Love your enemies
Jesus said, “Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” You don’t have to look very far to see God’s kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. You need only to look into the mirror. We take God’s blessing for granted every day. Our wickedness is multiplied a thousand times over when we consider the kinds of people we are supposed to be and how pathetically far short we fall of that expectation! God has every right to withhold his mercy from all of us. We have sinned against God and deserve nothing but punishment. God has not treated us as our sins deserve. He himself says, “he is patient with us not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance!
“Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
An old fellow was being interviewed by a reporter because he had just reached his 100th birthday. “Yes sir,” said the old man, “I’m 100 years old today and I don’t have an enemy in the world.” “That’s wonderful,” replied the reporter, “you must be proud of yourself.” “Yes,” the old man said, “my last enemy died about a year ago.”
Enemies! The likelihood is that we will have a few – if not many – of them during our life time. Personality conflicts, clashing of egos, desires, philosophies and goals, inevitably put us at odds – sometimes viciously, with someone else. Abraham Lincoln once said that the way to get rid of an enemy was to make a friend of the person. Indeed, the fact is we are probably thinking about someone right now with whom we have locked horns.
Jesus is preaching his sermon on the mount in our text today. It is a sermon directed toward his disciples with the intent of teaching his followers how to live Christian lives. Today, Jesus teaches us from that sermon to …
Love Your Enemies
Jesus certainly had his enemies. He wasn’t crucified because he talked about sugar and spice and all things nice. He was killed because people hated him. They hated his teachings and they hated his identity as the Son of God. Jesus’ enemies had mean and vengeful hearts. Jesus’ murderers were religious hypocrites.
You have noticed how Jesus handled his enemies, haven’t you? He didn’t back down from them. He stood up to them but with no malice in his heart – no malice in his actions. Listen to how St. Peter described Jesus: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus doesn’t just command us to love our enemies, He showed us how! Jesus dismantled vengeance. He retaliated against hate by using love. He faced the evil of his enemies with good will toward them. There was no “eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth” in his actions. No, that was government’s responsibility!
Your job, Jesus says, is to love your enemies. His command goes even further: “do good to those who hate you…. Bless those who curse you… pray for those who mistreat you.” How far does love go? Jesus says love goes so far that it longs to make an enemy your friend (perhaps this is where Abraham Lincoln got his idea when he said that the best way to get rid of a enemy was to make him your friend.). How can someone continue to hate you if you are kind and thoughtful to them over and over again? Perhaps the modern day solution on how to deal with an enemy by “killing them with kindness” isn’t such bad advice!
Of course, we all know it is easier said than done! Loving one’s enemies is extremely difficult – for even the saintliest among us. Where do we begin? Remember how Jesus loved his enemies. He offered his life to them to do with him as they willed. He prayed for them. He loved us when we were sinners! He died to save us all. The motivation to love our enemies has got to come from the love Jesus has shown to us. He found a way to love the unlovable when he loved us. In fact, a careful reading of our text indicates the kind of attitudes Jesus dealt with on his way to the cross: hatred, cursing, mistreatment, beaten, stripped. In return, Jesus washed their sins away by his suffering and death on the cross! That, my friends, is loving your enemies. Only Jesus really knows how to do this!
The application of Jesus’ command to love our enemies is simple. Our enemies present us with an opportunity to put our Christian faith into practice. Our uncomfortable times which come from conflicts with other people can drive us to prayer. It can force us to look at ourselves in a different light. It makes us reexamine our relationship to God. It leads us to appreciate better how dearly God has loved us!
In an odd sort of way, our enemies can help us learn the great virtues of patience, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and humility. They can even force us to run to Jesus for strength and courage which in turn can increase our faith in Christ as we rely more and more on Christ to guide us in our actions.
Someone put together a list of the blessings our enemies give us. It goes like this: Blessed are my enemies for they tell me the truth when my friends flatter me. Blessed are my enemies, for they prevent all people from speaking well of me. Blessed are my enemies, for they tell me what they don’t like in me. Blessed are my enemies, for they provide an object of love outside the small circle of my selfishness. Blessed are my enemies, for they rub off the artificial varnish and make me see my natural complexion. Blessed are my enemies, for their mirror of biting sarcasm and scathing rebuke reveals me to myself. Yes, enemies do serve a good purpose in our lives!
Apply Christ’s command to love our enemies not only helps us, but it helps our enemies too! If we are going to love our enemies, we have to find a way to understand them. Why are they behaving so? What troubles are they facing? What made them hate us in the first place? If we take the time to try to understand where our enemies are coming from, we may have a change of heart concerning them. And as we communicate that to them, perhaps they will have a change of heart about us too! Often times people need compassion and friendship rather than retaliation or alienation. So, let us strive to apply this principle in our lives. Let us strive to understand these words, “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Jesus doesn’t only command us to love those who love us; he commanded us to love those who don’t love us!
There is nothing to our credit if we behave the way the world expects us to behave. It is easy to love those who love you or to lend to others expecting to be repaid. That is the way unbelievers live! You, however are looking forward to a reward in heaven – not earned by your behavior. But received by God’s grace for God loves you when you were his enemy.
Jesus said, “Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” You don’t have to look very far to see God’s kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. You need only to look into the mirror. We take God’s blessing for granted every day. Our wickedness is multiplied a thousand times over when we consider the kinds of people we are supposed to be and how pathetically far short we fall of that expectation! God has every right to withhold his mercy from all of us. We have sinned against God and deserve nothing but punishment. God has not treated us as our sins deserve. He himself says, “he is patient with us not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance!” (2 Peter 3:9)
We are looking forward to a reward of grace in heaven. It is the reward Jesus won for us on the tree of the cross. He has promised everyone who believes in him that we have eternal life. Therefore, heaven is our home. It is God’s promise of grace and forgiveness that motivates us to do the things God says in his word. Jesus said in his sermon on the mount: “Love your enemies.” Not long after that he stretched out his arms and died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. It is my prayer than none of us go to bed with hatred or vengeance in our hearts directed toward another human being. But my prayers won’t change your heart. The only thing that can change our hearts is knowing that Jesus’ command to love your enemies is kept when we remember that Jesus loves us.