Lent – Day 22 – A Study of Matthew 5
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
On its face the message here is simple. Love is not something you have for, or only extend to your friends and those who love you in return. Thank God for loved ones and friends. Without them life would be miserable and cold. But the love that God calls on us to live and give is love that also embraces the ones who hate us, who by all measure are our enemies, who don’t return love to us. On the contrary they are looking for ways to even kill us if they could.
And we’re supposed to love them, you ask? Yes. That is exactly what Jesus was saying to all those poor, oppressed people gathered around Him that day to hear His message. They were pressed by the rich and defrauded by the religious, persecuted by the powerful and cheated ill treated by the by the crafty and deceitful. But wait! I thought you said Jesus came to preach Good News to the poor.
What’s so good about telling me to love people who treat me like dirt, who spit on me, kick me, call me disgusting names, rob me of what little I do have and then demand that I work for them for slave wages which is little more than a morsel of bread from them? What’s so good about loving people who want to kill me and do harm to my family and loved ones? You call that Good News?!
No. The Good News is not the suffering. The Good News is this. When you do these things, Your Heavenly Father will reward you in ways far beyond any gain you may have received from just being treated fairly. Suffering, because of your expressed and identifying relationship to Jesus Christ does not end in loss but is a matter of great gain. The one who wants you to suffer, the one who wants to kill you is ultimately not after you. He doesn’t care about you. What he is after is the faith in the Word of God that resides in you and empowers you to love them in spite of their actions against you.
These are the very situations Jesus was referencing when HE told the parable of the sower and the seeds. The Word of God in you is like the seeds sown on the ground. The ground is your heart. How your respond to persecution is a measure of the type of ground (soil) your heart is.
“And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended...” Mark 4:16-17
The ground (soil) of our hearts is good ground and we receive God’s Word and bring forth fruit, thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold because God is with us, God is in us, God is for us not against us, and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
“As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.” Proverbs 28:15
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” 1 Peter 5:8
And he thinks if he can discourage you enough, buffet you enough, threaten you, and abuse you enough he will win a victory over Jesus. Well guess what?
“ ‘Not gonna happen!!! Not now, not ever!” By the power of the Holy Spirit working in us we are more than conquerors through the One, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, Who loves us.
It may be hard sometimes and we may get discouraged or even knocked down but we are not knocked out as long as we have breath to breathe and the will to take one more step.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
And finally Jesus says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Notice, that is not a commandment. It’s a promise. You will be perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect. God promises you, that you will be whole, complete, fully realized and fulfilled, undiminishingly and inexhaustibly supplied for everything you may need or desire.
The Message translation sums it up simply.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:43-48