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The section of the Sermon on the Mount that we have been studying for the past few days began with these words from Jesus: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.20).
Like the other side of a frame that holds a magnificent picture, Jesus ends the discussion with these words, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48).
These two parts of the frame can be seen as an oppressive demand. Someone could say, “That’s impossible! I can’t do that. Why is Jesus making such severe demands on me?”
Another person with a different point of view might say, “What an offer! God is inviting me to live a life like his. My life doesn’t have to be just religious rules and regulations. I can actually live the abundant life that God has.”
The point of the six examples between these verses is to illustrate what life looks like as we live it in the spirit and behavior of God. These six examples are not a new and stricter laws to be followed. Rather, they are a reflection of people whose inside condition is in the process of becoming like Gods.
We were made in the image of God (Genesis 1.27). Jesus came to give us the opportunity to return to living according to the image that God designed for us.
Loving the Way God Loves
The final example of leaving the rules and regulations of religion and embracing the image of God is that of love.
Jesus said, “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?” (Matthew 5.43-47).
The rules state, “You shall love your neighbor” (verse 43). The way people applied this command was to add to the Scripture, “and hate your enemy.” Actually, there is no command from God to hate your enemy. Jesus was probably describing how people acted on God’s command to love their neighbor in a way that fit their views.
God goes beyond established human rules and loves everyone. In fact, God’s actions show us that the words “love” and “enemy” don’t belong together. “For God so loved the world” (John 3.16) includes every human being on the face of the earth. God has no enemies and loves his entire creation.
I have frequently heard people say, “When I was in the drug house and completely messed up, Jesus was with me.” The same people may feel like an enemy of God because of their behavior. However, they are not enemies, but beloved prodigal children. He was with them – even in the drug house – to save them and to bring them to himself.
Someone may be reading this and push back with these words, “I know God has enemies. Doesn’t the Bible say ‘Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered’ (Psalm 68.1) and other such things like that?”
God does have enemies. The whole demonic forces of evil hate God. The system that rules this world is an enemy of God’s purposes and plans. Human beings live in opposition to God as his enemies. This is one side of the situation.
God’s approach to his enemies is love. He showed his everlasting and abundant love even to people who hated him. Today, he conquers his enemies by making them his friends.
The great English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, understood God’s love better than most. He told a story of a minister going to death row to attempt to convert a criminal before his execution. As a last resort, the minister began telling the criminal about hell, exhorting him to avoid hell.
According to Spurgeon, the criminal replied, “If I believed what you say about hell and how to escape it, I would do everything in my power – even crawl all over London – begging people to come to Christ.”
Spurgeon’s point was that while the church may speak freely of God’s judgment on his enemies, the church doesn’t live up to its talk. We don’t love the world enough to attempt to help them become friends of Jesus.
When Spurgeon lectured his students, he told them to never preach about hell without tears in their eyes.
If Spurgeon, a man, can weep over the lost condition of people, imagine the One who created every person on earth. He loves his lost children, seeks them like a shepherd who looks everywhere for a lost sheep, and grieves until they come home.
When God looks at people, he does not see enemies. He sees those whom he loves and desires to know in a very real and personal way.
God’s desire is that we enjoy being like he is. Dallas Willard calls this living the Jesus-kind-of-life. It would be much more accurate to call people who follow Jesus as “those who live a Jesus-kind-of-life,” rather than the designation “Christians.”
“Christians” can be those who started the Crusades, persecuted Jews, conducted their own religious wars, and more. People who live a Jesus-kind-of-life would not do any such things. What would Jesus-kind-of-life people do?
(1) They would love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. Their actions would demonstrate that they are children of the heavenly Father (Matthew 5.44-45).
I have a friend who has tirelessly worked in Kansas City to bridge the gap between different denominations and different races. He has spent nearly twenty years in a patient effort to foster understanding between denominations and races that would result in a more unified church.
At the very beginning of a very difficult and sometimes frustrating work, I heard him say, “I refuse to be offended.”
A good paraphrase his words could be, “I choose to have no enemies. I choose love for everyone.”
We should not be surprised to know that this man is also a man of prayer. I am confident that his prayer life fuels his love for everyone, even those who would oppose his efforts.
(2) Those who live a Jesus-kind-of-life experience love that reaches beyond the customary bonds of family and friends (Matthew 5.46-47).
Why should Donna Mills cry about a homeless camp being destroyed on 24 Highway and I-435? (Please listen to an interview with Donna and Coach Jake Taylor on the Maywood Facebook page.) Why should Scott and Dawn Stoner devote so much energy to homeless persons throughout the metro?
Why does a man, who has just finished a 12 hour shift at work, make the effort to help another person who has relapsed get to detox?
Could it be that because they are living the Jesus-kind-of-life that the most natural thing for them to do is to reach out in friendship to people who are beyond their natural affinities?
We have come to the conclusion of a major section in the Sermon on the Mount. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to write these articles, because I have been challenged by what I have both read and written.
My biggest take-away from this section is a deep desire to live a Jesus-kind-of-life. I desire to have an inside condition that is so transformed that I resemble Jesus in my actions.
I don’t see what Jesus taught as a oppressive, new and more strict interpretation of the law. Rather, it see it as a great opportunity. My inner life can be transformed by the grace of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit so that I will actually live a Jesus-kind-of-life. I hope God has done a similar work in your life.
Dear God, thank you for the tremendous gift of your love. You are not content to allow us to be frustrated with the failure to keep rules and regulations of lifeless religion. You grant us your grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to make us like yourself. Please enable us all to live a Jesus-kind-of-life.