"Love Your Enemies--Jesus Does!"#84-25
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 19, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Why So Many Interpretations?)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other ....."You have heard it said also, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. .....You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen!
Wow. Have you heard those words before and if you are honest today, you are probably saying, "Jesus, thanks for the note, but I just don't think this is going to work in our world today." What's all this perfection talk, this love your enemies talk? Well, let me give you a glimpse of what Jesus is talking about. First, we do need that kind of love today and real love is perfect love.
Perfection! We see a glimpse of that in the tears, the words, the actions of a young lady in Iowa for example. In November, 2016, two police officers had been shot; another act of senseless violence in our world today. Tensions flared in the community.
But this young lady approached a police officer not with a gun, but with a bottle of water. She didn't know how else to help. So she made sure the officer knew that she was no threat, that she had only come to help, to make sure that he had water and a word. She told the officer she wanted him to go home to his family safely that night.
I don't know how a bottle of water will help when people are shooting, but that's what she gave. Water. In the midst of a story about shootings and death, with all the political ramifications, I saw that woman over and over again in that YouTube video, a weeping woman giving water and a word to a police officer who had tears in his eyes as well.
There are so many forces weighing on us today. In fact, Dictionary.com announced the word of the year for 2016. You ready? Xenophobia; fear; fear of the foreigner; fear or hatred of those who are different than yourself. Xenophobia. Are you afraid? Of them? Increasingly, our society is categorizing people and labeling them and us. Lines are drawn. People identify themselves with positions. If someone else has a different viewpoint or a different idea, they are not the same as you and me and such things erode trust, they cause tension, even fear.
The irony is that we are supposedly living in a world of tolerance. We are told that we need to be tolerant of all people, yet the tolerance movement has actually caused people to put labels on others so that we know who we are supposed to tolerate.
Whether it be a presidential election or a social issue, people tend to see things more as us versus them. And those who cry for equality seem to be the most vocal against those whom they believe aren't seeing equality in the same way. Xenophobia. Fear.
To make matters worse, we are told that we live in a post-truth world. Now listen, I'm not trying to get philosophical with you today, but if there are no certain truths that bind us and if we are all becoming increasingly more afraid and distrusting, all that's left are feelings, emotions; more us versus them, whatever that means.
You see, in a sinful world, a world where we are more prone to do what's wrong than what's right; in a world where we are more prone to do what is best for us no matter what it costs others, distrust is magnified, violence erupts, we look away from each other rather than to each other as friends and neighbors.
Something or someone has to break through that fear, risk a relationship with others who are different, to bring together what may presently be torn apart.
I remember when we lived in New York City. It was a tough place. People tended to stare off into the abyss as they rode on the subway. They tended to look down as they passed you on the street. Nobody smiled, because a smile might attract the wrong attention. But, we got to know our neighbors in Grammercy Park. They became our friends. They stopped by and talked once and a while. You know why? My wife, Yvette, had me go to the Home Depot in New Jersey and buy flowers and plants to put in our flower pots on our front patio. She would be out there every day watering the flowers, pruning them, even handing out some flowers to others now and again. And you know what, people starting coming by for a visit, just to say hi to her, to say hi to us. She risked it, and bridges were created, friendships were made. In fact, my daughter returned to New York City this year, 17 years after we lived there. As she was standing outside of our old building, a man came out and asked why she was taking pictures. She first said, "I just loved the building," and then he said, "Yeah, it's a beautiful place, but he missed the family that used to live so there many years ago." He said, "There was this beautiful woman and her husband, and they had a cute little girl and a sweet little dog." Devin said, "I was the girl." And he began to cry. Wow! That's a bridge, that's a possibility even in this world of fear and mistrust.
That can happen when we love others the way that Jesus loves us. His love is even more of a love-your-enemies- pray-for-those-who-persecute-you kind of love. And just so you understand, I don't think Jesus is using us versus them language when He says, "Love your enemies."
In fact, that is really the opposite of what He is teaching us. Jesus explains His command by pointing out how God actually loves all the people of this world. God doesn't just give rain to those who are His friends. God doesn't just provide food for those who believe in Him; those who worship Him. God provides for all people.
Here's another truth that might shock you. All of us, and let me say it again, all of us have sinned and turned our backs on God. There is nobody who is righteous in and of himself or herself. We've all decided to be enemies of God by doing as we pleased, by trampling on His truth, and loving others when it is only convenient for us to do so.
In order to overcome the fear, the guilt, the death of this kind of sinful life, God had to love His enemies, to do good to those who deserved His judgment and wrath. The most simple, yet powerful, statement of that kind of love is found in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He sent His son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life."
Enemies loved. Enemies forgiven. Enemies given life they neither earned nor deserved. Wow, that's God in action for you, for me, my friend.
And we are called to love then in the same way. We are not to determine whom we love. We are called to love as we are loved, speaking His truth in love, with gentleness and respect because that's how God in heaven loved you! If someone is your neighbor, love them. If someone is your friend, love them. If someone is your enemy, love them His way.
The word for perfection in Matthew 5 is the Greek word teleios. It can mean perfect in a moral sense. But more often it means perfect as in complete or whole. It means something that has reached its goal. When Jesus says that we are to be perfect just as the Heavenly Father is perfect, we learn that our completion is found in His love. Just as God the Father loves all people, so we are to love all people. Even if they are our enemies, even if they don't love us back. We are to love the same way that God loves us.
Do you remember the woman who gave the water to the policeman? It wasn't the water I remember. It was her tears. And his. Water to drink, but even more, water that flowed from love; not for an enemy nor for a friend, just love. Love looking for a way to express itself.
The two strangers, a woman with water and a policeman who had never met, embraced and whispered words to each other. She told him she hoped he would be safe and wished she could do more. His response? "Your prayers are all we need."
In the midst of violence and fear, love. In the midst of another bad news story, water and hugs and prayers. And we are reminded that God has placed us here to love. To love with the love that He provides to love as He loves. Enemy. Friend. Those who help. Those who persecute. Perfection is His love for all. Because that's just Who God is.
God provides the rain for all people. Those who believe and those who don't both receive the rain from the sky from God's hands. God provides the sunlight to all people on the earth regardless of their faith in Him or their love for Him. He provides because He loves all people as their Father. He loves regardless of our response to that love.
Can you imagine if God only allowed rain and sun to those who are going to use His gifts perfectly? Can you imagine if God only provided what people need to survive for those who truly appreciate His gifts and promise to use them properly?
Again, if we are honest, none of us deserve His gifts. Even the most faithful, the kindest of us all are still selfish in so many ways. We all use the gifts God has given us to serve ourselves and not to serve others the way that God intends.
Yet God still provides and He gives without limits and without contingencies. He gives the rain upon the righteous and the unrighteous. He allows the sun to rise on those who do good and those who are just plain evil. He loves sinners and saints.
You might not think that's the best idea. You might think God is foolish in this way that He loves. But Jesus tells us that kind of love is perfection, that kind of love is the love that will meet its goal and come to a godly, eternal culmination. God wants you to be a part of that as well.
Jesus loved perfectly. He loved His enemies, and that includes you and me. During His trial, people lied in order to make Him appear guilty of crimes He didn't commit. Jesus loved them. While He was standing trial, Peter, the leader of Jesus' disciples, denied even knowing who Jesus was. Jesus loved him. The leaders of the Jewish people demanded that Jesus should be killed. Jesus loved them. Pontius Pilate saved his own skin instead of protecting Jesus even though he knew Jesus was innocent. Jesus loved him. While Jesus was being nailed to the cross, He loved those even who were killing Him.
And how about all those people who conspired against Jesus? His prayer was simple, powerful; "Father, forgive them." Jesus didn't just talk about praying for those who persecute us. He did it. He didn't wait until they repented. He didn't wait until they had changed their mind and cleaned up their act. He prayed for them even as they were persecuting Him. He prayed for them even as they were killing Him.
And He loved them. Jesus' death was for them. For all of those who lied and conspired, all those who denied knowing Him and saved their own skin, all those who would rather kill an innocent Man than listen to what He had to say, all those who treasured their position over the life of another, all those who hated Him because He taught love; for all of them He died and He rose again.
And His death was the ultimate act of love not just for them, but also for us. Jesus was innocent. He never sinned. Yet He died for the sins of the world then and now; for people then and now.
When we put our faith in Jesus, we not only get to receive that gracious, eternal love, that new relationship with God now and forever; we also get to put that love of His to work in our lives; that love-your-enemies kind of love. But we often are those who love our own way. We love, but then we still keep track of those who wrong us. We feel we are justified in making sure our enemies can't take advantage of us or have opportunity to wrong us again. We call it self-defense. We call it being smart.
That's just us being real, right, Pastor? No, that's us missing out on the power of Christ's love for us now and forever.
If you feel today that you need to get your due, you just might! I'm telling you that without Jesus, it will be an empty feeling in the end. It won't accomplish anything beyond a moment's satisfaction and it will cut you off from the love that you really need; the love of God in Jesus that was willing to love you as you are and pour His love through you to others; giving you not just satisfaction for the moment but the promise of eternal life and salvation with Him forever. Don't sell yourself short today. Receive and give His love-your-enemies kind of love.
Would the world be a better place if people really listened to Jesus? What could stop such blessing, such love? Jesus tells us to love our enemies. He tells us that we should be perfect, just as God is perfect, that we should be complete and whole. And, in Him, by faith we are, and we can strive to be that more and more for others in His Name.
Love your enemies. Jesus does! In a world in which xenophobia is the word of the year, because we're so afraid, Jesus teaches us to love others as He loves us. Perfection in Him is love.
In a world that claims that we are beyond the truth and that all that matters is our feelings; Jesus says, "He's the Way, the Truth, and the Life," and He comes to bring a love-your-enemies kind of love; one that can forgive you, redeem you, and reconcile you to God and to each other!
Put that love to work in your life! Trust Him, serve others in His Name!
Don't ever forget how God in heaven loves you. St. Paul says it straight so that each one of us gets it as we're listening today. In Romans 5, he says, "When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son." That's about as direct as you can get; but the point of the passage is what did God do with His enemies, what did He do for His enemies? In His grace and His mercy, He loved His enemies. When Jesus died for the sins of His enemies, He died for you. When Jesus forgave the sins of those who lied and protected themselves, He forgave you.
Because of that love you can step into this world, water a few plants, cut a few flowers, strike up a conversation with people who might be different than you, maybe foreign to you, maybe even a bit scary at the moment; but in the power of the love of Christ that animates you, that fills you, and guides you, that person just might become not merely a neighbor but a friend for eternal life. I know this is risky business in this world of fear and division. But if you are a Christian, you been loved with a love-your-enemies kind of love in the person and work of Jesus. And you know that Jesus has a purpose in your life to love others His way this day.
God may let rain fall on the just and the unjust, but through His people, He wishes to pour out His blessing on all who will believe. Love your enemies. Jesus does and that's good news indeed. Amen.
Action in Ministry for February 19, 2017
Guest: Dr. Tony Cook
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry. Pastor Seltz, in today's message you said we're called to love our enemies and pray for them; but for many that seems to be an impossible task.
SELTZ: Mark, you're right. Outside of faith in God, in seems like foolishness, but when you meet the God of the Bible and come to know His love for you in Jesus Christ, it all begins to make sense.
ANNOUNCER: I suppose you could say that a lack of knowledge could lead to doubt; but right now we want to tell you about a free booklet titled, When in Doubt, Read the Book.
SELTZ: Read the book.
ANNOUNCER: Dr. Tony Cook is one of our division directors here at Lutheran Hour Ministries and he's here to share some thoughts with us on that subject.
SELTZ: Tony, thanks for joining us today.
COOK: Hey, glad to be here.
SELTZ: Tony, so many things can stir up confusion in us and our confusion often turns to doubt towards God. How can this booklet begin to help overcome those kinds of doubts?
COOK: The thing I like about this booklet is that it points the reader back to God's Word when we're experiencing doubts in our lives. Christianity is not about what we can do for God in order to be saved; but, instead, it's about what God has done for us in providing us salvation in Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: What topics does this booklet address?
COOK: There is a number of topics, actually, in the booklet but the one that it tends to focus on the most is about the impact that salvation has on our lives.
COOK: Now I know that most of us understand that it has impact; the Gospel has impact on our eternal salvation; but the book points out that it also has impact on our daily lives in the here and now. It uses a comparison of the Bible to an owner's manual, which I don't know if you read those or not...do you?
SELTZ: I just YouTube it now.
COOK: ...compares it to a YouTube video; but an owner's manual. The owner's manual helps us understand our lives as they were designed to be by God. It's true that there's nothing that we need to do in order to be saved but it's also true that God has designed us to live in a certain way. Not in order to become His children but really because we are His children, we are His creation. So by turning to the Bible we can learn more about God's will for our daily lives and also, personally, I'm given strength to live my daily life before God through the encouragement of Scripture. So, for me, it's not really about trying to be a good person, but it's about being faithful. Many times, when I try to be faithful, I fail. That results in the need for repentance and ultimately for change.
ANNOUNCER: You said this booklet points us back toward God's Word as we find it in the Bible. What difference does it make if we read the Bible and take it to heart?
COOK: When we explore God's Word, the most amazing thing is that we meet Jesus there in the pages. Reading God's Word reminds us that because of Jesus, that we've been set free and, to me, that is the biggest difference.
SELTZ: Key to it all.
COOK: Exactly. We have been liberated. We've been set free from sin. We've been set free from death. We've been set free from the devil. We are people who have been set free to be the people of God. As the Bible tells us, if Jesus set you free...
SELTZ: ...you are free indeed.
COOK: Exactly. Amen.
SELTZ: There's a lot of hope in that too. Again, that sounds so positive. Most people have this view of Christianity that it's not a life that we've been set free to serve but it's constrained by a lot of dos and don'ts. What you're saying is that what we get from this book is that foundational teaching that God sent His Son in the world not to condemn but to save us. That empowers us, right? To live our lives.
COOK: Exactly. Exactly.
SELTZ: We need not doubt that.
ANNOUNCER: This is an important and thoughtful booklet. It's very simple to get. You can download it for free at our website with a click. We'll also send you a free copy if you call us. Dr. Tony Cook, thanks again for joining us.
COOK: Thanks for having me.
SELTZ: That's our Action in Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: To read or download this resource, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action In Ministry. To request a print copy, call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 19, 2017
Topic: Why So Many Interpretations?
ANNOUNCER: We are back once again with Pastor Gregory Seltz responding to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Today's question is, "How can so many people read the same passage in the Bible and yet get totally different messages out of it?"
SELTZ: Mark, when you listen to people talk about the Bible, it is true, people can often make the Bible say just about anything they want it to say. In fact, people like to pick and choose passages that tend to suit their needs and make the Bible support ideas they want to promote.
ANNOUNCER: But you also quote the Bible all the time in order to support what we teach. You refer to the Bible as our authority. How do we know that we are correct in the way we are reading it?
SELTZ: The answer is pretty basic. The answer is Jesus. I am not free to quote the Bible in any way that I want. I am not free to make the Bible say whatever I wished it would say. I am not free to make the Bible support my ideas or desires. The Bible is God's Word. And we approach it that way and we only read it properly when we read it according to His will.
ANNOUNCER: That sounds good. But the next question is how do we know God's will for how we should read the Bible?
SELTZ: First of all, the Scriptures are the Word of God and then you approach it that way. They are inspired by God, contain no errors. They are true and trustworthy. I believe that fully; there are others who don't; and that would be a big difference in how we read the Bible. But there are others who actually believe the same things and still disagree with some of the things that I teach and that our church teaches. Let me suggest something that might help as we think about this difficult question. Again, the answer to this is Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: Right. You already said that. What do you mean by that?
SELTZ: Without getting too deep into it, Jesus is the way that we read the Bible. In all of our reading of Scripture, He's the center of our reading. It is about Him, and in many and various ways it points to Him. The Bible, first and foremost, is not a book about you and me. It is not a book about America. It is not a book about moral teachings. It ultimately is a book about Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: But when I open the Bible, I read a lot of rules. I see a lot of stories about people other than Jesus; in fact there are hundreds of pages in the Bible that don't mention Him at all.
SELTZ: Okay, back to the basics. The Bible is God's book and so all of those things must have a purpose, again, towards Jesus. It was written through His inspiration and everything the Bible then points to Jesus. Jesus is God's revelation of Himself to us. We know God through Christ. One of the best tests of how we read the Bible is whether or not our reading and our understanding ultimately points to Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: And again, what do you mean by that?
SELTZ: I mean that Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the One Who is both God and man. He is God's Gift to humanity as Savior. That's central. It's the most important message of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that God saves sinners. And the way He saves sinners is through Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: And I would hope most Christians would agree with that basic idea.
SELTZ: I think you are right. Most Christians would agree with that basic statement. But a lot of the disagreements come around how we individually receive that salvation. Let me suggest a simple yet complex rule to help us determine how best to read the Bible. The Bible is about God and what He has done. It is only secondarily about me and what I must do.
ANNOUNCER: That seems pretty basic. The Bible is called the Holy Bible. It's God's book. It makes sense that He would be the primary subject.
SELTZ: Exactly. And because He is God, He alone is the One Who can save. I sin. God saves. I can't save. And that's exactly what God does in Jesus. He saves me without any effort on my part. He saves me and then only in Him do I live for others.
ANNOUNCER: But aren't there a lot of rules we should also follow?
SELTZ: That's what I was talking about. We live in Him for others. The saving is already done. There are a lot of portions of the Bible that talk about rules and commandments. Those things show me my need for a Savior; but even those sections are ultimately pointing me to Jesus. He is the One Who followed God's rules when I couldn't. He is the One Who fulfilled God's commands when I couldn't. He is the only One Who is perfect. I am the one who breaks commandments and needs a Savior. And so God has saved me and the rules and commandments teach me my need for that; but then in Him, only in Him, do I suddenly realize how to live for others.
ANNOUNCER: So, that guides us as we read the Bible.
SELTZ: In that spirit I say, read on!
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"God Has Spoken by His Prophets" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)