The Real Jesus: Loving Your Enemies

Good Morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey and it’s my pleasure to open God’s word with you today to see what God has got in store for us.

We’re continuing our dive into the life of Jesus as we work together to discover the Real Jesus.  We truly believe that when we let Jesus speak for himself, we’re going to fall for the guy.  We’re going to find him amazing and irresistible.

Today we’re studying one of the most difficult of all of Jesus’ teachings.  There isn’t much harder teaching to try to receive than what we will read today.  But before I jump into the passage – I want to talk just a minute about what I do up here on this stage – what any of us do who preach on a Sunday at Journey Church.  May I take a moment to talk about the philosophy of preaching.

Does preaching even matter?  It’s a very fair question.  Of course I say yes, but for preaching to be anything other than a waste of time it requires that the preacher and those listening to the preaching, work together in cooperation with the Spirit of God.  Each of us has to do our part and avoid falling into traps that will make preaching worthless.

What’s my part?  My part is laid out for me very clearly in 2 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul writes to pastors…

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus…Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

So then, what is my job? My job is to faithfully and correctly handle the word of God.  To communicate the Good news in as clear and precise a fashion as possible.

What’s the trap I must avoid?  Well – One of the most difficult aspects of preaching – is avoiding the trap to turn the pulpit into my personal blog or podcast where I tell you how I think you should think about all of the issues and current events in society.  And believe it or not it’s not the easiest trap to avoid.

It’s difficult because, believe it or not – I have many opinions.  And I think they are all right.  Like you – I think I’m pretty much right about everything. And if I had my way I would love the opportunity to convince you that I’m right and you are probably wrong.  And I say that because certainly, no one in this room will line up perfectly with me about all the things I have opinions about.  If we were to put five issues on the table in front of us and we were to agree on 4 out of five of them, it would be incredible.  Unlikely, but incredible.  But that fifth issue?  I can’t believe you don’t see I’m right about that fifth issue.

I teach the word.  It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to knead the word into our soul in order that we might be transformed by it.  It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to take God’s word and apply it in a way that corrects, encourages and occasionally rebukes us for our own betterment always.

So that’s my role.  What’s your role?   Your role, and since I always preach to myself first – our role is to be teachable.  Flexible.  Shapeable.  Transformation requires that we be willing to change our mind.  The first word out of Jesus mouth when he begins his preaching is – Change the way you’re thinking.”  That requires an openness.

There are many places in the Bible where God uses terms like, stiff-necked, hard hearted, and stubborn to describe his people.  It’s never a complement.  In order for this preaching thing to work it requires that you and I both avoid the traps that would make this time weak and ineffective.

Let’s not be stiff necked and stubborn.  Because if we are not teachable – we are doomed.  And when I mean we I mean this church is doomed.  This community is doomed.  This country is doomed.  If we are not able to change our mind when God speaks to us.

I promise to you that I will do my level best to faithfully teach the word of God and not the word of Phil.  I know that the opinions of Phil will soon be gone like chaff in the wind.  But the word of God remains true forever.

And together – we as listeners will avoid the trap of expecting to hear said what we want to be heard said.

It’s important.  Because within this country and community and – if I may be very specific – within this church, there are people who are on both ends of the spectrum politically and socially.

Just about everyone in this room as well as people listening online – thinks that there is a huge portion of American citizens who have been terribly misguided.  We only disagree on which side it is that has been brainwashed.

How do we deal with that?  How do we deal with coming to church and sitting next to people you have been hitting snooze this person for 30 days button on facebook – so you don’t have to read their opinions that you find annoying and wrong.

Is it possible?  Or should we all leave to find a church that will only preach what we want to heard said with people who all agree with me and further fractionalize America?

Is it possible for the church to be the melting pot of America, where people of many different opinions can worship as brother and sister together?  The answer is yes. And we’re going to read a portion of scripture today – that has been planned to be preached on this date for months – that is going to bring the heat.

And here’s where we are going this morning with this teaching in Luke chapter 6

What is being taught?

Why is it being taught?

To whom is it being taught?

Let’s start by reading the scripture in Luke 6.  And I’m going to ask you to do something I’ve never done before.  I’d like to ask you to stand – to listen to the word of God today.

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even ‘sinners’ do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even ‘sinners’ will lend to other ‘sinners’ for a full return.

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Okay – what is being taught?  Well – it’s important to understand what is not being taught.  Jesus is not teaching us to stay in abusive relationships.  He is not teaching us to be the kind of people who are abused.  If you are in an abusive relationship, please understand that you should get out – and we will do whatever we can to help you.  But this passage is not that.  I don’t want you to dismiss this profound teaching because of the mistaken idea that Jesus wants you to be abused.  Jesus certainly does not.

I know it says if someone strikes your cheek – offer the other one.  But the cheek was in that time, like it is now in Paris and in New York – a welcome – kissing the persons cheek is a welcome.  If someone spurns your welcome – don’t cut them off.

Jesus is not asking us to be abused.  But what he is asking of us is to be – unoffendable. 

That we become the kind of people who – out of love for others – make allowances for each others faults.

Now I’m guessing that I’ve offended some by asking us to become unoffendable.  I get it.  Many seem to think it’s their sacred duty to be offended in the name of Jesus.  That we’re doing God a favor by expressing just how offended we are by the behavior of people – usually by people who don’t claim to be Christian.

But clearly, Jesus is placing in front of us a vision:  That we his followers would be so radically transformed by His love for us that that we could love even people who offend us.

It is God’s goal to so radically change us into dispensers of God’s love that we can be the kind of people where other’s contempt goes to die.

Specifically – what is being taught?  Let’s take a closer look.

Jesus says, “Do good to those who hate you.”

We do good instead of evil.  We actively seek to do good to those we struggle to love, and towards those who struggle to love us.

It was a milestone in humanity when God told us in the Old Testament – that the law states an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  That alone was a huge leap forward for mankind – because it specifically restrained us from doing what we feel like doing which of course is – two eyes for my eye.  Two teeth for my one tooth.

Now Jesus comes along and says – is it possible that my people who are called by my name, might stem the tide of revenge and retribution through love?

  1. We bless them, not bash them. (Luke 6:28)

We can’t possibly bless them until we stop bashing them.  So we start by working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit – we say, Lord stem the tide of destructive thoughts I’m feeling for these people.

The first thing I have to do is choose to stop killing the person in my heart.

We are going to stop bashing them, to our friends, in our emails, in our texts, on social media, in our heads, in our break rooms.  We are going to choose joyful non-participation.  Because we love and respect Jesus and believe that what he is teaching us is for our own good as well as the good of humanity.

After we stop bashing them… then we can start blessing them.  We begin to speak well of them.  So How do we do this?  How do we bless our enemy?  Seriously, how do we do it?  Does anyone have any ideas?  It’s so unnatural.   I’m all ears.

All I know is we better start asking for help from the Holy Spirit.  Because it goes against my nature to bless instead of bash.  And if God expects this of me I think it’s safe to assume he will direct our thoughts to ways in which we can make it happen.

Maybe the help comes from the next practical way Jesus gives us to loving our enemy. Jesus says, we are going to Pray for our enemy. 

And perhaps this is the heart of the issue.  Perhaps this is where it all begins.  With a decision to pray for the person who can’t stand you.

And perhaps that prayer sounds like this to begin – “Lord, it might be difficult to understand my words because of me grinding my teeth as I say this, on account of my feelings that I’m currently experiencing – but Lord – I respect you enough to believe you know best, and so please bless that person.

And maybe next time you jaw relaxes a little.  And the next time you can pray with your hands clasped instead of clenched.

But we pray for our enemies.  This is the way.  And it’s a hard one.  But it’s worth thinking and acting on this week.  Resist the urge to explain it away.  Receive it as God’s word for us this week.  And maybe we can help stem the tide of hatred and contempt and anger that’s flowed quite freely through our world this past months.

Now let me move on to ask the next question… Why does Jesus ask us to love our enemies?

Jesus gives us two reasons why we need to start loving that person we can’t stand…

  1. Because that’s how God treated us.

“He is Kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”

Jesus teaches that the Father sends the rain and the sun on good people and bad people alike.  God is kind to people who do not deserve it.

God loves people who stand against him, even right now.  And maybe you are in here today and you are here out of a kindness toward your spouse or your friend, but inside you are like, there is no God and these people in this room are delusional.

And I’m telling you that God still loves you.  You exist to Him.  He sends the rain and the sun on you just like your more-devoted friends.

Perhaps the clearest verse that talks about God’s love for those who were once his enemies comes in the book of Romans chapter 5, which says…

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  

Jesus expects us to show love toward people who stand against us because that is exactly what God did and does for us.

Jesus is asking me to eliminate our tendency to sift people into categories, These are people I like.  These are people I hate.  These are people that mean nothing to me one way or another.   He’s asking me to fit all people into one category.  “People worth loving” and every one I see belongs in that category.  Because that is how God himself operates.

So the first reason Jesus gives to love is because God himself loves.  But he goes on to tell us a second reason why ought to love…

  1. How else will we stand out to the world as different?

The defining mark of a follower of Jesus is love.  But if we only love the people we like, then how is that different than anyone else?  How is that unusual?  Even drug cartels are good to people who are good to them first.

There isn’t anything unusual about being good to people who are good to you.  But when we show love to people who don’t deserve it, then we exceed common humanity.   It shows the world we’ve changed operating systems.  We no longer operate naturally.  We love Uncommonly.  Supernaturally.  Unconditionally.

Now – thirdly – I want to show you something fascinating – do you know who Jesus is preaching to?  His disciples.

When I was thinking about the events of this week and how I was going to preach this passage – how was I going to make it applicable to us – God said – Look up.  Okay. I’m looking up.  No – not up there – look up the page about two paragraphs – at the passage.  What comes just before this teaching?

12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. 13 At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names:

14 Simon (whom he named Peter),
Andrew (Peter’s brother),
James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
15 Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus),Simon (who was called the zealot),
16 Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

Now I’ve never thought about until this week – but it hit me hard this week – Jesus has twelve guys.  And one of them is… Simon the Zealot. 

What was a Zealot?  A Zealot was a political movement in Jesus day that sought to incite the Jewish nation to rebel against the Roman empire by force. Someone who wanted to violently overthrow the Roman government.

And – check this out- the Zealots hated paying taxes to Romans.  In fact the Zealots were known to label anyone who paid taxes to the Romans as cowards.  You were a coward in the eyes of a Zealot if you paid taxes to Rome.

Now let’s talk about Matthew.  What was Matthew?  Look back in Luke chapter 5.  Matthew was a Tax collector.  He was a jewish guy who worked for the Roman government – his job was to provide Rome with a certain amount of taxes each year with the agreement that anything he collected beyond that – he could keep for himself.  And in Luke 5 – we learn that Matthew was really good at collecting taxes.  How do we know?  He throws a party for Jesus in Luke 5 and tons of people are there.  He had grown rich off of collecting taxes that he sent to Rome.

How excited do you think Simon – who was such a zealot that they just called him “the zealot”.  It was his nickname.  How excited was the Zealot to see Jesus invite the Tax collector?   to be an equal disciple of Jesus?

How did they make it work?  Both of them came to understand that the good news is more important than their political views.   They were willing to subvert their own political tendencies in order to adopt the values of the Kingdom of God

They came to see that what united them in Christ was much stronger than what divided them politically.

They learned how to cherish one another more than they cherished their previous world views.  As must we.   As must we.

Perhaps you feel that it is impossible to love that person because for all you do they return ingratitude and contempt?  Allow me to quote from the great preacher Charles Spurgeon who wrote…

But, perhaps, you say, “I cannot love my neighbors, because for all I do they return ingratitude and contempt.” So much the more room for the heroism of love.

Wouldst thou be a feather-bed warrior, instead of bearing the rough fight of love? He who dares the most, shall win the most; and if rough be thy path of love, tread it boldly, still loving thy neighbors through thick and thin.

How can we do this impossible teaching of Jesus?  We must turn to Jesus, we must ask for help from the Holy Spirit, we must allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.

And we remember that this teaching is one of those teachings that is really only for a short time.  In the age to come we will not have any enemies.

This is the only world where this demonstration of God’s love can happen.  Either we will do it in this life, or we will never do it.

And let us draw strength from Jesus who practiced what he preached – who loved his enemies who were actively killing him.   Who blesses the very ones who mocked and whipped and humiliated him and he prayed,

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

A Prayer

Father I come to you this morning on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ to ask that you might bless the united states of America.  We pray for the country that we love – that you might heal our wounds. 

We pray for president Trump and president elect Biden, that you would endow each with the wisdom and strength to govern, that you might surround each of them with wise if not godly counselors.  We pray for a peaceful transition of power over the next ten days.  We pray for you mercy, for your peace, for reconciliation with one another, and for your protection over this country in the days ahead.

We pray for our community and we pray for our church.  That we might follow the footsteps of Matthew and the Zealot- who learned to bridge the political gap that existed between them with Godly love one another.  We pray for those in our community and church who are sick and need to be healed.  We pray for those who are hurting, wounded, angry, and grieving.  And we ask you Lord to bring healing, comfort and compassion.

We pray as you taught us to pray…

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sinned against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil,

For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever, amen.