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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART SEVENTEEN

PRESENTED ON 10-18-08

 

       Today will be the seventeenth sermon in our series dealing with the Sermon on the Mount.  In the last sermon in this series, we dealt with the issue of how we are to respond to those who do us harm.  We saw that we must not answer evil for evil but make every effort to resolve relational problems in a peaceful manner even if it means having our ego bruised

       We saw that under the Theocracy that was Israel; detailed laws were established to regulate the expression of human nature.  Under the New Covenant, the moral law can be made a part of our very consciousness enabling us to automatically behave in a righteous manner in relations with our brother.  As we all know, such automatic expression of righteous behavior is not easy seeing we also have our human nature to contend with. 

       In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching the ideal.  We saw in the last sermon that this ideal has been the focal point from the beginning as to how God wants us to behave as His human creation.  We saw how the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth laws was not what God intended for humans from creation but were implemented to limit the penalty one could inflict for an offense and insure that punishment was proportional to the offense. From the beginning, however, it was God’s intention that we love one another which would largely eliminate conflicts and facilitate peaceful resolutions when conflicts did arise.

       Having dealt with the eye for an eye issue and what our behavior should be when faced with situations where we may be tempted to retaliate, Jesus now goes all the way and teaches we should love our enemies.  Love your enemy.  Can there be anything more contrary to our nature than to love our enemy?

       Matthew 5:43-44: "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (NIV).

        Before we get into a discussion of this teaching we need to deal with a textual issue. The KJV and the NKJV translate the Greek into English as follows. 

        Matthew 5:43-44: Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you….

       The RSV, ASV, NASV, Jerusalem Bible and most other more recent translations all show the same translation as we see in the NIV.  The added statements found in the KJV are not found in the older Greek manuscripts which are the ones used to produce the more modern translations of the NT.  These statements are only found in later Greek manuscripts which are the ones used to produce the KJV.  These later manuscripts show a variety of renderings of Matthew 5:43-44.  In other words, the statements “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you," appears to be a scribal add-on to later Greek texts. 

       It is believed by scholars that this add-on is scribal accommodation to Luke 6:27-28 which appear in the oldest manuscripts as “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (NIV).  In Luke chapter six we find a repeat of many of the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount.  Some feel it is Luke’s version of this same sermon.  Others feel Luke’s account reflects a different period in Christ’s ministry.   

       Whether these statements as found in Luke are part of the Sermon on the Mount or were made at some other time during Christ’s ministry is uncertain. It is apparent, however, that Christ did make the statements recorded by Luke as they are found in the oldest manuscripts and they certainly fit into the context of what He is saying about loving your enemies in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is believed it is for these reasons that copyists of the Greek scriptures added the material from Luke to Matthews account.   Therefore, we will include these statements in our discussion. 

       There is one additional textual issue of sorts that we must address and that is found in Christ’s initial statement of "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ”   The OC law certainly did instruct to love your neighbor.

       Leviticus 19:18:  Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.   

       Nowhere, however, do we find in the scriptures any explicit teaching to hate your enemy.  Jesus is not quoting scripture here.  At least not any canonized scripture.  Some writers have theorized that since the Israelites were instructed to wipe out the nations that were living in what became known as the Promised Land, it was tantamount to them hating these nations as enemies and this may have been what Jesus had in mind.  On the other hand, Israel was told to love the alien living among them.

       Leviticus 19:33-34:  `When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.

       The Jewish community living at Qumran to the north of Jerusalem in the first century explicitly commanded love for those within their community and hatred for those living outside their community.  This is actually stated in their writings found in the Dead Sea scrolls.  This was pretty much the Jewish attitude toward non Jews in the first century. It is historically recorded that the Romans looked upon the Jews as haters of the human race, thus stating the perceived animosity of the Jews toward gentiles.

       Since the over all context of the Sermon on the Mount is our righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, it is very possible Jesus was reflecting on the current attitude extant among the religious leaders of the first century who had great influence on the people Jesus was addressing. Regardless of who or what Jesus may have been referencing in His remarks about  hating your enemy, He is strongly making the point that we are to love our enemies and we are to do this by blessing them that curse us, doing good to them that hate us and praying for them that despitefully use us and persecute us.

       How revolutionary.  How radical. Love your enemy?  What is Christ talking about?  You don’t love your enemy.  Do good to those who hate you?  Bless them that curse you?  What kind of extraordinary doctrine is this?  Surely Jesus couldn’t be telling us this is the way we must behave?  

       But this is exactly what Jesus was teaching.  Jesus taught the same behavior that was taught under the Mosaic Covenant.  We are to love our neighbor.  During his ministry He told the parable about the good Samaritan to show what is meant by our neighbor.  Now He is taking this issue a giant step further.  He is teaching that our enemy is also our neighbor and is to be treated in the same manner.

       Jesus shows that this love for our enemies is to be expressed by blessing our enemy even when he curses us.  We are to do good to our enemy even when he hates us.  Jesus goes on to explain that this is how God the Father loves and if we are to be considered sons of the Father this is how we are to love.

       Matthew 5:44-45:  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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.

       There are people in the world who hate God.  There are many people in the world who curse God.  Much of the human race behaves unrighteously much of the time.  We all behave unrighteously some of the time.  When is the last time you did not see the sun come up?  When was the last time rain was withheld from the whole world?  I am being facetious. This has never happened.  The Father provides for His creation.  God, the Father, ensures that humanity has what it needs to survive even though much of that humanity behaves contrary to the will of God.  

       Jesus is teaching us that we are to take this same approach toward our fellow man.  Even though there will be times when our fellow man will curse us, persecute us, hate us and do all manner of evil against us, we are to never withdraw our love from such a person or persons.  We must always be ready to provide for that person.  We must always be ready to help such person in a time of need.  We must never withhold the doing of good to and for someone because they have acted adversely toward us. 

       As we have understood for years, love is the expression of outgoing concern for the welfare of others.  While love certainly has emotional components, and can even be expressed in a context involving selfish motives, its primary expression should be in pro-active behavior of service to our fellow man. Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:18: "let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth."  It is in such a context that we are to love even our enemies.  Apostle Paul made some very poignant observations as to what love is and how it is expressed.

       1 Corinthians 13: 4-8: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

       Our Father God continually expresses His love for us by providing for our needs despite how we may behave toward Him.  His greatest expression of love was in sending Jesus the Christ to facilitate payment of the penalty for sin and make possible reconciliation with the Father whereby we are adopted as His very own sons.  As the scriptures show, He did this while we were still in our sins. 

       The whole focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was to teach how our righteousness was to exceed that of the religious leaders of His day.  Jesus used the behavior of these men as a template against which to contrast right behavior.  The religious leaders were a sorry lot.  They taught the people one thing and behaved just the opposite.  They were full of pompous self-righteousness.  They were arrogant, boastful and proud.  Jesus was constantly hammering home the contrast between their behavior and what behavior should be. 

       Jesus also contrasted righteous behavior with that of publicans who were the tax collectors of His day.  The tax collectors were a much hated group of government officials.  They were basically out for themselves and didn’t gives too hoots for how what they did affected the lives of others.  They were cheats, took bribes and were pretty much the scum of society.  But even they had ability to express love even though it was limited to those who would reciprocate their love 

       Matthew 5:46-47: For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (KJV)

       Jesus is instructing us not to be like these people.  Don’t only love those who love you back.  Love those who are against you, those who give you a hard time, and those who may cheat you and take advantage of you.  Love those who don’t have the ability to love you back. Jesus concludes this teaching by saying that this is how we can be perfect as the Father is perfect.

        Verse 48: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

        Being perfect as the Father is perfect is to express love as the Father expresses love.  The Father expresses love by providing for the welfare of everyone; the good guys and the bad guys.  This is how we are to express the love of the Father.  We express the love of the Father by loving as the Father loves and we see the Father loves by bestowing blessings upon the righteous and the unrighteous.  This is the message Jesus is getting across in the Sermon on the Mount. 

       Now, with this being said, it must be understood that loving your enemy does not mean you condone his behavior.  Loving anyone, friend or foe, does not meant you never disagree with them, never disapprove of there behavior or never correct them when they are just plain wrong in their thinking and behavior.  Remember, to love someone is to have their best interests in mind.  It is to look out after their welfare.  Sometimes that involves some pretty stiff correctives measures. God loves us. Because God loves us He also corrects us for our own good. 

        Hebrews 12:5-7: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?

       Love does not preclude discipline.  It does not exclude correction.  It does not rule out punishment.  When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is telling us to never treat our enemies as less worthy of our help and assistance than our friends.  We must always be ready to provide assistance in time of need.  We must be patient and kind to an enemy no different than we would be to a friend.  In other words, we are not to discriminate as to how we treat an enemy as opposed to a friend. 

        If circumstances require it and a situation allows it, we can discipline, correct or even punish an enemy no different than we would do to a friend if it was determined that discipline, correction or punishment was in the best interests of the person we are dealing with.   To love our enemy does not equate with becoming our enemies doormat.  Jesus was the perfect reflection of the Fathers love.  Yet Jesus did not become a doormat for His enemies.  The religious leaders hated Jesus.  That hatred led to them engineering His death.  Did Jesus love these religious leaders?  Yes He did.   But He also chewed them out for there insolent behavior as Matthew, chapter 23 clearly reveals. 

       Apostle Paul said love is slow to anger.  He did not say love never gets angry. God loves his creation.  God loves the human race.  But in His love God also gets angry with the human race and at times has acted out that anger in a most dramatic manner as witnessed by the Noachian flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and numerous other judgments recorded in scripture.    

       The scriptures reveal God as loving, compassionate and merciful.  And indeed He is all that.  And we should be very, very thankful that He is.  Otherwise we wouldn’t stand a chance. The love compassion and mercy of God does not, however, preclude Him also being a God of justice, judgement and punishment.  Love, compassion and mercy and justice, judgement and punishment are not mutually exclusive.  Expressing the former doesn’t exclude the latter. The latter is actually a dynamic of the former.  God loves us and is compassionate and merciful toward us and because of this He will discipline us when necessary for our own good.

       This is no different than we loving our children but having to correct and discipline them in order to facilitate their moral development and insure they are traveling down the right path.  When Jesus tells us to love our enemies He makes this statement in the context of How the Father loves us. The Father loves us by providing for us regardless of our Behavior. Apostle Paul understood Jesus’ teaching as seen in what he wrote to the Roman church.

        Romans 12:20: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

       It doesn’t matter that he is your enemy.  When he is in need, you meet that need.  You bless him.  You provide for him.  You encourage him.  You look out after him.  In the Good Samaritan story, the Jew that came down from Jerusalem and was robbed, beaten and left for dead was helped by a Samaritan.  These two groups of people hated each others guts.  Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans and Samaritans would have nothing to do with Jews.  They looked upon each other as enemies.  Jesus told this story to illustrate who your neighbor is.  As can be clearly seen from this story, your neighbor includes your enemy. 

       It should also be pointed out that in loving your enemy you are not necessarily making friends with your enemy but it could lead to that.  In Romans 12:20, Paul says we should feed and give drink to our enemy and in so doing we heap burning coals on his head.  Some have interpreted this to mean that our expression of love toward an enemy will melt his hatred of us and lead to reconciliation. It may just do that and certainly has in documented cases.  Our expression of the love of God to our enemy may lead to his repentance and reconciliation with both us and more importantly with God.   

       But whether that happens or doesn’t happen, it should not be the determining factor in how we treat our enemy.  We treat our enemy with love because that is how God treats us. The scriptures reveal that we are all enemies of God in so much as we have all sinned and behaved contrary to the will of God.  Yet God bestows His love upon us anyway and provides the pathway to be reconciled to Him and become His adopted sons.

       When you look at scripture as a whole, what stands out?  What do you see?  What hits you squarely in the face if you are paying attention?  The scriptures are all about relationships.  The scriptures are all about how to get along with God and how to get along with our fellow man.  If we get along with God we will automatically get along with our fellow man.  Getting along with God is accepting the relational protocols He has established for getting along with man.  When we implement those protocols we have peace with both God and man.  When we fail to implement those protocols we have stress with both God and man.  This may sound like a tremendous over simplification of the human condition but in reality this is what it boils down to.

        God has established standards of conduct for the human race that if implemented across the board would provide a virtual utopia.  Utopia is defined as an ideal and perfect place or state of being where everyone lives in harmony and everything is for the best.  Just think if the whole human race suddenly began to practice just one dynamic of the law of love.  Say all humans would suddenly choose to have total respect for the life of other humans.   Murder would be eliminated.  War would be reduced to a wrestling match.  Crime would take a big hit.  Violence of all kinds would come under tremendous restraint. 

       Jesus is teaching utopian behavior in the Sermon on the Mount.  He is teaching us not to fight evil with more evil as we saw in the last sermon in this series.  He is teaching us to be peace makers as we saw in the seventh Beatitude.  He is teaching us to even provide for our enemies because that is how the Father provides and therefore how the Father loves.   We are to love as the Father loves.  The Father causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  To the extent it is our power to do so, we must cause good things to happen to the just and the unjust.  That is the way of the law of love.  That is the way to a harmonious relationship with both God and man. 

SERMON EIGHTEEN