43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Matthew 5:43-48
The Grammys were controversial this year. Singers danced wearing next to nothing. Singers sang songs about how awesome violence, drug use, and sexual immorality are. There was a performance that glamorized cult worship. To top it off, Queen Latifah thought this was a great atmosphere for a wedding. She married 33 couples -- some male & female, while others were of the same sex.
But none of these seemed to get the most controversy. That belonged to Natalie Grant, a young woman up for a Gospel music award, did something unthinkable. What did she do?
“We left the Grammy's early. I've had many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head," Grant tweeted that night. The artist kept her message positive, however, declaring, "I've never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I've never been more sure of the path I've chosen."
What kind of a reaction do you think she got? How do you think people reacted to the woman who quietly walked out on songs glorifying a host of sins? They were upset. She was called a 'bigot', 'stuck up', 'what's wrong with the world today,' and a few other things that don't belong in a sermon.
Now if you're a Christian, perhaps you are upset reading this! This young woman is being attacked by her beliefs. It's unfair. It's not right.
And perhaps you even are thinking of responding like many Christians did in the blogs:
"you people are the scum of the earth"
"You might hate Christains...but know that we hate you."
"I am a Christian and I am tired of this blankety-blank. You are all a bunch of (words that shan't be repeated in a sermon"
While I agree that there was plenty of sin at the Grammys and plenty of sin involved in the words of those who were bad mouthing Ms. Grant, the truth is that many of the words from Christians who were defending her were simply returning hatred for hatred.
Revenge. It's the American way.
But it's got to make you wonder if that's how Jesus would have responded. In today's lesson, Jesus' backwards logic tells us to the exact opposite of revenge. Today Jesus says “love those who hate you.”
I. The World Says: “Hate those who Hate You.”
Of course this is not what the world teaches. Jesus even admits that. He says, “You have heard that it is said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Mt. 5:38) In modern language we might say, “A spiteful text message for a spiteful text message” or “an angry blog post for an angry blog post” or “an angry defaming Facebook comment for an angry Facebook comment.”
Whatever form the hatred is, I think it happens for 4 reasons.
1) It's what they deserve.
This is something that we've been taught since we were young. Bad behavior deserves good treatment and good behavior deserves bad treatment. The kindergartner performing well gets a sticker smiley face, the one who struggles to stop squirming and listen to the teacher does not. We do the same thing as adult. Only it's with real smiles instead of sticky smiles.
At work, we think: “This person hasn't been very nice to me, so I see no reason to be very nice to them.” At church, we think: “This person was pretty awful to me once, so I see no reason to say hello and greet them.” At home, a wife thinks: “My husband hasn't gotten me flowers in ages, why would he deserve me cooking his favorite meal?” Conversely the husband thinks: “The wife hasn't cooked me my favorite meal in ages. Why would she deserve some flowers?” Even parents think about doing it: “Kid A has been a lot better than Kid B lately. I'm going to love them each according to what they deserve!”
2) It's How You Survive.
It's almost an animalistic principle. Because for animals in the wild to survive, they sometimes have to be pretty awful to a few other animals. They have to hog the food, the water, and the shelter. (This even happens in dog parks with dog bones -- although perhaps those aren't necessary to survive.)
How is that any different than the way our society works?
“Unless I start spreading rumors about my coworkers, then the rumors they have started will cause me to miss the promotion—or worse: I could lose my job.”
“Unless I start a rumor that my archrival Sally looks like a toad, then Jason will probably ask her to the dance!”
“If I keep being caring and loving to my husband, then he'll take advantage and just keep eating chips on the couch!”
“If I just keep speaking calmly to my wife, then she'll just continue to use me as her shouting pin cushion!”
3) It's what everybody does.
This isn't so much as an excuse as it is a good reason that we so easily fail at showing love to our enemies. Because everywhere in the United States, you find people being awful to people who are in turn awful back to them!
Football players go on TV and badmouth other football players just to gain a psychological advantage.
Celebrities turn to magazines in order to bad mouth other celebrities, that they might increase their fan base AND their pay.
Politicians are so good at it, that they even have a fancy and almost appropriate word for it: “Mudslinging” – as if it's simply part of the game.
4) It's easy.
This may be the biggest reason that we hate those who hate us. It's easy.
Think back to the blog situation. It's way easier to simply spew a few hate-filled words than to take the time and construct a loving paragraph explaining how we know God is real, how God hates sin, and how God sent his son to save us from sin. This appears to be the route that most Christians are taking. It takes way less thinking and much fewer keystrokes.
Or think of a heated conversation. It's way easier to simply yell four letter words back at whomever is attacking you, than it is to breathe, turn around, hold in your anger, count to ten, swallow your pride, return to the conversation, and try to handle it calmly.
As humans we are tempted to take the easier route. And the easier route is to return hatred with hatred.
Always. Always. Always.
II. Jesus Says: “Love Your Enemies.”
But Jesus did not say, "Love or hate your enemies...whatever is easier." He literally turned the world's logic around and presented a backwards proposition: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v.43)
Now you might be reading that and be in shock!
"Love your enemies! Jesus that's a little strong. Surely you can't be telling me to love all my enemies. Surely you don't want me to love the guy at work who is always spreading lies about me. Or the bully at school who is always calling my kids names. Or the politician that stands for the opposite of what I stand for. Or my ex. Or the girl who caused my ex to be an ex. Or the atheists, unbelievers, and haters that constantly bring negativity into my Facebook feed! Certainly, Jesus, you don't want me to love them too!?!"
Yes, he does.
But Jesus doesn't just give us the what without the why. So hear him out:
1) It's what God does.
Verse 45 says this: Your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Have you ever seen one of those cartoons where a little black rain cloud follows around one person all day long – all the while shining sun on everybody else in the area?
God doesn't do that. This past week it was snowpacalype in Raleigh. But did you notice that there were people dealing with the snow who were both unbelievers and believers. Now it's sunny. Atheists and devoted church goers are being warmed by it's goodness. There are probably people at McDonald's right now who are enjoying delicious food --- that God has given them -- even while scoffing at those who are taking time to say prayers to God before they dig in!
God is kind to all people -- providing food, drink, clothing, shelter and much more – even for those who despise him! But more than just causing the S-U-N to rise, God caused the S-O-N to rise on all people. God sent Jesus for his enemies!
No where is this more clear than when Jesus is on that cross. His body had been tortured, beaten, bloodied, and bruised. Those torturers stood toe to toe with their supporters and hurled insults at Jesus: “You phony! You fake! You jerk!” They spat on him. They hated him.
Jesus' only words regarding these people? He didn't zap them with lightning bolts. He didn't come off of the cross and force them up there in his place. He didn't even shout curse words at them.
Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24)
Jesus doesn't return their insults. He doesn't return their hatred. He simply takes on their hatred. He stays on the cross in the ultimate sacrifice of love and gives us his own life for his enemies!
BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU PERSONALLY!
Because the Bible tells us that sin is against God. It tells us that sinners are his enemies. (Romans 8:7) It tells us that all people are sinners (Romans 3:23).
So, do the math: We are people. We have sin. We are God's enemies. We are Jesus' enemies!
Think back on your life and you'll know this to be true. How many times have you badmouthed God for his rules and demands? How many times have you grumbled against God for what he's allowed to happen in your life? How many times have you left God pleasing activities to go consort with the enemy and do things that he absolutely forbids?
How many times have you had real hatred for another one of his created?
Certainly this deserved an 'eye for an eye' an 'divine punishment for divine sin!”
But God didn't do that. Not without sending his Son first. Colossians says this, “When you were dead in your sins, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins!” (2:13)
Again, notice what it says: “When you were dead... God made you alive.” Not when you improved yourself. When you weren't so awful. Not even after you proved yourself not to be so much of an enemy.
When you were God's enemy, God sent Jesus Christ to show you ultimate love!
This is not Law, but Gospel! It is the Gospel of the incredible love of Jesus. It's a love that led to our forgiveness. It's a love that enables our Lord to call all of his followers: "his friends." It's a love that forgives all of your sins!
Now our loving Jesus, urges us as dear friends to show love to our enemies as well!
2) It's what makes us Different.
Look at verses 46-47: “46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
Anybody can write “Happy Birthday” on a friend's Facebook wall. It takes someone different to write “Happy Birthday" to your enemy.
Anybody will wish nice things on their friends. But it takes one who knows Jesus' love to to pray for their enemies.
Anybody will take their wife out for dinner when they have this feeling like they are running through the flower fields with romantic orchestral music playing in the background. It takes someone who knows Jesus' love to take their wife out for dinner when she hasn't been all that nice during the week.
3) It's real love.
Remember the Biblical definition of love is not the cute puppy, romantic love of a Romantic comedy. God isn't telling you to go sing romantic songs about the guy who was a bully to you in high school. God is telling us to love people with the real definition of love.
Love as an action. A choice. A decision.
A prayer for the bully at school. A smile for the one at work that isn't nice. A hug and a kiss for your wife when she hasn't made you feel all warm and cuddly. A word of encouragement to your grouchy husband at the end of a long day. A hug and an “I forgive you” to a person at church who has wronged you!
You might be wondering how it is even possible to do this. As you start writing a nice letter to your boss who seems to have it out for you, it might be easy to focus on all the awful things he has done in the past. Then, you might find yourself pressing so hard on the pen that it tears right through the stationery.
Instead, focus on your Lord. Focus on the one though we were his enemies, he died for you. He loves you so and his love will motivate you to love others...
...even those who hate you.