Up to this point in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus has bent our minds in describing what to expect as citizens of his kingdom. He amps it in this passage, however. Rather than tell you, let’s just read it.
Matthew 5:38-48 - You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If you’re like me, the normal response would be to throw up your hands and go, “No way in the world I can pull this off. This is crazy town stuff.” And I think Jesus would agree. No way we are going to pull this off on our own. But what is impossible for us is not impossible with Him. And with His Spirit occupying a place in our lives, this is what Jesus intends to see develop in us. Genuine love that is actively expressed towards those wishing us harm.
To help with this, I’m going to encourage you to put a face or faces on this. Who do you see as your enemy? It could be a family member, a coworker, a boss, someone in class at school. A bully, a snob, someone hard to for you to like. Someone very different from you. Maybe it’s a critic, someone always finding fault with you, someone on your case. Maybe it’s someone who’s cheated you. But get a face and name, because you’ve got to allow Jesus to start with you on this somewhere. Might as well be that first person that comes to mind. And if you’re honest, it will be the last person you’d ever want to love this way.
Ready? Good. Let’s see what’s up.
The "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" statement Jesus uses is in the bible—in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy--but it’s not a command. It’s part of the civil code God gave the Israelites, and it was intended by God to limit retribution for wrongs. Why would God to this? Well, because he knew our natural bent—to not only pay back wrongs done to us, but to pay back far greater than the original offense. You see this on US roads. Someone cuts us off, we have no choice but to pull out a tire iron and beat them to within an inch of their lives. That’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never forget, right? To prevent this, God put limits on punishment. By the time Jesus shows up, however, people had turned this into a right—someone hurts me, I have permission to go after them with equal measure.
Jesus basically says that his kingdom has a different ethic—one of not just restraint and moderation, but of love. Then Jesus gives four examples. These are not comprehensive, but mere illustrations of how we’re to be led by the Spirit to respond when wronged or taken advantage of. Jesus talks about insults (slapped in the face); taking what was yours (suing your for your clothes); forcing you to do something against your will (carrying a Roman soldiers pack for a mile); and taking advantage of you (begging from you).
Then Jesus tells us that this love thing applies not just to people we like or who are like us, but to our enemies, people who have it out for us. Instead, pray for them and love on them. And then Jesus tells us why. It’s so we might actually look like sons of God, like God’s own children, because God loves people like that. He sends sun and rain on both good people and rotten people. God is kind to his enemies. Yeah, he’s hoping that by loving everyone, some won’t stay enemies. Some, just like we did, will become God’s children, too. Jesus is going to use us to love on people just like he did in hopes of expanding his kingdom. Jesus says that we need to be perfect in this area, just like God is. It’s funny how we Christians sometimes measure our maturity by what we don’t do, where we don’t go, what we object to. But Jesus in this passage says, “Hey, maturity, perfection. . .well, those are terms reserved for those loving their enemies.”
It was that kind of love that drew Jesus to pray for his enemies even as they were killing him. And it was that kind of love that made a Roman soldier who helped crucify Jesus to declare, as he watched that dying, praying man. to declare of Jesus, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” That kind of love changes things. That’s why God wants us to be like that.
A love like that we see in Stephen, the first martyr, who shares the gospel. It makes people so angry that they drag him out of the city and stone him. As he is dying, he prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Where did he get this? Yeah, from Jesus. A man named Saul witnesses Stephen’s murder. A short time later, Saul becomes a Christian, and Saul becomes the Apostle Paul. He starts churches all over the known world. In a city named Lystra, Paul is stoned for sharing the gospel and left for dead. Most commentators think he was dead and came back. Regardless, what does Paul do? Run for his life? No. He heads back to Lystra to love on those people. We’re told that Paul’s love resulted in many of them becoming Christians. Love like that changes things. That’s our legacy.
The question we all have is this: How in the world can we do this? This is so beyond our natural capabilities, we don’t even see how this could happen in us. Well, in the message online, I have a personal example of God moved supernaturally to make this a reality that I think might help ya. Take that in if you’re interested. I’m not going to put that example in this note, partly because I don’t want anyone thinking that I have this down totally. But if God can move in my life, he can move in yours.
Here are the ingredients: You quit trying to get back at the person. In my case, I was put in a situation where I could not do anything. So, I was powerless, and I knew it. Our problem most of the time is that we think we are not powerless, so we try to take action, to defend ourselves, to get back at the person, to build our case for how wronged we are. How about we just stop and say, “Wait, Jesus wants to use me to love this person, so I’m going to be willing to be hurt or wronged and respond differently, knowing that there’s a heart that Jesus wants to love into his kingdom?” Second, pray. For me, prayer was the only thing I could do, given I was powerless to do anything else. And that prayer for God to move turned into a prayer that God might allow me to see the enemy through His eyes. And God answered that prayer. And when he answers that prayer, you find that He softens your heart toward that person. And, third, once your heart is softened toward that person, once you see that person like God sees them, then God can use you. So, be attentive to the Spirit’s leading. And it’ll probably be something you don’t expect. So, when He leads, you follow. Prepare to be amazed is all I’m saying!!
You want to live a life of adventure and excitement? Ok, bungee jumping and climbing rocks and marathons and mountain biking and extreme sports and whatever—that’ll get your heart racing, but none of it changes the world. Heck, it doesn’t change a human heart. You haven’t experienced extreme exhilaration until God’s used you to do that.
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