To wrap up this long, long year of very special, unique messages, there is one more that I need to discharge before the Lord, from my heart to yours, and it is drawn out of a text that I want you to turn to now. It’s Matthew chapter 5, verses 43 to 48. Matthew 5:43 to 48. I’m going to read these words to you, and then introduce the direction of this text for us, and then we’ll dig into it.
Our Lord speaks and says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Pretty direct point. If you want to be like God, love your enemies.
I suppose in my lifetime and yours we have not had as many aggressive enemies as we do today, at all levels. The kingdom of darkness has become more hostile than ever—hostile to the light, hostile to the gospel, hostile to Christ, hostile to the church, hostile to the truth. And that hostility is being ramped up at a level we have never seen in our society, being played out perhaps in its most dramatic form up in Alberta, as The Master’s Seminary graduate James Coates languishes in prison for another couple of months because the judge would not grant him bail, because he would go out and preach the gospel; while at the same time releasing a child molester, causing the police department to send out a bulletin. They knew he would do it again. This is like a microcosm illustration of where this culture is: Release the child molester, and keep the preacher in prison.
We rightly resent the wickedness of that. We rightly resent the legalizing of the murder of infants. We rightly resent sexual perversion in all its form. We hate the fact that the role of men, the role of women, the place of children, the family are being systematically destroyed. We are deeply saddened at racial destruction going on by identity politics in our country. We are disturbed by the breakdown of the social order, where we are no longer feeling like we are a nation ruled by law. We are concerned about escalating socialism, which empowers the elite even more and takes away freedom. Socialism and freedom are mutually exclusive by definition. The combination of all this dominant wickedness growing at such a rapid rate. And while we have been able to communicate the truth in the midst of this, we feel like we are slowly being cancelled so that we’re not going to have the opportunity to say what we say, to proclaim the truth in the forms of media that have been available to us in the past.
It’s hard to get your heart in the right place because these things are hostile to us, and they are reproaches that primarily are directed at God. And as the psalmist said, “The reproaches that fall on you fall on me.” When God is dishonored, I feel the pain. What God hates, I hate. What makes God angry makes me angry. But that’s not to be our attitude here—we just saw it in this clear text. We are to be like God in that we love our enemies.
We have talked so much about the hostility that’s around, that’s escalating. We’ve talked about coming persecution. We’ve talked about the criminalization of righteousness and the legalization of unrighteousness. We’ve talked about a world being flipped on its head. We need to hear the message of this text.
Now this is from the Sermon on the Mount. And there are six contrasts, starting in verse 21. Jesus is talking to the Jews, and He is acknowledging that they have been taught by their scribes and Pharisees and rabbis certain things. But they are inconsistent with what God wants them to know. And so you have six times this little couplet, starting at verse 21: “You have heard,” verse 22, “but I say.” Verse 27, “You have heard, but I say.” Verse 31, “It was said, but I say.” Verse 33, “You have heard,” verse 34, “but I say.” Verse 38, “You have heard, but I say.” And then finally down to verse 43, “You have heard, but I say.” The Lord is making a stark contrast between what He commands and what exists in the apostate traditional form of Judaism. Our Lord is attacking corrupt Judaism.
You will notice in your Bible, very likely, that each time Jesus says, “You have heard,” there’s a statement in uppercase letters, which means it’s drawn from the Old Testament. It wasn’t that they ignored the Old Testament; each of those has a reference to an Old Testament text. They had built their system on an Old Testament text. Our Lord’s issue with them was that it was too superficial; it was all on the outside.
When God commanded not to murder, He also bound up in that command not to hate. When God commanded not to commit adultery, bound up in that command is not even to look on a woman to lust after her, or you’ve committed adultery in your heart. When God said, “Don’t divorce,” He meant don’t divorce for any reason other than immorality. They had come up with many, many justifications for divorce.
When God said, “Don’t make false vows, don’t lie,” God didn’t mean unless you swear by heaven, and that somehow covers your lie. When God said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” He wasn’t turning over vengeance to you; vengeance belongs to Him. It wasn’t that they didn’t have Bible verses to go with their system. They did, but they misrepresented them. And never is there a more clear misrepresentation than in verse 43, where He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies.”
The religion of Judaism had flattened God’s commands to one external dimension—to justify hate, to justify lust, to justify divorce, to justify lies, to justify vengeance, to justify anger. But holiness is much deeper than that. But this is a classic look at superficial Pharisaic externalism. There’s certain things they don’t do, but below the surface they’re full of dead men’s bones. They’re marked by anger, lust, divorce, lies, vengeance, and hate; and consequently they are living in violation of God’s commands and God’s will. It’s the heart issue that concerns the Lord, always the heart issue; and that’s the issue that He addresses in the text before us.
I want you to look at the final matter then, verses 43 and following, which I read to you—this matter of loving your neighbor and also loving your enemy. Second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” right? And the Jews wreaked havoc with that by defining neighbor so narrowly that it came back down to only the people that they chose to love, essentially only the people in their group. They went so far as to say the general population was cursed; and they had legitimized their distain for the general population, if not their hate. They loved their neighbor, all right—if you let them define their neighbor.
So let’s look at that. We’ll begin with the tradition of the Jews, then we’ll look at the teaching of the Old Testament, and then the truth from Christ.
So let’s look at verse 43. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” This is the superficial rabbinic form of low-level theology in defective Judaism. “You have heard that it was said”—the familiar phrase that introduces the teaching of the rabbis. “You have been taught, ‘You shall love your neighbor.’” And that’s a good start; Leviticus 19:17 and 18 commands that you love your neighbor. Matthew 22, Jesus said, “This is the second and great commandment: ‘Love your neighbor.’”
By the way, they left out “as yourself” purposely because that’s too much to ask. There is, by the way, no command in the Bible to love yourself—that’s just part of your fallen corrupt nature; you do that by default. The Bible doesn’t command you to love yourself, the Bible commands you to love your neighbor as yourself. And how do you love yourself? Well, you ought to be familiar with it, it’s what you do all the time. Our love to ourselves is unfeigned, fervent, habitual, permanent. It respects all our needs, all our wants, all our interests, all our desires, all of our hopes, all of our ambitions. It prompts us to do everything possible to secure our own happiness, well-being, satisfaction, welfare, comfort, interests. It seeks our own pleasure and fulfillment, knows no limit in the effort, and secures all this—and protection from any harm. And oh, by the way, our love for ourselves is very forgiving, have you noticed? It’s a rare person who loves his neighbor that way.
So immediately we are faced with the reality that we don’t love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, which is the first command, so we fall short there. And we certainly don’t love our neighbor as ourselves, so we fall short there. And consequently we are all under divine punishment. You can take the law in its several parts or you can reduce it down to ten commandments, or you can reduce it down to two commandments—and whatever way you look at it, we fall short.
The Jews justified the fact that they hated their enemies by adding, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Now that’s after they had already narrowly defined neighbor. Neighbor was another Jew, another Jew in their group. Not tax collectors, not the rabble. As I mentioned, John 7:47–49 says they cursed the rabble, the Jewish population in general. Their narrow definition of neighbor was somebody in their group. And everybody else outside that highly defined group, they had a right to hate.
They conveniently ignored—while they were looking at Leviticus 19:17–18, which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”—they conveniently ignored verse 34, which says, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” Oh, that’s pretty selective. They took verses 17 and 18, and ignored verse 34, which says, “You are to love the stranger as yourself.” And they ignored Exodus 12:49, “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” You don’t have the right to pick and choose.
But this hate of anybody outside the group had developed in some very sophisticated ways. There was one of the familiar sects of Judaism called the Essenes. They were kind of a monastic sect; they lived out by the Dead Sea. That’s where the Dead Sea Scrolls originated. And the Essenes say things like this, and this is from their teaching: “Love all that God has chosen, and hate all that He has rejected. Love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God’s community, and hate all the sons of darkness.”
The Levites curse all the sons of Belial. And who are the sons of Belial? Non-Essenes. So if you’re not in our group, you’re cursed. And this was viewed as a level of righteousness that proved that they really knew the mind and the heart of God—at least to them.
So in tradition, in what had developed in Judaism, the command to love your neighbors became a license to hate. One of the maxims of the Pharisees, I’ll quote: “If a Jew sees a Gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out thence; for it is written, ‘Thou shall not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor.’ But this man is not thy neighbor.” If you see a Gentile drowning, let him drown; you have a right to be indifferent. It is a small wonder, then, that the Romans charged the Jews with hatred of humankind.
So they were very selective in picking Old Testament texts to avoid what God actually said was to love everyone as you love yourself. What does the Old Testament actually teach? That’s their tradition—but let’s look at the Old Testament.
The Jews entered Canaan—you know the story, of course—and they were commanded to exterminate the Canaanites. They were told, Deuteronomy 23, that the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Midianites were not to be treated with kindness as a people. You got that? They were not to be treated with kindness as a people. In fact, they were to be executed. And you would say, reading the imprecatory psalms, it seems as though God’s hatred toward people is severe; why is it wrong for us?
For example, in Psalm 69 verse 22, this the psalmist prays: “May their table,” speaking of his enemies, “their table before them become a snare; and when they’re in peace, may it become a trap. May their eyes grow dim so they cannot see, and their loins shake continually. Pour out Your indignation on them, and may Your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be desolate; may none dwell in their tents. For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten, and they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded. Adding iniquity to iniquity, and may they not come into Your righteousness. May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous.” Wow, pretty severe.
What is that? That is a psalmist affirming the divine design of God to war against the nations that threatened Israel. The wars of Israel were the only holy wars in history, the only holy wars in history authorized by God as acts of judgment. God doesn’t withhold judgment—He drowned the entire world, didn’t He, in the day of Noah? The Old Testament is filled with many, many judgments. And the wars of Israel were not acts of personal vengeance by the Jewish people, they were commands by God for judgment to fall on those nations surrounding Israel, which proved to be a deadly threat.
God is the only one who can command that because vengeance belongs to the Lord: “I will repay.” Only by divine command can an imprecatory psalm be prayed on the head of an enemy of Israel. By the way, there’s no such imprecation in prayer in the New Testament. This was tied to God’s protection and preservation of His people in the Old Testament so that they would be sustained to the arrival of Messiah. In the imprecatory psalms, the psalmists don’t speak with personal hatred, personal animosity; they speak as a representative of God. They speak as a representative of God’s people. And He regards the idolatrous wicked as the enemies of God—Psalm 69:9, as you heard.
So that is the only set of divinely authorized holy wars in history. The issues were judicial on the part of God. He was bringing judgment, just and righteous judgment, at the time He deemed it needed to be done; it was never personal. But the Pharisees and the scribes and the rabbis had personalized all of that and used Scriptures like that to justify their personal hatred. They took, essentially, prerogatives that belonged only to God and operated them in their personal relationships. Even in the New Testament Jesus shows a different attitude than God took in dealing with the nations to protect Israel. Jesus looked at Jerusalem, and what did He do? He wept. He wept. Jesus the Judge, to whom all judgment is committed, wept over the rejectors.
There is a kind of perfect hatred. I will admit that because it’s in Psalm 139, and it’s expressed clearly. Listen to verses 19 and following: “O that You would slay the wicked, O God; depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed. For they speak against You wickedly, and Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.”
That is a perfect hatred. That is a righteous hatred. That is the attitude of the martyrs in Revelation 6 in the fifth seal, who are under the altar praying that the Lord will put an end to the persecution of the time of the Tribulation. It is right to hate what God hates and love what God loves, in the broad sense. It is right to feel the pain when God is dishonored: “The reproaches that fall on You fall on me.”
I remember the story of Henry Martyn, missionary to India. And when he arrived there, he went into a Hindu temple where there were all kinds of atrocities, forms of idolatry, and he watched what was going on. And in his own writings, he wrote this as he left: “I cannot endure existence if Jesus is to be so dishonored.”
I feel that pain, and so do you, don’t you? You feel that pain. The reproaches that fall on your Lord fall on you, and you feel the pain, and you hate that. You hate that God is dishonored. You hate that Christ is dishonored. You hate that the name of Jesus Christ is used as a swear word. You hate when Jesus is demeaned and blasphemed. You hate that, and you have every reason to hate that. That’s a holy hatred. That’s a righteous indignation. That’s the Spirit of God in you showing you what to love and what to hate.
But clearly that doesn’t give you justification to hate individual sinners. Listen to Exodus 23, verses 4 and 5: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away”—not much chance of that now, but you get the point—“you shall surely return it to him.” If you find somebody’s donkey or ox straying away, take it back to him. “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it, you shall surely release it.” If you find somebody’s donkey on the ground because the load is too great, even if it’s your enemy, you relieve the donkey of its burden. You express kindness, not only toward your neighbor or your enemy, but toward your enemy’s animal.
I think there’s a couple of really graphic illustrations of this. You remember the story in 1 Samuel 24 when David went into the cave, same cave Saul was in, and Saul was trying to find a way to kill David. And David was hiding in the very same cave that Saul was in; and Saul was in the cave, the Bible says, relieving himself, and David could have killed him. He was in a compromised position. But David went up and cut a little piece off his garment—and David refused to take his life. And it says, in 1 Samuel 24:10, because David pitied him. He pitied him. He had a sense of compassion toward his most severe and deadly enemy, and would not take his life.
There was Shimei, in 2 Samuel 16, who started cursing David. People said, “Tell him to stop. Tell him to stop.” And David said, “No, no; let him curse.” There’s a purpose in this. That’s goodness to evil enemies.
In Job 31:29 and 30, Job, defending his godly virtue, said these words: “Have I rejoiced at the extinction of my enemy, or rejoiced when evil befell him? No, I have not allowed my mouth to sin by asking for his life in a curse.” There are some enemies pretty seriously doing damage to Job, right? “I didn’t ask for his life in a curse.”
Proverbs 25:21, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he’s thirsty, give him water to drink . . . and the Lord will reward you.” So there’s plenty of information in the Old Testament to separate personal attitude toward enemies from judicial actions on the part of God against nations who were a threat to His redemptive purpose.
So that’s a little bit about tradition and Old Testament teaching. But let’s look at the most important point, the truth from Jesus in the text before us. Our Lord is going to correct their misrepresentation of God’s will with three sequential principles that correct this faulty understanding. They are sequential, and they are ascending: Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors, manifest your sonship.
So let’s look at verse 44: Love your enemies. “But I say to you, love your enemies.” No one has a problem loving friends; that’s what defines a friend, somebody you love. Jesus goes to the real issue. This is what the divine law is speaking about when it says “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the second great commandment. It must embrace your enemy. It’s anybody in your life, anybody in your world, anyone who comes into your space.
The beautiful and familiar story in Luke 10 and verse 25: “A lawyer stood up and put Jesus to the test, and said, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said, ‘What’s written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You’ve answered correctly; do this and you will live.’” Which, of course, is impossible—and that’s the point He was making. “Wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘Who’s my neighbor?’” Give me a definition of neighbor. Jesus replied and told the story of the Good Samaritan, didn’t He? “A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho fell among robbers. They stripped him, beat him, went away leaving him dead. A priest came by, passed on the other side. A Levite came by, passed on the other side. A Samaritan,” a half-breed outcast hated by the Jews, “saw him and felt compassion, bound up his wounds, poured oil and wine, put him on his own beast, brought him to an inn, took care of him, gave money to the innkeeper, ‘Take care of him; whatever more you spend I’ll give you back when I return.’ Which of the three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into robber’s hands? He said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’”
Who is your neighbor? Anybody who needs your mercy. It doesn’t matter if that neighbor is one who hates you, as the Jews hated the Samaritans. The rabbi and the priest didn’t want to touch the man because their theology said he’s in the problem he’s in because he’s sinful. And they went around the other side of the road. The despised and hated and rejected Samaritan had compassion on the man who was socially an enemy.
Love your enemies, echthron sou. Ton echthron sou—it means your personal enemy. Not talking about some collective, it’s your personal enemy. Agapate from agapaō, the highest, noblest form of love. And in the present tense: “Be constantly loving your enemies.” This is the love of the will. This is not the love of emotion, this is the love of the will. It is not related to any personal gain or personal fulfillment, it is the love of unconquerable benevolence. It is the love of invincible good will. Just a loving heart that wants to free the enemy from any thought of hate, wants to rescue the enemy from sin, wants to see his soul saved. It’s the highest love. One writer says, “I cannot like a false, lying, slanderous fellow who, perhaps, has vilified me again and again;” I cannot like him, “but I can by the grace of Jesus Christ love [him], see what is wrong with [him], desire and work to do [him] only good, [and] most of all to free him from [his] vicious ways.” In Luke 6, Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you.” So loving your neighbor means seeking the highest good; that’s the noblest kind of love. And loving your enemies means the same thing: Seek the highest good.
Now how does that play out? Second point: Pray for your persecutors. It shows up, then, in prayer. Verse 44, “Pray for those who persecute you.” Those would be your severest enemies. You have a lot of enemies who don’t personally persecute you, so let’s just take the most extreme situation. People who persecute you, those are the ones you pray for.
Go back in chapter 5 to verse 10 in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So this assumes you’re going to have persecutors. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” If they’re doing that to you, you’re blessed. Isn’t that wonderful? Doesn’t that turn it on its head? I think about that a lot.
Not only are you blessed, but, verse 12, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.” What they’re doing is adding to your eternal reward. Come on, bring it on. “For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” You’re in good company.
I wonder if these persecutors of faithful people understand that their efforts are being reversed by God—and out of their persecution comes blessing, and out of their persecution comes joy and gladness, and out of their persecution comes eternal reward. That’s very important, folks, very important. That is a very important thing to realize because it causes you to see persecution in a completely different way. If you see persecution doing damage to you, you will change your message. If you see persecution adding to your eternal reward, you don’t change anything, right?
I mean, this is the upside-down reality. You preach the Word of God faithfully, you proclaim the gospel faithfully, and you get hostility and animosity. And maybe you cower, and you try to make some adjustments so you can stop offending people. I mean, if you’re a preacher, you take the offenses out of the message, and consequently you miss the blessing, the gladness, the joy, and the eternal reward that comes with faithfulness that faces persecution. But it’s not just a passive hope for eternal reward that is the correct response; there’s a third point here. You not only pray for those who persecute you, you go further than that.
In 1 Timothy, it’s not a vague kind of prayer. Listen to this, 1 Timothy 2: “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority.” Now we’ve elevated to the people who have the most power to persecute, and we’re praying for them “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” So what are we praying for? Their salvation. We pray for God to show them their sinfulness. It would be a sin not to pray. We have a wicked President, Vice President—people in power and leadership locally, statewide. Are we supposed to sit and smolder in anger? No, we’re supposed to pray for—what?—their salvation. Get them at the top of your prayer list.
Jesus said on the cross, “Father”—what?—“forgive them; they know not what they do.” That prayer was answered in a thief and a soldier and people in the crowd. Stephen prayed, “Lay not this sin to their charge,” and that was answered in an apostle named Paul. This is an opportunity for you to take on evangelistic praying.
It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “This is the supreme command: Through the medium of prayer we go to our persecutors, stand by their side, and plead to God for them.” Dr. Vilmer in 1880 wrote this, it’s good enough to read: “This commandment that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us. The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind. We are approaching,” he wrote in 1880, “an age of widespread persecution. Soon the time will come when we shall pray. It will be a prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us. Yes, the church, which is really waiting for its Lord and which discerns the signs of the times, must fling itself with its utmost power, and the armor of its holy life, into this prayer of love.” Loving your enemies means praying for your persecutors.
And then there’s a third element: Loving your enemies means manifest your sonship, manifest your sonship. We’ll pick it up in verse 45. Actually, I’ll just—we’ll start there: “So that you may be the sons of your Father who’s in heaven.” Here’s the basic principle: You’re never more like God than when you forgive your enemies. Simple. You’re never more like God than when you forgive your enemies because the whole of salvation is based on the fact that God has forgiven His enemies. We cannot manifest that we are genuinely the sons of God unless we love the way God loves; and God loved enemies because those were the only people that existed. He doesn’t have any friends in the fallen world.
The apostle Paul understood this and wrote at the end of the fourth chapter of Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” That’s the only place in the New Testament where it says, “Be imitators of God.” You want to imitate God? Forgive enemies. What does Romans say? While we were enemies, Christ died for us.
God shows His love for His enemies, verse 45, “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And that means you’re to love the way He loves. Clearly God loves good people and bad people, and shows it by showing temporal favor and kindness to them. Causes the rain to fall on the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous, the sun to shine on them. Psalm 145 says, “The eyes of all look to Thee, and Thou dost give them their food in due time. Thou dost open Thy hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” God feeds the entire world.
In Luke 6, we get another insight into this. Luke 6, verse 27, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and”—how?—“do good, lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you’ll be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” This is talking about general benevolence. Show love by being unselfish.
It was John Calvin who dubbed this as common grace. It comes from God’s love for mankind. And it’s not limited to some narrow definition of neighbor; sun shines on the most reprobate, God-hating people in the world, and the rain falls on them as well.
If you want to love like God loves, you have to love those who hate you, according to what we just read in Matthew 5. You have to love those who defraud you. You have to love those outside your group, your social group. It’s not enough to just love the people in your group; pagans do that. And the sum of it, verse 48, if you want to be like God, love your enemies the way He loves enemies. To grasp the character of God’s love for the world of wicked sinners is not easy. God has a general, universal, non-discriminating, unconditional love which He extends to everyone.
You remember the story of the rich young ruler in Mark’s account, Mark chapter 10. Unrepentant, Christ-rejecting, proud sinner, walked away from Christ. And the story ends in Mark, “But Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” John 3:16, “God loved the whole world.”
How does God love the enemy? Well, there’s four ways that God expresses common grace, or this general love. First, goodness to all. And we just read that: He makes the sun rise on evil and good, and the rain fall on righteous and unrighteous. In that sense, 1 Timothy 4:10, He’s “the Savior of all men” in a physical, temporal way. He doesn’t give the sinner what the sinner deserves. Romans 2:4 says He exercises patience and forbearance with sinners. Sinners fall in love, they have children, they enjoy the beauty of creation, they eat a good meal. They are folded into temporal blessing in God’s creation and His world.
A second way that God loves enemies is with compassion. There’s a general sense of pity. This is not just in the New Testament. I’ll read you one passage; there are a number in the Old Testament. But in Jeremiah 13, verse 15, “Listen and give heed, do not be haughty,” the Lord says, “for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, before He brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the dusky mountains, and while you are hoping for light He makes it into deep darkness, and turns it into gloom.” Listen to this, verse 17: “But if you will not listen to it, my soul will sob in secret for such pride; and my eyes will bitterly weep and flow down with tears.” If you ever imagine God weeping for the lost—this is pity. This is love not based on the present value of something, but on the lost value. The love of God for one in His image eternally defaced.
So God’s love to all is shown in this common goodness and in compassion. Thirdly, in warning—incessant warnings, constant warnings. I think of Luke 13, where the story is told about the tower that fell down, killed the people, about Pilate’s men who came in and sliced up the Galileans who were worshiping in the Temple. And the people asked Jesus, “Were these people worse than anybody else, and that’s why this calamity happened?” That was kind of Jewish theology. And Jesus said, “Repent, or the same thing’s going to happen to you.”
The warnings—constant, constant warnings. We find them all the way from the beginning of Scripture to the end, warnings. The first chapter of 2 Thessalonians talks about the Lord Jesus, verse 7, being “revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.” That’s a warning. That’s a warning. Book of Revelation is filled with warning.
So how does God love everyone? In general goodness; in expressions of grief, pity, and compassion; in the relentless warnings of Scripture. And one final way: in the gospel offer. God’s general love for mankind is revealed in His incessant offer of salvation, all through history to sinners, in all times, in all places. And He told the church to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Path of salvation has been laid out. John 1:9 says Christ is the Light that lights every man. Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden,” Matthew 11:28, “I’ll give you rest.” Matthew 22, He told a parable about people who wouldn’t come—the Jews—and He said to His disciples, “Go out in the highways and byways and compel them to come.” Gospel preaching, gospel invitation is an extension of God’s love to His enemies. Then He offers general goodness showered on them all their lifelong, pity and real grief over their plight, warning and admonition concerning devastating and eternal judgment, and the pleading offer of the gospel.
So if you want to love your neighbor the way God loves, show kindness, show pity and compassion, warn them, and give them the gospel. And that one final thought: That’s how to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Well, that’s not possible, but that’s the goal, that’s the goal.
You say you’re a son of God, you say you’re a child of God. Then you can’t hate your enemies; you have to love them. That’s the evidence that you are a child of God, that’s the evidence that the life of God is in you. This is how we are to love in the world; nothing short of this will satisfy our Lord. So as things become difficult, more difficult, increasingly difficult, remember this: When persecution comes your way, you’re blessed; when they falsely accuse you, you’re glad, you rejoice. Why? Because it is increasing your reward—where?—in heaven. And that then becomes incentive for loving your enemies. Let’s bow in prayer.
Our Father, we come to You at the end of this section of Scripture, feeling like we’ve sat at the feet of Jesus and we’ve been taught. And that’s exactly what happened. We are so privileged. There’s a sense in which You love Your own uniquely. You love us, according to John 13:1, to completion, to the max, to the limit—eternally.
“And greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” We thank You that You laid down Your life for those You love savingly. And then You asked us to love sinners around us the way You loved us—when we were yet sinners, and Christ died for us. May we be known for our love; not only our love for each other, the family, but our love for those who are the most devoted, avid, and dangerous enemies. May they be at the top of the list for us to love and to pray for.
We do pray for the leaders of this country—pray for the President, Vice President, senators, congressmen, governors, politicians, all the way down the line. We pray for their salvation. That’s what we pray for because that’s what You told us to pray for. We pray, Lord, that You would save them. We would be so bold, Lord, as to ask that the Spirit of God would break in and convict them of sin and righteousness and judgment, that they would fall on their knees in penitence and embrace Christ. It doesn’t depend on them, it depends on You. And Lord, we ask that You would be gracious and save some of these who have orchestrated such hostility toward Your truth.
Save some people at the top of corporations, big tech included, some of those who control media. Save them, Lord, for Your glory. May the testimony be so powerful, the transformation of these people, that it’s inescapable to see what the gospel can do. And having said that, we do understand that it’s laid out in Scripture, there will not be many mighty, not be many noble, because You’ve chosen the lowly and the nobodies and the base things.
But, Lord, be glorified in the salvation of sinners, and even the salvation of leaders. We ask it only for Your honor and Your glory. And may we be known for our love and relentless evangelistic prayers for all those who are enemies of Your truth. Turn them into friends by Your grace, and use our prayers in that way, we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.
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