Loving the Unlovables – Part Two

LOVING THE UNLOVABLES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
unlovables2

Introduction: This morning we are in part 2 of our message – “Loving the Unlovables.” It’s easy to love people who love us. It’s easy to love people who are just like us. But, it’s very difficult to love people who hate us and want to hurt us. If I may say it, it’s impossible to love them without the love of Christ in our hearts.

Matthew 5   43 “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 spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Overall Background: The passage we just read is the crescendo of the Sermon on the Mount. R.T. Kendall, a famous Bible teacher and one time pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, said (I’m paraphrasing), “If the Sermon on the Mount is the Swiss Alps (beautiful and majestic mountain ranges in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and France) of the Bible, then the passage we just read is the Matterhorn or the highest peak in the Swiss Alps.” The other passages are important but this one is the most difficult of all. Listen again to verse 43 “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…” It goes totally against our visceral nature, our natural human tendency. Let me repeat what I said earlier – “It’s easy to love people who love us, but it’s very hard to love people, be kind to people, do good to people who do not love us or hate us, or even want to hurt us. Our natural inclination is to payback, to fire back, or to return hate for hate.”

Question: Who comes to your mind right now? Is there someone in your life who is difficult to love? Do they seem to bring out the worst in you? Do you wish that if this person were not in your life, it would be so much better? Again, please don’t misunderstand – this passage is not about bombing terrorist hideouts and fighting back when someone threatens your life, family, or country. This passage is about loving people who are difficult to love. The Holy Spirit has brought you here for a reason. Are you saved? If not, you are an enemy of God. Christ came to reconcile you.

3 questions we will try to answer from this passage on how to love the unlovables:

I. WHO CAN BE OUR ENEMY?

43 “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…”

Background: First, who is our neighbor? According to Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Neighbor was anyone who was part of the family of Israel. You were obligated to love them. Enemy was anyone who was not part of the family of Israel. They were outside your blood family or religious family. In other words, you’re not going to see them at family reunions or church service. You are connected to them because of some obligation or need or some situation. You may see them at work, neighborhood, or community but other than that you have no bond with them.

Let me clarify – not everyone who is not blood family or church family is necessarily our enemy. There are people we come across with daily that we get along with. Here’s a positive example: In our flight from New York to Tel Aviv, we got stuck because of the snow. When you are around the same group of people in the same situation for an extended period of time, you develop a bond. I sat next to an orthodox Jewish man and we talked and laughed and got along well. It was positive. But here’s a negative example: On our way back from New York to RDU, our flight was delayed about 7 hours because of the snow. Finally, when we got on board, the airhostess had a very bad attitude. She had a scowl on her face and she snapped at everything and everyone. If I’m not wrong she even called me a name under her breath. She was the enemy. I had no obligation to her. I didn’t want anything from her. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and get away from her and even report her.

By the way, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s a 2. But, the enemy could be much worse. A 10 is someone who wants to kill you. Hopefully none of us have any 10s in our lives! When Jesus said those words I can almost visualize hands going up – “Do you mean that I have to love these Romans who desecrate our holy ground, who kill our people, who control our lives?” “Do you mean that I need to love these filthy Samaritans who harassed our ancestors, who don’t believe like we believe?” “Do you mean that I need to love these immoral tax collectors and prostitutes who corrupt our culture, who have no regard for God?” You can almost visualize the crowd thinning out. “I can’t do that. That’s too much. No one can do that.”

Question: Who comes to mind right now? Who do you wish was not in your life? Is it a neighbor, co-worker, someone you came across at the grocery store. Is it because you come from a different cultural, geographical, political, or theological background? Is it because you have different skin pigmentation? Is it because they are envious over your looks? Is it because they are envious over why you keep getting blessed and they don’t? “Why do you have a better life, better education, better job, better home, or a better car? Why does it always work out for you and not for them?” Let me flip that around – Whose enemy are you? Who considers you as a thorn in their side? Both situations are just as sinful – to have an enemy or to be an enemy.

II. HOW SHOULD GOD’S CHILDREN RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES?

44 But I say to you, love your enemies…

Background: How do people typically respond to their enemies? Our basic response to our enemies is to retreat – just get away from them. Just like I felt towards that airhostess. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane. Sometimes people just try to repress it. Or sometimes it is retaliation. We want to give them exactly what they give us. If they curse us, we want to curse them back. If they hate us, we want to hate them back. If they spitefully use us and persecute us, we want to do the same to them. Sometimes we even apologize but it is false reconciliation. I like to call it “disguised retaliation.” You apologize to someone but add something like this – “I’m sorry for whatever I did to you.” It’s another way of saying – “You are being over sensitive.” Or, like this man who sent me an email – “I just want to tell you that I have forgiven you for all the hurt you caused me.” Then he threw in a couple of verses, preaching to me. The problem is that this man was still angry over a decision I had to make against him. He was still retaliating. I was still his enemy and he was paying me back. The only time you ever say “I forgive you” to someone is if they need to hear that from you.

So how should we respond to our enemies? Listen to what Jesus said – 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 spitefully use you and persecute you…”

In other words, you cannot ignore them, avoid them, argue with them, gossip against them, or use disguised retaliation against them. You show real, genuine, godly love towards your enemy by blessing them instead of cursing them, doing good to them instead of hating them, and praying for them instead of spitefully using and persecuting them. That’s easier said than done!

Who is your model? Your Father in heaven! Listen to verse 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Meaning: God is not just a holy God but He’s also gracious. We are to be like Him.

Application: How do you respond to your enemies? Ironically, I was on this passage when this airhostess was being rude. The Holy Spirit convicted me and reminded me to put this into practice. It was hard. First, I had to pray for her. Next, He told me to speak to her on the way out.

III. WHY DOES IT MATTER HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES? 

48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Background: The Greek word for perfect is “teleios.” Some people argue for sinless perfection but that’s not the meaning here. In fact, James 3:2 counters this very well – “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” In other words, “We all sin but if anyone can avoid sinning by words, he is a perfect man.” The meaning of the word “teleios” is also mature. What Jesus is saying is that when you begin to love your enemies instead of hating them, bless them instead of cursing them, and pray for them instead of paying them back, you will be like your Father in heaven and be more spiritually mature.

The airhostess was being immature but it was up to me to prove my pedigree. Will I be just like her or will I be truly spiritually mature and prove that God is my Father. The plane landed and the Holy Spirit told me once again to speak to her. So I turned around with a genuine smile and asked her if she’ll be able to make it home. She replied – “I can’t. This one-day trip has turned into a five-day trip. Now, I’m looking for someone to watch my kids.” I wished her well. Thank goodness for this passage or I was planning on reporting her. I’ve been praying for her ever since.

Sometimes things are not that easy. Some years back an individual broke my trust and went on a rampage against me, talked trash about me, and just hurt me. For a long while I was carrying this heavy load. It affected my personal life and spiritual life. One day I was talking to a friend of mine and he told me if I want to be set free from this. I said – “Of course I do.” Then pray for him. “Of course I do. I pray that God will convict him and lead him to repentance and all that.” He said that’s not what he was talking about. “Pray that God will bless him.” It’ll be hard but that’s the only answer. I tried it and guess what it worked! It took 3-4 weeks.

This is what Jesus did on the cross. He prayed Luke 24:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” G. Campbell Morgan once remarked that he expects to see in heaven the very men who nailed Jesus to the cross. After all, Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.

Invitation: Whom do you need to pray for today? Could it be that you are blessed because your enemy has actually prayed for you? Are you saved?

Loving the Unlovables – Part One

LOVING THE UNLOVABLE by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

lovingtheunlovablesIntroduction: This weekend we are starting a new miniseries from the Sermon on the Mount titled – “LOVING THE UNLOVABLES” or “LOVING OUR ENEMIES.” Once again, Jesus is raising the bar of righteousness. He is not satisfied with us just loving our neighbors or friends but now He wants us to love our enemies as well.

Matthew 5 43 “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 spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust…48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Overall Background: Before we dive into this passage and learn how to love our enemies and not hold grudges and show forgiveness and all of that, we need to stop for a moment and read again verse 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” The first half of that verse is not a problem because Leviticus 19:18 says very clearly, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” But the second half – hate your enemy – is a huge problem. Where did Jesus get that from the Old Testament? I’ve looked and looked but there is no such verse, “hate your enemy” in the Old Testament. Could it be that it comes from passages in the Old Testament like Exodus 23:22 But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies…” Deut. 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge…He will thrust out the enemy from before you, And will say, “Destroy!” Joshua 10:13 So the sun stood still, And the moon stopped, Till the people had revenge upon their enemies. I can go on and on but here’s one more – Psalm 139 (A psalm of David) 21 Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Several questions come to mind – Is Jesus straightening out the Old Testament? Was God in the Old Testament cruel and Jesus has come to soften the image? Is God schizophrenic? On one hand, He seems to be advocating mass genocide in the Old Testament and, on the other hand, He talks about “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…”

These questions are not just meant to spark some intellectual curiosity. These questions are very important. There are people out there and even here who have a tough time accepting the message of the gospel because of what they find in the Old Testament. Our young people when they go to colleges they are bombarded by statements like – “God of love, huh?!! Are we talking about the same God who demanded the slaughter of men, women, children, and even animals?” And, the worst – “What’s the difference between the Bible and Quran? Both have their holy wars.”

This morning I want us to think. I want us to go deeper and understand the nature and purposes of God. But, you can only go only so far without receiving Jesus as your Savior. It’s the Holy Spirit who helps us to truly understand the Word. Are you saved?

First we’re going to look at the wrong responses and then the right responses.

I. WRONG RESPONSES TO “HATE YOUR ENEMY”

  1. There are problems with the God of the Old Testament.

Some people read the passages where God struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt or Exodus 23:23 where it says, “For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off” and they say, “What kind of a god is this who shows favoritism to one people and kills others. How can we say “God loves the world” and at the same time He killed innocent people?

For people like this it is very hard to argue with them. They do not listen to reason. They just put up simple ideas about Christianity and then proceed to tear them down. The best you can do is pray for people like that so that God will open their hearts and minds to see the truth.

  1. There are problems with the writers of the Old Testament.

Some people read passages like Exodus 15 3 “The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name. 4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea” and     Isaiah 42:13 “The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies” and they say the human authors could not communicate accurately who God is and what He’s like. They did the best they could but obviously they made mistakes. God is not a man of war. He’s not bloodthirsty. What we need to do is look at the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. He straightens everything out and makes it all about love. They also say that we don’t need to talk about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now we need to only focus on the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament has superseded the Old Testament.

Couple of problems with this view:

  1. The human authors wrote with their personalities and their contexts but the Holy Spirit inspired them. 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” If so, then the Bible is inerrant, without mistakes. The problem is not with the human writers but with our lack of understanding today.
  2. If the New Testament has superseded the Old Testament, then what do you do with the Book of Revelation. Rev. 19:11   Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

There are no problems with the God of the Old Testament and there are no problems with the writers of the Old Testament.

II. RIGHT RESPONSES TO “HATE YOUR ENEMY”

  1. God’s standard of holiness is very high.

God is holy and He hates sin. He is the enemy of sin. It’s in His nature to destroy sin. In Leviticus 10 there’s an incident that makes this very clear. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. Listen to what happened2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy…” The Canaanites became His enemies because they went contrary to His holiness. Hence He set out to destroy them and Israel became God’s instrument to deal with he unholy Canaanites. By the way, take some time to study the passages when Israel fought against their enemies. There was always a consecration and cleansing before God. Many times the ark (presence of the Lord) went before them. They had to do things His way. If not, like Ai, they were beaten.

The trouble I have with the whole “hate your enemy” thing is not that God hated the Canaanite but why did He spare the Israelite! The only answer is His grace.

By the way, Jesus did the same – He confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He cleansed the temple.

  1. God cares about the holiness of His people.

God is not only aggressive in maintaining His standard of Holiness but he wants the same for His people. He did not want His people to fall into the same sin of the peoples around them. Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 20   16 “But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them…18 lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.

Jesus did not lower the standard of holiness. He actually raised it. But unlike the Old Testament where it was external, now it is internal. Matthew 15:19 “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Paul expands on this in Ephesians 6   11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;

Hence, we do not fight holy war with the infidels anymore. The holy war is within.

  1. God took all precautions to protect His plan of redemption.

The reason you cannot find “hate your enemy” anywhere in the Old Testament is because it was not about “your enemy.” It was about God’s enemy. The people of Israel lost sight of that many times and they paid dearly. God had a plan of redemption that He promised to Abraham that through him would come the seed. He protected him and Sarah. Then He preserved His people in Egypt. Then He went before His people in the Promised Land. If you remember, when Joshua was getting ready to charge the Promised Land, in Joshua 5   13 “…that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” 14 So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then he told Joshua to destroy all the people of Jericho but keep in mind – Rahab was spared and became part of the genealogy. Why? Because she desired to be part of God’s plan of redemption.

One reason God fought for His people Israel was to protect His plan of redemption. Now the Promised One has come. No longer do we look at others as enemies but as people who need to hear the gospel.

We are not called to hate but to show hope to others.

Colossians 1   21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—

2 questions:

  1. Are you an enemy of God?
  2. Do you look at others as your enemies?
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