Love Your Neighbor; Hate Your Enemy (Not Really!) 11-22-2020
Last week I pointed out that the first four "you have heard it said" statements cast us as the ones who commit murder, adultery, divorce and who claim god-like abilities to determine the future. We were the abusers. We were the enemy to God and to others.
In the fifth statement, the tables turn. We are the ones who slapped, sued in court, subjected to forced labor, and have our generosity taken for granted. In the "eye for an eye" statement, Jesus holds the abuser and the victim accountable for their actions. When someone slaps us, it is not good. But if a person does slap us, we can offer mercy and not act in revenge. When someone sues us, it is not good. But if someone does sue us, we can act with generosity. When someone forces us into labor it is not good. But if some does take advantage of us of in this way, we can go above and beyond and turn our labor into an intentional act of service. When people presume upon our generosity it is not good. But when it does happen, we can extend favor to others at our own expense.
In the sixth statement, Jesus says to us, "You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." The point of this statement is that we should extend to others the same mercy that we hope to receive ourselves when we are guilty of being the enemy to God and to others.
Because of our sinful nature, we position ourselves as God's enemies and as the enemy of others. In that state, the day will come when we will long for mercy. As children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we do not get the punishment we deserve. Instead, we find that when our sins are many, His mercy is more.
In this passage Jesus answers three questions?
1. What is wrong with loving my neighbor and hating my enemy?
2. Why should I love my enemy?
3. How can I love my enemy?
For the balance of this sermon, we will listen to Jesus answer these questions beginning with the first one.
What is wrong with loving my neighbor and hating my enemy?
What is wrong with loving my neighbor and hating my enemy?
First, there is nothing wrong with loving our neighbor. In fact, the law of Moses commands us to love our neighbor.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, NIV)
Later in the book of Matthew Jesus affirms the importance of this command when he states that loving God and loving our neighbor are two command upon which support the entire law (Matthew 11:37-40). In the Gospel of John, Jesus states that our love each other within the church is critical to us being identified as his disciples.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus commands and expects us to love our neighbor. When we think loving our neighbor is enough that is the problem. When we think that loving our neighbor give us permission to hate our enemies the problem is worse. The Greek word translated hate in this passage as the sense of to dislike intensely; feel an aversion towards toward someone. 
Jesus deepens our understanding of the problem by saying that we few only love those who love us we are like tax collectors. Even today, no one likes to pay taxes. We dedicate whole professions to helping us exploit tax law and pay as little as we can to the tax man." Jews really despised tax collectors. Rome hired Jews to collect taxes on the local population. The problem was that Tax collectors overtaxed the people to maximize their personal profits. The writings of the rabbis consistently linked tax collectors with robbers. The tax collection system was built upon dishonesty and oppression of one's neighbor. Jews considered tax collectors not only as traitors to the nation, but to traitors to God. 
In doing this Jesus makes those of us who say we love our neighbor, but then hate our enemies - the enemy. We are no better than those who tax collectors who, as enemies of the people, take advantage of their neighbors. Jesus is saying to us if we only love those who love us, we are no better than those who abuse us because even abusers love those who love them.
Jesus says in verse 47 am paraphrasing here, "Look, if you are friendly only to people like you that's not enough. Even the pagans (literally) the gentiles do that." The Greek word translated pagan or gentile means someone who outside of a relationship with God and his people - an unbeliever.  An unbeliever stands as an enemy to God. By pressing the point here, Jesus highlights the idea that to only love those who love us is a betrayal of God.
What is wrong with loving our neighbor and hating our enemy? Loving our neighbor while hating our enemy, makes us no better than those who miss treat us and falls short of God's requirements of love. The bottom line is that when we love our neighbor and hate our enemy, we become our enemy's enemy, an enemy to God, and we undermine the trust of our neighbors because they can never be certain when we might turn on them. That is because our love not constant, but contingent on who we perceive our enemy to be. This leads us to our second question.
Why should I love my enemy?
Why should I love my enemy?
In verse 46, Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?" This implies that there is no reward for those who only love those who love them. It also implies that there is a reward for those who love their neighbor and who love their enemies. What is that reward? Jesus tells us in verse 45. We should love our enemies because this proves we are children of our Father in Heaven.
This is like what Jesus teaches in John when he says that our love for each other shows the world that we are his disciples. Here Jesus is saying that when his disciples love their enemies, we show we are children of our Father in heaven.
Jesus explains this by saying in verse 45 that God, our Father, causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good. God, our Father, sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. In short, the Father loves everyone. He loves the good person and the evil person. God loves the righteous person and the unrighteous person. Therefore, God acts for the wellbeing for all persons whether they are good or evil, whether they are righteous or unrighteous. Here we see God's common grace and common mercy at work. God in his forbearing love does not bring upon humankind the judgement we deserve, but he sustains all humankind, blessing them so they flourish in this life. The Father does this for those who love him and for those who do not love him. God loves his neighbor, those who are close to him in their heart. God loves his enemies, those who are far from him in their heart. He does what is good and right by his neighbors and his enemies. God's love is consistent it is never contingent. One of the eternal torturing regrets of those who spend eternity in hell, will the eternal realization that every day of their life on this earth the God they rejected sustained them with his goodness and love.
The point Jesus makes is that when we love everyone - our neighbors and our enemies, we show we are like our Father. The Apostle John puts it like this, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16, NIV)
This leads us to our last question.
How can I love my enemy?
How can I love my enemy?
Jesus gives us two ways that we can love our enemies. First, pray for those who persecute you. Second, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. I want to touch on both ways to love our enemies. I will take them in reverse order.
First, we love our enemies by being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. When we hear "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" we just naturally want to freak out. We know we can never attain the perfections of God. But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is not calling us to be perfect in every sense that God is perfect. The perfection Jesus calls us to is to make loving people like God loves people the constant aim of our lives.  Jesus is saying we are perfect when we make it our intention to love everyone - our neighbors and our enemies, the good persons, and the evil persons, the righteous and the unrighteous. We pursue this kind of love for all persons by doing what God does. Like our Father, we make it our intention to pursue the wellbeing of everyone so far as it lies within our power and means to do so.
Jesus teaches us that the second way that we love our enemies is by praying for them. How shall we pray for them? There are many ways we can pray for our enemies. This morning I want to call our attention to two ways that Jesus taught and modelled praying for enemies. The first way is to pray that we will forgive them for the harm they do to us just as the Father has forgiven us for harm, we have done to him. This is clear in the Lord's Prayer, which will take up after Christmas. In this prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” A better translation would be, “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”  This is a simple prayer that goes like this for example, "Father help me forgive the sin Jim committed against me, just as completely as you have forgiven all of my sins against you."
The second prayer is Jesus' words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."  We can pray for enemies first by ask God to help us forgive them as He has forgiven us. Then we can pray that God will forgive them completely in the same way that He has forgiven us completely. God can only answer that prayer if they come to Him and receive the grace of his salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for their sins.
We can enlarge our prayer to something like this, "Father, help me forgive Jim completely, just as you have forgiven all of my sins completely. As you have forgiven me because of Jesus' death for my sins, I pray Jim will come to know your complete forgiveness by faith in your only Son Jesus Christ."
Extending forgiveness to our enemies for the harm they do to us and praying that our enemies will experience God's forgiveness for their sins through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord is at least the first two steps in loving our enemies.
This kind of love that pursues the wellbeing of all persons connects to Jesus' teaching on giving in Matthew Chapter 6:1-4, which we will take up on Thanksgiving Day.
 Faithlife Corporation. “o Hate.”Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Logos Bible Software Bible Sense Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation, November 21, 2020. https://ref.ly/logos4/Senses?KeyId=ws.hate.v.01.
 Miller, Jeffrey E. “ax Collector.”Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
 Faithlife Corporation. “entiles.”Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Logos Bible Software Bible Sense Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation, November 21, 2020. https://ref.ly/logos4/Senses?KeyId=ws.gentiles.n.01.
 Wilkins, M. J. (2004). Matthew (p. 255). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
 Faithlife Corporation. “Sin ⇔ Debt.” Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Logos Bible Software Bible Sense Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation, November 21, 2020. https://ref.ly/logos4/Senses?KeyId=ws.debt+sin.n.01.
 Luke 23:34