Exeter Temple Message Notes: 1st March 2015
Bible Reading: Matthew 5:38-48
In this text Jesus asks us to have a sort out not of our attitudes towards enemies and those who give us a hard time.
Dallas Willard says that the OT passages referred to relate not to institutional or social evils but how to respond to loss and injury to either yourself or your family.
Jesus tells us what we should lose and what we should gain, what we should give up and what we should take in.
1. Get rid of……….
We are told in the Bible to be "peacemakers" but does that mean we are to surrender to evil?
We are told to "love our enemies," but we are also told "oppose them" when they are wrong & when they oppose the things of God.
This can be confusing but we can be clear that what we don’t need is retaliation or revenge.
“You have heard that it was said, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you do not resist an evil person.” (v38-39)
The phrase “eye for an eye” is mostly seen in the modern age as being about vindictiveness but when it was introduced into the Old Testament it was originally a merciful provision to put a stop indiscriminate massacres and blood feuds. Before this law if one member of a tribe was injured by a member of another tribe all members of the offended tribe would take vengeance on all members of the offending tribe. What started out as something small got bigger and bigger as each tribe increased the punishments on the other.
This law was introduced so that there was an exact correspondence and compensation for the wrong done and a line could be put under the matter instead of it going on and on for years. We still work on this principle in law today.
however by the time of Jesus the law designed to prevent the escalation of violence was being used to justify personal vendettas - the very thing the law was designed to prevent. In fact many were taking the law into their own hands.
Jesus pointed out that personal revenge is not the way to deal with injury.
Jesus’ way was better. When God's love flows through us we pour out grace and forgiveness which changes the human heart and this releases both the victim and the perpetrator.
b) The demand for your rights
In our relationships with others, often what passes for love is little more than a neat business transaction. People are kind to us, so we repay them with equal consideration. When they treat us unjustly, we consider our negative response as being what they asked for. Everything is so balanced and fair but it can also all be a bit calculating.
Christian love never settles for only what’s reasonable. It insists on giving mercy as well as justice. It insists not only on giving but on giving generously.
There are times when people get very defensive about protecting themselves from any infringement of their rights. They are fearful of anyone putting one over on them and it makes them aggressive.
Jesus is saying, "Don't be always thinking of your liberty to do as you like, but be always thinking of your duty and your privilege to be of service to others”.
We must think of the needs of others even when our pride is at stake, when our rights are abused, when our plans are frustrated and our time is wasted and when there is no hope of compensation.
2. Take up active love
Jesus never simply talked about what we must not do and what we need to get rid of in our lives. He was much more positive than that.
Jesus does not just require a lack of hatred but the presence of love and compassion. The focus is not really on what we refrain from doing but on what we are prepared to do. The accent is not on restraint but on active love.
We can do the minimum required and not a stroke more and in such a way that we make it clear we hate the whole thing. The other way is to do what we are asked and possibly more with determination, courtesy, and far better than anyone expects us to - even when the demand for help is discourteous, unreasonable and tyrannical.
Jesus gives examples from his culture of willingly going an extra mile or giving two items of clothing and not just the one that has been requested.
This does not always mean saying yes to everything that is asked of us. There are times when if we go the extra mile with one person we might harm another e.g a doctor on the way to an emergency. It may be harmful for another person to always be given into. Our criteria for the way we respond to demands is the others persons good not our convenience.
Our effort for others should be the same whoever it is we are doing it for, enemy or friend.
Jesus doesn't tell us to love our friends. He doesn't have to, because we love our friends, anyway.
In other words, Jesus is saying, "There should be no limit on your love. You are to love everybody, even your enemies."
Avoiding getting our own back and not doing another person wrong is not the same thing as actively setting out to improve their situation. We are not called just "not doing them any harm" but to doing them good.
Again we need to be careful that we are guided by the Spirit in this.
Jesus tells us to do that in three ways.
i) Through our words.
"Bless them that curse you." (Luke 6:28)
We are to reply to insults with compliments. We are to love people through our words.
ii) Through our deeds
“Do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)
iii) Through our prayers
“Pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)3. How is it possible?
The biggest mistake people make about this passage. It is that we can do this what Jesus is advocating by trying really hard.
We can’t. We will always fail.
And this is more than a bit of a disaster because at first glance it looks like Jesus is saying that our status as children of God depends upon our performance in this area.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven.” (v 44)
We could take this to mean that you must first become a person who loves his enemies as a way of earning your place as a child of God.
“If you take the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, all the commandments assume—they presuppose—that a profound conversion has happened—a new birth—before our righteousness surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. We do not earn or merit our sonship or our entrance into heaven. We receive it as a free gift and gracious promise, and then we live in a way that shows where our treasure is and who our Father is.
Later in his sermon Jesus talks about how fruit is produced, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
What Jesus is saying is that you cannot produce the fruit of love in order to become a good tree. You have to become a good tree in order to produce the fruit of love. Becoming a child of God and being transformed on the inside—becoming a good tree—precedes and enables love, not vice versa.
Loving our enemies is the outcome of the inward transformation our self-centred nature to having a God-centred. And what is God’s nature? God is love.
How can we love our enemies? God pours his love into our hearts. If we want to love our enemies, don’t start by trying to work up human feelings, start by handing over your empty heart to be filled with the love of God and then let it leak out. “And hope does not disappoint us because god has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5)