Matthew5v43to48: LOVE FOR ENEMIES

(A) Introduction. Read Matthew5v43to48.

It is easy to read this passage and then dismiss it as totally unrealistic. Until recently my attitude was, "Thank God I am saved by Grace." I now consider this to be the wrong response to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus does expect us to adopt his teaching and to abide by it. Our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees.

(1) Who should be objects of our active goodwill?

(a) Jesus used the word, 'agape', for love when he said: "You have heard it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy'". 'Agape' means having active goodwill.

God does not expect us to love our neighbour as we love our wife, daughter or friend. Different words are used of the natural loves: eros, affection and friendship. The love that Jesus refers to is of the will and is best seen in action.

(b) The Jews did not extend active goodwill to their enemies. The reference to loving one's neighbour in Lev19v18 seems to apply to Jews only: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.

There are certainly precedents in the Old Testament for hating your enemy. For example in Dt25v17to19: When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies round you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

(c) So, partly as consequence of Old Testament teaching and partially as a result of human nature, many Jews in the time of Jesus hated the Romans, the Samaritans and the Gentiles as a whole.

(d) However, there were some Jews who were uncertain about this and desired some clarification on who was their neighbour. An expert in the Law asked Jesus the question: "And who is my neighbour?" Lk10v29. This, not entirely sincere question, prompted Jesus to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

This wonderful parable teaches that our neighbour is anyone in need who we are in a position to help.

There is explicit instruction in the Old Testament that active goodwill should be shown to those in need, including our enemy. See Ex23v4and5: If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

(2) Active goodwill should be exercised impartially.

(a) Goodwill should be shown to both friend and foe alike. This is possible! I am a great fan of the American comedy, MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital). It is about a MASH unit in the Korean war. In one episode the officious Major Frank Burns is set on prioritising incoming casualties. U.S. army regulations state that American wounded are treated first, then allied wounded and last enemy wounded. This was the procedure Major Burns was following. However, he is interrupted by Hawkeye Pearce who insists that casualties should be prioritised according to the severity of their wounds. An enemy would be first in the queue if his wounds warranted it. Surgeon Hawkeye Pearce was showing goodwill impartially.

During my career as a teacher my goodwill was impartial. This didn't mean none of my pupils were punished - they certainly were! Some children gave me a lot of trouble and there were a few I didn't like much. However, I never refused to take a pupil on a Geography field trip. They all came notwithstanding their disciplinary record. I also accepted anyone for cricket coaching after school. This was a voluntary activity open to friend and foe alike.

(b) If we are impartial in showing active goodwill to those in need, Jesus said we are the sons of our Father in Heaven. God meets the need of good and evil alike: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, he sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous." v45.

The aftermath of the Second World War was very different from the consequences for Germany of losing the First World War. After the Second World War the United States gave millions of dollar to the war devastated countries of Western Europe including Germany. I realise the United States took this action in part to counter the spread of USSR influence. Nevertheless it seems to me an instance of a great country following God's example of meeting the need of friend and foe alike.

(c) Jesus said that there was no great merit showing active goodwill to those who show it to you. "Why," said Jesus, "even tax collectors and pagans do that." Yet, there is an awful lot of this in our society today:

  • The Free Masons is a society that exists for the mutual support of its members.

  • There is a lot of cronyism in the world of business. The attitude is: Scratch my back and I will scratch yours!

  • Perhaps some Christians set the worst example of all. These are the Christians who look after their own people first. So a Brethren farmer will make one of his meadows available for a young people's camp run by the Brethren but not to Grace Baptists. The latter might own a big marquee but be loath to loan it out to another organisation. Even Christian care homes are inclined to reserve places for their own people first. I have even known preachers who restrict their ministry to their own denomination.

(3) We need to put Christ's high ideals into practice.

Jesus said: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." v48. This sounds impossibly idealistic! How can we emulate the perfection of God?

We must remember the context in which these words were spoken. God is perfect in impartially meeting men's need. His love is perfect in application and execution. Ronseal is a British wood stain known for the "Does exactly what it says on the tin" phrase. Ronseal is perfect in that it fully meets the need of someone who has a fence to stain. It has integrity.

God's perfect love is demonstrated in the provision he made to meet mankind's desperate need. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Jesus did not die for a select few - he sacrificed himself for all men and women. Those who approach Jesus in repentance will discover experimentally that they are forgiven, accepted and blessed.

We Christians are to share God's integrity; we are to be willing to meet the needs of those around us - and to do so with impartiality - doing good to those who hate us and praying for those who persecute us. The one thing that should determine or behaviour is our neighbour's NEED. Our need is the reason for God's decision to send his Son to earth to die at Calvary. We are benificiaries of grace and as such are called upon to show grace to our neighbour.