Love My Who? (Matthew 5:43-48)

By | January 9, 2011

Down and Dirty Discipleship #1


     Love IS what brings us together today. God’s love for us and our love for God We have all kinds of notions about love don’t we? We toss that word around like a juggler tosses balls. A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. 

     “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” 

     “When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.” 

     “There are two kinds of love. Our love. God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.” 

     “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”  

     “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” 

     “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

     “Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.” 

     “Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” 

     My favorite one of all is: “God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but He didn’t. That’s love.”  But the kind of love I want us to focus on today is tied to this quote from an 8 year old:“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”  (1)

     Or as Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”         


     As we begin our series Down and Dirty Discipleship and look at some of the hard teaching or hard sayings of Jesus the first one I want to look at is Jesus’ teaching on Loving Our Enemies.

SCRIPTURE Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

[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 and pray for those who persecute you,  

[45] so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  

[46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  

[47] And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  

[48] Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  

Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG)

[43] “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’  

[44] I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer,  

[45] for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.  

[46] If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.  

[47] If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.  

[48] “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.  


     A. Does anybody else feel like this teaching is a little crackbrained? Or am I the only one that finds this one of the most difficult things in the world to do? I have enough trouble just loving my neighbors now He expects me to love my enemies, too?

     The hard answer, the Biblical answer, the Christian answer is “Yes!” Emphatically “Yes!” This is one of those aspects of the faith which set us apart from the world aND make us different. This is one of those “abnormal” ways of living which comes with the whole package of living as Jesus taught. This is one of those gifts, like weird Uncle John the Baptist, we hoped we wouldn’t have to unwrap. But in order to BE a Christian and LIVE a Christian life it’s as essential as onions, peppers and celery are to Cajun cooking or tomatoes, basil and garlic are to Italian cooking.

     I have a plaque in my office which reads: “Then Ten Commandments Aren’t Multiple Choice.” That applies to the teachings of Jesus as well, especially this one. It’s imperative for our faith. AND it is one of the most difficult aspects of being faithful.

     B. As I said earlier, we toss the word “Love” around like a juggler tosses balls. And in it’s everyday use it has at least four distinctive meanings and about a jillion shades of meaning.

     William Barclay and CS Lewis both did sermon series based on the word Love. And they both identified four distinctive Greek words which we use for our one word, Love.

     Briefly: The first is the word Storge: This is the word associated with the love we have for family.

     Second: is the word Eros: It is the root of the word erotic and is the word we use for the passionate love between husband and wife.

     Third: is the word Philia. Some have said this is brotherly love. That’s true but it’s actually more tan just brotherly love. It is the highest kind of love for another human being without it being eros.

     The Fourth: Is Agape, or selfless, sacrificial love. Wm Barclay writes: “it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or injures us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him to invade our hearts, but will regard him with that unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which will seek nothing but his highest good.”(2)

     John Wesley in Sermon #23, his 3rd Discourse on the Sermon on the Mount, wrote: “Behold Christianity in its native form, as delivered by its great Author! This is the genuine religion of Jesus Christ! Such he presents it to him whose eyes are opened. . . . This is the spirit of religion; the quintessence of it. These are indeed the fundamentals of Christianity.”


     This is Christian Love. It’s what I mean when I use the term Christian Love. It is the most difficult form of Love to live and to put into Action. It is love that goes beyond and comes from beyond ourselves. You see, all the other forms of love are natural. They emanate from our own passions. They grow directly for our very own hearts. The other forms of love are directly associated with our feelings.

     But Agape love comes from beyond ourselves. It is not natural to us. We don’t even know it until we experience it. You see, Agape is not a feeling of the heart or a passion like philia, eros and storge. The reason being is that anger and hate are feelings of the heart? Anger and hate and all the other passions that grow out of the heart are easy to let loose.

     Agape is a spiritual decision of the will and a feeling of the soul or the spirit. It doesn’t emanate, it doesn’t have its origins in our feelings. It doesn’t have its origins in us. The origin of Agape love is God as experienced in God’s unmerited, unconditional love in the Passion of Christ on the Cross.

     Agape not only gives us a new heart, it gives us new eyes as well. We don’t look at the world or at each other in the same way. Once we have given our heart to Christ, once we have put on Christ as the Apostle Paul says, we become new creations. We don’t have to like our enemies but we are called to love them and have their best interest and good will at heart. That’s hard.

     We are no longer our own. Our allegiance is to God and we look at the world through the eyes of Christ. We love the world with the heart of Christ. Not because we are compelled to but because we have chosen to belong to Christ , we’ve chose to be children of the Kingdom of God; we’ve chosen to be the abnormal people who live by an abnormal code or ethic or lifestyle or whatever you want to call it, of the Kingdom of God.

     This Christian Love or Christ-like Love is the most difficult form of love to live. Our natural inclination is to think of ourselves or to live like the world, so we don’t stick out. Unfortunately we’re called to stick out.


     A. So let’s look at what Christian Love In Action looks like. Back in April of 2008 there was a story which hit the airwaves that blew me away. There are several variations on line if you look up Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University but it involves more than just Sara. When I heard it I knew I wanted to tell it as often as possible not only because it is such a perfect example of what Christ Like love or Agape love looks like but because it speaks so well about our youth. WATCH

     With two runners on base and a strike against her, Sara uncorked her best swing and did something she had never done before. Her first home run cleared the center-field fence. But then as she started to take her bases, she missed first base, started back to tag it and collapsed with a knee injury.

     She crawled back to first base but couldn’t go on. She would be called out if her teammates tried to help her. The umpire said, a pinch runner could be called in, but the homer would count as a single.

     Then, the members of the opposing Central Washington University softball team stunned spectators by carrying Tucholsky around the bases the three-run homer would count, an act which contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs.

     Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman, the career home run leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, didn’t know Sara was a Senior or that this was her first home run ever. She was just concerned and asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Tucholsky. The umpire said there was no rule against it. So Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace put their arms under Tucholsky’s legs, and she put her arms over their shoulders. The three headed around the bases, stopping to let Tucholsky touch each base with her good leg.

     Sports writers around the country have hailed this event as the ultimate act of sportsmanship. Others have said it is the “greatest moment in sports history” anyone has ever seen.

     For me it is a sign of God’s Grace in the world and is an example of Christian Love in Action.

     B. OK. That story was just about two rival teams, not really about enemies. So, how do we love our enemies? What are the implications in how we treat those who have mistreated us? Or even just those whom we feel are a threat?

     Does this passage speak to how we’re supposed to treat Prisoners of War, even if they’re terrorists? What are the implications for the techniques we use to interrogate those prisoners? Does waterboarding live up to what the Son of God expects? Does this passage give any guidance on how we treat illegal immigrants in our midst? Or people who have chosen to live a gay or lesbian lifestyle?

     What are the implications of this passage in how we run political campaigns? Or how we disagree about any subject? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Is what it says. I don’t see any asterisks or footnotes form Jesus listing exceptions.

     “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That last part really rocked me as I was working on this sermon this past week. I had to ask myself when was the last time I prayed for the perpetrators of 911 or their families or those who still think like that and follow a whole different philosophy of life and live by a different ethic all together? I have to confess that until Friday, even though I’d read this passage a couple of dozen times before, hardly ever. I think this passage ran through my head a couple of times when it first happened, but from then on . . .

     My contention is and my conviction is that this passage holds deep implications for us, for our country, our community. I think this passage is one of the keys to living like Christ and being a part of His Down and Dirty Discipleship. This is where the rubber meets the road as they say. This is when it all becomes very real. And any time we are face with living outside this teaching is a test of our integrity, character, faith and faithfulness. This is where faith moves from simply believing to obedience.

     One of the greatest illustrations of what and who we are called to be comes from what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.”

     How many of you have seen the great classic movie starring Sir Alec Guinness and William Holden titled The Bridge on the River Kwai. It’s based on a true story and true events. While Bridge on the River Kwai dealt with one aspect of the Burmesse POW camp and the building of the bridge, the 2001 movie titled To End All Wars, starring Keifer Sutherland and Robert Carlyle, looks at how faith and hope in the very same setting, helped those same men endure, overcome and find true freedom. And they did. WATCH

     Here’s the story right from the book. “We found ourselves on the same track with several carloads of Japanese wounded (after the Kwai prison-camp). These unfortunates were on their own without medical care. No longer fit for action in Burma, they had been packed into railway cars which were being returned to Bangkok. They were in a shocking state. I have never seen men filthier. Uniforms were encrusted with mud, blood, and excrement. Their wounds, sorely inflamed and full of pus, crawled with maggots. The maggots, however, in eating the putrefying flesh, probably prevented gangrene.

     It was apparent why the Japanese were so cruel to their prisoners. If they didn’t care for their own, why should they care for us? The wounded looked at us forlornly as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages, waiting for death. They had been discarded as expendable, the refuse of war.  These were the enemy. They were more cowed and defeated than we had ever been.

     Without a word most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands, went over to the Japanese train. Our guards tried to prevent us, bawling, “No goodka!  No goodka!” But we ignored them and knelt down by the enemy to give water and food, to clean and bind up their wounds. Grateful cries of “Aragatto!” (“Thank you”) followed us when we left.

     I regarded my comrades with wonder. Eighteen months ago they would have joined readily in the destruction of our captors had they fallen into their hands. Now these same officers were dressing the enemy’s wounds. We had experienced a moment of grace, there in those blood-stained railway cars.  God had broken through the barriers of our prejudice and had given us the will to obey His command, “Thou shalt love.” (3)

     There’s a part of me that asks, “How could they? Especially after all they endured.” But then there is a deeper part of me that cheers and rejoices that faith and hope and love endured in some of the harshest conditions ever.


     I remember a story about Abraham Lincoln. Toward the end of the war and just a few short days before his assassination, Lincoln was working to quickly reunite the nation and offering a generous reconciliation. Some of his people tried to remind him that the southerners had been our enemies. He is purported to have said: “Have I not destroyed my enemy by making him my friend?”

     I may be wrong but I think the conclusion is really quite simple. We are called, as children of the Kingdom of God as followers of Jesus, the Christ, the son of the living God to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of [our] Father in heaven.”

     So, that leaves us with the question? Who is your enemy? Who is it you need to pray for? There may be people for whom you secretly harbor ill feelings toward that you’ve never thought to classify under Jesus’ definition as enemies. But in a sense they are. They are persons for whom you have ill feelings, or they are persons who harbor ill feelings toward you.

     It may be the hardest thing you ever do but “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of [our] Father in heaven.”


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633 1-877-970-AUTO (2886)

2. Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT)  

3. From Through the Valley of the Kwai, Ernest Gordon, pages 221, 222.



Other References Consulted