do.
What makes God act the way He does? Was it something loving, or lovely, or lovable in us or in the world? Was it something about us that stimulated His eternal heart of love? No. No. No. Nothing whatsoever. It was entirely and altogether in spite of us. What moved God was His own eternal heart of love.
We are to love our enemies the way God loves His. We are to love them regardless of what they are or do. We are to love them in spite of how they hurt us.
D How is it that we are to show love? What does God expect of us? Jesus very simply says, "pray for those who persecute you." Instead of being bitter and harsh we are to fold our hands. Instead of striking out and getting even we are to get down on our knees. Instead of thinking in terms of self and self-interest we are to bow our head.
Do you pray for your enemies? Do you pray for those who persecute you and abuse you? Do you pray for those who use you shamefully? Do you pray for those who take advantage of your kindness and good will? Do you ask God to have mercy and pity upon them? Do you ask God to save their souls and open their eyes before it is too late? Do you ask God not to punish them? Do you ask God to help them out of the problems of their own making?
In another place Jesus calls us to bless them that curse us and to do good to them that hate us (Lk 6:27-28). Reply to bitter words with kind words. Reply to hateful deeds with good deeds. This is hard, isn't it?! When people say harsh and unkind things we all tend to reply in kind. And so we put ourselves down to their level. And, when someone has ben really spiteful and cruel to us we want to be the same to them. And again we put ourselves down to their level.
Now, I want to ask you, are you like your Father? It is a fact that children are often like their parents. People look at them and say, "Yes, he is exactly like his dad." Or, "Yes, she is like her mom." If we are children of our heavenly Father, then we will be like Him. So I ask you again, are you like your Father? Do you love your enemies?
Someday, my brothers and sisters, you will look into the face of the Christ Who suffered and died for you. When that day comes do you want to remember that you refused to forgive someone, that you did not love him or her? When that day comes do you want to remember that you despised and hated and struck back? Or, when that day comes do you want all to see that you were like your heavenly Father?
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