Important Sayings in the Gospels
Christ and the Law
Love Your Enemies
Matt. 5:43-48

Matt 5:43‑48
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. KJV

This, undoubtedly, is one of the most difficult of all of the teachings of Christ to obey. Let me give you the story of how Jesus’ half-brother, James, lived out this principle.

Introduction: What Sort of Person James Was

James was called “the Just” because of his great righteousness. He was the only one allowed to enter the temple alone, and he prayed and asked forgiveness for the Jews so much that his knees became hard like a camel’s. As well as “the Just,” he was known as “Bulwark of the people.”

James was so righteous, in fact, that he was respected by all the seven sects of Judaism (see sidebar). They used to ask him his opinion of Jesus, to which he would reply that Jesus was the Savior. Since some of those sects didn’t believe in a resurrection, few among them believed in Jesus as their Christ.

Those who did, however, believed because of James.

James the Just Arouses the Wrath of the Rulers

After a while, James’ influence became so strong that even some of the rulers believed, which horrified the scribes and Pharisees. They became afraid that soon the people would be flocking to Jesus as the Christ.
Somehow, perhaps because of his strict observance of the Law, the Pharisees thought they could get James to discourage the people from believing. They asked him to stand at the pinnacle of the temple on Passover and speak.
Apparently, James agreed.

They brought him to the top of the temple, and they shouted to him from below:

“Oh, righteous one, in whom we are able to place great confidence; the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one. So declare to us, what is this way, Jesus?”

Obviously, this wasn’t a very wise thing for them to do. James was ready to take full advantage of such a wonderful opportunity as this!

His words are memorable:
Why do you ask me about Jesus, the Son of Man? He sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and he will soon come on the clouds of heaven!

The Pharisees were horrified, but the people were not. The began shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The Pharisees, realizing the awful mistake they’d made, began crying out, “Oh! Oh! The righteous one is also in error!”

The Death of James the Just

You can probably guess that this had little effect on the crowd. So the next obvious thing to do was to push him down from the temple, letting the people know exactly what happens to those who dare to believe in Jesus.

They climbed the temple as the people shouted, reached the top, and threw James from the pinnacle of the temple.

It didn’t kill him.

He rose to his knees and began to pray for them. “I beg of you, Lord God our Father, forgive them! They do not know what they are doing.”

This would not do! The Pharisees on the ground began to stone him as he prayed, while those from the roof rushed down to join the execution.

One of the priests, however, a son of the Rechabites mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet (ch. 35), shouted, “Stop! What are you doing! The righteous one is praying for you.”

It was too late. A fuller (i.e., launderer) took out one of the clubs that he used to beat clothes and smashed James on the head, killing him with one blow.

Ramifications of the Death of James the Just

According to Hegesippus, Vespasian invaded Israel and besieged Jerusalem immediately after the Pharisees murdered James. The events were so closely related in time, he says, that “the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that [the death of James] was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem.”

There is no doubt but that James lived out the exact behavior that Jesus had taught His disciples all those years ago. He loved his enemies, he prayed for those who despitefully used him and persecuted him. He blessed them that cursed him and did good to those who hated him.

This has been the consistent story of all the martyrs from that day to this. But ‘Christianity’ so-called in our day seems to be of the opinion that this is one of those ‘take it or leave it’ principles in the Word of God, that it is fine for the ‘super-spiritual’ but the rest of us can just take a ‘pass’ and that be absolutely fine.

If you are of the opinion that this text is ‘just not for you,’ let me challenge you to something. Get alone with God. Take yourself, in your mind’s eye back to Golgotha all those years ago. Sit yourself down in front of the One on the middle cross there. Listen to Him pardon the thief who asked for mercy and hear Him ask the Father, “forgive them, they know not what they do.” Then, stand up there in front of Him, get His attention and tell Him, “look, this is all well and good but I am just not made that way. I want you to save me but I am not going to follow this example of yours. I am going to hate my enemies and do them harm. I am going to give them a piece of my mind every chance I get, and, as far as doing them good, I am not going to give them the time of day. They can all die and go to hell for all I care!”

You wouldn’t dare, would you? If you would, I have serious concerns about your spiritual state. But do we not, have we not, at times act as if this was what we had told Him? Do we not do harm because we are angry, frustrated, or just do not care for another person? Do we not forget, set aside, or refuse to obey the commands that we read here in Matthew’s gospel?

Let us consider some of the issues associated with this teaching.

The Jews were told to love their neighbors and not to love some of their enemies.

Lev 19:18
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. KJV

Deut 23:3‑6
3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:
4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.
5 Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.
6 Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever. KJV

Deut 25:17‑26:1
17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt;
18 How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.
19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it. KJV

The rabbis had expanded this teaching to mean that the Jews should love only Jews and hate everyone who was not a Jew. As a result, they lived in a constant state of resentment and hatred toward everyone who was a Gentile, a ‘goya,’ a dog.

These words of Christ must have indeed sounded strange in their ears.

This sermon by Jesus, however, has been one string of modifications to the Jewish Law as understood by the Jews of that day.

There is a very good reason for the change in law here. The Jewish nation was instructed concerning how to survive in a hostile world. But the church is going to be commissioned to go into that hostile world, preach the gospel, and make converts to Christ. They will be told that God has people in every race and nation and tribe, in every language group under heaven. Therefore, no person or group can be treated as enemies.

Another thing is that God is going to use the persecution and martyrdom of His people as an effective tool in evangelizing dark and wicked places. Therefore, His people will need to imitate His example on the cross even if they are put to death themselves.

This teaching of Jesus runs contrary to our natural inclinations.

But our ‘natural inclinations’ are toward wickedness, not righteousness.
It is natural for us to hate those we do not like, those who do us injury, those who hate us and curse us. But it is not godly.

This teaching is so contrary to our natural state that it is difficult for us to even desire to be there. This seems to us like it makes us weak and foolish and vulnerable. We don’t like that.

It is obvious to us that God Himself must do a work in us, change us fundamentally, before we could ever hope to obey this.

Really, He must change us before we even want to.

I confess that this passage has been one of the most difficult for me to obey in all of the Word of God. I don’t like people who don’t like me. It is easy for me to hate people who hate me. It is almost impossible for me to come to the place to do them good and it is even more difficult to want to do them good.

As much as any other place in scripture, obedience to this command requires a surrender of our will to His Will. If we are truly led by the Spirit of God, He is going to lead us here and expect that we obey from the heart this most difficult of all commands.

Matthew Henry has a number of good thoughts on this text that I would like to share with you, at least the essence of them.

“We cannot but find ourselves very prone to wish the hurt, or at least very coldly to desire the good, of those that hate us, and have been abusive to us; but that which is at the bottom hereof is a root of bitterness, which must be plucked up, and a remnant of corrupt nature which grace must conquer.”

It is not the good within us that resists Christ here but the wickedness that remains even after our conversion. Christianity is, in addition to many other things, a process of growing and deepening repentance, a progression away from our carnal selves into the New Man that we have been made in Him.

Paul twice exhorts us in the book of Romans to present ourselves to God as, on the one hand, “instruments of righteousness” and, on the other, “a living sacrifice.” We are to offer our bodies, our minds and our souls up to Him, surrendering to complete and total obedience.

There can be no mistake but that this is our duty.

“We are told here…”

“That we must speak well of them: Bless them that curse you. When we speak to them, we must answer their revilings with courteous and friendly words, and not render railing for railing; behind their backs we must commend that in them which is commendable, and when we have said all the good we can of them, not be forward to say any thing more. See 1 Peter 3:9. They, in whose tongues is the law of kindness, can give good words to those who give bad words to them.”

1 Peter 3:8‑9
8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. KJV

“That we must do well to them: “Do good to them that hate you, and that will be a better proof of love than good words. Be ready to do them all the real kindness that you can, and glad of an opportunity to do it, in their bodies, estates, names, families; and especially to do good to their souls.” It was said of Archbishop Cranmer, that the way to make him a friend was to do him an ill turn; so many did he serve who had disobliged him.”

To be glad of an opportunity to do good to one who has proven himself an enemy is no small thing. Much of that which is natural to us must be silenced so that we can hear the clear and unmistakable voice of Our King.

“We must pray for them: Pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you. Note,”

“It is no new thing for the most excellent saints to be hated, and cursed, and persecuted, and despitefully used, by wicked people; Christ himself was so treated.”

Mr. Henry further says that whenever we are treated in this way we have an opportunity of showing our conformity both to the teaching and the example of Christ, by praying for them that abuse us. If we cannot show them our love in any other way, we can do it like this, making sure that we are completely honest in our manifestation of it. “We must pray that God will forgive them, that they may never fare the worse for any thing they have done against us, and that he would make them to be at peace with us; and this is one way of making them so.”

“Two reasons are here given to enforce this command (which sounds so harsh) of loving our enemies. We must do it,”

“That we may be like God our Father; “that ye may be, may approve yourselves to be, the children of your Father which is in heaven.” Can we write a better copy? It is a copy in which love to the worst of enemies is reconciled to, and consistent with, infinite purity and holiness.”

We make much of magnifying God for loving us when we were His enemies, when we were hateful, spiteful and rebellious to Him. We sing songs to His grace and His marvelous love. But, when we are called upon to be ‘like’ Him in this way, we pull back, make excuses, reason ourselves around this simple but profound and completely godly duty.

It is amazing that we think of it as weak and demeaning but no one ever thinks that of God.

“That we may herein do more than others, v. 46, 47. First, Publicans love their friends. Nature inclines them to it; interest directs them to it. To do good to them who do good to us, is a common piece of humanity, which even those whom the Jews hated and despised could give as good proofs as of the best of them. The publicans were men of no good fame, yet they were grateful to such as had helped them to their places, and courteous to those they had a dependence upon; and shall we be no better than they?”

Would we have it said of us that our love, our mercy, our compassion is no better than the common sinner, we who have been pardoned and set free from sin by the blood of Christ, we who are called citizens of heaven, we who hope to live forever with God? We have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s Dear Son. Shall we show no more love than the most despised of sinners in the day of Jesus?

Certainly the great mercy that we have received calls us to manifest mercy in uncommon and unusual, unexpected, ways to the sinners in our lives. Shall we stand mercifully forgiven and withhold grace from others? If we are willing to do so, then several parables of Jesus suggest that our faith may be as false as our gratitude to God.

“In doing this we serve ourselves and consult our own advantage; and what reward can we expect for that, unless a regard to God, and a sense of duty, carrying us further than our natural inclination and worldly interest? Secondly, We must therefore love our enemies, that we may exceed them. If we must go beyond scribes and Pharisees, much more beyond publicans. Note, Christianity is something more than humanity. It is a serious question, and which we should frequently put to ourselves, “What do we more than others? What excelling thing do we do? We know more than others; we talk more of the things of God than others; we profess, and have promised, more than others; God has done more for us, and therefore justly expects more from us than from others; the glory of God is more concerned in us than in others; but what do we more than others?”

“Lastly, Our Saviour concludes this subject with this exhortation (v. 48), Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Which may be understood,”
“In general, including all those things wherein we must be followers of God as dear children. Note, It is the duty of Christians to desire, and aim at, and press toward a perfection in grace and holiness, Phil 3:12‑14. And therein we must study to conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father, 1 Peter 1:15‑16. Or,”

Phil 3:12‑14
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. KJV

1 Peter 1:15‑16
15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. KJV

Some have suggested that God does not intend for us to be perfect, so this can’t possibly means what it says. But ask yourself if Jesus could have said anything to us which gave us permission to sin even in the slightest manner? Could He have approved for us to set a goal as less than absolute conformity to Himself? Would He have us strive for anything less than complete obedience? He would have demeaned Himself had He done so and compromised His Own Authority on the Day of Jugdment.

“In this particular before mentioned, of doing good to our enemies; see Luke 6:36. It is God’s perfection to forgive injuries and to entertain strangers, and to do good to the evil and unthankful, and it will be ours to be like him. We that owe so much, that owe our all, to the divine bounty, ought to copy it out as well as we can.”

All of that being said, the Christian must still stand fast against wickedness, confront the wicked with their sins and the need for repentance from them, and hold one another accountable for wicked deeds.

Confusing, huh? But, again, remember that the One Who uttered these words also stood and confronted the Pharisees openly with rebukes concerning their sins. One can, at one and the same time, be loving and stand firm for truth.