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7. I Love Him...I Love Him NOT (Matthew 5:43-48)

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Matthew 5:43-48
August 1, 2004


Quote: “If a Jew sees that a Gentile has fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out. Of course it is written, ‘Do not rise up against your neighbor’s life.’, but this man is not your neighbor.”1

That’s what the Jews in Jesus’ day thought about the others who lived in their world. That was one of the mottos of the Pharisees, those who considered themselves to be close to God and who were very religious about doing the right thing. It’s no wonder that the Romans described the Jews as people who hated the whole human race.2

It reminds me of another, more modern description. It reminds me of the way some people in our world describe us: evangelical Christians. Have you noticed that we have a reputation for hate? The things we sometimes say are called “hate speech”. Many of the ideals we hold are considered intolerant and therefore “hateful”. Some of the actions taken in the name of Christ are called “hate crimes”.

Unfortunately, Christianity has a checkered past when it comes to hate, because down through history, in the name of Jesus, people professing to be Christians have done things to other human beings that are clearly reprehensible. Our history doesn’t make it easy to defend Christianity as a loving faith. But the critics are not just complaining about history—they’re criticizing us for our actions and our attitudes today which they do not find so loving.

I heard an interview with Michael Moore just this week in which he coined a new word for conservatives expressing certain strongly anti-liberal views. He calls them “hatriots.” He didn’t specifically mention evangelical Christians, but I’m sure that a lot of evangelicals would find themselves in the group that he’s referring to.

Just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, evangelicals consider themselves close to God and as a whole are very concerned about right and wrong. And just like the Jews of Jesus’ day, evangelicals are thought of by many in our world as people who hate the rest of the human race.

Does that bother you?

The Pharisees fell into a trap in which we might also easily find ourselves. Our common relationship with Christ draws us closer to each other. We are a band of brothers and sisters with a common faith, common values, a common purpose, and a common wonderful destiny after death. We have discovered, in the Bible, absolute truth from God. And there is a natural affection between people who share so many significant things in common.

But there is also a readily identifiable distinction between us and all the others who do not share these bonds. They are clearly different. They are outside the fellowship, outside our community, strangers to the band of brothers.

My brother in Christ, I clearly appreciate. I love him. But what about the other? What about the outsider?

Title: I Love Him. I Love Him Not.

The natural response is: my brother, I love him. The outsider, I love him not. That was the trap that captured the Pharisees and I fear that it is also the attitude that has ensnared much of the evangelical church today.

Not surprisingly, Jesus had something to say to the Pharisees of his day about this problem, and I think his words are particularly relevant to us today when God’s people have once again developed a reputation for hating other people.

Kingdom Code

Today, as we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, we finish the section called “The Kingdom Code” in which Jesus calls his followers to rise to a higher level of obedience than the Pharisees, who were careful to do the right thing outwardly, but were not very careful about the sinful attitudes of their hearts. Jesus begins in Matthew 5:43 by describing life as the Pharisees saw it.

1. A Love or Hate Relationship

[43] "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

The beginning of this phrase is a quote from the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18). But there is nothing in the law that told the Jews to hate their enemies. That is something that just came naturally and still comes naturally to us. Those that are close to us, those that are like us, they are the ones we love. But the opposition—those that are different and strange—our natural response is to hate them.

The word enemy means an unfriendly opponent.3 An enemy can be somebody who hates us and seeks to harm us or cause us trouble. An enemy can be someone who has wronged us. Or an enemy can just be somebody on the opposing side, an “unfriendly” in the sense that they are hostile to the values or beliefs that are important to us.

There are lots of areas where we can find enemies. And if we can’t find them, we can always make enemies. It’s easy. All we need are some strong differences. The meaning of enemy that most quickly comes to mind are enemy nations—those who oppose our values or those who infringe on our interests. Our latest enemy is terrorism which threatens our safety.

But we can also find enemies here at home. There are political enemies and religious enemies—those who do not value what we value or believe what we believe. Sometimes we identify individual enemies just by their nationality. Maybe you have an enemy in your business, an evil competitor. Perhaps you have a rival for another’s affections. And perhaps the word seems too strong, but we have all discovered personal enemies, people who have wronged us or hurt us.

People that hated us. And the natural thing to do is to hate them back.

Hate them for what they do or what they believe or what they value or where they came from or what they threaten to take away from us.

Who is Not Worthy of Your Love?

By human standards, there are some people who are just not worthy of our love. They don’t deserve it, and so they don’t get it. It’s either a love or hate relationship. I love him. I love him not. That’s the way it works.

But Jesus has a different approach. Instead of a love OR hate relationship, he demands

2. A Love for Hate Relationship

[44] But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Whoever he is, the correct way to respond to your opponent is not to hate him, but to love him. That is not natural. It’s supernatural. It’s a response that is so foreign to us that the only way we’re going to follow this instruction is by asking for God to change us.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us? It’s prayer that often changes our hearts and moves us from the natural response to the supernatural response. I don’t have what it takes to love my enemies, but God does.

Who do You Love Who’s Not Worthy?

God’s standard is different from human standards. Instead of asking, “Who is not worthy of your love?” God asks, “Who do you love who’s not worthy?” An enemy does not deserve your love, but God says to love him anyway. It’s a love FOR hate relationship.

Just what does it mean to love your enemy? These days love often gets defined as just an emotion, a feeling. But love in the Bible goes well beyond how you feel about something. It is a decision, sometimes a decision to do something opposite to what you feel like doing.

For example, when your little child comes into your room at 3 o’clock in the morning and says, “Mommy, I threw up.” What do you do? You get out of bed and comfort him and clean him up and change his sheets and soothe him back to sleep. Is that what you FEEL like doing? No way. But you do it because you love him.

We understand that because it’s natural to love your own child. It’s not natural to love our enemy, but “love” is the same thing. It means having enough concern for another’s well being that you overcome your personal desires in order to meet their needs and help them feel loved.

I’d like you to listen to the words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 which we often hear in the context of loving people who we want to love. Today, I’d like you to hear these words and think about how they apply to your enemies.

So pick one or two of your enemies: a political opponent, a competitor, someone whose values are antithetical to yours, or someone who’s done you wrong. Think about that person and listen to how Jesus would have you treat them.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. [5] It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Let’s pause right here, because I’d like this to sink in. Is this the way evangelical Christians treat their opponents? How about those who openly advocate homosexuality as a natural lifestyle? How about those who rally to promote a woman’s right to abort her baby? How about those who ridicule Christianity as a collection of fables that serves as a crutch for the weak-minded? How about someone who practices Wicca?

You know, it doesn’t just have to be about your Christian values. What about other things that are important to you? Is this the way you treat someone who burns your flag or someone who attacks your country?

[6] Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [7] It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. [8] Love never fails.


Why should we love them? If we’re going to pursue something so contrary to our nature and our desires, we ought to have a good reason for doing so. Jesus tells us in verse 45 why we need to love our enemies:

11. [45] that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

There’s only one reason to love your enemies. You should do it because it’s just what your Dad would do. That’s just the way God treats them. When we love our enemies, we demonstrate that we are God’s children. We prove our relationship with him. Jesus gives two examples.

12. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,

It doesn’t matter whether they are good men or evil men, God gives them His sunshine. Even if they don’t acknowledge it belongs to him! He gives them light. He gives them warmth. He makes their food grow.

13. and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Rain is not a negative event; it’s another positive gift. God waters the whole earth. He doesn’t just supply food for the righteous, but also for the unrighteous. God gives without distinction. He loves people indiscriminately. You don’t have to earn God’s love.


4. God’s Love is Based on Grace

God’s love is one sided. It’s non-reciprocal. You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love, to deserve God’s love. You just get it.

John 3:16 says God loves everyone in the world, the good, the bad and the ugly. 1 John 2:2 says Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, even those who hate him, even those who do not believe in him.

1 Timothy 2:4 says God wants everyone to be saved. He wants everyone to know the truth.

God loves everyone and that’s why he wants us to love everyone.

God loves the people who hate him. And that’s why he wants us to love the people who hate him.

God loves the people who hate us. And that’s why he wants us to love the people who hate us.

God’s love is based on grace, but

5. Man’s Love is Based on Merit

Unlike God, human beings love on the basis of reciprocal relationships.

Our love is given in return for something else. In other words, I’ll love you because you’ve earned my love or because you’re entitled to my love. You love me. So I’ll love you back.

Jesus says, anyone can do that. But you can do better.

[46] If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

In Jesus’ day, a tax collector was a low-life, despised human being. For one thing, nobody likes to pay taxes. And these tax collectors were considered traitors: Jewish agents of the occupying Roman government. That also meant they spent time with Romans which made them “unclean”.

But in addition to all that, these tax collectors routinely overcharged people for their taxes and kept the margin for themselves. They were crooks! And yet however slimy these characters were, you know what? Maybe nobody else liked them, but they liked each other! There’s nothing special about loving someone who loves you. Even a low-life, traitorous, unclean, cheating thief can do that! But you can do better.

16. [47] And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

The word “pagan” here is literally “Gentile”. Most of the Gentiles did not recognize God. They had their own religious beliefs. And, of course, not knowing the true God didn’t keep them from being friendly with each other. So the question is, if they can do that without God, then what can you do with God? Since you know the true God, you can do better. You can be friendly with your friends and your enemies. You can love the way God loves.

That’s really the crux of the whole thing. Do you love indiscriminately, the way God loves? Do you love without distinction, the way God loves? Do you love based on grace, the way God does? The kind of people you love shows who you’re following. Jesus closes by saying,

6. Who’s Your Daddy?

17. [48] Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This verse causes people a lot of headaches because taken just by itself, it sounds like Jesus is setting a standard we cannot possibly attain.

But it’s worth noting that this verse is related to the verses we’ve just been reading. The word perfect here means complete or thorough. 4

Jesus is talking about the way we ought to love. Loving only our friends and our family is an incomplete love that any human being can do. But loving your enemy—loving those that hate you and those that hate God—that kind of love is mature and fully developed. And that’s the kind of love that God has. So go the whole way in loving just as God does. Our love should be like God’s love. We should follow our Father’s example.


You know, evangelicals never will be clearly understood by the world. Sometimes even our love is interpreted as hate. For example no matter how kindly you speak the biblical truth that those without Christ will perish, many will still consider that to be “hate” speech.

But despite those misunderstandings, it is also worth considering whether there is any truth to the claim that evangelicals express “hate” to other people in the world. Is there anything to it? It is worth examining ourselves inside and out to make sure that we identify anything hateful in our actions or our attitudes: impatience, unkindness, envy, boasting, pride, rudeness, self-assertion, anger, resentment, and gloating. Are we protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering?

We comfort ourselves with the adage, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” It allows us to justify some feeling of outrage against sin and unrighteousness.

But when we express that outrage within earshot of the people we call “sinners”, I don’t believe that they can tell that we don’t hate them.

And I’m pretty sure that we’re not acting the way love would act.

I have a friend whose son, in a moment of uncontrolled rage, murdered his girlfriend. If that was your son—thrown in jail, awaiting trial and certain punishment—how would you feel? How would you treat him?

I think it’s clear that we’re all against murder here. But how would you feel about your son? How would you treat him? Would you stick a big sign in front of his face that says, “All murderers will burn forever in the fiery lake of sulfur. Rev 21:8”? Or would you weep with him? Would you stand by him and comfort him, pleading with God to be merciful to him and not give him what he deserves?

The evangelical church longs to reveal God’s justice

by hating those who oppose him.

But God longs for the church to reveal his love

for even those who oppose him.

You’re an evangelical. How do you treat the people in this world who hate God, who reject his truth and live by their own behavioral standards?

Do you love them?

Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 7 in the The Kingdom Code series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 1, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

1 Paraphrase of Tristram, Eastern Customs in Bible Lands, quoted in Sanders, For Believers Only, p. 84.

2 Tacitus “They readily show compassion to their own countrymen, but they bear to all others the hatred of an enemy.”

3 BAGD: ejcqrov"  hostile

1. passive hated

2. active hating, hostile, an enemy. the (personal) enemy.

TDNT: In the NT ejcqrov" is used for personal enemies in the various relationships of everyday life. More important … ejcqrov" can be used for the foes of Israel. …It is with this reference to enemies of God and His people that ejcqrov" is used in Mt. 5:43

LSJ: ejcqrov" is one who has been fivlo", but is alienated

Strong’s: ejcqrov" hateful (passively, odious, or actively, hostile); 32 occurrences; “enemy” 30x “foe” 2x.
1 hated, odious, hateful.
2 hostile, hating, and opposing another. 2a used of men as at enmity with God by their sin. 2a1 opposing (God) in the mind. 2a2 a man that is hostile. 2a3 a certain enemy. 2a4 the hostile one. 2a5 the devil who is the most bitter enemy of the divine government.

4 BAGD: tevleio", a, on having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect.

1. something that is perfect, virtuous, the full measure of our knowledge, the full measure of the sins

2. someone who is

a. of age full-grown, mature, adult

b. initiated into the mystic rites, a technical term of the mystery religions

c. fully up to standard in a certain respect perfect, complete, expert

d. perfect, fully developed in a moral sense

e. God is termed tevleio"

Related Topics: Apologetics, Law, Cultural Issues

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