(This sermon was preached at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on July 27, 2008. To listen to this sermon in its entirety, click here.)
“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 (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV).
For over thirty years, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood graced the PBS landscape with a small question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Honestly, I made fun of that show when I was middle school and high school. Mr. (Fred) Rogers was just nice, but as I grew older, I realized how important his message was. Rogers was a Christian and his Christian worldview permeated every skit he did. Everyone had value. Everyone had a purpose for being on earth. Everyone (and many would groan when he said this) was special.
Do we find this corny and cheesy, or do we find some kernel of truth in it? I pray we do, because this echoes much of what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48. In this passage, Jesus sets up this teaching by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” We recognize the biblical understanding of “love your neighbor.” The question arose, “Well, who is my neighbor?”
According to the Jews, they would look around and say, “Well, the surrounding nations couldn’t be my neighbor! They worship false gods, and we worship the one true God. They offer abominable sacrifices. They aren’t my neighbor.” Then they would look to the Samaritans. “ They aren’t my neighbor. They are half-breeds, with Jewish blood mixed in with Assyrian blood. I won’t even walk on Samaritan soil.” They would even look at many of their Jewish brothers and tell themselves, “Well, we are the religious leaders, the intelligentsia of Israel. Everyone looks up to us. We are special. We cannot consider the common riff-raff our neighbor.”
Do you see what happened? Only those who were just like them were considered their neighbor. Those who looked and thought exactly like they did. They began to view everything through their own narrowly man-made glasses.
This most certainly penetrates where we live, does it not? How do you view people differently from you? Those who may be in a different tax bracket, have a different educational background, live in different types of neighborhoods. Some have “spiritual” differences: different denominations, use different versions of the Scriptures, praise and worship in different ways. How do you view them? Do you feel your station, your views, your ways are superior for whatever reason — even if those people are made in the image of God and, in the spiritual sense, are redeemed by the blood of Jesus?
Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He had to set the entire Jewish community (and us) straight concerning their relationships to one another. In fact, the entirety of Matthew 5 in dealing wit the relationship of Kingdom people to one another in dealing with anger, lust, divorce, words and retaliation all come to consummation here. We are to love and pray for all, not just our friends or those who are like us, but also for those who are “enemies” to us personally or who are contrary to our lifestyles. We are to emulate Jesus — for this is not a super-spiritual status meant for the select few. Jesus not only sets the principle, but as we will see, lived it out to the fullest degree.
1. Our love and prayers should show no partiality.
Again, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. They go together. Our flesh says, “Hate your enemies and get revenge on those who persecute you.” What is Jesus driving at here?
The Scriptures use a number of words for ‘love.’ ‘Philia’ is a friendship type of love—a brotherly love. ‘Eros’ is a sexual type of love reserved for marriage (or at least should be) and is where we get the word erotic. ‘Storge’ is a type of love between members of a family. Yet, Jesus uses another word to describe this love: ‘agape.’ What is this? This type of love is a sacrificial love which puts self aside for the sake of the Kingdom and for others.
This is the type of love Jesus describes. This is the type of love we extend to our enemies. Yet, the Pharisees didn’t get this. They saw the command from Leviticus 19:18 which said “Love your neighbor as yourself,” dropped the ‘as yourself part’ and just assumed the corollary, “and hate your enemy.” As studied as they were in the Old Testament, they missed the fact that in no place in the Old Testament does it say to ‘hate your enemy.’
For example: in Deuteronomy 16:19, Moses commanded the judges to “not pervert justice. You shall show no partiality.” In Proverbs 25:21-22, the Proverbist writes:
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.
Where did they go wrong? They allowed their own cultural prejudices cloud the Spirit’s work in their hearts. They called themselves people of God, yet some prejudice took root in their hearts and they began to divide themselves from others.
Aren’t we guilty of that? I’ve seen Baptists have a hatred for other denominations, Republicans and Democrats have a hatred for one another, the rich and a hatred for the poor and the poor for the rich. Even Christians who have a hatred for those who are abortion practitioners, homosexuals, pornographers, etc.
Does God have a ‘hatred’ for them? The Scriptures do say that God is angry with the wicked every day that that his wrath is being poured out against ungodliness and wickedness as a consequence of those who rebel against him. But consider Romans 5:6-8: :
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
You see, outside of Christ, we are enemies. When Christ saves us from our sin, we are no longer enemies but friends. If Christ lives in us, then he will lead us in exemplifying this type of love.