We're going through a series on the Sermon on the Mount, so I would ask you to turn to Matthew's gospel and chapter 5 - Matthew chapter 5. Let me encourage all the folk who will be out at the meeting tonight to bring as many unconverted folk as you possibly can, I want to be a simple as I can with the presentation of the Gospel tonight on the subject of 'Conversion'. So please do make an effort if you can to bring unconverted folk under the sound of God's Word.
We're looking this morning in Matthew chapter 5 at the last section, remember there have been several sections where the Lord Jesus was dealing with the Old Testament law, and speaking of how He has come to be the fulfilment of it. Those sections began in verse 21, and now we come to the last of those five, and we're looking at the subject of: 'Loving Your Enemies'.
Verse 43, the Lord says: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect".
Let us pray together: Our Father, as we come to Thy eternal Word, we pray now that Thou wilt help us to understand. We pray that You will help us to implement these truths in our lives, they are so difficult - therefore we ask for Thy divine enablement and power and unction of Thy Holy Spirit. To me as I preach the word, that You'll fill me and anoint me to preach it. For those who are listening, that You'll give them that meekness, by Your Spirit, to receive the engrafted word of truth. So help us now we pray, for we ask these things in Jesus' precious name, Amen.
Love your enemies. I'm sure you would admit that the Irish race are not the most forgiving when it comes to their enemies. I read an Irish prayer this week that went like this: 'May those that love us love us, those that don't love us may God turn their hearts, and if He doesn't turn their hearts may He turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping'. That is often the sentiment of folk from Ulster and indeed Ireland, and in fact any folk that can call themselves sinners - and all are sinners. That is the natural reaction of humanity to those whom we class as our enemies. But nevertheless, still today in our godless and unbiblical generation that hardly knows who Noah is, or Moses is, some even do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet most people know that one of the distinguishing factors of the Christian faith is that the Christian is to love their enemies. It is seen, perhaps, as the primary most distinguishing virtue of the Christian faith.
It is said of Archbishop Cranmer: 'If you would be sure to have Cranmer do you a good turn, you must do him an ill one', for though he loved to do good to all, especially he loved to do good to those who did him evil. He watched for opportunities to do good to those who were doing evil to him on a regular basis. When we look at saints of old like Archbishop Cranmer, and we see this Christian virtue within them, we have to ask ourselves in the light of the words of the Lord today: how do we fare? How do we measure up when it comes to loving our enemies?
Now, we have seen as we have gone through the Lord Jesus commentating on the Old Testament law, the ten commandments, we have seen how in each case He never ever opposed what the law taught. What He did oppose was the unauthorised additions of the Scribes and the Pharisees - in other words, how they inadequately interpreted the word of God, how they took the word of God and twisted it to mean what they wanted in their own interpretation. Indeed, the Lord calls it the tradition of the elders, how they deluded and prefixed - put parts onto - the law, in order to fit their own trends and their own lives.
What the Lord Jesus does is He comes to the law, and He says of Himself: 'I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil the law'. So as the Lord has been speaking, and as we have been looking at it in these weeks, as He speaks on the Old Testament Scriptures His primary goal is not destruction, His goal is development. He wants to bring the Old Testament Scriptures to the goal and the development that God intended it in the first place. So He comes to the law of love. I hope you can remember the occasion when the Jewish lawyer came to the Lord Jesus and asked Him what was the greatest of all the commandments, and the Lord replied these words: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind. This is the first and the great commandment, and the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, and on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'.
So the Lord Jesus is re-laying the foundation of what the true commandments of the law, and indeed the spirit of the whole of the ten commandments, is. The first five commandments: love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and the last five commandments are related to our brothers and sisters in humanity: and the second is like unto it: love thy neighbour as thyself, and on these two hang all of the law and the prophets.
But again we come to an instance of how men edited the word of God, how men changed the law of God to suit their own circumstances and to suit their own sinful habits and tendencies. So, I want to outline for you two things whereby men edited God's word, and specifically edited the law of God with regards to the law of love. I don't know whether you're computer literate, but you will know on your computer - if you can use your computer - that there is a cutting and pasting mechanism. In other words, if you have a bit of text on your screen you can take out a bit that you don't want, you can put it somewhere else. You can take it out and totally delete it, in fact you can add a bit in from another document - and it's called cutting and pasting, like you would cut the wallpaper and paste it onto the wall. The Pharisees and the Scribes in the Lord Jesus' day had that mentality toward the word of God. They were cutting bits out that they didn't like, they were putting bits in that made it easier for them to follow the law of God.
As we've been looking at the Sermon on the Mount in recent weeks we have seen these Jewish perversions of God's law. The rabbi's teaching with regards to love in verse 43 is said to be this, Jesus says: 'Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy'. Love thy neighbour, they said, and hate thine enemy! Now, the law of God did not say that. It was quite different in Leviticus 19 and verse 18 we read these words: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself', but there it stops. It doesn't say anything about hating your enemy. So the Pharisees, the Jews, had perverted the law of God once more.
They made it different in three ways, first of all in qualification. They didn't just leave it as: 'Love thy neighbour', but they defined for you who your neighbour was. In other words, your neighbour is somebody of the same colour as you, the same religion as you, the same creed as you, he has to be a Jewish neighbour - love your Jewish neighbour, but don't love anybody else. Qualification. Then there was omission, they changed the law of God by omitting some of the truth within it. If you look at verse 43 it says: 'Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy' - what part of the law did they leave out? 'Love thy neighbour as thyself', they omitted it. That's the extent of the law of love, you've to love your neighbour as yourself. They qualified it, they omitted it, and they added to it - there's addition, because they said: '...and hate thine enemy', and the law of God did not do that. In fact, the law of God - if we had time we could look at it in Exodus 23 - it actually told you how to behave toward your enemy, to behave toward them in benevolence. In other words, if your enemy's ox or ass was stolen or lost and you found it, you had to be kind to him, you had to return to him. The law of God is full of these benevolent instances toward your neighbour and toward your enemy.
I can understand how, perhaps, the Jews had misinterpreted the law of God. If you remember Joshua going into the promised land, Canaan, was told to exterminate all their enemies - men, women, boys and girls were to be totally wiped out so that they could have the land. Perhaps, as they looked at that they thought: 'Well, God wants us to hate our enemies. God wants us to destroy our enemies'. Perhaps as they looked at the Psalms, and if you've read the Psalms you will know that there at times when the Psalmist calls down judgement upon his enemies, calls the wrath of God down upon the enemies of Israel and his personal enemies as the king or a leader in the nation.
What we have to remember in those two instances is this: first of all, God commanded Israel to go into the promised land, God commanded them to clear out the land of all their enemies for one reason: purely because of the evil of those nations. The Canaanites were bringing abominations into the sight of God, the gods that they were worshipping, the evil sinful practice is that they were delving into. If you like this was the holy war that we find in scripture, where God told His people to go in and clear the land so that they would not be contaminated with the sins of the Canaanites. You must remember this: God gave warrant for that. Then as we come to the Psalmist we must also remember that the Psalmist never is talking about his personal enemies, his personal animosity, his personal hate, but he is speaking as a representative of the nation - perhaps as a king, perhaps as a general - or even a representative of God, he's standing in the place of God, singing praises to God in his Psalm or perhaps as a penitential prayer to God for the nation against the enemy.
This is what I want you to note, because we've been looking at this week after week, if we applied this to today and to our nation the nation would be in total chaos. There would be crime everywhere, because we would say: 'Well, you're to love your enemy, you're not to lock them up, you're not to put them in jail, you're not to take them to the court'. If we did it on an international scale we would be saying: 'Well, let Osama Bin Laden get on with it, let them do what they like around the world'. Maybe that seems in our own present situation that that may be what is going on, but these are not principles to be applied to nations, these are not principles to be applied to individual unbelievers, these are the principles of the kingdom of God, these are the principles of believers.
What we are talking about today are your personal enemies, your personal animosities, your personal hatred. You can see how the Jews perverted the word of God for their own ends. You might 'tut, tut', and shake the finger at them, shake your head at them for touching and tampering with the word of God, but it grieves me today to bring to you that Christians do exactly the same. There might be Jewish perversions that edit the word of God and the laws of God, but there are also Christian diversions that take away from the truth of what God has said. We've already said that this verse, perhaps more than anything, in the eyes of people in the world defines the true attitude and nature of the Christian ethic, what the Christian ought to be in the eyes of men and women. But although perhaps it's the pinnacle of all Christian witness and what it should be, you will admit with me as a believer here today that it's the hardest, perhaps, of all the commands that God gives to us in His word, and it's the hardest trait for anybody to find within a Christian believer.
I believe, for that reason, Christian theologies, Christian ideologies, Christian doctrines and beliefs, have been evolved in order to get people out of the awkward corner of forgiving and loving your enemies. Let me give you a few of them: 'Matthew's gospel is for the Jew, so this command is not for me it's for the Jew'. Now, Matthew's gospel is for the Jew, and these were spoken to Jews - but, my friend, this is the word of God. We haven't time to go into all the details of why we can take this as the scripture to ourselves. Others say: 'Well, it's for the millennial reign of Christ', and it is for the millennial reign of Christ in the sense that it will all be consummated and fulfilled when people actually live like this on the earth, but it still can be applied to the believer and the life of God in our lives today. Whether you say it's only for the Jew, or whether you say it's for the millennial reign of Christ, do you not see what the ploy is behind all of that? 'That's not for me, I'm looking for a way to get around how I can stop having to love my enemy'.
Some commentators that I was reading this week went into the detail of the Greek words for love, and there are four Greek words for love, and they all mean different things. The Greek word for 'love' here isn't family love, it isn't love that you have for a wife or a son or a daughter or a mother or a father, it isn't the love that you have for a friend that you have a great deal of things in common with. It's none of those things, and so some people have said: 'Well, this is a love that isn't an affection of the heart, but it is a love of the mind and the will. When you decide to maybe love a person that you don't really like, you mightn't like them, but God commands you to love them'. I don't know how men and women see this within the word of God, the idea of God putting in a believer a forced love, a love of the will and not a love of the heart. Surely that is the opposite of all the heart teaching within the Sermon on the Mount, that it is not the outward appearance, it is the heart. God is looking for what's in your heart, not that you say or you do something towards someone to show them that you love them, but deep down you can't stand them, you can't be around them.
The word for love here is a different word, it is the word 'agape'. Agape is the greatest love of all, because agape is the love of God, and you can't tell me that God doesn't love us from His heart, that God just loves us with His will and He doesn't really like us. Putting all that aside, even forgetting about all of that - and that proves it for itself - the Lord Jesus said: 'You have heard it said: Love your neighbour as yourself'. That is the extent of this love, it's a great love, I believe it's the greatest love of all, because it's God's love - agape. The love that God has shown toward us! Seneca said this: 'Live for thy neighbour if thou wouldst live for God'. He is right: live for your neighbour if you would live for God!
We have a personal salvation today in evangelicalism, we have a personal redemption, a personal forgiveness, but we have forgotten this: that if you are to live for God, if you are to be a disciple for the Lord Jesus Christ, you're commanded to love your neighbour as yourself, and love them with God's love. It's hard, but, isn't it? Someone said: 'It is no chore for me to love the whole world, my only real problem is my neighbour next door'. That's the truth, isn't it? The problem, perhaps, that we have in a materialistic world is, as someone else said: 'We too often love things and use people, when we should be using things and loving people'.
So, you see how the Jews, how Christian theologians, will do somersaults around the word of God to get out of what it is to be commanded as a believer to love thy neighbour as thyself. Plain as day, isn't it? So, what is it to love your neighbour as yourself? Well, I want to give it to you simply as this: it is admitting God's life. To love your neighbour as yourself is to admit God's life in your personality and in your life. Verse 44 says that: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven'.
Love your enemies! Now, who are your enemies? The Lord defines it in verse 44: them that hate you, those who wish you evil, who detest you, have a real loathing of you, who are often aroused even when you do good things for them, they seem to just emit hate toward you continually. The Lord says: 'Them which despitefully use you', those who threaten you, those who insult you, them which persecute you, those who speak evil against you with their words - or perhaps even further than that, act against you in physical violence. The Lord Jesus says: 'There is a definition of your enemies, you go and love them'. Now, that's not natural, don't tell me that's natural. We live in a world that says: 'You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. You punch my nose, I'll punch yours'. We live in a world, and the philosophy is: 'Give as good as you get', but the Lord is coming here and He's saying: 'That's not allowed for the new order, that's not allowed for the kingdom of God, that's not allowed for My children. My children have a greater rule, a higher rule, and it's this: those who are provocative towards you, you have to remain unprovoked. Those who hate you, you must love them. The treatment to everyone who reviles you, persecutes you, say all manner of things against you, despitefully use you, your reply always - you don't need to think about it - it's just love'.
Now, can you imagine the reaction of the disciples when the Lord Jesus is teaching this? Can you imagine their faces? Perhaps even the listeners around in the outer crowd as they heard this absolutely, as far as they were concerned, impossible teaching. Perhaps, I imagine - and it's only my imagination - the Lord was even jeered as He said these words! 'Love them? How can you love your enemy!'. Maybe that's what is coming from your heart as you listen to the word of God today. You're saying from your heart: 'How is that possible?'.
Well, there is natural love - and you don't have to work at that. That's the love that you have for the members of your family, for the family circle, and that love is probably drawn from your heart because you're flesh and blood. If you're not flesh and blood, it's a love that is drawn out because of an affinity of interests, or because you're similar in character to this other person or in temperament. It's not hard to love someone that you're attracted to in that way, it's a natural affection. There's a Greek word for that, but that's not the word here, the word here is God's love - and that means a supernatural love, a love that supersedes all other loves. It is a love that is utterly regardless of condition or of position. It's a love that loves you and is a genuine love from the heart and from the will, but it loves you not because of anything in you, but just because it loves you.
A tremendous illustration of this is found in Luke's gospel chapter 10, we don't have time to look at it all. The good Samaritan - and I don't need to refresh you with the story of the good Samaritan, I'm sure most of you, if not all of you, know it - but that good Samaritan, what happened? His heart went out in love, and went out practically for that man lying in blood. The love that he had toward him was an unknown love, in other words the Samaritan had never seen this man in his life before - so it wasn't a natural affinity, it wasn't a bond of flesh, it was a love that went out to something that was unattractive. Can you imagine the ugly sight of that man lying bruised and bleeding, a battered form? Yet this love went towards something that was unattractive. It was an unprofitable love, the Samaritan was getting nothing out of it - in fact, if anything, he was losing. It was costing him, for he had to put the man up in the inn, remember. He had to pay for all his hospitality and all his care. It was an unfriendly love, the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans - and for that Samaritan to do what he did toward the Jew was going across political, social, religious and cultural barriers, just to do that. Now, that's the love that is talked about when God says to you and to me: 'Love thy neighbour as thyself'.
Imagine that! A person you don't know, a person that's unattractive, you get nothing out of it, it's unprofitable. Maybe the person is unfriendly, but you do it! That snotty-nosed little boy in Sunday School who's never invited to tea, who's never made a fuss over, who's never been taken to the zoo, and who smells of urine - it's to love him, that's that love. Do you know what it is? It's God's love, God's love! When we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Even when His perfect justice had to punish, His perfect love remained. What we're talking about here is the love of Jesus. We are to love others with the love of Christ!
'A perfect friend is one who knows the worst about you, and loves you just the same.
There's only one who loves like that, and Jesus is His name,
His wonderful, wonderful name'.
Let's, in the closing moments, pin this love down. Verse 45a says you're to love like this that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. Now really what that is saying is: is there a family likeness? Ask yourself that today: is there a family likeness? Am I like God? Am I loving with God's love? Am I resembling Him in the love that I offer others? Just as your father, your mother, your daughter, your son has a family resemblance to you, God is saying: 'This is the resemblance in my children, because they love like I love'. It's a spiritual resemblance. Augustine said: 'Good for good, evil for evil, that is natural. Evil for good, that is devilish. Good for evil, that is divine' - that's divine. It is the characteristic of God in your life, it's the family characteristic and resemblance. It's what John meant when he says: 'We love Him' - now that doesn't literally mean we love Him, as in 'we love God because He first loved us', that's a mistranslation. It means this: 'We love others, because He loved us'. In other words: 'Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another'. Do you see it? The love of God in our lives is to cause us to ferment within our souls to such an extent of appreciation that we go out to a world and we love them as Christ loved.
The big question is: can this be done? Well, don't answer that question with whether it is being done or not, for frankly it's not being done. The question is: can it be done? The answer is: yes! But there's only one type of man and woman who can do it. There are three men in the scriptures: one is called the natural man; one is called the carnal man; and one is called the spiritual man. If you're to love like God loves, you are to be the spiritual man. The natural man is the unregenerate, the unsaved, the unconverted, and it's foolish to tell him to love his enemies for he receives not the things of the Spirit of God, they're foolishness unto him. They're unsaved, there's no point in telling unsaved people to love their enemies. The second is the carnal man, and that is a person who is a Christian, but he's like a baby who's underdeveloped. He has never grown up, and there's no use telling him to love his enemies, because he won't do it - he doesn't want to do it. If even in your prayers you include forgiveness for your enemies, maybe on the outside he says: 'Yes', but inwardly he's recoiling at the fact that you should ever say such a thing.
My friend, if you're unsaved, if you're a carnal Christian, you cannot love your enemies. What you must be is the spiritual man, that is a man who is a Christian and who lives as a Christian, who lives on the high level of the spiritual plain which is the normal Christian life. God's word says: 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His'. We all have the Spirit, we all have the Spirit if we are saved, that's not the question regarding the spiritual man - the question is this: how much of you does the Spirit have? If He has all of you, you are the spiritual man.
How is the family likeness today? Love like that detects your parentage, and in verse 45 it says love like that displays God's impartiality. God let's the rain drop on the righteous and the unrighteous, He lets the sun shine on the righteous and the unrighteous - that's the type of love we are to have. The love of God, that type of love makes a man like God! It displays God's impartiality, and thirdly, verse 46 and 47, it demonstrates a good testimony. The Lord says: 'So what if you love your brother, so what if you love your neighbour, so what if you love someone you're attracted to - even the publicans do that!'. The publicans were the lowest of the low in Jewish society - the Lord Jesus says: 'You're doing as much as the worst sinner imaginable!'. That's not what we're called to do, what does He say? You're called to do more than others - more than others!
Now, how do we measure up to that? How many people have been turned off Christianity, who haven't got saved or are not getting saved at this moment, because of something that a believer has done because they have not lived 'more than others'? Oh, we are often criticised - and sometimes we resent the criticism of unbelievers - but here's the big question: is it true? Is it true? You know, it's amazing to me, in all of this Sermon we're astounded at what God is asking us through the Lord Jesus to do, but the sad thing is this: how far short do we fall of it all?
Verse 48 says this love derives from Christian maturity. He says: 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'. Now that's not perfect in wisdom, perfect in power, perfect in holiness - it's in the context of this: perfect in love. You're to be perfect in love, as God is perfect in love. It doesn't mean sinlessness, perfect morally or spiritually. What it means is two perfections I believe: perfect in capacity. If I had a glass of water here, and I was standing beside Lough Neagh, that glass of water is filled to capacity just as Lough Neagh is. They're not filled with the same amount of water, and you cannot be filled with the same amount of love as God is filled with at this moment - but you can be filled to capacity. Do you get it? All your being filled in fullness.
Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost? Are you filled with the Spirit? And if you are filled with the Spirit you will be filled with the fruit of the Spirit, and one of the fruits of the Spirit is love. It's perfection of capacity, but secondly it's perfection of maturity. The word 'perfection' here is 'telios' (sp?) - and do you know what it is? If you had a half-grown lad here, and a tall lad fully-grown - the tall lad is telios, fully developed, fully mature. If you had a student who's just learning, and a professor who's an expert - telios is the Professor. In other words, God is saying: 'I want you to have a grasp of love. I want you to have a perfection in the function that I have given to you'. It's the idea of the screw and the screwdriver. When the screwdriver fits the screw, that is telios. In other words, when it's filling the function it was created for. What were you and I created for? God said: 'Let us make man in our image and after our likeness' - we were created to be like God! Perfect!
Oh, it's impossible, isn't it? It's impossible unless you have died. It's no good doing. It's no good getting the Sermon on the Mount open and sitting and saying: 'I must, I must, I must try and do this. I have to do my best, I have to live like that' - that's not what God is asking you to do. God is asking you to die. He's not looking for good doing, He's looking for Godlikeness. He doesn't want you to exhibit good human characteristics, but divine characteristics. The miracle of it all is this: there is not one person in this building this morning who can't do it, for God does it!
Our Father, we pray this morning that our lives will exhibit the divine nature: God is love. We pray that we would love one another, love our neighbours as ourselves, but love our enemies and love all - for we believe God loves all. We pray, our Father, that Thou wilt make us perfect as Thou art perfect. For Christ's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eleventh tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "Love Your Enemies" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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