Summary: Jesus is talking about the way we love others. We can only love perfectly when we have been changed by God’s perfect love.

Perfect Love

Matthew 5:43-48 43 ”You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Intro: A professor of psychology had no children of his own, but whenever he saw a neighbor scolding a child for some wrongdoing, he would say, "You should love your boy, not punish him." One hot summer afternoon the professor was doing some repair work on a concrete driveway leading to his garage. Tired out after several hours of work, he laid down the towel, wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and started toward the house. Just then out of the corner of his eye he saw a mischievous little boy putting his foot into the fresh cement. He rushed over, grabbed him, and was about to spank him severely when a neighbor leaned from a window and said, "Watch it, Professor! Don’t you remember? You must ’love’ the child!" At this, he yelled back furiously, "I do love him in the abstract but not in the concrete!" [Sunshine Magazine]

-In v.48 Jesus said to be perfect just like Dad. What did He mean by that? In the language of the NT, perfect does not nec. mean flawless or attaining perfection. It means being mature in a moral sense. It often carries the idea of being complete. God wants us to be complete in our character, lacking nothing. He wants us to be complete in our ability to give and receive love. If we only love those who love us, then the love of God is incomplete in us. Incomplete love shows that we have not received God’s love to the extent that it has changed us and made us like Him. So Jesus is really talking about the way we love others. Here is the main thought I’d like to examine today:

Prop: We can only love perfectly when we have been changed by God’s perfect love.

TS: Let’s take a look at 3 thoughts on perfect love that will help us get a sense of what God is calling us to.

I. The Twisting of Perfect Love

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

-In Matthew 5, Jesus has been fulfilling the Old Testament by bringing out its deeper meaning. He does it again here in verse 43: He says "You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." The part about loving your neighbor is in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 says "do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself" [or who is like yourself]. The rabbis taught that this verse only applies to loving other Jewish people. Therefore if a non-Jewish person didn’t treat you well, then it was okay to hate that person because he wasn’t Jewish! Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

-In the past few weeks we’ve talked about the fact that every human being was made in the image of God. It may be hard to see God’s image in some people, but it is there, even if it is being covered up by other things. From my studies it appears that Lev. 19:18 gives the basis or rationale for loving our fellow man. We should love our neighbor because he or she is just like us – made in God’s image. There may be a lot of differences between you and your neighbor, but one thing you share is the image of God.

-Unfortunately, many of the Jews had misinterpreted this verse to mean that they were only required to love fellow Jews who were like them. You can find these words written in the Mishnah: “A Jew sees a Gentile fall into the sea, let him by no means lift him

out; for it is written, Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor:-but this is not thy neighbor” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Murder 4:11). They understood their neighbor to be only a Jew; one who was of the same blood and religion as themselves.

-One day when Jesus reiterated this command to love your neighbor who is like you, someone asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan. From that story we find that we should be a neighbor to anyone in need, regardless of their race, religion, denomination, and even things like sexual orientation or personal hygiene.

-It is pretty easy to get down on the Jews for twisting God’s words about love. But we would be amiss not to take a look at ourselves. What kinds of people do we excuse ourselves from loving? If someone mistreats us do we become bitter and hateful toward them and say that turnabout is fair play? If someone speaks evil of us do we start tearing them down with our words? As Jesus said, there is no reward for that kind of twisted love. Do we consider certain people beneath us and not worthy of the effort to even acknowledge them?

-There are all kinds of ways love gets twisted today. Rather than try to identify all of them, let me just categorize things this way: Unless the love is unconditional with the good of the other person in mind, then it is twisted love.

-TS: Well, we’re getting a sense of what perfect love is not like. Now let’s take a look at the example of what perfect love is like.

II. The Example of Perfect Love

45 …”your Father in heaven … causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

-What if God was only nice to those who were nice to Him? Think of how many mean and twisted things a powerful God could do to those who rubbed Him the wrong way! In fact, all He would have to do is let everybody have what they want. In the movie, Bruce Almighty, God decides to let a man named Bruce be God for a little while. Bruce can’t keep up with all the prayer requests, so he sets up an email database to get himself organized. He gets flooded with millions of prayer requests, and in his effort to catch up he hits Reply to All, and says YES to what everyone has asked. What a mess! The economy goes crazy. Thousands of people win the lottery, but get only a few dollars a piece because there are so many winners. Crime skyrockets, riots break out – all because people got what they thought they wanted.

-Aren’t you glad God cares enough about us not to give us everything we ask for? Instead, this verse tells us that He gives sunshine and rain (good things) to those who are right with Him and to those who are not. There is no deserving God’s love! He loves us perfectly before we ever do anything worthwhile for Him.

-The story of the prodigal son was told by Jesus to show the kind of perfect love God the Father has for His kids, whether they make good choices or not – whether they are wayward kids or not. The story isn’t about the son as much as the Father. In the story you find that the Father gives, He waits, He hopes, He runs, He embraces and welcomes, He forgives, He celebrates, He bestows undeserved honor and blessing.

-A similar story was common to the Jews of the time that ended with the prodigal son in the far off country feeding swine – at which the seemingly pious souls would wag their heads, pointing out someone who was likely to go down that same path. Jesus took that story and breathed redemption, grace, forgiveness, and restoration into it, not only showing what God is like, but showing what the religious leaders of the day were like – self-centered and unconcerned about those who had not yet responded to God’s perfect love.

-So God Himself is the example of perfect love. It is when we receive His grace and forgiveness into our own lives that His love begins to flow through us and out to others who need it so desperately. That leads us to the final point…

III. The Call to Perfect Love

44 ”But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

-Corrie Ten Boom shares this true story in her book, The Hiding Place: It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there -- the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. "How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein," he said. "To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!" His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

-See, Jesus is calling us to show some Family Resemblance. He is calling us to love the way He loves (and the way Dad does), but He doesn’t expect us to do it ourselves. He is the source of perfect love. We cannot produce it ourselves.

-1 John 3:16-18 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 1 John 4:16-19 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

-When we receive God’s love for us completely with no qualifications, recognizing that we do not deserve it, nor can we offer anything for it, something changes within us. We are able to do what was humanly impossible – love others perfectly, completely.

-I love what author Dallas Willard wrote about this passage: "He [Jesus] calls us to him to impart himself to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him" (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 183).

*So the first question we should ask is not WWJD, but Who Would Jesus Be in a given situation. It's all about the heart and our willingness to give and receive the love that comes from the heart of God.

Conclusion: How are you doing with God’s perfect love? Have you experienced it in your life? How is it working for you? Has it begun to flow through you to others yet? That’s what God wants. The love doesn’t stop here. It keeps flowing downward so that it reaches those who have been beaten down by life, beaten down by the world, and in some cases, beaten down by religious people. God’s perfect love that restores is the answer they’ve been looking for, but they haven’t seen it in action. Folks, it is our job and calling to show God’s perfect love. But again, we can only show and tell what we’ve seen and heard and experienced for ourselves.

-Will you let God love you today? Will you take down your defenses and let His powerful love penetrate your heart? It will mess you up! It will change you! His love won’t allow you to stay the same – Thank God! His love can take a heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh. He will breathe life into you that you never thought was possible. That’s the power of His love!

-If you need this today, would you be willing to come and ask for prayer? I can’t change anyone’s heart, but I can show you God’s love and that can change you.

-Let God speak to your heart and mind as we close this time in prayer.