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Perfect Love


Matthew 5:43-48 You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." (44) 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 despitefully use you and persecute you, (45) so that you may become sons of your Father in Heaven. For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? (47) And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax-collectors do so? (48) Therefore be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

Introduction

In these verses Jesus tells us that it is what we become, not what we receive, that is most important. The whole point of loving our enemies is: “so that you may become sons of your Father in Heaven.” And that we may be “perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

In other words, the perfect person, the person who becomes a son of God, is someone who bears no malice toward anyone but who has perfect charity for all. The person who is perfected in love is the truly perfect person.

This contrasts strongly with the view of the Pharisees that the perfect person was someone who kept every jot and tittle of the Law perfectly. The perfect of Jesus is firstly and most important inward, a perfection of love and when love is perfected it also fulfills the law.

The aim of all New Testament teaching is to produce Christian saints who are perfected in love. Over and over again Christians are told to love one another and not to take revenge. This is why gossip, squabbling, backbiting and disunity are so soundly rebuked – because they show that love has broken down.

The person who is truly connected to God will be filled with love because God is love. The person who is truly a “son of God” will be very loving – because God is love. And the person who is truly spiritual, so spiritual that he or she is completely Christ-like will be full of love because God is love.

God gives us trials so that we can overcome them in His strength and enemies so we can love them with His power and thus be perfected into the image of God.

Greater Love

In today’s verses Jesus tells us that the quality of Christian love must exceed the quality of pagan love. If our “being” is different then our “loving” must also be different. We must be able to love difficult people and even love obnoxious and rude people. We may not like the person, but we must love the person.

To put it simply love is how we treat them. We can treat a rude and ungrateful person kindly, we can extend help to an enemy who is hungry or thirsty or in need without necessarily liking them. This ethic has given rise to codes such as the Geneva Convention, which dictates how civilized people should treat captured enemy soldiers. The English may not have liked the Germans but when Germans were captured they were treated decently and healed and fed and clothed.

Ideas such as chivalry, courtesy, civility, honor, respect and professionalism all depend on treating people we do not like with due process, respect and kindness. The doctor may not like the person he or she is treating but must do a professional job anyway.

I am very disturbed by some comments out of the religious right such as this week’s outburst from Pat Robertson about “taking out” Hugo Chavez. Advocating such violent action is the complete anti-thesis of all that Jesus is talking about in the Sermon On The Mount and throughout the rest of the New Testament. To put it bluntly such sentiments are worldly and political and not the least bit spiritual and Christian.

Christianity is all about treating other people with great patience and kindness and respect. Christians feed the hungry, give drinks to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and do good to others - whether they like them or not. Christians stretch their love beyond ethnic and cultural boundaries and help people overseas and in places that we have never heard of. And true Christians seek justice for everyone regardless of their race, color or creed.

Sometimes we learn best if we take a single example and explore it in depth. So I am going to explore the doctrine of loving our enemies with reference to Christians and Muslims and I will use the parable of the Good Samaritan as the jumping off point:

The Good Samaritan - Who Should We Love? Who Should We Hate?

The Four Questions

True Christians and true Muslims cannot and will never come to any real agreement. To Muslims, Christians, while people of the book, are perceived as still in the "realm of war", not yet submitted to Allah. To Christians, Muslims, though respected, are perceived as unbelievers and are yet to be converted to Christianity. The differences between the two faiths are enormous, vital and substantial. A bible-believing Christian cannot follow Mohammed or agree with many of the teachings of the Koran. A true Muslim cannot believe in the Trinity or the incarnation. These are impossibilities. The two faiths are irreconcilably different. The two faiths have been at war for centuries and the two faiths will always seek to convert each other. True believers in each camp will always see the other as sinners, outside the faith, and on their way to Hell. Given that biblical Christianity and fundamentalist Islam will never agree, and will always see the other as sinners then:

1. Should we kill someone because they are a sinner, outside our faith, and going to Hell?

2. Should we walk on by and let someone die, say in a car accident, because they are a sinner, outside our faith, and going to Hell?

3. Should we refuse to spend money on someone to help them recover back to health if they are a sinner, outside our faith, and going to Hell?

4. Should we hate our neighbor because they are a sinner, outside our faith, and going to Hell?

In short what is the realm of people I should love? And what is the realm of people a holy and righteous person should hate and detest ? Are the boundaries of my love determined by the boundaries of my nation, ethnic group, customs, practices or my faith? Who should I show mercy to and who should I show no pity to at all?

The Story


These were also the urgent questions of Jesus' day when relationships between Jews, Romans and Samaritans were tense. Jews saw Romans as unclean Gentile dogs and despised the Samaritans as corrupted, idolatrous apostates. No good Jew would talk with a Samaritan. Romans saw Jews as stubborn troublemakers and Samaritans generally hated Jews and would not give anyone hospitality who was heading towards Jerusalem. In the midst of this irreconcilable religious tension Jesus told the following story:

(Luke 10:25-37 NKJV) And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" {26} He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" {27} So he answered and said, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" {28} And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live." {29} But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" {30} Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. {31} "Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. {32} "Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. {33} "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. {34} "So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. {35} "On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' {36} "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" {37} And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

1. A certain lawyer asks Jesus what should he do to inherit eternal life.

2. Jesus points the lawyer to the Jewish Law and asks him what it says.

3. The lawyer replies that eternal life comes if we love God with all our heart mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

4. Jesus replies - Correct! Now go and do this and you will live.

5. The lawyer hedges, it looks too hard a task, too big a job. So like a good lawyer he goes for the definition and asks "Who is my neighbor?". The real question being "who do I have to love?" or in the context of the original question about eternal life "Who do I have to love in order to inherit eternal life?" The hidden plea is "Tell me I can have eternal life by just loving a few people, give me a definition that lets me off the hook so I can justify myself."

6. So Jesus tells a story about a well-known and hazardous bit of road between Jerusalem and Jericho, the highway probably just outside where they were talking.

7. A Jew is robbed and badly beaten and left for dead, the clergy that were supposed to look after him and show compassion (a priest and a Levite) just walk on by. Jesus clearly thinks this behavior is wrong.

8. Then a Samaritan comes along and has compassion on the Jew (who to him is a sinner, outside the Samaritan faith and going to Hell)

9. The Samaritan does not kill the man but instead heals the wounded Jew.

10. The Samaritan does not leave the Jew to die but bandages him and puts him on his own donkey, so the wounded man rode while the Good Samaritan walked.

11. The Samaritan pays money to the innkeeper to take care of this man who is outside of the Samaritan faith.

12. The Good Samaritan promises to come back and check and see how he is going and to pay any additional expenses.

13. The Samaritan does not convert the Jew and the Jew does not convert the Samaritan. Both remain very different in their religious beliefs.

14. The Samaritan does not hate, but rather loves and shows practical mercy on, someone with whom he had an irreconcilable religious difference.

The Application

Jesus told that story to answer the lawyers implied question "Who do I have to love in order to inherit eternal life?"
· Do I have to love sinners?
· Do I have to love people who believe wrongly?
· Do I have to love people of other races and cultures?
· Do I have to love those who despise and oppress me as the Jews despised and oppressed the Samaritans?

If you are to have the sort of love that God will take note of on the Day of Judgment ; the sort of love that will cause Him to grant you eternal life, then the answer to all these questions is Yes. Yes, you must love sinners. Yes you must love those who believe wrongly. Yes you must love people of other races and cultures. Yes you must love those who despise and oppress you. According to Jesus only this sort of love will be great enough to make you fit for Paradise. In another place Jesus teaches about what our attitude to our enemies should be:

(Luke 6:27-38 NKJV) "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} "bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} "Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} "But if you love those who love you, what credit 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 credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} "And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} "Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."

Here Jesus is quite specific. There is no reward from God for behaving just like ordinary sinners. The righteous must live by a higher and holier standard and have a deeper and greater love. If sinners can show a little mercy then the righteous should show much mercy, if the sinners can lend, then the righteous can give, if the sinners can love their friends, the righteous could love their enemies.

If we are to demonstrate a greater love than that of the sinners, and bring ourselves eternal life on the Day of Judgment, then we must love our enemies. So Christians and Muslims must love each other, if they are to listen to the teaching of Jesus and inherit eternal life. Like the Good Samaritan we must show practical love, care, mercy and hospitality to people with whom we have an irreconcilable religious difference.

You do not have to convert to their beliefs in order to love them and help them. You can bandage their wounds without having to believe their religion. You need not follow their behavior or their lifestyle. You can still disapprove of their sins while you take them to hospital. You do not have to agree with their actions or whitewash their past atrocities. But you must not kill them for it either.
Muslims and Christians must not kill each other because of their religious differences. Murderers do not inherit eternal life. Only people who love their enemies can inherit eternal life. If your heart is cold, if you are filled with rage and anger, then you are filled with darkness and you will stumble and fall. John, one of the disciples of Jesus, wrote these wise words:

(1 John 2:9-11 NKJV) He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. {10} He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. {11} But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

There are some religious people, both Christians and Muslim, who go around saying "I have the light, follow me" and a few of them are full of hate and anger. Of these John says they are "still in darkness until now". People of great light are people of great love, they are not people of hatred and anger.

Anger and hatred is darkness - and blinds us. Our anger keeps us from seeing what is good in other people and so we do not see life correctly. Soon we add to our list of people to hate. Eventually we hate many people and love only a few and our soul is in deep darkness.

To sum up: God is love and love leads to eternal life. God is merciful and we should also be merciful. Our righteousness should surpass that of the sinners and our love should be much greater than theirs. If sinners can love those who love them, then the righteous must be able to love those who do not love them. The righteous must love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. The realm of those we are to love includes those we disagree with, and sinners, and those of other cultures and faiths; in fact it includes the whole world.

The realm of those we must hate in order to be considered righteous is nobody, it is empty.

In the modern world Muslims and Christians live side by side, travel on the same roads. go to the same schools, work in the same offices. If a Muslim is injured by the side of the road I as a Christian will stop and help. If I am in a rush at work I would hope a Muslim colleague would show compassion. This world is to small a place and the modern city is too close and complex for us to fight and hate and kill over religious differences. We may not agree with one another, but we can and must love one another.

Closer To Home

Ok how do we love our annoying neighbor, our boss and our in-laws and outlaws? I think the concept of having three kinds of love based on three basic circles of contact is useful. The circles are:

a) Positive – these people are safe and positive and do us good in some way. We should organize to see more of them. We should hang around people that are wise or good or encouraging or who believe in us and help us. We love these people by listening to them and accepting them at a deep level and opening our heart to them.

b) Neutral - these are the ordinary people of everyday life transactions. These are the people that tend to keep us busy and pay the bills. We love these people by being kind to them and fair and respectful but we do not them get very close or take up too much time. We accept them into our world, but not into our heart. We also have the right to say “no” to them if they ask too much from us.

c) Negative – these are unsafe people we keep at a great distance because they are treacherous or dishonest or harmful in some way. In the Bible they include violent people, thieves, harlots, the sluggard, the gossip, the flatterer, the fool, and so forth. The more dangerous they are the less we should have to do with them. We endeavor to keep them away from our world and definitely do not let them anywhere near our heart but we will feed them if they are hungry and hope that they repent. If a fool or a violent man is thirsty – give him a drink of water, but do not employ him!

We find Jesus exercising this in the difference He gives to the disciples, to the masses, and to the Pharisees and Herod. Herod was so treacherous that Jesus refused to say anything to him at all:

Luke 23:8-9 And seeing Jesus, Herod greatly rejoiced, for he had desired to see Him for a long time, because he had heard many things about Him. And he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. (9) And he questioned Him in many words, but He answered him nothing.

God send His rain upon the just and the unjust and provides food for even the most wicked person, but the close counsels of God are for the righteous.

God’s perfect love is not indiscriminate or foolish, but it is very, very patient. God continues to do good to people who do not deserve it – and so should we!

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.