Summary: Loving God. I can do. Loving your neighbor. I will try, especially if they are fellow Christians. Loving your enemy. I don't if I can do that. How does a person love their enemy?
A. I want to start this lesson with a word found at the end of our reading. It’s the word “perfect.” “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That calling seems to be impossible, so how could Jesus call upon us to be at the level of perfection where God exists?
B. Every major translation that I viewed used the word perfect in this verse. Yet every commentary I read and my own study of the language, comes to the conclusion that perfect is not the best English word to use.
C. If you choose to study the word “teleios” in the ancient Greek language, you will quickly find that the word carries the thought of complete, mature, full to its purpose, without blemish, or accomplishing its goal. That really changes the last sentence of this reading.
D. If my calling by Jesus is bring to completion the goal set forth for me the same way God brings for the complete to the goal he has set forth, then yes, it is possible for me to be perfect in that sense the way God is perfect.
E. What I want us to do this morning is to consider the “how” we can accomplish the goal, the full maturity of love in the context of how we “love our enemy.”
I. Love Your Neighbor
A. God taught the Jews to love more than just God. There is no doubt that the greatest command is to love God. Moses said to the people (READ Deut. 6:4-5). And for the most part, the people Jesus talked to would say they loved God. Truth be told, that wasn’t really true. Even the rich young ruler who seemed to love God only loved God to the extent that it fit his idea of love. Jesus challenged him which he loved more – money or God.
B. But set that aside, there was another command that the Jews were familiar with, “love your neighbor.”
C. The phrase is used in Lev. 19:17-18. The debate became, about “who is my neighbor?” It appears that the only person who is my neighbor is a fellow Jew and I am to treat them as God wanted me to. But Jesus challenged that viewpoint in the story of the Good Samaritan.
D. Paul takes this phrase and pushes the meaning of the phrase in Rom. 13:8-10. In fact, the calling for hospitality became the hallmark of the early church and one of the identifying marks of a church leader. Hospitality, by biblical definition, involved showing kindness to strangers, not simply other Christians.
E. Instead of trying to limit the term neighbor, come back to our text to see what Jesus speaks of concerning who we should love. READ Matt. 5:43-44.
II. Love Them?
A. Let’s just put some facts on the table. Most people, including Christian people, are not easy to love. The reason is, we love ourselves and most people are not just like me. But I can love fellow Christians, because I know we are family and have the same spiritual goal. I can love other people who at least are kind back to me. If I define love as showing respect, kindness, and desire for their general well-being, then I can love nice people. But that’s not the calling by Jesus. He calls me to a more mature love, a God-like love.
B. In fact, Jesus gives the example that God makes the sun rise on everyone – not just the people who love him. God sends the rain on everyone – not just on those who love him. The completion of the goal of love is to learn to love the way God loves everyone.
C. Jesus calls us to two actions: love your enemies, pray for your enemies. We get that wonderful agape word in this context. Love your enemies. If Jesus was asked, “who is my neighbor” and we got the story of a Samaritan showing kindness to a probable Jew, the question “who is my enemy” is answered by telling you it is people who oppose you.
D. There is a passage some Christians like for the wrong reason. Listen to the context (Rom. 12:14-21).
E. We sometimes smile at the thought that we are heaping burning coals on the head of our enemy, but that is the exact opposite of what the scripture teaches. This passage is the practicality side of loving your enemy. When you do good to them as described here, they are often taken aback and don’t know how to respond. It is like someone dumped a bunch of burning coals on them and there is nothing they can do. You love them because love is the basis of your Christian character. It why love generally heads most list for Christians. The fruit that Spirit produces in Christians begins with love. Your genuine love for people who don’t like you often frustrates them because they don’t know how to respond to that type of kindness.