Summary: Love is the greatest challenge a faithful disciple has to live in his/her life. This message reflects on overcoming the obstacles to living a biblical, faithful love in all our relationships.
All You Need is Love
Love: The Greatest Challenge
Matthew 5: 43 – 48
We celebrated love yesterday with flowers and candy, with romantic dinners and cards, and here at FUMC, Monroe with the Real Marriage retreat. Eighty people laughed and learned together as, hopefully, we grew in our understanding of what true love really is. Dr. Doug and Patti Ezell did a great job leading us, and we were blessed to have them with us.
My prayer is that we’ve spent the past four weeks learning that love, from the biblical perspective—that sacrificial, self-denying love—is first, the greatest characteristic that is displayed by those called disciples of Christ. Then, love is also the greatest commandment as Jesus himself affirmed that we are to love God and love others. Today, we learn that love—transformative, life-giving love—is also the greatest challenge we will face as faithful disciples.
Jesus tells us as much as we hear his words in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5 – 7. Sometimes, it’s enough to let scripture speak for itself. Listen, and let the Bible speak through Matthew 5: 43 – 48:
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Let me remind you of the context. Jesus has called his disciples together. He’s said, “Come here and sit down. Let me tell you what life will look like as my disciples.” Jesus is seeking to give his disciples a new worldview—not so much new as corrected because Jesus wasn’t making new laws for his disciples but correcting some false assumptions about the law as it had evolved through the years. Jesus would say to them, “You’ve heard it said…,” yet it’s like Jesus was recalling other parts of the law—parts like Leviticus 19:18--“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Or, perhaps Exodus 23: 4 -5--“If you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey that has strayed away, take it back to its owner. 5 If you see that the donkey of someone who hates you has collapsed under its load, do not walk by. Instead, stop and help.” Jesus was saying, “Let’s remember what the Law really says, and I remind you that we love everyone—even our enemies.”
Hard words, indeed! Love God? Sure. Love our neighbors? Working on that one. But, love our enemy? How do we do that? More importantly, why would we do that? A little girl was given candy by her friend. She got home to show her mother, and mother said, “Your friend was really sweet.”
“Yes,” said the little girl, “she gave me more, but I gave some away.”
Mom said, “Who did you give it too?”
The daughter said, “I gave it to a girl who pushes me off the sidewalk and makes faces at me.”
“Why in the world would you do that,” the mother asked?
“Because I thought it would help her know I want to be kind to her, and maybe then she won’t be so unkind to me,” the daughter replied.
Perhaps Solomon knew something about the transformative power of love when he wrote “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25: 21 – 22).
Last week, when we talked about loving our neighbor, we discovered we must engage them on an emotional level. With our enemies, it’s really no different. It’s likely only to be that we hate them, but guess what? Hate is an emotion! The truth is our engagement may not necessarily be a positive one, but let’s confess, it’s our starting place.
Beyond connecting on the emotional level, we also acknowledge that love is a decision of the will. It is a decision of the will that transforms the heart. It is a victory of over our rational and our natural instincts. The natural and rational had taken over the law. The Law was used for revenge and retribution. If we were to read the surrounding passages of scripture we’d hear all that “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth” talk. That’s our natural inclination. Jesus wants to elevate us to a different level. He wants to elevate his disciples to God’s level, and he knew our love for even our enemies would do just that.