Love Your Enemy
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 5:38–5:48
As we have been walking through Jesus’ Sermon on The Mount, I have joked about how glad I am to be done with adultery and divorce, but this morning, if we are honest, we really come to a much harder teaching: Don’t retaliate when you are wronged, but love your enemy instead.
This morning we are finishing what have become known as the six antithesis. Six times Jesus says, “You have heard this….but I say this…” And, as we have seen, Jesus isn’t saying that there is any problem with the teaching of the Old Testament. He isn’t saying the Old Testament says this, but I say this. He’s correcting the way the Old Testament, and particularly the law have been interpreted by the Pharisees and religious leaders of that day and specifically, as it pertains to retaliation.
All of us at some level have in us a deep sense of justice that needs to be served. Even if you don’t care about your city and your country or the moral and ethical dilemmas that surround us, you care about justice when you are the one who is wronged. I don’t care who you are or how sweet you look. I think my wife is about as sweet a person as I know. But, when we were newly married, we lived in Orlando and I was driving down Anderson Street and someone cut me off. Well, sweety was not going to have that. She decide to lean over the center console to honk my horn for me.
I said, “What in the world are you doing??” She said, “You don’t do that where I come from.” To which I said, “You do that where I come from and you get shot!” She had this deep sense of justice in that moment that needed to be served and the horn was the way it was served.
And I’m no better. I remember right out of college I was raising support to be missionary overseas and and I called this man who was one of the pillars of my church and a pillar in this town. And, certainly no one is obligated in any way to support me, but do you know what he did when I told him what I wanted to talk about? He yelled at me, cussed me out and hung up on me. Everything inside of me wanted to stand up at church and yell out that he is a fraud. I wanted justice to be served.
When we are personally wronged, we have this desire to retaliate, but Jesus in this text is saying that not only should we not retaliate, but instead we should love and pray for them.
So, what I would like to do this morning is simply look at the idol behind retaliation and the power of Christ’s love. Those are my two points.
- The idol behind retaliation
The idol behind retaliation is the desire to be in control. And this idol of control leads us to take things into our own hands because we believe two lies. First, that we are more important than the person who has wronged us and, second, that if we don’t deliver justice, justice will not be delivered. That is the idol in our hearts behind retaliation and it is exactly what is inside the Pharisees.
Our passage begins with Jesus saying, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' - Matthew 5:38 Over and over in this sermon we have seen the Pharisees twist the Old Testament law to allow them to do what they want to do and to feel better about themselves and here they are twisting the laws from Leviticus 24:
17 "Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal's life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. - Leviticus 24:17-20
Upon first reading, it really sounds like the Pharisees might be right. Maybe they should be taking actions into their own hands if they are wronged. Maybe they should take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Until you see that this is exactly what the law is trying to prevent! These punishments aren’t for them to administer, they are for the government and courts to enforce. They exist to prevent these Hatfield and McCoy like feuds.
So, what does Jesus say? 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. - Matthew 5:39-42
Jesus gives us four different kinds of offenses that might challenge our sense of justice. I don’t think these four examples are all encompassing or exhaustive, but they do cover enough of the spectrum to communicate His point really clearly. Slapping, suing, conscripting and begging.
First, slapping. I think I speak for all men when I say I would rather be knocked out cold than open hand slapped. There is something about being slapped that doesn’t just bruise your face, it bruises your ego. And Jesus is saying that if that happens, we should give him our other cheek too.
Second scenario. If someone sues you for your tunic, give them also your cloak. I guess it helps to know what a tunic and cloak are. A tunic is a lighter garment that most people in the Roman Empire would have worn like we wear maybe a nice shirt or even a suit. Most people would have owned multiple tunics, but likely only one cloak. A cloak was a heavier outer garment like a coat. So, Jesus is saying that if someone asks for the less expensive thing that we have more of, we should give them that and the more expensive thing that we have less and want to part with less.
Third scenario. I anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. You have to remember that Jesus is talking to a Roman occupied Israel. Roman soldiers could at any time ask the Israelites to walk with them and help carry something. We saw an example of this when Jesus was too weak to carry His cross, the Romans conscripted Simeon of Cyrene to carry it for Him. Jesus is saying that if they ask you to walk a mile, you walk two.
Then, lastly, if someone begs from you, maybe someone you don’t think deserves it or someone you just don’t like and maybe don’t want to see them prosper, don’t refuse him. Give him what he asks for.
So, what is Jesus saying? As throughout this whole sermon, He isn’t giving technical rules, He’s speaking to the darkness in their hearts. He wants them and us to have hearts of mercy and peace, not of pride and retaliation. He wants us to be ok being cut off. He wants us to be able to be ok with a bruised ego. He wants us to be ok being misunderstood in the office. He wants us to be ok being made fun of at school. He want us to be ok being unappreciated in our families.
Now, historically, Christians have taken Jesus’ teaching to one of two unintended extremes. On one hand, Jesus isn’t saying that you can never take any kind of action to defend yourself or your family. You can’t support that interpretation with the rest of the Bible. He’s not saying that if someone is abusing you, you need to turn the other cheek and let it happen. I read commentary after commentary and no scholar I found thought Jesus was saying that you have to be a doormat.
I would also go so far as to say this text doesn’t teach pacifism. At least not in its extreme forms. You have to remember the context here. Jesus is warning the Pharisees who are wanting to take the law into their own hands to let the law do what the law is here to do. By God’s grace we have a government, authorities and an army whose job it is to maintain peace and bring justice. He’s addressing the prideful individual who is wants to see justice served to satisfy his own vengeance.
Watch how Paul says the same thing beginning in Romans 12 4 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. - Romans 12:14, 17, 18
And after saying that, what is the next thing that follows? He goes into Romans 13 and tells us that our government is placed here by God for our good. Even if we didn’t vote for them, even if we don’t like our government, they are here for our good and they prevent the chaos of people taking justice into their own hands.
Jesus is saying that we turn the other cheek by allowing the authorities to do their job. We turn the other cheek when our pride is the thing we want to avenge. We turn the other cheek when vengeance is our goal, not justice. But He is not saying turn the other cheek when it is only you who stand in between safety and harm.
This text, by the way, along with Romans 13 were at the core of the debate over whether the American Revolution was morally justified. People like Charles Wesley fought vigorously to convince people that the American revolution was not justified. Many Presbyterian and Baptists disagreed and pushed for revolution arguing in part, and I think rightly, that Jesus is talking to the individual, not a government or newly formed government.
The Pharisees wanted an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth to satisfy their own pride. They had no regard for the government God had provide or, frankly, the God who provided it.
That’s one extreme, saying that we can never do anything to stand up for ourselves. The other extreme we have to be careful of though is to not ignore the weight of this command. Jesus is asking a lot of us. What He is teaching is incredibly hard. He is asking us to put our pride, egos and personal justice aside and have a heart of mercy, forgiveness and peace.
And I don’t know of a society that has ever been more naturally opposed to this teaching than ours. Our society has idols. Our society prides itself on being radically individualistic and radically rights oriented. Now, I’m incredibly thankful for the rights we have in our society, but we have to be able to see how our society affects our ability to turn the other cheek.
We see this on the billboards of 436 and I-4. Have you been injured, get justice. Do you want a divorce, come see me. You deserve the perfect wedding. Your way, right away. We see this in our yards. We put all our money in our backyards. We want our privacy.
We don’t want to interact with anyone except who we choose to interact with. Again, a radically individualistic and radically rights oriented society and it produces pride, bitterness and anger.
And do you know the result of holding on to pride, bitterness and anger? Isolation and loneliness. Does that sound familiar? We live in the loneliest culture ever to exist. Right now, according to the Cigna loneliness index, ½ of all Americans sometimes or always feel lonely. ¼ of Americans rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them. Only ½ of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions. 43% of Americans would not say they have meaningful relationships and they feel isolated.
I was at Publix this week and a kind Polish woman was making my sandwich and we were talking. I asked her how her experience in the US has been and she responded, “Horrible. Everyone told me that I have to go to the US to find money. Well, I got the money, but I have never been more lonely in my life. No one knows anyone here. You don’t even know your neighbors.”
No one I’m aware of argues the fact that something about the US promotes isolation and loneliness. I’m saying that it comes, at least in part, from our obsession to have everything our way and that makes it all the harder to hear what Jesus is saying: “Give up your pride and turn the other cheek.”
This idol of having to be in control, of having to be at the center of our universe pushes us away from the life giving community we were meant to experience and more and more toward heart hardening isolation.
And the first step toward changing this pattern is seeing it. Seeing that this world is not the way it’s supposed to be. I listened to a podcast recently that compared our culture to Epcot. Most people don’t realize what Epcot was meant to be. Walt Disney had a dream that Epcot would not just be the crown jewel of Disney, but the crown jewel of humanity. Epcot was supposed to be a real city where people lived and worked and went to school. The most technologically advanced city in the world made up of every nation with the best schools, the highest wages and the highest standards of living.
But, when Walt Disney died, so did that dream. The Disney executives decided there was no way to make this dream happen and Epcot is a shell of what it was intended to be...but no one even realizes that anymore. No one realizes there was a better plan. We have all just settled for the Epcot we know.
In the same way, most of us don’t even realize this world is not as it should be. We are designed for more. God wants us to experience more. But, unlike Epcot, this world will be restored. Jesus is establishing and bringing us into that kingdom. A kingdom where our hearts seek mercy and peace that brings us together in life giving community, not this tattered world of pride and retaliation that drives us into isolation and loneliness.
So, how is it that this world is being restored? Through the power of Christ’s love.
- The power of Christ’s love
The second part of this passage is where Jesus tells us how we can move our hearts toward mercy instead of justice. In verse 43, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43
Once again, the Pharisees were manipulating the Old Testament law. In this case, it is more of a butchering than a slight tweak. They knew they had to love their neighbor, but they began to define neighbor as Israelites who were acting the way they thought Israelites should act. If you weren’t an Israelite or you transgressed them in some way, then all bets were off. Love your neighbor, hate your enemy. But look at what Leviticus 19 says, 33 "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. - Leviticus 19:33-34
Jesus says that if you only do right to those who do right, how are you different than anyone else in this world? Tax collectors do that, gentiles do that. The kingdom Jesus is bringing operates in a much different way with a much higher call and the key to that
call is verse 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:48
This isn’t saying that we need to literally be perfect, it’s saying that the way we interact with people should be reflective of the perfect, loving God we serve. Only in the God of the Bible do we see the full power of love on display and only in Jesus Christ can we access it. So, I want to offer you four steps toward harnessing the power of Christ’s love so that you can have a heart of mercy, not retaliation.
First, we need to know that we are not the center of the universe. We can’t adequately process the events in our lives without having an appropriate view of ourselves. The larger God becomes in our hearts, the smaller we become in our minds and the less we will feel the need to retaliate when our pride is at stake.
Second, know that God cares about you and your suffering. He cares about your hurts. He understands your hurts. Hebrews says, For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are… Hebrews 4:15
He gets us and He cares so much that He came here to deliver us from our own injustice. Never has loving your enemies been more on display than Jesus on the cross. We rebelled against God and He gave His life in the form of Jesus Christ to both make peace and serve justice. All justice was upheld in the form of God’s wrath being laid on Jesus in our place. And, in so doing, peace was insured.
Third, it’s ok to mourn what you didn’t get. So often Christianity is misunderstood to mean that we can’t be sad. That’s we need to always look like Ned Flanders. We have to always be smiling. It’s ok to be sad. We just have to know what to do with our sadness and loss. We take it to Jesus. The only One who will ever fully understand how we feel. So, often our loss is what Jesus uses to draw us closer to an make us more like Him.
Fourth, and finally, once you’ve mourned your loss, give your offender what they don’t deserve. This is the path to healing. It can seem counterintuitive, but the more we give what isn’t deserved, the more our heart is made whole. Retaliation is poison, but forgiveness is life.
Alan Hirsch says that the Christian worldview can be summarized in three words: Jesus is Lord. If we believe those three words, it will change everything we do. We will seek to serve instead of being served, we will seek humility instead of pride, we will seek love instead of anger and we will seek forgiveness instead of retaliation.
And you may be able to see how this all comes together. As we pursue Jesus, He creates a heart in us with values that bring us together instead driving us apart. So, the question we need to ask ourselves is am I pursuing Jesus.
And this totally counter-cultural posture is not only good for us, but good for those outside the kingdom as well.
I was reading a lecture this week that Tim Keller gave in Krakow, Poland. How about that, two Polish references in the same week. In this lecture he was articulating five reasons scholars give for the rise of Christianity. He said two of the marks please the liberals, two please the conservatives and one challenges all of us. The two more liberal marks that contributed to the rise of Christianity were the multi-ethnic nature of the community and that they were radically committed to the poor and marginalized. The two more conservative marks were that they were strongly against abortion and infanticide and that they had a revolutionary ethic of sex. Then, do you know what the last mark was that challenges us all? They were non-retaliatory and committed to forgiveness.
Vengeance belongs to God. And if you are here today and you believe that Jesus has taken the vengeance that should come to us and if you believe that He is bringing a new kingdom, then your call is to show that reality to everyone through your life.
This is exactly why we are here! We come together on Sundays to worship Jesus, to be recharged and to be sent out to live in the new kingdom and bring others into it as well.