With your Bibles this morning I want you to look at Matthew 5:43-48 – Matthew 5:43-48. The Old Testament says that man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. I’ve found that to be true even in preaching. We’ve preached a lot of messages about love, because it is such a recurring theme in the Bible. I’ve preached on the theme of love again and again and again and again. When I came to this passage, I said, “Lord, these dear people have heard me talk about love so many times, I think I’ll just take all these verses, 43-48, and do it in one message, because I don’t want to say what they’ve heard before.” And that was my intention, but the Lord just strung me out, and this is the third week on the same passage. And you know, in preaching, you can plan all you want, but you have the feeling very often that the Spirit of God is taking you places you never expected to go, and that’s part of the adventure of the pulpit. And so as we come this morning to the same passage for the third time, I feel in my own heart that this isn’t really what I want to say to you, but I guess it’s what the Lord needs to say. Sometimes I think the Lord strings things out on the same theme because maybe someone wasn’t here last time who is here this time, and God knows that this is for them.
The only thing I fear is that sometimes, when we hear the same thoughts or same words or similar ideas, we think we know them, and don’t hear them at all. Some of the greatest lessons we’ll ever learn are the lessons that we’ve heard again and again, but finally come to really understand; so may the Spirit of God fill in the blanks about love, reinforce what you already know, and say it in a fresh way, so that there’ll be a different level of commitment than there ever has been in the past. We all have friends, and I guess we all have enemies. We all have people who love to be with us, and people who love to attack us. The test of our Christian character is not how we treat our friends, it’s how we treat our enemies; that’s the bottom line. You can really tell all there is to know about a man’s true spirituality by what he does when people attack him; by what he does when people despise, or hate, or persecute, or stand against, or criticize, because then will be the revelation of the reality of his life. If he is a creature of love, made so by the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ, he will love that person just as much as he will love his dearest friend, because it will be his character to love, and have little to do with the person involved.
That is essentially what Jesus is saying in this passage; He is saying, “Your tradition tells you,” verse 43, “love your neighbor and hate your enemies.” That’s what you’ve learned. You have learned that there is a justification for hatred. You’ve learned that there is a place for vilification, and animosity, and bitterness, and revenge, and resentment. You’ve been told that your pride is justified and your prejudice is allowable. You’ve been told that there are some people you well should hate. But verse 44, “I say unto you, love even your enemies.” You see, what men do and what God commands are two different things, and that’s the essence here. You see, the people to whom Jesus spoke thought they were good enough. He says, “You’re not good enough at all. Your kind of love is not adequate. Your kind of love is very, very narrow; it picks out its objects. The love of those in My Kingdom is indiscriminate; it loves friend and foe just the same” – just the same.
In Luke, chapter 23, verse 34, we see a beautiful illustration of this. The Romans have done a foul deed. They have taken the lovely Son of God – they have driven nails into His hands they have driven nails through His feet, attaching Him to a wooden cross. They have lifted the cross and dropped it in its socket, and when it hit, the jolt would have ripped and torn His flesh. They have spit on Him and mocked Him. The Jews have done a foul deed; they have accused Him of being a blasphemer. They’ve screamed for His blood. They, too, have mocked Him, casting things in His face. He hangs on the cross; at His feet is a vicious, frenzied, frantic, hateful, despising mob, thirsty for His blood, the result of years of bitterness and hatred against One who is only an agent of love.
And how does He react to that, and what is His attitude to them? Luke 23:34 says Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they parted His garment and cast lots. In the midst of His magnanimous prayer of forgiveness, they were still busy gambling for His cloak. But the point that I want you to see is that Jesus could love them so much that He could beseech the Father on behalf of their forgiveness. That’s not a human love; that just isn’t true of mankind. You say, “Well, Jesus was God. You know, we can’t do that thing. That’s beyond us. We can’t love enemies to that degree.” I think we can.
There is another biblical illustration in the seventh chapter of the book of Acts. There was a man by the name of Stephen, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, a man who was numbered among the first chosen in the church in Jerusalem as a godly man to be placed over some important ministry. Stephen, who was the best of the very best in the early church; Stephen, who was a man who knew God, and who knew the Old Testament, and the new covenant even in Jesus Christ. Stephen stood up in the seventh chapter of Acts, and he preached an indicting, powerful message, not unlike Peter’s message on Pentecost, and he laid bare the sinfulness of Israel.
And when he was finished, the people were so frantic, and so overwrought, and so cut to the heart, says Luke as he writes, that they literally screamed with their voices and clapped their hands over their ears so that they wouldn’t hear anything from this man. And they picked him up and threw him over a precipice, and began to pummel his body with stones. The Bible says in the midst of this, he pulled himself into a kneeling position – just imagine that. The Jewish method of stoning was to find about a ten-foot drop, and drop the man down, and then the first accuser would take the largest stone and try to crush his head with it. The second accuser would follow, and finally the mob would stone him until they crushed the life out of his body. Stephen was lying at the foot of this, receiving the stones, and he managed to pull himself into a kneeling position – to do what? To pray a prayer. What was his prayer? Simply this: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Lord, be merciful, don’t make them pay for this; be gracious to them. That’s loving your enemies.
I have several times read the story of George Wishart, who was a martyr in the early years for his faith in Christ. He was to die, because he loved Jesus and wouldn’t deny Him, and so he was taken to the place of execution. The executioner prepared to take his life, but he had known of his life and testimony, and he was so burdened with the guilt of his role as executioner that he hesitated in reluctance in taking his life. And the biographer says at the point where he hesitated, Wishart looked up and saw the hesitation, and so he stood up, put his arms around him, embraced his executioner, planted a kiss on his cheek, and said to him, “Sir, may that be a token that I forgive you.” That’s loving your enemies.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about. Kingdom character doesn’t hate – it doesn’t even hate enemies – not Kingdom character. Not the kind of character that manifests godliness, not the kind that manifests the virtue of a transformed life. That’s the message here. You see, the Jews felt that they were already alright, but the Lord shows them that they’re not, as proven by the fact that even their love is an inept, inadequate, narrow kind of thing. So Jesus presents to them the truth about love. In verses 44-48, we have the teaching of Jesus in response to the tradition of the Jews. The tradition of the Jews: love your neighbor and hate your enemy. The teaching of Jesus: quite different.
As we go through this passage this morning, there are five points that I want you to see as we move; five ascending, connected, sequential truths, that lead us to a marvelous conclusion. I pray that God will really show you as we move how these apply in your heart. Now, keep two things in mind. Jesus is speaking here – really, there is a two-fold purpose. One: let’s say a person is not a Christian and they’re hearing this. What is their reaction? Their reaction is to know that they fall short of God’s standard. Their reaction is to know that they don’t love like this, they can’t love like this. Therefore, they are sinful, because this is required, and if you don’t love like this, you’re a sinner, and if you’re a sinner, you need a Savior. So the message that Jesus is giving to the people there, to the Jews, to the massive crowd, is that this should prove to you, once and for all, that you haven’t arrived, and that you need a Savior. And then, of course, He is the one who offers Himself as that Savior.
But there was another group on the hillside when He preached this, and that was His disciples. They had already believed in Him; they had already committed their lives to Him. But sometimes, even for those of us who have been forgiven for our lack of love, those of us who have been given the power to love, fail to love, and so for us, this becomes an exhortation, doesn’t it, to live up to what is now potentially a reality. First, He is saying, “You are a sinner if you don’t love like this, and you must be forgiven.” Then, He says, “If you have been forgiven, and you have been given the capacity to love like this, you must respond to that in obedience.” So it’s a message for everyone, the crowd, and the disciples. For you that know Christ, an exhortation to a greater love; for you that don’t, the realization that you’re a sinner and you fall short, and you need a Savior.
Let’s look at the first point in the five. Jesus says simply in verse 44, “But I say unto you, love your enemies.” Now, beloved, this was just a devastating statement in the society in which Jesus lived, because there was so much hate. The wonderful commentator William Hendrickson writes, “All around Jesus were walls and fences. He came for the very purpose of bursting those barriers, so that love – pure, warm, divine, infinite love – would be able to flow straight down from the heart of God – hence from His own marvelous heart, into the hearts of men. His love overleaped all the boundaries of race and nationality and party and age and sex. When He said, ‘I tell you, love your enemies,’ He must have startled His audience, for He was saying something that probably never before had been said so succinctly, positively, and forcefully.” End quote.
He was saying something that they just didn’t do. Love your enemies, are you kidding? I read of a native tribe in Polynesia who had around their huts special articles hanging all around the roof of the hut. A visitor said, “What are they?” They said, “They are reminders.” “Reminders of what?” “Reminders of injury. When anybody injures us, or anybody does something against us, we hang a token of that injury there so that we will remember every time we have been wronged, and none is ever removed until full vengeance is gained.” That’s the human way, that’s not God’s way.
That’s the way the Pharisees lived; around their legalistic hut hung all of the articles or symbols of their vengeance. They were proud and prejudicial; judgmental, hateful men masquerading as religious. And Jesus devastates that. He says just in one statement, “Love your enemies,” what is contradictory to their entire lifestyle. They hated. They hated the rabble mob, they hated the publicans, who were the tax collectors who had sold out to Rome. They hated the Gentiles. They literally despised them. And Jesus gives them a simple command that lays bare all that hate. “Love your enemies,” He says. Who does He have in mind? Everybody. We talked last time about ‘neighbor’ encompassing ‘enemy,’ didn’t we? Neighbor is a big enough word to encompass an enemy. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” An enemy fits into that. A neighbor is anybody in need, isn’t it?
Remember, we looked at Luke 10, and we talked about the good Samaritan? How in the story of the good Samaritan, we said the good Samaritan came along, and saw this man who was a Jew, and Samaritans and Jews didn’t have any dealings – there was tremendous hatred between the two of them. And yet he went over, and he saw that man, and he said, “That man is my neighbor,” and he bound up his wounds, and he cared for him, and wrapped him, and he put him on his animal, and took him to the inn and paid his bill, and did the whole thing. He made a sacrifice, didn’t he? A sacrifice of time, a sacrifice of energy, a sacrifice of money, a sacrifice of prejudice, a sacrifice of all of the factors of his life to stop and do all of that, because the man was in need. And we said that’s the way it is; your neighbor is anybody in your path with a need.
But in Luke 10, and the good Samaritan, Jesus really is making an opposite point as well, because the lawyer said, “Who is my neighbor?” I mean, I’m going to go through the world, and I want to pick out my neighbors and do what I should. But when Jesus came to the end of the story, He said, “Who was that man’s neighbor? Or which one of the three that came down the road showed themselves to be his neighbor?” Now, what was He saying? First there was priest, and he ignored it. Then there was a Levite, and basically they were the helpers of the priests, so they fit into the religious community, and he passed by. And then a half-breed Samaritan, and he helped him. And He said to the lawyer, “Which one of those proved to be the wounded man’s neighbor?”
In other words, Jesus turned the tables. Instead of going through life and trying to pick out who your neighbor is, He says, “Are you a neighbor? Because if you’re a neighbor, then anybody in your path is going to get your neighborly love.” It kind of works like this: in our society humanly speaking, we basically are object-oriented in our love, aren’t we? You know, you sort of love people on the basis of the kind of object they are, if they’re attractive, you know? For example, when guys are looking for some girl to marry, you know, girls come across their path, and they’ll say, “No thanks, keep moving, I’m not there yet.” And you know, different girls will come along, all of a sudden, voom, you know? There she is, and you just kind of zoom, zero in on her. And there’s something attractive there, and there’s this emotional thing that hooks you to the thing, and you don’t feel that with anybody else. So that our love is object-oriented.
When we look at a picture, or we look at a house, or the style of a car, there are some objects that attract our affection, and some that do not. There are certain personalities that attract our love and some that do not. Now, that’s the human kind of affection. And that’s really what the lawyer was saying. “Now, as I go through the world, how do I know which objects I should attach to?” Jesus is saying that’s not the issue. The issue is are you a neighbor? If you’re a neighbor, and your heart is filled with love, any object that gets in your path is going to receive that love, see. That’s what He’s saying. He’s saying, “Don’t try to figure out who your neighbor is. You be the neighbor to everybody, and then you won’t have a problem.” Jesus is calling for love towards an enemy, and that’s a simple thing. I don’t know how else to say it, other than to simply say it means to love everybody exactly the same, be it a friend or foe.
You say, “What do you mean by love, John?” I don’t mean affection. We talked about that the last time. God doesn’t expect you to love them philia, like a friend. He doesn’t expect you to love them storgē, like you love someone in your own family. He doesn’t expect you to love them eros, affectionate, desiring love. But what He does say is to love them agapaō, which is a love that seeks their highest good and seeks to serve their needs. When Jesus said in John 13, “Love one another as I have loved you,” He had just washed their feet. At that point, He wasn’t saying, “You know, these disciples are so wonderful, they’re just irresistible.”
No, they were cantankerous, ugly, arguing over who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. They were acting sinful, they were self-motivated and self-centered, and couldn’t even be considerate enough to consider Christ going to the cross and comfort Him. They were acting about as ugly as they ever acted in the New Testament, and yet He said, “Love each other like I’ve loved you.” What did He do? He washed their dirty feet.
And that’s what He’s saying. Love is an act of service to one in need, not necessarily an emotion. You’ll notice that He says, “Love your enemies.” And then the text also in the King James says, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
Now, that’s not in the critical text or manuscript text. It’s been brought into this one from Luke 6. The Lord did say it, Matthew just didn’t include it, and some scribe brought it over. But it’s really true. If you love your enemy when he curses you, you’ll bless him, and when he hates you, you’ll do good to him. That’s the practical outworking of it. You see, it is no so much the feeling – watch this – it is not so much the feeling, as when your enemy is your enemy, you say things that bless him, and you do good to him. It is what you say and what you do that God is after, not how you feel. You may have an enemy, and in your heart you know there is no great human affection. You know there’ll never be a great friendship. You know you’ll never embrace him like a person in your family, but you will, with your mouth, bless him in what you say, and with your life, bless him in what you do. So we find that the love that we’re talking about is the love of action, not the love of emotion.
Look with me for a moment at 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 – 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. And what is it saying, but perhaps the greatest definition ever given of love? I want to have you note verse 4-7, just briefly. We could spend a lot of time on this, and rightly we should, and have in the past, but for this moment, just a brief look. But keep in mind one great and important truth: there are 15 characteristics of love given here. All of them appear in a verbal form. They are not presented as substantives, they are presented as verbs. Why? Because love is doing, love is an action; love can never be defined statically. Love can never be defined as a plateau. Love is always an activity, always an action.
And by the way, somebody has titled this as “The Beatitudes Set to Music,” or “A lyrical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount,” so others have seen the parallel. But Paul, in describing love, uses verbs, because love is only described in terms of what it does; that’s all. And I suppose the reason that you don’t always believe somebody who says they love you when they say it, is because they say it, but there never seems to be anything done about it. And you have every right to question that kind of love, because love does things. For example, verse 4, “Love is patient.” Literally means long-tempered, and most times, the word is used of patience with people. “Love is patient, love is kind.” It means literally in the Greek useful. In other words, love sets itself to do deeds of kindness that help people in their time of need.
Then it says, “Love does not envy.” That is, it doesn’t have a competitive spirit, it isn’t jealous. It joys in another’s success. It says, “Love is not boastful.” It is not boastful, it vaunteth not itself, means it’s not boastful, and I think the Greek word there has mostly to do with outward bragging, outward pretense, outward showing off; the voice of conceit. And then it says following that, it says, “Love is not puffed up,” and I think that’s talking more about the inside, the inward, big-headed, self-centered. See, love is not self-centered. It’s patient toward people, it’s kind, and it has not competitive spirit, no jealousy, never envies anybody else’s position or anybody else’s situation at all, and can just totally rejoice in somebody else’s success.
“Love does not behave rudely or unseemly,” it says. That’s such a beautiful thought at the beginning of verse 5. “Love is always considerate,” always concerned with somebody else, always tender in dealing with people, even evil people. Love never insists on its rights. You know, today you can even take courses. Do you know this? You can even go to seminars a week long and take courses on how to assert your rights. That’s not the way love acts. “Love seeks not its own.” In other words, it’s unselfish; it only seeks the things of others. “Love is not provoked,” and that means it doesn’t have a sudden outburst of anger or rage. It never reacts to injury or loses its temper. “Love thinks no evil,” that is, it always imagines the best about people. It always wants to think the very best. It always wants to give the benefit of the doubt. It always forgives and forgets, and never carries a grudge, and is never defensive, never eager to blame somebody else.
And then it says, “Love,” in verse 6, “rejoices not in iniquity.” Love never takes pleasure when someone else sins, never takes pleasure when someone else is chastised. “It rejoices in the truth.” That is, love is positive, encouraging, goodness. And “Love,” then four things: “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love bears all things. It’s a beautiful Greek word; it means to cover something. It throws a blanket on other’s faults; it just covers them up. It believes all things – it’s never suspicious, it always believes the best. It hopes all things; even when it knows there’s a failure, it’s optimistic enough to believe that something different is going to happen. There’s going to be a change. It refuses to take the failure as final. And then, love endures all things. No matter what you do to love, verse 8 says, “Love never fails.”
Whoa, what a great picture. Just like shining a light into a prism, it splatters all of the colors of love. Do you love like that? That’s the kind of love that characterizes our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the way God loves. If you don’t love like that, you need a Savior. If you’ve received the forgiveness for a lack of love, and Christ lives in your heart, and you have forgiveness, and you have His love shed abroad, as Romans 5:5 says, but you’re not letting that love out, you’re bottling it up, then you need to make a new commitment to love the way He says you’re to love.
The commentator Lenksi says, “It indeed sees all the hatefulness and the wickedness of the enemy, feels his stabs and his blows, may even have something to do toward warding them off. But all this simply fills the loving heart with the one desire and aim to free its enemy from his hate, to rescue him from his sin, and thus to save his soul. Mere affection is often blind, but even then it thinks that it sees something attractive in the one toward whom it goes. The higher love may see nothing attractive in the one so loved. His inner motive is simply to bestow true blessing on the one loved and to do him the highest good.”
Lenski says, “I cannot love a low, mean criminal who robs me and threatens my life, at least in the sense of liking him. And I cannot like a false, lying, slanderous fellow, who perhaps has vilified me again and again. But I can, by the grace of Jesus Christ, love them all, see what is wrong with them, desire and work to do them only good, and most of all, to free them from their vicious ways.” End quote.
And so we are to love, not in terms of a feeling, but in terms of service. Paul says it so beautifully in Romans 12, verse 20; let me read it to you. “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him. If he thirst, give him drink.” That’s how you treat an enemy – if he’s hungry, feed him, and if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. “For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Basically, I think that means to bring conviction upon him, to make him feel bad about his hatred and his sin. “And be not overcome by evil.” In other words, when somebody does evil to you, don’t retaliate, don’t lose the battle, but overcome that evil with your goodness. Let the enemy come and throw everything he can at you. It’ll never make you fall into sin. “You will drown his evil,” as Chrysostom said, “Like a spark that falls into the sea, so does an injury find itself extinguished when it comes into the sea of the love of a believer.” When people cast their sparks of hatred at us, may they be as quenched as the spark in the sea. Now, Jesus simply then says, “Love your enemies.”
Secondly, moving up this ascending ladder of truth about love, He says, “Pray for your persecutors.” In verse 44: “And pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.” Praying here, simply beseeching God on their behalf. Despitefully using you is using you for a negative purpose, or abusing you; and certainly, persecution is clear. When somebody comes along and does despite to you, or does evil to you, or harms you, injures you, persecutes you, what are you to do? You are to go before the Lord on their behalf and intercede for them. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. That’s what Stephen did. I’ve read so many stories about those who have died for faith, and even while they were being consumed in the flames, they were praying for those who were persecuting them.
I remember reading in a tremendous book, A Distant Grief – you ought to read that book if you haven’t read it – I told you the story of Kefa Sempangi some months ago, and that book is available now. How they came to take his life in Uganda under Idi Amin, and came these men with the guns pointed at his head, and he began to confront them with the gospel and pray to God to change their lives, and the very men that came to kill him bowed the knee to Jesus Christ.
“Pray for those who persecute you.” You know, there is no persecution in the world, and there is no hatred in the world as severe as hatred regarding religious things. You see, man lives with sin, and man lives with tremendous guilt, and guilt produces fear, and the ultimate fear that man has is the fear of death, what’s going to happen. If there is a God and I have sinned, will I be punished? Man lives with the imminence of punishment, and thus man lives in fear. So man inevitably constructs a system in which he can deal with this fear. He convinces himself that he’s okay, that he’s kept enough rules that God is going to let him into heaven, that he’s really not such a bad guy. Or else he just decides there is no God at all – I will not come under guilt, I will not have the fear of judgment, and I’ll get rid of it by just saying there’s no God.
When you go to an individual and say, “You’re a sinner. You will die and go to Hell apart from Jesus Christ. You need to be redeemed, and you need to be saved,” you are striking that individual at the core of his deepest pain, because you are dragging back all of his anxiety, all of the sin, all of the guilt, all of the fear that he has managed somehow to sublimate under his philosophy or religion. Do you see? You’re tearing it all open again. And that’s why the most severe persecution is always religious, because you are unmasking people at their most vulnerable point.
Besides that, persecution brings to focus the real battle between Satan and God, so religious persecution throughout history has always been the most intense, always. And when we really stand up and live for Jesus Christ in this society, we will get persecuted; and more and more, people, all the time, this is going to happen. The question is, in the midst of the most heinous kind of hatred, at the point of the most serious reaction to persecution, can we pray on the behalf of the very one who seeks to destroy us? That’s what Jesus said we are to do.
“What do you mean pray?” I think He means to beseech God for their highest good. I don’t think He’s talking about the prayer of importunity to call down fire from Heaven and consume them. I think He’s praying here for their salvation. I was reading Spurgeon a couple of weeks ago, and I found a little sentence in one of his messages, and he said, “Prayer is the forerunner of mercy.” When we pray, we release God’s mercy in a very real way, and this is what I think Jesus is saying. “Pray for your persecutors. The very ones who would take your life, pray for them.” You know, we can point out our enemies. We can say, “Boy, they’re enemies of Christ, and they’re enemies of the Cross and the Bible and the church,” and we can forget that what we hate is what they represent, but we must love who they are. Hate the sin and love the sinner, you know? And pray for them.
Wouldn’t it be great if we just began to pray for the people who are set against us? Praying what? That they would be redeemed – you know what, just that prayer in and of itself will fill your heart with love. It will wash your soul to pray like that. When somebody comes to me and they’ll say, “You know, I’ve got a problem with so-and-so. They just – I resent them,” and this, my answer is always the same, “I’ll tell you what to do: pray for them. Set aside a certain time every day and pray for them.” You know what happens? That begins to wash the soul of bitterness when you pray for somebody and you ask God to be merciful.
In fact, Chrysostom also said that kind of prayer is the very highest summit of self-control. You’ve really brought your life into conformity to God’s standards when you can pray for your persecutors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suffered so much in Nazi Germany, said “This is the supreme command. Through the medium of prayer, we go to our enemy, we stand by his side, and we plead to God for him.” Oh, what a beautiful thing that is. The cruel torture of crucifixion couldn’t silence Jesus’ prayer. The crushing stones couldn’t silence Stephen’s prayer, but I wonder what has silenced your prayer for your enemy. So love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.
And then we ascend another level up: “manifest your sonship.” That’s the third point – manifest your sonship, verse 45, and it starts with hopōs in the Greek, which indicates purpose. Why love your enemies? Why pray for your persecutors? “For the purpose that you may be the sons of your Father.” The Bible says God is love. If God is love, and I’m His child, then I should be characterized by love, and so 1 John says, “If you do not show love to your brother, how can you claim to be a child of God?” Don’t claim you belong to God if you don’t manifest love. And Jesus is not saying, “You will become a son of God if you love.” He’s not saying, “Now, just muster up enough love, and you can get yourself into being a son.” He is saying, “You will prove the validity of the claim that you’re a son when love is manifested in your life.” You will prove it.
It’s kind of like Peter said; we already have this divine nature, we already have received this incorruptible character. But to make our calling and election sure, we have to add to what we’ve received virtue, and so forth. In other words, we’ll never convince anybody we belong to God unless we’re like Him, and He loves. Manifest your sonship. I told you some years ago that when I was a little boy, I got into trouble stealing some things from a Sears store with a little friend, and they took us and they put us in the City Jail in Glendale. My father was out playing golf with a couple of deacons, and he was notified about it. He came to get me at the jail thinking it was a mistake, and then tried to explain to his deacons what his son was doing in jail.
But I remember when I got home, my mother was crying, and she didn’t think I would do such a thing. And I’ll never forget what some person said to me – I can’t even remember who it was – and they just kind of went, “Johnny MacArthur, did you forget who your father was?” I never forgot that. I owed something to my father; he had given me my very life. I wanted to be his son. One of my little boys, Mark, said to me the other day, he said, “Dad, are you ever going to retire?” I said, “No.” He said, “Good, ’cause I’m glad you’re a preacher.” I said, “Are you glad to be my son?” He said, “Yes, I’m glad to be your son.”
Well, I’m glad to be my father’s son, too, but I think it’s only right that I manifest something of my father’s character, right? And that’s what Jesus is saying. “You know, you Pharisees and scribes may claim to be the sons of God, but if you don’t manifest the character of God, you’ll never convince anybody, never.” What is the biggest criticism that people have of the truth of the gospel? It’s the people who claim to live it, but don’t. That’s always it. “There are so many hypocrites in the church.” The best answer for that is, “Come on in, we’ve got room for more.” But it’s true that the biggest detriment to Christianity is Christians. I mean we just don’t live up to the standard that we ourselves ascribe to. So that’s the problem.
Manifest your sonship, let it become a settled fact, prove it. You know, there are people who are Christians, but you’d never know it, because they don’t love like this. But I’ll tell you, you find someone whose life is full of love, who overflows with love, who gushes out with love toward everybody, be he friend or foe, and the world will have a very difficult time assuming that that person comes from a human source, because people don’t love like that. That’s exactly what the Lord goes on to say in this verse. He says, “You are to be the sons of your Father who is in Heaven.” In other words, your style of life ought to be one that isn’t earthy. You ought to manifest a heavenly source.
That’s why He identifies the Father as the one who is in Heaven. Not your earthly father, your heavenly one. Not with a human approach to life, as good as that may be philanthropically speaking, but in a manifestation of love that is only possibly described as heavenly. Then He says, “How is that so? Well, look at God. He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good. He sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” First He talks about the evil and the good, and then He inverts it and talks about the just and the unjust. And He switches those two back and forth – the evil come first one time and the good come first the next time – in order that you might see the point here is impartiality.
He inverts the order, just to show you what he’s saying is God loves everybody. When the sun comes up and shines in its beauty and spreads its warmth, it’s for everybody, and when the rain falls, it’s for everybody. The other night, we were out watching our son play a football game in the evening, in a place outside of the city, and the clouds were puffy, and I saw two rainbows over here, and one rainbow here, and these big beautiful clouds, and the moon, and I was enjoying it, just a beautiful evening, a little rain was trickling down. And you know, all the rest of the people all around me didn’t know the Lord – they enjoyed it, too.
The sun comes up and gives light, and it grows your grass, and it grows my grass, and it grows the grass of the people on our block who don’t know that God even exists, and couldn’t care less. Why? Because God is good, and God is indiscriminate in His benevolence. This is what Calvin called common grace – common grace. Divine love and providence touches everybody, and this is what He’s saying. “Look, be like your Father. Let your love be so indiscriminate that your sun shines on everybody, and your rain falls on the just and the unjust. Then it’ll be obvious that you belong to your Father.”
There’s an old rabbinic tale that tells of the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, and when the Egyptians were drowned, it says the angels began to praise God. And God lifted His hand mournfully and silenced the angels, and said, “The work of My hands are sunk in the sea, and you would sing?” God loved Pharaoh. God loved Pharaoh’s soldiers, because God is love. Be manifesting your sonship by praying for your persecutors and loving your enemies. In Psalm 145:15, we read this. Listen to it carefully. “The eyes of all” – get that word all – “the eyes of all wait upon Thee, and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thy hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” Who is the source of all supply for every living thing? It is God. It is God.
All men receive common grace, providential love. Not all receive that very, very special love that is reserved for God’s covenant people who come to the blood of Christ. Just an illustration – Genesis 17:20, “As for Ishmael” – Ishmael was an illegitimate son, not the covenant son of Abraham, not the one God had planned for the Messianic line, but a son taken in adultery from Hagar. “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee. Behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. Twelve princes shall he beget, and I’ll make him a great nation.” Did you hear that? God is even gracious to an illegitimate son. God is even gracious to a not a people, to an outcast. That’s God’s love.
But verse 21 says, “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac.” Listen, God loved Ishmael, but He had something real special for Isaac. God loves all, and the world, but He has something very special for His covenant people who come in faith to Christ. Common grace is a wonderful thing, providential love is a wonderful thing, but it will not save you. For that, you must come to Christ. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors, and thereby you will manifest your sonship.”
Number four, exceed your fellow men – exceed your fellow men. This is a brief and clear point. Verse 46, “For if you love them who love you, what reward have ye?” I mean, if you just go around love the people in your group, are you to be commended? If you just love the people who agree with you, and think like you, and belong to your little thing, are you to be commended? Are you to receive some kind of reward? “Do not even the tax collectors the same?” I want you to know, folks, that you can never in any way imagine the emotion of the Pharisees and the scribes when He got done with that one sentence. “Do not even the tax collectors the same?” I mean, they must have gone into real fits.
If there was anybody they hated, it was the publicans. Why? Because these were renegade, traitor Jews, who had committed treason against Israel by lining up with the Roman government to extort from the people taxes to pad their own pockets. They had become the pawns of the Romans, who wanted - literally, a Roman citizen would buy a certain territory in the Roman empire, and he would have the rights to exact the taxes out of that territory. Then he would hire renegade, rabble-rouser Jews, who wanted only money and thought nothing of their people, and those Jews would then collect the tax. They had to get a certain amount for this guy, and all the rest they could skim off for themselves. They became despised, despicable.
In fact, you read Matthew, you read Mark, you read Luke, and you will find again and again and again the despised character of the publicans, or tax collectors, defined in those passages. Now, He says to them, “Look, if you love them who love you, what reward have you? You just love the people with your own pride, and your own prejudice, and your own narrow little thing. You’re no better than traitors, and renegades, and publicans, because they love their group too.” In other words, “You don’t prove you belong in My Kingdom.” They thought, you know, “We have love; why, we love the people in our group.” He says, “Yeah, well that’s great. So do the worst people in the human race.”
They do that. They love each other. Murderers have something in common, so do thieves, and robbers, and adulterers, and extortioners, and whatever. You know, it’s interesting to me, in just doing some reading about the criminal mind. Some people can’t wait to get back in prison because that’s where their element is. Do you know that? One of the major reasons that people commit crimes again and again is because they’re more at home in the jail than they are on the outside, because that’s their people. They love those people. “You’re no better than that,” He says, “if all you can do is love the people in your group.”
If you think that was a blow, the next one was even worse. He says in verse 47, “If you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? Don’t even the Gentiles do that? If all you could do is warmly embrace,” the word greet having to do with a warm embrace with a kiss, as was done in the East, “If you only have a warm and affectionate embrace for your brothers, you’re no better than a Gentile.” Now folks, there’s only one thing worse than a tax collector. What was that? A Gentile. And I mean Jesus didn’t pull any punches. When He told them they were no better than tax collectors and Gentiles, He was really getting them where they hurt. “Some kind of religion you’ve got,” He says. “You’re no better.”
Look at the statement in the middle of verse 47, I just love this statement. “What do ye more than others?” What makes you different? If you don’t exceed the human standard, you’re no different. Why should you be rewarded for being like everybody else? Why should God reserve His Kingdom for you? Why should God reserve His crowns for you? Why should God pour out His blessings on you? You’re no better than anybody else. Now, this is a devastating statement, folks. He’s saying that religious people are no better than heathen people. He’s saying that people who function in the temple are no better than people who extort.
You’re all sinners, you see; it’s just a matter of kind of sin. You’re no better than the rest. What do you do more than anybody else? What makes you different? Beloved, that’s a question for us to face, you know, those of us that are Christians. What makes us different in the world? Are we different on the job because our ethics are different, our conversation is different, our attitude is different, our love is different? Are we different in our homes? Are we different in our communities? Because if we’re not different, we have nothing to say to this society – that they’re going to believe.
Oswald Sanders said, “The Master expects from His disciples such conduct as can be explained only in terms of the supernatural.” And if your conduct can only be explained in terms of the supernatural, then you’ve got something to say to the society, they’re going to take note. But if you’re like everybody else, what is the difference? What do you have that they don’t have? If we’re to speak to this age, and call this godless age to Jesus Christ, and let them know that there’s something real about Christ, it’ll be when our lives are unique, and have no other explanation than that God is there.
So Jesus says, “Love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, manifest our sonship, and exceed our fellow men,” and one more. “Be like our God.” This is the summum bonum. This is the epitome of His statement, verse 48. “Therefore” – all these four only lead up to this – “Be ye perfect.” And I’ve heard people say, “Oh, yes, but He means mature. He means you need to be growing, you need to be moving along, you need to be coming along, and just growing up.” Listen: He says, “Be ye perfect.” How perfect? “As perfect as your Father who is in Heaven.” And He’s not just coming along, he’s there.
The point is this: you are to be like God. You say, “Well, that standard is too high.” You’re right, and that’s exactly what He wanted the Pharisees to know. You can’t make it. I think this is beautifully illustrated in Matthew 19, and I want you see this, just very briefly, and then we’ll draw to a conclusion. But Matthew 19, verse 23; you know this because you’ve heard it before, but let me read it to you. “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall with difficulty enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Now, this is a very hard statement for them to hear, right, that a rich man shall with difficulty enter the kingdom? You know why that was hard?
Because they believed that rich people got into the kingdom easier than everybody else. Why? Because they believed, basically their system taught you get into the Kingdom by works. The richer you are, the greater your works. Why? You can buy more lambs to sacrifice. You can buy more bullocks to sacrifice. You can give more money into the temple treasury. In other words, you’re more religious. You can buy your way into the kingdom. The richer you are, the more sacrifices you make, the more money you give, the greater ease you’ll have in getting into the kingdom.
But He reverses the whole deal. “A rich man with difficulty enters the kingdom.” How difficult? “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now, I’ve heard people say all kinds of things about this. They say, “Oh, well, too bad Jesus said this; it’s very confusing. A camel can’t get through the eye of a needle.” Well, that’s pretty obvious. I got that right off the bat. Camels cannot get through the eye of a needle. I’ve heard all kinds of things. “If you could arrange the molecules of a camel in a straight line and you could put him through the eye of needle. If you could reduce a camel to liquid, you could eye-drop it through the eye of a needle,” on and on and on.
I’ve even heard a deal about a needle gate, you know, a little low gate, and all the camels had to crawl through. If they were going to build such a gate – and archaeologists, I don’t think, have ever found such a one – but if they were going to build one for camels, they wouldn’t build it like that. They’d make it big enough for camels to go through. I mean they were totally inept in those days. What is He saying? He is saying it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter into Heaven. You say, “But a camel can’t go through the eye of a needle.” And that’s what He’s saying – “And neither can a rich man buy his way into Heaven.” It’s just as impossible.
That’s the next verse. “When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed,” and they wouldn’t have been if they knew about a needle gate. They said, “Who then can be saved?” If a rich man can’t be saved, who can? “Jesus beheld them and said unto them, ‘With men this is” – what – “impossible. With God, all things are possible.” You want to know what He’s saying? Nobody can be saved. Not a rich man, a poor man, or anybody in between. The man with the most possible potential, money, whatever, can’t do it; nobody can be saved on his own. Nobody can do it through flesh or works, but with God anything is possible.
What Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount is the same thing, “Be perfect.” They’re supposed to say, “But I can’t be perfect.” And that’s when He says, “Right; and if you fall short of perfection, you need a Savior.” And that’s where Jesus comes in, and brings to you what Peter calls the divine nature, and makes you like God, a partaker of His nature. Then God, in a miracle of salvation, does for you what you could never do for yourself – be like God. When you came to Jesus Christ, positionally, you were made like God. You were given His eternal life, His righteousness, you became like Him in that sense. And now you need to bring your behavior into harmony with your position.
Listen: a Christian is not someone who keeps the Sermon on the Mount. A Christian is somebody who knows he can’t, do you see – and comes to Jesus Christ for forgiveness for the sin of falling short, and receives from Christ the forgiveness, and then the power to begin to live these principles. That’s the point of the message. Even when you fail, you’re forgiven, because Christ has paid the price for your sin. That’s the message. And so back to where I started. If you’re not a Christian, what’s the message to you? If you don’t love like this, that’s a sin, and if you’re a sinner, you need a Savior. Jesus Christ will come in and forgive your sin of lovelessness. Jesus will cleanse your life, and He’ll plant His love in your heart, and then He will teach you how to love the way He wants you to love. For some of you, this is a call to salvation. For some of you, it’s an exhortation to let the love that’s there flow.
My favorite illustration – I close – about loving an enemy is this one. Abraham Lincoln was held in contempt by a man named Mr. Stanton. He called Lincoln, “A low, cunning clown,” and he nicknamed him ‘the original gorilla,’ and he said that men were foolish to wander around Africa trying to capture a gorilla when they could find one in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln never said anything to Stanton, and because Stanton was the best man for the job, when Lincoln needed a war minister for the United States, he chose Mr. Stanton. He appointed him over all of the soldiers of the United States. He treated him with love and courtesy, and the years passed.
The night an assassin’s bullet tore out Lincoln’s life, in a little room to which the President’s body was taken, there stood that same Mr. Stanton, looking down into the silent face of Abraham Lincoln with all its ruggedness and character. And speaking through his tears, he said, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” And because Mr. Lincoln could love him with a forgiving love, he received and returned his adoration. Beloved, Jesus is calling us to love our unlovely, unlovable world with a love that knows no discrimination, and such a love will show that we’re like God, and reveal God to them. That’s the beginning of an effective evangelism. May God help us to love the way we are to love to manifest His nature. Let’s pray.
Lord, we’re so much aware here in our own church of people with needs: transportation for the elderly and the handicapped, housecleaning for old people and people who are handicapped. People need jobs, houses, medical, legal, financial help. We have children who need help, like Buddy that we mentioned this morning. We have kids at the juvenile hall, people in the jails and the hospitals, and we need some people whose hearts are filled with love to touch these people, to reach out, pick up the wounded and the needy. Lord, we need to love each other no matter where we are, in human definition, the way You love all and are good to all. Teach us to love that we may be known as Your children. In Jesus’ name, amen.