Love Impossible – Matthew 5:43-48

INTRO

Let me read for you a few verses from a religious book, and try to guess what religion it comes from.

“There is the law of equality. If someone desires evil against you, commit that same evil against him.” (Surah 2:194)

“Let not the unbelievers think that our respite to them is good for themselves. We grant them respite that they may grow in their iniquity. But they will have a shameful punishment.” (Surah 3:178)

“Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them” (Surah 9:5)

“Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves.” Surah 48:29

Islam is a scary religion, and it is so because their god does not love his enemies. In the Koran, we read that Allah does not love (1) transgressors (2) he does not love the corrupt (3) he does not love the unbelievers (4) he does not love the wrongdoers (5) or the wasters (6) or those who boast (7) the proud (8) and him who speaks evil or commits crimes.

But these are those that he loves (1) those who do good (2) those who are pure and clean (3) those who are righteous (4) those who are just and who judge rightly (5) those who trust him (6) those who are persevering and patient (7) those who love him and follow his prophet (8) and those who fight for his cause.

Well, let me ask you. If someone was clean, pure and righteous, loved you, did good for you, trusted you, fought for you, followed you and was perseverant and patient, would it be hard for you to love this person back?

Islam teaches that Allah loves those who love him first.

Now, the reason why all these things are so repelling is because Allah claims to be god and there is nothing divine about him. His love is weak, selfish, superficial, and is in no way different than the love that selfish men have for one another.

And as we read these verses, that claim to be religious authority, it makes us shudder, because they sound much more like what Satan would inspire rather than God.

But let me ask you a question. How do you love?

Do you love like Allah, with a self-centered love, a love that begins after others love you first, or have you learned to love with God’s supernatural love?

Today we are going to look at 3 aspects of God’s love, so that you can know how to have an impact for God’s kingdom.

But first let us turn to Matthew 5:43-48

Mat 5:43  « You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Mat 5:45  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.

Mat 5:46  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Mat 5:47  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Mat 5:48  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

When Jesus preached to the crowd His famous Sermon on the Mount, it was at the peak of His public ministry in Galilee. Flocks were flowing to Him by thousands, wanting to see Him, see His miracles, and hear Him speak. He was the man. He was hip. Some of the religious leaders were not too thrilled about Him, but His message so far had not appeared to have been too controversial. And the reason why is because people didn’t get His message. They thought they were in Jesus’ team, on His side. They thought that were saved and part of God’s kingdom, but the truth was that most of them were not.

The crowd was very much like what we see in a lot of American churches. People grow up in the right “religion” and so they thought they were alright. They grow up with the right moral system, and so they think they are on God’s side.

But here Jesus goes a step further. As He preaches His sermon, He insists that the kingdom is not for those who do the right things. It is for those who are able to prove that God is alive in them.  And so He tells them again and again, “You have heard it said, that if you were moral enough you were alright. But I say to you, unless you take things a step further and show that God is with you, you are useless you the kingdom. Unless you start doing things that are impossible to do without God’s help, then there is no proof that you are part of the kingdom.”

And so He talks about anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and then on love.

I. Divine Love is a Command (43-44)

And here is His first aspect of God’s love: Divine Love is a Command.

Mat 5:43  « You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

And so Jesus starts this new concept with the same pattern He used before “you have heard it said.”

Here he attacks the teachers that the people so blind-fully followed. He attacks the Pharisees and their teachings. And He does that because the Pharisees were legalists. They thought that righteousness was something that could be manipulated. And they did so because their religion was a human religion. They didn’t need God to do what they were doing, and they didn’t need His Son either. And as a result they could only love with a selfish human love.

And while the Old Testament had revealed in Leviticus 19:17-18

Lev 19:17  « You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

Lev 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The Pharisee changed the meaning of “neighbor” to include only those people they preferred and approved of. They looked down on tax-collectors, and on criminal and prostitutes. They looked down on the common people. In an argument with Jesus in John 7 they even called the common people “accursed” because they listened to Jesus (John 7:48-49).

A certain saying of the Pharisees says “If a Jew sees a Gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out, for it is written ‘You shall not rise up against the blood of your neighbor,’ but this man is not your neighbor.”

A morning prayer of the Pharisee went like this, “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, a leper, or a woman!”

The Pharisees were self-centered and a prideful people. They despised others. They looked for their interests above those of anybody. And they were the teachers of Israel! No wonder why the people were so misguided. In fact, the Romans even charged the Jews with hatred of the human race.

Now, that’s a glorifying title for the people of God, isn’t it?

And it happened because they humanized God’s commands. God had commanded “love your neighbor as yourself.” They simplified it with “love your neighbor,” and then defined the word neighbor just as they wanted.

But then completely missed the message of the Old Testament.

Prov 25:21 “if your enemy is hungry give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink”

God’s commands were never to do what was easy. God’s commands existed to first show that man was incapable of doing what was right by himself, so that he would realize his need for a Savior to empower him to do the impossible.

You can’t love your enemies without grace. It doesn’t make sense. That’s why all the other human religions suppress this concept. It cannot be fulfilled in the flesh. It cannot be accomplished without a Savior.

That’s what Jesus wanted to convey to the crowd. You think you are saved? You think you are part of my Father’s Kingdom? Prove it! Do something that shows that God is in you and with you! Don’t be just a good man, don’t be just a good woman. Anyone can make himself look good on an outward level. Show me that you are a godly man. Show me that you are a woman of faith. Show me that the impossible doesn’t stop you, but that as you rely on this infinite God, you are unshakable!

And so Jesus continues:

Mat 5:44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Here Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks the very Word of God. The rabbis would open the scrolls to speak and teach on God’s Word. In Matthew 5:2, Jesus “opened His mouth.” What a statement, right? The verse literally reads “I myself say to you.” The focus is on His authority.

So Jesus speaks and explains to the people the meaning of God’s true revelation.

Now, who is an enemy? Does it refer only to soldiers from the other side of a battlefield? Well, that doesn’t make sense because Israel was in times of peace. They were occupied by Rome, but there was no war going on.

The word “enemy” comes from a root that means “to hate.” An enemy, in a broad sense, is simply someone that hates you.

Jesus sheds some more light on what an enemy is in the parallel passage in Luke 6:27-28:

Luk 6:27  « But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Luk 6:28  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

An enemy is not only an oppressor from a different country. The enemy is often our very neighbor. They are the people in the dorms that hate you. Those that look down on you. Those that ignore you. Those that think the world does not need you and could care less if you were not around. Those that manipulate you. Those that talk in your back. Those that take pleasure in mocking you. Those that use you to make themselves look better. Those that when you sneeze, don’t say ‘bless you’ but ‘away from me you weaker human being!’

Maybe you’ve got a few faces and names popping in your mind. Maybe those things characterize you with other individuals as well.

But here is the thing. If you are part of God’s kingdom, loving your enemies is not an option. It is a command.

When I was 10 my parents moved to France to take over a church. And so we left Quebec, Canada, where they were missionaries to go to Toulouse, southern France, and minister in a church in a lower class neighborhood. The first sight I had of what was going to be our church has stuck to my mind to this day. It was surrounded by used diapers. The Sunday school class we met in had a metallic door to the outside. It had been bent just enough so that the young men from the neighborhood could pee inside the building. That’s what we cleaned up on Sunday mornings before lesson time. Our church was covered with grafitis.  Stuff from the church would periodically go “missing.” At times our cars were keyed and our tires knifed. One time a boy from the neighborhood began to pick a fight with a kid from our church. I took him aside, only a little later to see his big brother come with a hammer.

And those were the people we were called to love.

We all have “enemies.” They may be roommates, neighbors, politicians, family members, kings of Prussia or exes, we all have our enemies.

Do we love them?

Here Jesus not only commands His followers to love their enemies, but also to pray for them, even those that persecute them.

Well, it’s hard to have a heart for prayer for your enemies when you don’t even pray for those that you love, but that’s besides the point.

Here Jesus asks of His followers to pray, and it is only an extension of the love that He commands, the “agape” love which is active, self-giving and sacrificial.

And the focus on prayer is evident. True love does not just want to do good to someone, but it wants God to do good to that person. Because not matter how much you think you might love someone, you’ll never be able to bless anyone with the extent that God can.

Prayer is indeed the most virtuous form of love. There is no better way to love someone than to pray for that person according to God’s will; which truly means that if he is a believer, you pray for sanctification, and if he is an unbeliever, you pray for salvation.

And it is a vicious circle. The more you pray for someone, the more you will grow in love towards that person, and the more you love someone, the more you will want to pray for that person.

II. Divine Love is an Example (45-47)

So far we have looked as divine love as a command. Now, from verses 45-47, we see divine love as an example.

Mat 5:45  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.

Mat 5:46  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Mat 5:47  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus begins this section by affirming that divine love is a command but it is so because that is how God does it. God gives grace to both believers and unbelievers, to both good people and evil people. Now, if you want to claim being part of God’s kingdom, you have to do like the Father does. You must follow His divine example.

And what an example. Just think about it one second. God makes his sun rise. He causes it. He doesn’t have to. The God who holds the universe is under no obligation to continue the rotation of the planets around the sun. It is His sun. He could do whatever He want with it. He could take that sun and put it in His living room if He wanted.

But no. Everyday, He makes a willing, conscious act of benevolence. Every single day, God has the choice to bless the peoples on the earth or to remove His blessings. This planet made of 7 billion people, most of which do not care for Him, are enemies of Him, are truly children of Satan who would rather have Him and His plans destroyed, is kept into existence every day because of God’s grace. If it wasn’t for His grace, nothing would continue. If it wasn’t for His grace, there would be no more rain in the skies, no more food on our plates, no more breath in our lungs.

And every day God sees His enemies and makes a willing decision to protect them, to bless them and to love them. This is the kind of love that God is driven by. It is sacrificial. It is costly. It is deep. It is divine.

He loves this way every day, and ultimately we know He loved us this way at the cross where Jesus died. We must remember that Jesus did not die for His friends. He died for His enemies. Before His sacrifice every human being was guilty and condemned. But that did not stop Christ to come and shed His blood.

And He shed His blood for your sake when you hated Him. And he bore God’s fearsome wrath when you were lost in your lusts and in your sins. And He has been with you every single day of your life, even when you spat in His face and turned the other direction to flirt with sin, even when you heard His pleas of love and ignored Him to go bathe in the mud of iniquity.

And why does He do that? Because He is God! Because He is so glorious and infinite that He can love to those depths. Because He is so immense in grandeur that nothing can stop Him from being Himself, a God who loves.

And what a contrast with the example of the Jews. Or with us, right?

Mat 5:46  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Mat 5:47  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus is simply telling them: you can’t do any better those that you hate. Even the tax-collectors, those people who compromised their allegiance to ally with the oppressor and who make a fortune in taking advantage of a poor people, love the same way that you do. Even the Gentiles, those pig-eating pagans who know nothing of God’s covenants, who live without God’s revelation of right and wrong, they love like you do. You call yourselves God’s people but you have nothing of God to show.

Now, that must have been a hard hit for the Jews, especially the Pharisees. In just a few words, Jesus put tax collectors and Gentiles and Jews in the same category. Outch. For the Pharisees, that would be the worse insult ever. The contrast is like telling a pastor that he is no better than a prostitute. Or your English professor, who might be my father-in-law, that he is no better that a soap opera writer. Outch. That’s what we would call a knock-out in boxing.

But here is the situation. Those people thought they were in the kingdom. They thought they were the real deal. They thought they were the hope of the world, the chosen ones, the crème de la crème.

And Jesus tells them they are not better than Romans sell-outs.

Well, we can continue for a while to make fun of the Pharisees, only it doesn’t really stay funny when we look at our lives and see that we are no better.

Where is your supernatural love? Where is the proof that God is in you? Where is the proof that you carry the Holy Spirit with you wherever you go?

We know the words of Christ “They will know that you are my disciples by your love” (John 13:35)

Loving like Christ did is the highest testimony that we can have.

Watchman Nee tells a story about a Christian who owned a rice paddy next to that of a Communist. The Christian irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal. Every day, after the Christian had pumped enough water to fill his paddy, the Communist would come out, remove the boards that kept the water in his neighbour’s paddy, and allow the water to drain into his paddy so he wouldn’t have to pump the water. This continued for some time, until the Christian could not take it any more. He prayed, “Lord, if this keeps up I’m going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. What can I do?” The Lord began by putting this thought in his mind. The next morning the Christian got up early and started pumping water into his neighbour’s paddy first. Then he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice paddy. The result was that both rice paddies became productive and the Communist was softened by his neighbour’s generosity. The two men became friends and eventually the Communist became a believer in Jesus.

Here is another story.

Late one summer evening in, a weary truck driver pulled his truck into a gas station. The waitress had just served him his supper when three tough looking, leather jacketed Hells Angels motorcyclists – walked in, came over to his table and began to give him a hard time.

Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his chips, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it. He ignored them and finished his meal. Then he calmly got up, put his money and bill on the cash register, and went out of the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching at the door as the big truck drove away into the night. When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, « Well, he’s not much of a man, is he? » She replied, « I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver either. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out. »

Now it might sound funny, but Christ died for those people. Our desire should not be for their misfortune, but for their salvation.

III. Divine Love is a Standard

First we saw that divine love is a command, secondly that it is an example, now thirdly we see that God’s love is a standard.

Mat 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

God’s standard is perfection. Now, does He actually except us to be perfect all the time?

Well, let’s try to understand this verse, and to do this there are two other verses we need to look at. The first one is Leviticus 19:2. This verse gives the phrasing and general concept that Jesus uses in His teaching:

Lev 19:2 You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

This verse was spoken to Israel when they came out of Egypt. God spoke these words to them to help them adjust their expectations. They had been delivered from slavery and redeemed by God Himself to be His people. God wanted Israel to be His people and He wanted to have a relationship with them. But since He was holy and wasn’t about to change that, the only way to have a relationship was if the people became holy. And this meant to turn from sin and to be consecrated to live for God. It wasn’t just to do the right thing and to not do the bad things. It was to pursue God. It was to give one’s life to God and say, “here it is God, you do what you want now.”

Now the different between the words “holy” and “perfect” is not great. They both reflect the idea of completeness, of divine standard. But here the reason why Jesus uses the word “perfect” is because He doesn’t simply want to reiterate the law. The Jews knew the law and had interpreted it in their own ways to make it sound less than what it was. Jesus brings the law but with insight and freshness to it, revealing that God’s holiness was not a question of legalism but a question of divine presence.

And it brings us to the second verse in Matthew 5:20

Mat 5:20  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This verse helps us to understand what Jesus meant by “perfection.” It refers to God’s standard of righteousness. The perfection is the greater righteousness. It is God’s righteousness.

Jesus simply tells the Jews and the Pharisees. “Listen. There is no such thing as religious elite. You are either in the kingdom or you are not. You are either doing things God’s way or man’s way.”

If I had to pick the one verse that had the most influence on my life, without hesitating I would choose Ephesians 2:10.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This verse rocked my world because I realized that the works I was suppose to bear were not mine but God’s very own. This verse transformed my life because it changed my expectations concerning what I could do with me from 1 to 1 billion. When I realize that God was the One truly working through me, oh man, my eyes opened and I started dreaming. I started dreaming and started praying relentlessly.

If God is in you and God is working, don’t be satisfied with low standards. Don’t live for the crumbs. Don’t live a boring Christian life. Don’t just follow the motions. Aim high. Aim for God-sized ambitions. Love hard. Love until your heart stops beating. I can’t tell you how exciting when you pray and God answers.

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