Riverside Community Church

Love Your Neighbour

Matthew 5:43:48

We’re going to be looking at Matthew 5 today if you want to open your Bibles to Matthew 5:43-48. When I first chose this topic to speak on, it was for purely selfish reasons because it looked easier than the other topics around it so I said “sure I’ll do that one”. Love your enemies is so easy to say, then so hard to practice. So I’m going to read the whole passage and then we’re going to break it down from there. If you don’t have a Bible there should be some in the back of the pew in front of you, or your neighbour will hopefully let you look at theirs. If your neighbour is your enemy, well you’re in luck! That’s exactly what we’ll be talking about today. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s start with the very first line. “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. So where exactly was this said? Turn with me to Leviticus 19:38, and while you go there let me inform you that there actually is no Leviticus 19:38. Jesus saying “you have heard it said” is interesting, because he doesn’t say “it was said”. There is no command in the Old Testament that says hate your enemies. There are several that mention loving your neighbours, which includes Leviticus 19:18, which is an actual verse I’m not tricking you again, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.” Jesus also says in Mark 12:30-31 that the most important commandment is Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is to love your neighbour as yourself. So we can clearly see that we are to love our neighbours. Does this mean we are supposed to have romantic relationships with everybody who moves in down the street? No, and I’ll explain why. “Love” in this context is the Greek word Agapao, which means “to love in a social or moral sense. A love that is you doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason”. A neighbour, is the Greek word Play-see-on, which means your fellow person. So you are to love your fellow person like a friend. Sure.

What about enemies? When you think of enemies your first thoughts might be somebody like Joker, Lex Luthor, or Mrs. Drysdale. Maybe you think of enemies as something more serious, like somebody who assaulted or murdered you or someone you love. Or it could be somebody who cannoned a soccer ball at your face, hit you in the face with a hacky-sack, or spilled water on the floor causing you to hit your head (these are definitely not real-world examples from youth group, no-siree). So we have an image in our heads as to what we think an enemy is, but what do these words actually mean? So let’s look at the Greek. The word enemy is Ekh-thros, which is from the word ekh-tho, to hate. So an “Ekh-thros” is an adversary, or literally someone who hates you. So when Jesus says “you have heard it said hate your enemy” it literally translates to “you have heard it said hate those who hate you”. That makes sense, right? Why wouldn’t I hate somebody who hates me? Put a pin in that thought because we’re coming back to it shortly. The word hate, which feels like a very strong word, in this passage is “mis-eh-o”, which means to detest, or love less. So literally “love less those that love you less”. To our very human brains this makes sense. “they love me less, so why wouldn’t I love them less”? Then Jesus flips this on its head. “I say to you” Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What? What do you mean? I already hate them, so why would I love them? They persecute me, why would I pray for them? Remember when I said earlier “easy to say, hard to practice”? This is where that thought comes into play. Persecution is to be relentlessly pursued for your ideas, to know that those who pursue you do not rest while seeking your destruction. Kind of hard to pray for somebody while you’re running for your life, yet that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

I need to take a little aside to talk about my favourite thing about Jesus’ messages; he doesn’t ever expect us to do something he hasn’t done himself. “Love your enemies”. Who is/were Jesus’ enemies? Paul says in Romans 5:10 that we were. Each and every person in this room was God’s enemy, maybe some of you still are. As sinners, we are each and every one of us enemies of God. Romans 5:8 says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. The ultimate example of love, to die for someone else. And Jesus did it not for his neighbours, but for his enemies. Yet why does Jesus’ death matter? What does “he died for us” mean, what did his death accomplish? Christ dying and rising again from the dead has absolved us from all our sins if we believe in him, as Paul talks about when he says “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life”. Christ died for his enemies so we could be saved by his life, which really takes “loving your enemies” to a whole new level. The next line deals with “praying for those who persecute you.” Jesus’ death is the ultimate example of persecution. Whipped, beaten, mocked, scorned, a crown of thorns laid upon his head, forced to carry his own cross until he collapsed under its weight, a nail driven through each wrist and his feet, put up in such a way that he would have to pull himself up through those nails just to draw breath. Just horrific torture at the hands of his own people, yet he lifts up a prayer to the Lord and says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Jesus demonstrated the extreme of loving his enemies and praying for those who persecuted him, how could we not strive to the same?

Okay, lot of stuff for 2 verses. The rest will be quicker I hope. “so that you may be sons of your father in heaven”, shows that we have a reward for loving our enemies; we get to be called children of God. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” I’m going to throw my dad under the bus a little here. A bit of context is that my family comes from a farming community and my dad is the son of a farmer, so he knows a bit about this. Do you know any Christian farmers dad? Do you know any non-Christian farmers? And does it rain on the same day for both types of farmer? Are the Christian farmer’s yields proportionally higher than those of the non-Christian farmers? Okay that’s all the questions I have. Because this is what Jesus is driving at. The sun rises the same whether you believe in Christ or not. It rains the same day for everybody. That would be a really easy way to tell if you’re having a conversation with a believer, if you went to talk with them and said “what a lovely sunny day” and they went “are you nuts? It’s pouring!!!!” Next Jesus says “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” All of what we have been talking about the past few weeks with Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount is various ideas that have been extremely counter-cultural. He talked about how anger in your heart is the same as murder, lusting after somebody is the same as adultery, divorcing without cause is sin, uttering oaths comes from evil, and you should not retaliate to an evil person. These are all radical changes from the culture at the time, and still are today. His final radically different idea from how we as humans naturally function is to love your enemies, and he’s pointing out that loving people who love you is not that challenging, because even the people who do not follow the law of God as it was written to this point love the people who love them. Jesus has been calling us to be counter-cultural, and he sums up his final counter-cultural message with a very poignant example of how radically different his message is to the people around him. Everybody who has not read and does not follow the law up until then, the Gentiles, love those who love them. Jesus calls us to love those who hate us, our ekh-thros, as we love our neighbours.

The final line is a doozy. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Wow. Okay. Feels kind of impossible. So let’s look at the word perfect for a second, the final Greek word I’ll inundate you with today: tel-eh-os. This means to be complete in various applications, including things like labour, growth and mental and moral character. In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ.” We are called to be complete, perfect. This does not mean we are to be perfect beings without sin while on this earth, because that’s unattainable. Rather, we are to strive for that completion, because God has started a good work in us and will bring it to completion when we all go to glory. We are to strive for this perfection until we receive “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” as Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:4. We know that we will stumble, and make mistakes along the way, but we can also rest assured that Jesus knows what we’re going through, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15. So I want to finish by encouraging you to strive for that perfection. Strive to keep your anger in check, not lust after anybody, hold fast to your spouses, let your yes be yes and your no be no, live at peace with those who do not present you with peace, and love those who hate you. As the writer of Hebrews says at the start of chapter 12 “let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of God”.

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