This week we have reached the last of Jesus’ six intensifications.
Here he is intensifying Leviticus 19:18 – ‘Love your neighbour’. But Jesus adds to these words. He says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy.”
There is no verse in the Bible that says ‘hate your enemy’. It is to be supposed that this was a teaching of the rabbis. Maybe it had grown out of Deuteronomy 7:2, though there is a passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls that says ‘the sons of light hate the sons of darkness’. In the context of Jesus sermon it appears that enemy is those who persecute his followers. It means they are not your personal enemy, but the enemy of the Church. They are God’s enemy.
The first five intensifications have been hard enough, starting with our having to be more righteous than the Pharisees. But this has got to be the hardest of all.
It would be easier if Jesus had merely reinforced the command to love our neighbours. But he goes far beyond that by telling us we have to love our enemies.
He gives two examples of what this love looks like in action. First, it looks like prayer. Verse 44 says we must pray for them. And second in Luke 6:27, we should do good for them. Don’t think you are to pray bad things for the enemies of God.
For the Jews, the enemies would have been us. Gentiles. And the neighbours would have been fellow Jews. For us the neighbours are fellow disciples of Jesus, and the enemies are the persecutors.
Jesus emphasizes this in two ways. He says that loving your enemies will make you truly and son or daughter of God. You will have the family likeness of self-giving love. He tells us how the father loves family and enemy alike. God gives the rain and the sun to all of the human race without any regard to their spiritual condition. It isn’t that God doesn’t know who is good. God clearly sends his blessings on the ‘evil and the good’ and on the ‘just and the unjust’.
He clearly sees the true state of every person, and still chooses to love them.
In order to be like our father we have to recognise a person is evil or unjust and then love them despite it.
There are three missionaries in prison in North Korea right now. One from Australia, one from America and one from South Korea. How do you feel about the evil regime in the north that persecutes your brothers this way, torturing them and locking them up just for telling people the good news about Jesus. Do you want to hate them? Do you want God to send down a bolt of lightning and erase them from this world? Jesus says you must love them as God does. God gives them sunshine and rain just as he does people in South Korea.
Jesus also compares our love with the love of pagans and tax collectors. These are people who are despised. Pagans reject God and refuse to obey his law. Tax collectors are collaborators with the enemy and help oppress their own people. Can such people even love?
Within their families and groups, they do love. They greet each other and support each other. It’s normal human love. If that is all you do, you are no better than them.
Jesus demands that we walk a path of supreme righteousness. That path will make out of us a group of disciples who not only avoid hatred, but who actively love even their persecutors. That is what the church should be known for. Sadly it all too often isn’t.
In these six intensifications Jesus has taken us from his challenge to be more righteous than the Pharisees all the way to “you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
What kind of perfect is that?
God is awesome, powerful, holy, omnipresent. Are we supposed to be omnipresent? No, that isn’t what perfection means. It means that we are to perfectly be who we were created to be, without any contradictions. The relationship between our ideal, which is what God has in mind for us, and our reality, has to be perfect.
We are to have such a close warm loving relationship with God that it is perfect. Just as was the relationship that Jesus had with his father, our father.
Our call to be perfect is a call to be pure. It is a call to integrity. It is a call for our mind and heart to be one with God’s mind and heart. All the time. At work, at home and even while asleep.
The minimum standard that God has set for us is perfection. It is the minimum. There is no standard lower than this for his children.
Which brings us to a major point. Who then can be saved? Can anyone?
The answer is that nobody can be saved. There is no hope for anyone. Except we have faith in Jesus, we are lost. We need to be clothed in his righteousness. We need his new birth. We need the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and interceding for us with groans.
If we are disciples, there is no place for even the smallest complacency.
Jesus has spoken words to excite us and spur us into action. We are in pursuit of a goal, and the race will take our whole life. Every day from now until we reach glory is about striving onward and upward for perfection. The perfection of love for our enemies. The perfection of righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees. The perfection of purity. The perfection of integrity.
Totally unlike all the rules of the Pharisees for external conformity, we are called to an invisible inner conformity with God’s ideals. Every moment of every day we are called to excel at sacrificial love, purity of heart. Every moment of every day we take a new risk of faith. Who do we trust with all our heart?
The last beatitude pointed out that persecution is the inevitable lot of a follower of Jesus. The last intensification makes the same point. The way of perfection is the way of persecution. The way of suffering is the way to God.
We are learning to cry with God, instead of crying over our own suffering. As we shed tears together with God at the loss of his ideal and the pain of sin, we grow closer to him in heart and mind. We share intimate feeling and thoughts with him, and our relationship is enhanced through shared persecution.
When Jesus was on the cross, on the verge of death, in great pain, he didn’t pray for himself. He prayed for his persecutors. He lived out his teaching.
When Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and then healed the man who had come to arrest him, he was living out his teaching. At every moment of every day, Jesus lived out his teachings. They were in perfect harmony.
This is what we also have to do. We are called to a life of perfect harmony between the teachings of our Lord and master, and our daily actions.
As we labour every day to make real in our lives the beatitudes and intensifications of Jesus’ Sermon of the Mount, we become living testimony to the Good News.
We labour together, not alone. We walk the way of suffering as members of a fellowship, not as lonely pilgrims. We need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we also need the community of brother and sister disciples. We need God and the Church in order to be perfect.
Believe you can be made perfect. Live like you believe. It’s what we are called to do.