Sermon Passage: Matthew 5:44
“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” (Matthew 5:44).
To comprehend God, we must comprehend “love.” The reverse of this is also true, if we desire to comprehend “love,” we must comprehend God. God is not more than “love;” God is “love” (1 John 4:8, 16). “Love” is not one of His many attributes like omnipresence, omniscience, or omnipotence. He does not have “love.” “Love” has God! If “love” dominates and controls God, then God is not god, but “love” is God. Only “love” is not an influence or attitude, it is a person, and His name is God. It is the single explanation of the Trinity. How can three persons exist in the Godhead, and yet, there is only one God? How can the three be one? The explanation is “love.” It is the welding that removes every impurity and makes them one. This welding happens in true marriage. Two people, male and female, become one flesh. How is such a union possible? The explanation is “love.”
God is “holy” (Isaiah 6:3). God is not two things; He is one. Therefore, “holy” and “love” must be the same thing. Holiness is perfect heart motive, which is “love.” Holiness is never about pure activities, but is always about purity of motive and appetite. Legalism never accomplishes holiness. What is purity of motive? It is perfect “love.” It is the agape love of God, which is selfless, self-sacrificing, and never thinks of Himself. “Love” is an appetite that hungers for what is good for someone else. This is the essence of God!
Jesus expresses this appetite of God in the last illustration of His Sermon on the Mount. He gives a call to be “sons of your Father in heaven.” God’s appetite is contained in His making “His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God is in control. The sun must shine in cooperation with the dictates of God; the rain must fall according to the desire of God. Because the sun and rain are distributed equally on the sons of God and on those who are His enemies, we can see the focus of His appetite. He hungers for goodness. He does good just for the sake of doing good. His appetite of love does not require response to exist. His appetite knows no boundaries of friendship. If we stay in the limits of friendship, we will know the love of God. This is not how God functions. He loves because He is love! His love is unconditional; His love is not determined by anything we do or not do. We can never merit His love; therefore, we will never not merit His love.
This is the premise of the Sermon on the Mount. Discipline, spiritual growth, and the desire to do right can never produce the love of God in the human being. We are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). When we embrace our helplessness, we allow the Comforter to fill us with Himself. He does not fill me as you would fill a container, but two entities merge, God and me. Jesus wants to saturate my life with His heart. His nature and my nature merge, creating a new creature. In our passage Jesus refers to this new creature as “sons of your Father in heaven.” We feel like Him; we think like Him; we have His appetite! We cannot do, produce, merit, earn, or develop His appetite; we must encounter His life. We must merge with Jesus!
In our passage, Jesus comes to a climax with the sixth and final illustration. This illustration does not describe a physical activity such as murder, adultery, divorce, swearing, or determined justice. This illustration focuses on God’s nature, a distinct description of this appetite (motive). God’s nature is love, but not love in the accepted sense; “agape” love is only in the nature of God! This “agape” love is a selfless, self-sacrificing, self-giving love that never thinks of itself. The only possibility for humanity to know and express this love is to merge with God’s nature. We must have Jesus’ appetite.
Jesus gives the activity of this appetite to the worst of categories, “your enemy.” There are no other categories beyond the enemy; therefore, everyone is to know this love from us. But that is impossible for us to carry out; thus, we prove His point. We are helpless and must have His nature. Jesus must merge with us and give us His appetite (motive). The Sermon on the Mount is not a list of rules or obligations we are to master. We are to have a relationship of intimacy with God.
Jesus linked the idea of “love your enemies” and “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Are these phrases not an expression of the same truth? Did Jesus substitute the word “pray” for “love,” or “those who spitefully use you and persecute you” for “enemies?” Perhaps loving my enemies is the same as praying for them. The content of the command to “love” is “pray.”
The Greek word “proseuchomai” is translated “pray.” “Proseuchomai” is a compound word, “pro,” a directional preposition pointing us forward or toward, and “euchomai,” expressing the idea “to wish.” “Proseuchomai” is the most commonly used word in the New Testament for prayer, an all-inclusive word, which suggests all aspects of prayer are included. It is devotional in its use, assuming a sense of intimacy between two people, God and man, so that the wish of the heart can be offered. How can humanity have the courage to express a wish to sovereign God? That can happen only in the atmosphere of love!
Within the scope of the word “proseuchomai” is abundant room for “practicing His presence.” “Practicing His presence” is a term from an ancient monk, Brother Lawrence, who found intimacy with God. In the monastery his responsibility was kitchen chores. He reported that his superiors required him to pray at the altar. However, he insisted he could not tell any difference between prayer at the altar and prayer while washing dishes in the kitchen. God was present in both situations. Communication with God was real regardless of the surroundings. Brother Lawrence fulfilled the cry of the Apostle Paul, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
“Practicing His presence” is prayer in which God and man are one. This oneness is a merger of man’s nature with God’s nature. The life of the person who lives in this oneness is in communication with God. He has the appetite of God; what God wants is what he wants. The life of the person merged with God communicates to “those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The reality of this is the state of “love” and the state of “pray.” Does Jesus call us to more than reciting ideas about our persecutors to God? Is He calling us to be the expression of God’s appetite for our lives?
What will this look like in life? Stephen was preaching to the Hellenistic Jews. The truth he revealed was so powerfully applied by the Holy Spirit, “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 7:54). Stephen was filled with the Spirit and was in such oneness with God that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father. The Jews began to stone Stephen, and he prayed for them, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). His prayer for those stoning him was the expression of God’s heart to them. The “agape” love of God flowed through the prayer of Stephen to his persecutors! He fulfilled the cry of Jesus to “love your enemies” and “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The “love” and “pray” were the same! They are so closely linked that “love” is the content of the prayer and becomes the physical expression of the “love.” Prayer is defined by “love.”
We must see the “love” and “pray” commanded by Jesus in the context of “enemies” and “those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The Greek word “echthros” is translated “enemies.” An enemy is a person who hates another and wishes him injury. It comes from the Greek word “echthos,” meaning hostility, hatred, or enmity. There is no category worse than this. Jesus paralleled this with the person who spitefully uses you. It is a translation of the Greek word “epereazonton,” and comes from the Greek word “epereazo,” meaning threaten, misuse, or revile. It expresses the sense of verbal abuse, to insult, or the use of foul, abusive language against you. It was used by Peter as “accusing falsely” (1 Peter 3:16). This is radical language; it presents strong hatred and bitterness. Jesus speaks about the same person who is an enemy, describing a person who hates you. This spiteful person’s sole objective is to inflict harm on you. What better setting to demonstrate the appetite of God. Love is blaring in the midst of hate. Forgiveness is displayed in the midst of bitterness!
This is not a philosophical or theological proposition. Jesus takes us to the marketplace of our lives. If religion does not work on the streets, it is merely platitudes. The Apostle Paul wrote an entire chapter on the reality of this truth (1 Corinthians 13). Great sounding messages spoken with the abilities of angels are hollow, empty words unless the throbbing appetite of God, love, is expressed (1 Corinthians 13:1). Our understanding of the mysteries of the universe, the scientific knowledge of the materialistic world, and the spiritual insight of a theologian is all superficial if the heart of God, love, is not demonstrated in the midst of extreme persecution and hatred (1 Corinthians 13:2). All compassionate ministry consisting of shelter, food, and medical care is a bandage on the hurts of life, unless the healing oil of God’s love, agape, is present (1 Corinthians 13:3). It is His appetite!
We see this demonstration in the life of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). But this was a repeat of what we see in the life of Christ. Jesus prayed for His tormentors while spikes were driven through His hands and feet. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34). The Greek word “lego,” translated “said,” is in the imperfect tense, suggesting Jesus kept praying, kept repeating the expression of God’s heart. The cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence Jesus’ prayer for His enemies!
This is a picture painted in the extreme, but seen repeatedly in the daily encounters of Jesus. Did He not feel the betrayal of the tax collector, Matthew? Matthew was so dominated by his selfishness, he willingly sold himself to the Roman Empire for personal gain. He manipulated, cheated, and consistently lied for his selfish benefit. Surely Jesus understood the depth of sin in Matthew’s betrayal. Why would Jesus cross the street to confront him? Why would Jesus disregard all that Matthew did and in a simple invitation suggest, “Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9)? Was not Matthew the enemy to everything God proposed for Israel? Jesus’ invitation was not one of mere forgiveness or toleration. He invited Matthew into intimacy with Himself! His enemy became His traveling companion; His enemy rose to be God’s instrument to properly portray the gospel account! Is this the heart of God? Is this what it means to “love” and “pray” for “those who spitefully use you and persecute you”?
In response to Jesus showing Matthew the love of God, a Pharisee asked, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11). Jesus said the answer was in the appetite of God’s heart. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). Is the appetite of God hungry only for mercy not sacrifice? According to religious requirements, the activity of sacrificial offerings is not the passion of God’s heart. He is driven by mercy. Whether this is said in “love” or “pray” is it not the same demonstration?
Jesus presented a chapter of teaching and spiritual training for His disciples (Matthew 18). He spoke to these men in the context of their seeking personal position in the kingdom and trying to make themselves look worthy by extravagant accomplishments. In the midst of it all Jesus told a simple parable. A shepherd discovers one sheep missing from his flock. He leaves the ninety-nine, risking his life in the night hour to rescue the missing one (Matthew 18:10-14). The rescuing of this one brought more joy to the heart of the shepherd than the ninety-nine who were secure. His action is an expression of the Father’s appetite. Here is His passion. We protect, fight, and promote ourselves; He risks, pours out, and dies for others demonstrating “love” and “pray.” Could I “love” like this without “pray” like this? Will this not dictate the content of my prayer life?
We are to view praying for someone as a personal expression of the heart. Prayer is not a ritual or physical activity we achieve. It is not an appointed time of day or part of a check list that gives us pride upon completion. It is not an option to spare us from the responsibility of relating to our enemy in a loving manner because we act towards them with physical expressions of love. In other words, it is not developing physical practices accepted in our culture as expressions of love. We are not to “walk away” but to “embrace.” God does not practice love by allowing the sun and the rain to come to those He likes and not to those who are His enemies. God expresses His deep inward heart. He exhibits in the physical what is reality in His heart. This is His appetite!
This brings us back to the basic premise of the Sermon on the Mount. We must embrace our helplessness to merge with His nature. This is the Kingdom person! The Kingdom is a relationship of intimacy, a merger with the heart of God so we can become an expression of His nature. He does not remove our helplessness; we live in the constant awareness of our helpless reality. This constant acknowledgement is the response that allows Jesus to invade our lives. We become an expression of God’s love nature. We have His appetite and share His hunger.
This merger determines “love” and “pray.” If “love” is the appetite of His nature, this will express itself in the content and focus of our “pray.” A person must not live in the state of “I am doing my best.” Although we grow into spiritual maturity and knowledge, knowing His heart is an encounter with Him. We are without excuse, such as “I just had a bad day.” “Agape love” becomes the craving of our existence, as it is for Him. If we miss this, we miss Him. This is not optional in Christian experience but is the foundation of all that is considered Christian.
Perhaps an adequate challenge for this moment would be to view the content of your prayers! Are your prayers self-focused? Do you pray for comfort either for yourself or for those in your care? Do you find anger toward others slipping into your prayers? Do you complain about others or does your heart weep? Are you so motivated with love in your prayers that you find yourself becoming the answer to them? Do you join Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane overcoming physical comfort to participate in the will (appetite) of His Father (Matthew 26:36-46)?
Perhaps the place to answer these questions is to see your situation in relationships that involve conflict. How are you relating? Is your “love” and “pray” an expression of His nature in that situation? Allow Him to merge with you more intimately. Focus on Him and who He is. Allow Jesus to bring you into a level of oneness not yet experienced. He must do this in you; you cannot do it for yourself! Surrender!