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Be Perfect and Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)

Rev. Dr. William A. LewisRev. Dr. William A. Lewis, August 6, 2017

The next section in the Sermon on the Mount is love your enemies. I feel like we’ve already addressed this two times already: anger and murder, eye for an eye. No need to circle back and look at it a third time. The question is “Why does Jesus keep hammering on this topic?” As I reflected on anger, murder and enemies, the reason God destroyed the world with the flood was because of the excessive violence on earth. This is the reason there are wars decimating humanity, the disposition that disrupts our marriages and relationships
As we get older, it’s imperative we do mental exercises to keep our minds sharp. So, I play checkers on my phone…advanced checkers! Checkers is one of the oldest games in history. Archeologists unearthed a form of the game in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia from 3,000 B.C. Egypt had a form of the game in 1,400 B.C. The checkers we play was created in 1,100 A.D. by a Frenchman. There are annual championships and professional moves: Double Corner Opening, Fife Opening, Spider Web, and Zorro trap.
I have a friend who’s a chess master. He plays in tournaments and beats Notre Dame professors. Chess is played on the same board as checkers, but they represent two different ways of doing life. Checkers is mutually assured destruction as you decimate your opponent, taking away every one of their pieces. In the process, you lose most of your pieces as well. By contrast, chess is an entirely different game. It’s possible to win a game of chess without losing a single chess piece and without your opponent losing a piece. When it comes to dealing with conflict in our lives, the world generally likes to play checkers, but God prefers we play chess.
“There once were two cats from Kilkenny. Each thought there was one cat too many. They fought and they hissed. They clawed and they bit. Till instead of two cats there weren’t any.”
But isn’t it biblical to have enemies? “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them, I count them my enemies” (Psalm 139:21-22). The problem is God doesn’t hate anyone. When Joshua was confronted with the Angel of the Lord, Joshua asked him, “Whose side are you on?” The angel said, “Neither.” I’m reading through the Old Testament and the ownership God has over the pagan people is surprising.
The Jews taught that you only had to be nice to other Jews. The Jewish Mishnah states, “If a Jew sees a gentile fall into the sea, let him by no means lift him.” One day, when Jesus reiterated the command to love your neighbor, someone asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the Good Samaritan story, which meant anyone in need, regardless of their race, religion or the conflict between you.
Jesus says something revolutionary: while the world hates their enemies, we are to love them. Enemies are those who have hurt you, treated you unfairly, robbed you, cheated you, slandered you. There is a good reason we don’t like them.
Responding to people’s bad behavior with hate indicates “I have standards, I respect myself, I’m not a door mat that lets others walk all over me, I require people to behave correctly.”
Then Jesus comes along and says, “Pray for them, speak kind words about them, look for ways to bless them.” This is the opposite of seeking justice for the wrong they applied to you. Like checkers, the more pieces I take away from them the more satisfaction I’ll feel.
In the state of Washington, a man’s wife filed for divorce. So, he went down to the court house got a $11.50 demolition permit and bull dozed their three-bedroom house. He decided, “If she is going to divorce me, she won’t be getting the house.” Neither will he, but he was satisfied because he had denied her something of value.
That’s the game of checkers. “I’m going to hurt you because you hurt me. And I don’t care how much it costs me because winning is the object of the game and the more I can hurt you in the process the better I’m going to feel.”
Jesus makes a powerful statement: Love your enemies so you can be like your heavenly Father. God is kind to those who are His enemies, so He wants us to be known as those who don’t hurt those who hurt us.
Even the tax collectors, the worst sinners in that society, loved those who loved them. Even pagans are nice to those who are nice to them. But God has called us to be different; He wants us to treat the world the way He treats us.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21). “At one time, you lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). In other words, we weren’t nice to be around, but God loved us anyway. Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our sins.
If God were playing checkers with us, we’d be obliterated. But God loved us so much He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
I flew to Boston to do the funeral of one of our snowbirds on Tuesday and Wednesday. I got delayed at the airport for 7 hours so the entire terminal was crowded. There’s was a seat open, which after I sat down, I realized why it was open. A large, loud, obnoxious German man was on the phone and behaving erratically. I made the mistake of making eye contact and giving him a smile. He leaned over on me and, though he barely spoke English, we engaged in a chat which eventually led to a religious conversation. He asked me about the Kingdom Hall. Apparently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had gotten a hold of him. He told me, “They like God, but not Jesus.” So, I asked him: “Who died on the cross? Who took away our sins? Who brought us back to God? Who gave us His Spirit to live on earth? Jesus!” So, he asked me to pray for him. He got up, took off his hat, and bowed his head.
God gave us Jesus because, contrary to what the world thinks, God doesn’t want to destroy (Ezekiel 18). “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” God’s desire is to save, not to destroy.
Actually, God played chess, strategizing on winning us without losing anymore pieces than necessary. As we go through, life we are to strategize on how to minimize conflict, absorbing a loss and being willing to deflect enemies’ blows in order to bridge Jesus to them.
When we are in a conflict or a confrontation, our goal should always be to avoid making the other person pay, but rather strategize on how to extend forgiveness.
Loving our enemies has always been part of God’s will for us. Exodus 23:4-5 states, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure to help him with it.”
This reminds me of the psychology professor who lived next to a family that was severe in their discipline of the children. He’d plead with the parents to be more gentle with their kids. After all, they are just children—love them. Well, he had laid fresh concrete on his driveway and one of the children next door put his footprint into the freshly laid concrete. He screamed at the kid, “I’m going to spank you!” The neighbor said, “Remember, we’re supposed to be gentle with the children; just love him.” The professor said, “I love him in the abstract, but not in the concrete.” It’s action, not theory.
There are three reasons why we should love our enemies: 1) It’s cheaper than getting a lawyer. 2) It decreases the likelihood you’ll end up on the “Jerry Springer Show” 3) Because Jesus says it’s good for you. No, it doesn’t make sense, but God knows what’s best for us. People who forgive tend to suffer less depression. They have less stress-related illnesses. They have fewer cardio-vascular diseases like strokes and heart attacks. They enjoy life more and have more friends. Forgiveness is good for you.
Hatred is Satan’s behavior, the accuser of the Christians, the destroyer of everything God holds precious. Satan hates and teaches his followers to hate. When we hate our enemies, we are like Satan. God has called us to be a people of love, like Him.
The moment you decide to respond with love, the supernatural gets activated. 2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro upon the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” God looks to actively bless, strengthen and work in your life because that’s how hard it is to love your enemies.
I want to remind you of a familiar story from The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boom was a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. The guards would humiliate the women in unspeakable ways. After the war, Corrie struggled with hatred towards the Nazis and Jesus’ words to forgive your enemies. Corrie became a popular speaker throughout Europe as she helped thousands overcome the bitterness of war. One day, as she finished speaking at a church in Munich, the former S.S. guard who stood at the shower room at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp came up to her as the church was emptying. He was beaming, “How grateful I am for your message Fraulein, to think that as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
She said, “He thrust his hand out to shake mine. But I kept my hand at my side. I preached forgiveness, but angry, vengeful thoughts boiled within me.” She prayed, “Lord Jesus, forgive me. You died for this man; help me to forgive him.” She smiled, but as she tried to raise her hand, it wouldn’t move. She prayed, “Jesus I cannot forgive him; give me your forgiveness.” She managed to lift her hand and, as she did, the most incredible thing happened. “From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass through me to him, while into my heart sprang love that almost overwhelmed me.” She said, “I discovered that it is not about our goodness, but His.” When He tells us to forgive our enemies, He gives the love necessary to extend it. If we seek to honor Him, He will supply what is needed. It will still be difficult, but God will give you the power to do what is needed to be done. It is Christ’s Spirit within you.
When I was in Boston this past week, I chatted with a scientist who said, “Scientifically, we know neurons quit firing when people die so it is the end of life.” At what point does God step in? I explained, “We see His movement within our lives answering prayers and moving upon our thoughts, so it’s not hard to understand God is already present to walk us across that threshold.” His flaw was focusing only on the physical and ignoring the soul, where God resides within us.
Christians, we were saved, not to sit in a pew and listen to the preacher. You were transformed by grace to follow in our Lord’s footsteps, extending love, reflecting the image of God to others so they can be restored.
Yes, but what about justice? By forgiving your enemy, you have established justice. They thought they could hurt and destroy you. But when you forgave, they couldn’t. It causes them to rethink the difference between operating with God and without God.
There were times I’d get punched and it was hard, but I turned and walked away. I knew I could win the fight, and I knew others would think I was scared, but I was in conversation with Jesus and decided best to let Him have His way with me.
Asking “What would Jesus do?” is a good question. But in dialoguing with Jesus, His Spirit directs us. And you know, it’s His Spirit because it usually goes against what you would normally think or do.
A Sunday School teacher, known for doing elaborate object lessons, once put a big target on the board with darts to be tossed at it. He told all the youth to draw a picture of someone they disliked and put it on the board to throw darts at. One girl drew her father, another drew the picture of the girl that stole her boyfriend. Everybody had someone and they threw the darts with enthusiasm. After everyone finished, he took down the various pictures and the dart board and there underneath it all, was a picture of Jesus. The teacher closed the class with these words: “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me.”
People are made in the image of God and when we focus on that part of their identity, they become easier to love. There is no one who deserves the love of God. He loves us before we do anything worthwhile for Him. The story of the prodigal son shows how the Father loved His children whether they make good choices or not. The story isn’t about the kids as much as it is the Father, who gives to, waits for, hopes for, runs to, embraces, restores, forgives, celebrates, bestows undeserved honor on us. Jesus reveals the heart of God to us about others.
God gave us the example of perfect love that breaths redemption, grace, forgiveness and restoration. This is what He is like and wants us to be like. When we receive God’s love with no qualifications, recognizing we do not deserve it, nor can we offer anything for it, something changes within us. We are now able to do what was humanly impossible: love others perfectly, completely.
Dallas Willard points out that Jesus imparts Himself to us. He does not call us to do what He did, but to be as He is, permeated with love. Then His words and life become the natural expression of who we are in Him.
Notice that the Lord ends the passage saying, “Be perfect, like your heavenly Father is perfect.” In the New Testament, the word “perfect” does not mean flawless or attaining perfection. It means being mature in a moral sense. It carries the idea of being complete. God wants our character to lack in nothing, that the love of God we have received has made us like Him. When we love others, I can hear God say “Perfect!”
The Voice of the Martyrs tells the story of a young slave boy in Africa. He was a church-going Christian in a Muslim area. One day, when he was making his way back from church, some Muslims surrounded him, dragged him into the brush and beat him terribly. As they left him to die, they nailed his knees and feet to a board. Miraculously, he survived and when asked how he felt toward those who did this to him, he responded “I forgive them.” But how could you possibly think of forgiving those who had done this to you? He said, “Jesus was nailed and forgave.”
Let’s respond to our enemies the way Jesus did with love, and watch God do the supernatural with our faith.
So, is your life going to be mutually assured destruction or will you strategize on how to bring the love of God to every person in every situation?
Sources: Jeff Strite, Mark Opperman

About Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis: Rev. Dr. William Lewis has been the Senior Pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration since 2009. Whether at a traditional service, praise service, or the more casual Thursday night service, you’ll find that Pastor William’s preaching brings the Word of God to life D.Min. McCormick Theological Seminary Th.M. Princeton Theological Seminary M.Div. Fuller Theological Seminary B.A. University Colorado
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