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“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, that you may be children 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 unrighteousness. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.
Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.
We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.
The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?
Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.
But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.
So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.
You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.
We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.
But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.
Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'” Matthew 5:10-12
It seems a contradiction to be extremely joyful while being persecuted. Yet, despite the trials of life and the adversity of fellow human beings, when we are filled with righteousness and living it, the joy of the Lord is our strength [Nehemiah 8:10]. We know by faith that the righteousness of Christ redeems us from death, reconciling us to God.
But those who deny God, don’t understand this joy in all things, this peace that passes understanding. It perplexes and incenses them, incites them to mistrust, and even hate, those who live by faith in Christ.
Even in this we can be extremely joyful, understanding that this life is temporary. And that by trying to save and promote ourselves in this temporary life, we lose out on eternal life [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24].
It’s not just a cliche saying about sticks and stones. When we are persecuted, sticks and stones may truly break our bones. But we don’t have to let the insults and lies and persecution hurt us spiritually. We can find rest in Christ. We can accept the peace He gives. We can fix our eyes on the Lord our salvation. And we can take extreme joy in knowing that we join a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–who lived and died by faith [Hebrews 12:1].
Are you facing difficult times because of your faith in God? Do others insult you or give you a hard time because you live by God’s Word? Take heart, Jesus has overcome this world [John 16:33]. Cast all your cares on Him and find rest [1 Peter 5:7].
“Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.'” Nehemiah 4:13-14
Throughout the sinful history of the world, wars and rumors of wars have threatened human life and national security [Matthew 24:6]. War is not God’s desire. But it is a natural consequence of sin in the world.
Certainly, God’s people defended themselves against foreign nations. And God Himself intervened in miraculous ways during many of the major battles.
God calls us to defend the cause of the widows and the fatherless [Deuteronomy 10:18], the oppressed and the afflicted [Psalm 10:18 & 72:4] and the rights of the poor and needy [Proverbs 31:9]. Through Nehemiah, God called the nation of Israel to defend their families–not just their physical lives, but the spiritual, emotional and mental wholeness of their families. Their soundness built on the Word of God.
And He called them not to be afraid. The awesome, Almighty God was with them.
America was built on these same biblical principals. Godly men and women founded our nation with the intention to preserve sound Bible teaching and strong family relationships. They desired to see families empowered by the Word of God and defending the nation from the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted and right on up to the top.
Each Memorial Day, we remember the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have given their lives to protect and defend the freedoms that we often take for granted. Without their sacrifice, we would not be free. Rather, we ourselves would be the oppressed and afflicted, possibly the widows and the fatherless in need of a righteous defender.
Just like the soldiers who died to help make and keep America a free nation, Jesus died to eternally free us from sin and the fear of death. So today, honor those who have selflessly served our nation and recognize that image of God in yourself to live as a righteous defender of His truth in all your ways [Proverbs 3:6].
How is God calling you to defend others? What can you do to honor His righteous image in you?
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them…We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:11-12, 16b & 19-21
God took on flesh so He could lay down His physical life for us [John 1:14]–for our sake and in our place. Jesus made Himself the propitiation–the reparation–for the wrong of our sins that separated us from God [1 John 2:2]. In the infinite love of God, Jesus bridged the gap, lighting the Way, the Truth and the Life for all humankind to see [John 14:6].
As Christians, we are the light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [Matthew 5:13-16]. If we love all others, constantly willing for their good–good as defined by God–then God’s light shines through us. It brings glory and honor to God. It brings understanding, clarity about God, to believers and unbelievers alike.
So many times God takes the fall for being unloving because human beings–His Creation–are unloving. But just as Christ stood in the gap to make things right between God and man, so we as Christians should be stemming the tide of darkness in this life. We should be boldly living as disciples of Christ [John 13:35], loving others as God first loved us [1 John 4:19]. We should be lighting the path of the lost with God’s love so that they see their way to eternal life and joyfully return to their Heavenly Father.
When we don’t love with God’s perfect love, we shadow His true character in the eyes of the world. When we don’t let His infinite love flow through us–whether from pride or sin or selfishness–then the world doesn’t open their ears to hear [Romans 10:14]. When the gospel is not lived in love, its heard message is dismissed as hypocrisy .
If we decide that we just can’t get along with someone, then we are not loving with God’s love. When mistreat us and we let it keep us from loving them anyway, then we are not loving with God’s love. If we hold grudges or allow jealousy to grow into hard feelings, when we judge or gossip, then we are not loving with God’s love. Then we are not a heavenly light guiding others to Christ but a darkened signal willing their condemnation.
God saved us from death. For this reason alone we should love Him enough to love the rest of His Creation to life. Is your life a light of the good news of God’s love?
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” Luke 2:14
Favor–an act of kindness beyond what is due, or God’s approval–rests on us when we believe on Jesus Christ [John 3:16]. This grace of God in our lives brings us peace–peace with God [Ephesians 2:14-16] and peace within [Psalm 55:18].
It is a peace that transcends–surpassing equally above and beyond any worldly or self-made peace–just as God Himself transcends.
It is not simply freedom from disturbance, because in this world we will have trouble [John 16:33]. We live in the physical kingdom of Satan, the prince of this world [John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2], and he hates peace [Psalm 120:6].
It is not simply quiet and tranquility, because we have been called to lift our voices in praise and to preach the gospel to those who have not heard [Psalm 100; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 14:23; Acts 1:7-8]. If we don’t do our part, the rocks will cry out in our place [Luke 19:40]. And if we do do our part, we may face persecution, oppression, anger and hostility from those who reject our message [Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:22; Revelation 2:8-11].
It is not simply the cessation of war and violence, which will never happen on this world or in this life. As long as sin endures, there will be war and violence. Sin is not just violating God’s person. Sin is violating any person in God’s Creation. It is the seed that grows from anger to murder, lust to adultery, selfishness to idolatry and a host of other ills.
God’s peace deals with our minds and our hearts [Isaiah 38:17; Romans 12:2]. It brings understanding that removes our worries about and need to control our own welfare and safety. It brings quiet to our minds despite the tumult of the world around us and even despite our own circumstances. It removes us from the war and the violence, by removing their seeds–the desire to retaliate and self-protect–from our character.
And it extends far beyond what we could imagine or describe. Because God’s peace is infinite, but our struggle is finite. God’s peace has no limits and He extends it to us without limit if we seek Him, but our troubles are limited to a season.
God’s peace comes with accepting His grace. Have you?
“There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths…They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow they show no kindness. But God drags them away by His mighty power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but His eyes are on their ways. For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain.” Job 24:13 & 21-24
God is just–but He is also eternal, infinitely good, loving and gracious. When we as people question God’s justice, it is because we see wrong in the world. We see people living–and not only seemingly getting away with but being promoted for–their sinful lives. And we ask, Why is that fair?
When we sit in judgment on God’s justice, it is a sign to us that we have accepted Satan’s lie to be our own god [Genesis 3:5]. We believe that our version of justice should be meted out in our timeframe. We believe that God should adopt our grey scales of sin levels. We forget that we ourselves are also sinful and deserving of God’s judgment.
The wages of my sin is death. The wages of your sin is death. The wages of everyone’s sin is death [Romans 6:23]. Adam sinned despite God’s warning that it would bring Him death, because Satan said he wouldn’t actually die. Altogether, Adam lived 930 years! But then, he most assuredly died because of the wages of sin in his life [Genesis 5:5].
You and I sin, but God is patient with us, not wanting us or anyone else in the world to choose to lose life eternal [2 Peter 3:9]. The same hand of mercy that stays the swift fell of judgment in our own lives, is the same hand that patiently awaits meting out judgment in the lives of everyone else.
When we see the wicked flourishing for the short breath of this life [Matthew 6:30; James 4:14; 1 Peter 1:24], and we get indignant with God, we bring judgment down on our own heads [Matthew 7:2]. Because God is for us and He is equally for every other person on the planet for all of history. He does not favor me over others or others over me [Romans 2:11].
When we gripe about the sins of others and demand God deal with them right now–in our timeframe and according to our perception of justice–then God stands before us, saying, Let the person who has not sinned throw the first stone to end this person’s life [John 8:7]. Just as He stands mediator between me and those who would demand immediate justice for my sins.
God’s justice is also good. God’s justice is also merciful and gracious and loving. God’s justice is also eternal. God’s justice has provided a substitution for your death penalty–His Son, Jesus, and Him crucified [1 Corinthians 2:2]–and is patiently giving you every opportunity to accept–to redeem your life by His grace and through your faith.
Will you demand justice now and so condemn yourself? Or will you live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8]?