Sermon Passage: Matthew 5:43
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Matthew 5:43).
We are engaged in a study of the Sermon on the Mount. Before we continue in our analysis of the sixth and final illustration of Matthew Chapter 5, we need to review some pivotal issues in this chapter. The Sermon on the Mount covers Matthew 5, 6, and 7. The final verse of chapter 7 gives us the reaction of the crowd listening to Jesus’ message. “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching” (Matthew 7:28). The Greek word translated “astonished” is “ekplesso,” meaning “to be or become astounded to such a degree as to nearly lose one’s mental composure.” They were astounded that His message lacked rules or instruction on personal discipline. All other world religions demanded performance and achievement at the highest level. Jesus offers us as a gift without meriting performance, something unheard of in the religious world!
We see the basis of this gift in the opening statements of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus proposes we are “poor in spirit,” without resource. We are helpless people at the core of our being. If we desire to be the godly people God created us to be, our resource must come from someone other than ourselves. Therefore, Jesus proposes the premise of the sermon. Jesus must come! We will be comforted by the Comforter, who merges with us (Matthew 5:4). If the nature of God becomes the source of our lives, what will be the level of living for us?
The proposal of God being our resource and Jesus’ complete disregard for the “oral traditions” of the Pharisees, the multitude considered that Jesus was starting a new religion. The Pharisees formulated the “oral traditions” from their interpretation of the Scriptures. To them, it appeared that Jesus proposed dismissal of the Scriptures! Was He discounting the Old Testament? But Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus refused this thought or suggestion. His motive was not to release us from the Old Testament but to fulfill it. “To fulfill” is to take everything suggested in the Old and bring it to completion! If this happened in my life, how would it appear? It would complete the requirement of His statement before the six illustrations. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The righteousness proposed is far beyond what we can imagine; it is impossible. We would have to exceed the best we can do; we would need to be supernatural. All of this proves the premise of the Sermon on the Mount. We are helpless to achieve this Kingdom life. We must merge with Him!
According to Jesus, this merger must be living and written. The Living Person of God wants to indwell us, but He also wants to speak to us. He fulfills the Scriptures in our lives through this combination. Jesus, a helpless Man, was filled with the nature of God (Matthew 3:13-17). It is the glorious experience of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) happening in the life of the believer. It is the merger between God and man! God sources us, and His speaking shapes our lives. How does He speak? He speaks through the Scriptures, the Written Word, and the Living Word, His presence, is never disconnected from the Scriptures. The Scriptures are not a manual for your life or a road map to heaven. The Scriptures are the whispering of Jesus’ merging Spirit within you, the pillow talk of God in His merger with you. Anytime the Scriptures are removed from the expression of God’s heart, misunderstanding and misdirection occur. Was this the explanation for the dominant mindset of the Jew? “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Matthew 5:43).
Read the Scriptures
“You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Where would the Jews have found this statement in their Scriptures? Even though there was no statement, indication, or allowance for such an account, it was the accepted belief of Scriptural truth. Bible scholars agree this is a quotation from the Book of Leviticus. “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). The Jews of Jesus’ day left off the crucial statement “as yourself.” “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” was a popular way in which the average Israelite considered the law of God. They regulated their lives concerning friends and foes based on this statement. It would be safe to assume since this teaching was so prevalent that Pharisees and scribes held it.
The Jews certainly could not plead ignorance of the phrase “as yourself.” The scribe who quizzed Jesus about the first commandment was careful to include “as yourself” when He spoke about God’s love and loving one another (Mark 12:32-34). On another occasion, a lawyer, an expert in Jewish law, questioned Jesus about inheriting eternal life. Jesus asked him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:26-27). Paul quoted this statement twice in his epistles (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14). If they understood the inclusion of this phrase, why did they ignore it?
Even worse than the omission of “your neighbor as yourself” was the addition “and hate your enemy.” There is no indication in the verse that enemies should be hated, yet this was the common understanding. In the context of the statement in Leviticus, “your neighbor as yourself” is highlighted. There is no instruction to hate your enemy in the Old Testament. By adding “and hate your enemy,” they shifted the emphasis away from the original intention of the law. The statement in Leviticus intended to emphasize love over against vengeance. This perversion drew a sharp contrast between “the neighbor” and “the enemy.” This contrast brought much argument and debate concerning, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
When Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies,” His audience must have been amazed once again. He said something they probably had never before heard so succinctly and with such positive force. Jesus was the first who taught man to see every human as “neighbor.” He tells us to encounter every human in love! No one should ask the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Every person should prove himself neighbor to another in need, whoever they might be! Jesus in no way contradicted the Old Testament but brought to fulfillment all that the Scriptures intended.
How did they miss it? Perhaps it is easier to understand that they did not miss it! They misread the Scriptures. If this was the only occasion for such misreading, we might be sympathetic. Jews who traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee asked Jesus why His disciples did not wash their hands when they ate bread. It was a violation of the “traditions of the elders” (Matthew 15:1-2). Jesus asked the scribes and Pharisees why they transgressed the commandment of God, the Scriptures, regarding “Honor your father and mother”? They misread the Scriptures. It is plainly stated in the Scriptures how to honor one’s parents, but they adjusted it in their reading to make it of no effect. Jesus called them hypocrites (Matthew 15:7) and proceeded to quote the prophecy of Isaiah, which was about them:
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
John’s Gospel records the heated debates between Jesus and the Pharisees. At the heart of a revealing explanation concerning the Pharisees’ condition, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). They misread the Scriptures. The Jewish nation clung to the Scriptures as the most sacred of their documents and said the Scriptures were the word of God to their lives, but they adjusted their reading to fit their need.
Are we not also guilty of the same? Without going into a long discourse describing the Scriptures we misread, can we challenge ourselves to correction? Can we have a new appreciation for the Scriptures as they are, bending our lives under its authority? As careful as we are about recording the numbers in our bank account, can we be as cautious when reading the Scriptures? Would you read the Scriptures to discover the truth? We read the Scriptures to win an argument, prepare a sermon, prove our theology, condemn those around us, and to justify our activity. Can we just read the Scriptures to discover Jesus? Better yet, can we allow Jesus to speak the Scriptures to us? If the Scriptures are the speaking of the indwelt Christ, will we listen to what He says? We dare not impose our thought process, educational achievements, or theological bias. We must come under His authority and bend our will to His spoken Word! We must read the Scriptures.
Realize the Scriptures
The urgency of this hour becomes clear! Let me remind you of the foundation Jesus established for these six illustrations. He came to “fulfill” the Scriptures, not “destroy” them (Matthew 5:17)! The Greek word translated “destroy” is “katalyo.” It is a combination of “kata,” which intensifies and “luo” meaning “to release or loose.” It is the picture of a pack mule carrying the burdens of his owner, who in turn removes them from him at the end of the day. During the ministry of Jesus, the masses of people moved Him. Matthew describes His feelings with the word “compassion,” the strongest Greek word for “pity.” It refers to a person profoundly disturbed and emotionally wrought deep within! Jesus saw the crowds as “weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The Greek word translated “weary” is “eklyo,” meaning “to collapse due to fatigue.” The crowds were utterly exhausted from the burden placed on them by the Pharisees, who based their requirements on the Old Testament. Jesus described the procedure as, “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4). Jesus is not describing the Scriptures; He details the scribes and Pharisees misreading of the Scriptures.
Jesus came to “fulfill!” He was the first human to embrace the Scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit, placing Him on a level of achievement beyond the scribes and the Pharisees. He viewed and interpreted His life experience in light of the Scriptures spoken to Him by the Spirit. In an upper room after His resurrection, He said, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). Then He opened their understanding to the Scriptures that they might comprehend its reading. Why did He go to the cross? It was the instruction of the Scriptures. He said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).
Jesus, as a Spirit-filled man reading the Scriptures, completed the destiny of His life by fulfilling the Scriptures. Could this be the same for us? It may not be our destiny to hang on the cross as the Messiah, but is it possible that our destiny is written in the Scriptures as read to us through the Spirit? Therefore, the Scriptures are not a comprehensive book of instruction for all Christians but are a personal love letter expressed through the intimacy of our merger with God’s nature. It is the expression of God’s appetite becoming our appetite through the sharing of His thoughts, which shapes our lives! We cannot realize the reality of the Scriptures without His nature. We will misread and adjust His Word unless He speaks it to us as we embrace Him in the reading. It is not a scholarship or academic study; it is intimacy and embracing Him in relationship! Reclining in His presence in the merger of the Spirit, surrendering our heart to His, He whispers to us His Word, and we understand. We “realize” the Scriptures! Without this we misread the Scriptures, regardless of our education or knowledge.
Rationalize the Scriptures
Why has every generation misread the Scriptures? It is the premise of the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). We are helpless. If we refuse to acknowledge we are helpless and embrace our poverty, we manipulate every situation for our benefit. We must do so to have enough resource to survive. We use the Scriptures to justify and strengthen our self-centeredness; thus, we misread the Scriptures.
However, if the helpless person embraces his poverty, he can be filled with the appetite of God, His nature. The essence of God merges with us. Consider carefully the depth of communication now established with the Kingdom person. It will be different from the interaction of God and man in the Old Covenant. Clearly, we understand that communication. God established a meeting place where He could speak to His people. But the fear of the people was so great that they said to Moses, “You speak with us and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). God granted their request and gave them prophets. But God wanted to communicate directly to His people.
God prepared for the day when He would indwell His people. This opportunity is now ours! We can merge with the nature of God; we can experience His appetite. Although He wants to source us internally, He wants to shape us externally. Our merger with God becomes complete when the Living Word in us merges with the Written Word of the Scriptures. The Spirit of Jesus merges with our thoughts and intently whispers His Word to us. We no longer misread the Scriptures for our benefit but experience the revelation of God in our lives. If this merger does not happen with us and with the Scriptures, we rationalize the Scriptures for our benefit.
The wonder of this experience takes place only when we embrace our helplessness. Jesus instructed us to live in this helplessness. We are never to step outside the boundaries of our helplessness. Do not get cocky, arrogant, or self-confident. Do not say, “I can handle this.” We must embrace our helplessness and let our helplessness embrace us. Again, this relates to us that education, talent, or personality are not keys to understanding the Scriptures. It is not a book of rules or a manual of advice. It is the expression from the lips of Jesus to your heart as He merges with your nature.
The Jews of Jesus’ day misread the Scriptures, searching for life only to find death. They studied to discover the will of God only to rationalize the Scriptures for their benefit. The Scriptures became the justification for their lives and a tool to judge others by, which can happen in our lives as well. We must embrace our helplessness, merge with His nature, and experience the expression of His heart in the Scriptures!