Summary: Part 9 of Sermon on Mount Series, the tough job of loving those who hurt us
Salt, Light and those We Love to Hate
November 17 1996
Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) "You have heard that it was said, ’Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
This particular command comes from Leviticus 19:18 and even though it had been modified through the years to include the second half, "Hate your enemies." That wasn’t in the original statement, the original statement was in Leviticus 19:18 (NIV) "’Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD. As a matter of fact as far as I can discover there is no place in the Bible that we are to hate our enemies. The Love your neighbour part would appear to be a New Testament favourite because Christ quotes it five times, Paul quotes it twice and James quotes it once. You might assume from that, that it was important concept. But it wasn’t "Love your neighbour" that Jesus was concerned with at this point, instead it was the second half of what was said the "Hate your enemy" side of it.
What Jesus is talking about here ties in with what he said a little earlier in this passage, when he stated in Matthew 5:38 (NKJV) "You have heard that it was said, ’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Where his listeners would have heard this would have been in Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 and Exodus 21:24. This is the oldest law in the world, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". That law was referred to in the ancient world as Lex Talionis, but it might have been more aptly referred to as the "law of tit for tat" It appears in the earliest code of laws and that was the code of Hammurabi, who was a Babylonian King who lived 1800 years before Christ. The main principal is clear, if a person inflicts an injury then he would receive the same treatment.
There are some who would call this harsh and blood thirsty, but in reality it was the beginning of mercy, for two reasons: The first is that it limited Judgement, if someone knocked out one of your teeth then you can’t knock out all of his. Secondly it took judgement away from the individual and gave it to society. Probably the greatest example of the why and how of this law was capital punishment. If someone killed your child they would be sentenced to death, that was their punishment, you couldn’t go out and kill their children and their spouse. This type of law was indicative of the society in which Christ lived. It was very much a retaliatory society. And it still is through much of the Middle East, Iran does it, Syria does it, Lebanon does it, Iraq does it, Libya does it and if you want a real lesson in retaliatory justice then just watch the Jews. But then again we support Israel so when the do it we don’t call it terrorism.
And remember that Christ said that he didn’t come to destroy the law. Also keep in mind that we are dealing with an imperfect world. We need to accept the reality of a system which punishes the lawless and rewards the lawful. In a perfect world there would be no murder so there wouldn’t need to be laws concerning murder. In a perfect world there wouldn’t be adultery so there wouldn’t have to be laws concerning adultery. In a perfect world there would be no divorce and nobody would ever break a promise or cheat on their spouse but we don’t live in a perfect world so God laid down regulations, regulations for everyone, believer, non believer, Christian pre-Christian, redeemed unredeemed. We live in a less then perfect world, and although the law is not perfect it was concerned with checking the evil which threatens to destroy society. and Christ accepted the necessity of an imperfect system to deal with an imperfect world.
But he felt that his followers needed to go beyond the law, it wasn’t enough for them not to commit murder they were to refrain from hating, it wasn’t enough for them not to cheat on their spouse they couldn’t even think about it. The Mosaic law punished evil doers, Jesus sought to eradicate evil, not by eradicating the evil doer but by redeeming them, by changing them.
Ifn you want to stomp out evil by stomping out the evil doer then the law of Moses is fine. But ifn you want to destroy evil and salvage the sinner then you need a completely different approach.
The law tells us to react in kind, and that suits our human personality. We are quite willing to kill the killer, hate the hater, and be close minded to the close minded. But Christ isn’t content with those who call themselves by his name reacting in the same way as the world. Instead of reacting in kind, he commands us to react in contrast.