Sermon On The Mount Devotional Blog 19

Sermon On The Mount Devotional

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Read Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

“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."

Imagine yourself a life guard. It is a beautiful summer day. The sun shines down brightly as a cool off-shore breeze blows in. You watch as children play in the sand and swimmers surf the waves with their bodies. The chatter of people on the beach and the sounds of the waves lapping against the shore fill the air. All of the sudden a panicked voice cries out for help. You see the water churning and a swimmer in distress. You leap from your platform, sprinting through the sand, and begin to swim toward the drowning man. As you get your arms around him, pulling them up above the water, your eyes meet. To your horror you realize that those eyes belong to the man who savagely killed your child/brother in a school shooting weeks before. You freeze. What do you do? There in your hands, both literally and metaphorically, is the life of an enemy, a proven hater and killer of one dear to you. You have the ability to exact revenge or to extend mercy. What do you do?

Recently we have all been horrified by the evil lived out in a small school in Florida. A young man walked into his former high school after killing three people outside, pulled the fire alarm, and began to open fire on his former classmates. Dozens were killed and many more wounded. What kind of evil would perpetrate such a heinous crime? What does such evil deserve? We cry out with a loud voice, Punishment”! And that is right. We might even say that this young man deserved to die, right? And I wouldn’t disagree. Capital Punishment is a right and appropriate punishment in such cases, but it is to be delivered from the legal authority over this man. Back to our lifeguard analogy, would you personally swim out to save this drowning murderer? After looking right into his panic-stricken eyes, would you either reach out a helping hand or withhold it? These kinds of heart issues are what Jesus is dealing with in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Who are we called to love and how far is our love to extend? What kind of love are we to give? 

Christ tells us to “Love our enemies”. How could we be called to this kind of humble, self-sacrificing love? To put it into a broader context, let us remember that this is the kind of love and forgiveness that was extended to us through Christ. “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8 tells us. While we were sinners – murderers, rebels, and God-haters - He willingly died in our place. Not only did He die for us while we were enemies, He died for us while we were helpless. We could not save ourselves. We were drowning, unable to swim and reach the eternal shore. Christ threw Himself into the ocean of our lives and swam out to us, at the cost of His own life, saving us from a just penalty for our sins, which is death. He willingly took our sentence upon Himself. What amazing love!

The standard here is a God-love, not a human-love. In the Greek language there are four words that are used for “love”. The first is eros. The Bible never uses this word. It refers to sexual love (note that the Bible doesn’t talk about sexual love). We get the word “erotic” from it. In New Testament Biblical times the sexual love of the Greeks was so perverted that the Bible writers rejected this use of the word as somehow contaminated. The second use is storge which refers to family love - a love that a father and mother might have for their children. This word is not used in the NT either. The third use is phileo, which refers to a strong affection. “Philanthropy” is an English word based upon this use. We might say, “I love books” and so we would be called a “Bibliophile”. It is the highest love that man is capable of, in and of himself. But the fourth use of the word is the one we find Jesus using here and it is agape. This is a love without variables. A love for no reason at all. A love for an enemy. It is the word Christ used after His resurrection the first two times He asked Peter if he loved Him and after Peter thrice denied his love of the Savior (Sermon on the Mount by Jim Boice). And it is the use of the word that is used here in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a love that is impossible without the sovereign work of the Father and the Holy Spirit in our lives. It must be created in us. Yet we are commanded to love this way - agape love.

So often I hear people say, “Love that person? I don’t even like them,” as if we are controlled by our feelings and motivated only by how a person makes us feel. We may not like everyone. Could we truly say that we “like” Hitler or this young man who just committed these horrible shootings? We are not commanded to “like” everyone, but we are commanded to “love” everyone. We are not called to a “phileo” kind of love, a liking with an emotion-based affection, but in Christ we are commanded and given the ability to “agape” everyone, even our enemies.

We are not called to wait until we have an emotion-based feeling of love for someone before we are to move toward them in love. If this were the command, we could never do this in some cases, especially when the person is our enemy. What Christ calls us to here is to an act of willed obedience, to move toward this person in acts of love, whether we “feel” like it or not. As we prayerfully do this and, in time do it often, as we move in obedience in “agape” love, our feelings begin to, and it can be possible to “like/phileo” others, who at one time we could not stand. What begins to change within us is our perception of that person. We begin to realize that we have been loved with an agape love, saving us while we were god-haters and crucifiers of Christ. We can begin to look on people with a sympathy toward their lostness and pray that they too might experience the love and grace of Christ in their lives, especially eternally speaking.  As we pray for, our affections change.

Here is a wonderful quote from the well-known apologist and writer, CS Lewis. He writes,

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less… The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity’. The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on - including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.” (Boice, pg. 144)

Now a person like this murderer (mentioned in the opening story) does deserve punishment and will receive it from the lawful authorities, but can we extend eternal sympathy toward this man who is in need of eternal grace and mercy, who otherwise will not only be punished in this life but also in the life to come? Can we pray for justice to be done on the earth but for him too to receive eternal grace and mercy and pardon through Jesus Christ?

So, What Now? Is there someone around you today who has hurt you? Is there someone whom you might even label as an enemy? Can we, who have experienced the ultimate expression of agape love, not move toward them at least in prayer? Our feelings might drive us in the opposite direction, but our healed and forgiven hearts prompt us to move toward them with an expression of agape love called for here in this passage - prayer. Whom can you pray for today?