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A. Introduction

1. Lying at the very heart of the Christian faith is the Great Commandment, Matthew 22:37-40:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

2. The life of the disciple is to be characterized, then, by observable, intense l __ __ __.

a. We are to love God with every fiber of our being.

ref: Deuteronomy 6:5

Psalm 31:23

Mark 12:30

1 John 5:2-3

b. We Christians are to love each other intensely. Christ declared this to be our primary witness before the world around us.

John 13:34-35 [ NKJV ]

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples; if you have love for one another.

ref: 1 John 4:7-8, 11, 20-21

Romans 12:9-10

c. God has historically called upon His people to extend the reach of our love to our n __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __.

ref: Leviticus 19:18

Luke 10:25-37

d. Christ in our text passage this morning again calls His followers to radical discipleship, this time in the exercise of love toward our e __ __ __ __ __ __ (!).

B. Text: MATTHEW 5:43-48 [ NIV ]

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

1. "Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies is introducing a new element into ethical behaviour. A Jewish scholar, C.G. Montefiore,is to have said, 'This is the central and most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount. It is one of the most difficult as well as the most unique passages. This is not the natural course of action for man. Only the disciple who has been born of the Spirit, who knows the enabling grace of Christ, can live by this standard."Myron S. Augsberger: Matthew (Volume 1, The Communicator's Commentary )

2. Nowhere in the Mosaic law does the phrase "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy" appear. Yet such a sentiment had become part of Jewish tradition over the years.

a. It was the result of an intentionally narrow understanding of "neighbor" in Leviticus 19:18.

(1) "It was easy enough for ethical casuists (consciously or unconciously anxious to ease the burden of this command) to twist it to their own convenience. 'My neighbor,' they argued, 'is one of my own people, a fellow Jew, my own kith and kin, who belongs to my race and my religion. The law says nothing about strangers or enemies. So, since the command is to love only my neighbor, it must be taken as a permission, even an injunction, to hate my enemy. For he is not my neighbor that I should love him.'" - John R.W. Stott: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

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