“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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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.
The passage presents another lesson on the command of Christ Jesus to love another as He has loved us. In this passage, I observe that Jesus raises the bar. The expression of love to others is not limited only to those we love or those that love us. No, the expectation is higher – that we would love even our enemies and those who hate us or persecute us. Why? Because that is how God treated us! God loves the whole world … even those who express hatred toward Him or Jesus, His Son. He is not willing that anyone should perish but that everyone would come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 8-10) To be sure, judgment and condemnation will come to those who do not believe in Christ Jesus. But in His patience and long-suffering, God is benevolent to all … displaying the riches of His grace and kindness in order to lead people to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So in this passage, Jesus shares a couple of simple examples of this kindness: He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Think about what Jesus is saying here. God is good and gracious to all people regardless of the intent of their hearts or their manner of life. Everyone on the earth experiences the sun rise each day. Everyone receives the rain when it falls. The goodness of God is evident in His creation regardless of whether a person recognizes it. So Jesus implies that we are to be like-minded in our attitudes and conduct toward others. While it may be hard to fathom … much less perform … we are called to be indiscriminately gracious and kind to all. We are not to love others based on whether they deserve it; rather, we are to be merciful to the ungrateful and the evil like our Father in Heaven. When we reflect the nature of God … when we imitate His benevolence to others … we show that we are His children. As Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Cf. John 13:35) I want us to look at this same passage in the Gospel of Luke because (true to form) it has a little more detail in the narrative:
Luke 6:27-38 (NIV)
27 “But I say to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your shirt (tunic) either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
In reading this passage in its comparative context, I think there is a lesson that we might miss with just a casual reading. Yes, we know that we are to be nice people as Christians. We are to be merciful, kind, forgiving, and generous toward others; but just as I said earlier, Jesus raised the bar! He said to lend, expecting nothing in return. He said to judge not and condemn not because you and I will be held to the same standard of judgment or condemnation we “assess” on others. Yet, notice that Jesus indicated there would be reward for those who follow His instruction. As we find recorded in Verse 35, when we love our enemies and do good and lend without expectation for reciprocation, we will receive “great reward” as children of the Most-High God. If we do not judge others, we will not be judged. If we do not condemn others, we will not be condemned. If we give, it will be returned by God in ways that will overflow in abundance to us! And please observe that Jesus does not qualify whether the person we encounter is worthy of such mercy or kindness … on any level. These are imperatives with high expectation for fulfillment … and with promise of great reward in doing so. (Cross reference with Psalm 19).
I cannot emphasize this point enough. If we intend to be followers of Christ, our actions … our words … our conduct with others should not be based on their worthiness. It is based on mercy … the same mercy that we have received from God through Christ Jesus our Lord! Paul addressed this point for us:
Romans 5:8-11 (NIV)
8 But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Sinners are justified by the blood of Christ! There is no other justification acceptable to our Holy Father. So no amount of focus and hostility toward others with a self-righteous attitude is going to lead them to the reconciliation they want and need. It is by grace we have been saved, through faith – and this is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) None of us is worthy … I repeat … none of us is worthy of the price that was paid for our sin. It was the kindness of God our Savior who gave Himself for all who would come to faith. And those who are ungodly (like we were) need our Savior … not our judgment or condemnation! In fact, neither of these indictments were the intent of our Lord Jesus when He was sent by the Father into world:
John 3:16-17 (ESV)
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
John 5:21-23 (ESV)
21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
John 8:15-16 (ESV)
15 You judge according to human standards; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.
John 12:46-48 (ESV)
46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
So we need to understand the heart of this message. When God took the judgment for our sin and removed the condemnation for our own darkness and unbelief (Cf. John 3:18; Romans 8:1), He did so out of mercy and love. His pardon of our sin was unmerited and undeserved! So who are we to pass judgment or condemnation on anyone? Jesus called us to be merciful, even as our Father is merciful. We need to have this attitude (mindset) in our relationships with others. As Paul wrote in Romans 14:1, we are to accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. The verse implies there are matters of faith which are indisputable, but that is not a focus of this particular lesson. Still, it is in this context that Paul continued:
Romans 14:10-13 (NIV)
10 You, then, why do you judge another believer? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” (Cf. Isaiah 45:23) 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (See Also 2 Corinthians 5:9-11)
Jesus Himself modeled an excellent example for us on how we are to express His mercy to others who are living a sin-filled life:
John 8:2-11 (NIV)
At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
My thought is that we need to focus less on the sin of others and more on leading them to Jesus – the One who was sent by the Father not to judge or condemn the world but to save the world. The woman in this passage had transgressed the law and committed adultery, and yet, Jesus did not condemn her; rather, He showed mercy and in doing so led her to repentance and faith in Him. That is all God has asked of any of us: Repentance and Faith! Yet, please do not misunderstand what is being said here. Jesus has made it clear that there WILL be a Day of Judgment. And we will all give an account of our lives. The distinction between those who receive eternal life and those who receive the second death (Cf. Revelation 20:14-15) is based on how a person responds to the truth and love of God. A person who dismisses the love of God … who rejects His Son … who does not believe the testimony of His Word … will be thrown into the lake of fire (His words not mine). Those who believe God and receive the gift of His Son as Lord and Savior through repentance and faith will receive eternal life. It is God who will judge and condemn … or rather … the Word of God that will judge and condemn a person. (Cf. John 3:18; John 12:48)
1 John 5:6-13 (NIV)
6 This is the One who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
This is the Gospel! This is the good news we have through Jesus Christ! This is the truth! Therefore, let us speak the truth in love to everyone we encounter. (Cf. Ephesians 4:15) And let us be wise in the way we act toward outsiders; making the most of every opportunity. Let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone. (Cf. Colossians 4:6) Like you … like me … like the woman caught in adultery … every person is intuitively aware of and will be convicted of the sin and ungodliness within their heart through the role of the Holy Spirit. (Cf. John 16:8) Yet, there is another truth to proclaim: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Cf. Romans 8:1) So instead of engaging people specifically about their particular sin(s) … I believe we should be engaging them to encounter the only One who can save them from their sin. What they have done or continue to do is far less important than who Jesus is! The works of the flesh (Cf. Galatians 5:19-21) are just symptomatic of the greater problem in a person’s heart … rejection of the Truth! Faith comes by hearing the message (testimony), and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Cf. Romans 10:17)
Think about it, did you or I come to faith in Jesus because someone kept badgering us, judging us, or condemning us for our sinful and unrighteous living? I doubt that was the reason. Your conscience … my conscience … already instinctively knew right from wrong. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (Cf. John 3:19-21) No, you and I and every believer surrendered to Christ Jesus because we heard the truth and received the testimony God had given about Him. We understood that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Cf. Romans 3:23) And the truth convinced us that we needed Jesus … a Savior who is willing and able to forgive us of all our sins. (Cf. Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16)
So like our former experience, those who still live in darkness are probably aware of their sin but are slaves to its deception and darkness. What they need to see is the Light of the world! They need to see Jesus first and foremost! Like the woman at the well … like the one caught in adultery … like Zacchaeus the dishonest tax collector … those who encountered Jesus were changed forever. The grace and truth of Jesus … His passionate, persistent love … will inspire unbelievers and draw them toward the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen (Cf. Hebrews 11:1). Like other believers, they too will respond in repentance and come to faith in Jesus. And the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth and sanctify them by the truth. As the writer of Hebrews asserts: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Cf. Hebrews 4:12) Yes, the Word of God … the Gospel … conveys the love of God in its purest and deepest form. For God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (Cf. 1 Timothy 2:4-6) Yes, I believe this is the message all people need to hear … much more so than our judgment and condemnation. Amen!