When Love Hurts - Matthew 5:38-48
Terrible outcomes often come from being in a hurry. I know because I’ve made my fair share of hurried decisions.
Many of you know of one in particular, but it’s taken me awhile to build up enough courage to share it publicly.
During Hurricane Florence, my wife and I packed up our son and our cat and rode out the storm with our family back in Virginia. It just so happened that the day we chose to come back home was one of the worst days for flooding, and we hit several patches of standing water.
So I had built up a little confidence.
We were about 30 minutes from Florence, antsy to get home, when we came across a big flooded field in Society Hill. The water was probably about 8-10 inches deep.
We could have turned around and found a way around the water. But as we approached it, a small 4-door sedan was driving toward us with ease.
There I was, in my CRV, thinking, “I’ve got this!”
Famous last words right?
We got about halfway through the patch of water when the car started losing momentum. I was pushing the gas pedal, but the car wasn’t moving. I had flooded the engine.
A 50-yard push, 45-minute tow, and new engine later, we were back in Florence. Thankfully insurance covered the majority of the expense, but I learned an important lesson the hard way: The easy thing isn’t always the best thing.
I was in a rush and did the easy thing, which ended up being terribly wrong.
But isn’t that in our nature? We all have a tendency to pursue the convenient and the comfortable. To react instead of think things through.
It’s true when we’re driving. It’s true when we’re working. And, like we see in today’s passage, it’s true in our relationships.
Naturally you and I love folks that respect us, make us laugh, watch our kids for us, mow our yards when we didn’t ask - who lend a helping hand when we need it. The people we love the most are those who are the most like us. And it usually works to our advantage to love those people.
But is convenient love what God calls you and me to?
The answer to that question is an emphatic NO! The Lord calls us to love others even when it’s hard or inconvenient. In fact, we’re called to love others even when we know we’ll get hurt.
Our passage this morning is centered around three words: Love your enemies. Perhaps three of the most challenging words in the entire Bible.
But it gets even more challenging. Jesus tells us that: First, we are to love others regardless of the circumstances, and second, we’re to love others regardless of reciprocation.
Love Others Regardless of the Circumstances (vv. 38-42)
We begin with the famous words in verse 38: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The quotation is taken from several places in the Old Testament. “An eye for a eye” simply meant that the punishment should fit the crime. In fact, the punishment should be perfectly equivalent to the crime. But the punishment shouldn’t exceed the crime.
This statement is originally given in several places in the Old Testament. It sounds harsh to our modern ears, but the original intent was to limit the punishment. This law was made in order to protect the criminal.
In other words, if someone stole something from you, you didn’t have the right to beat that person up.
Even more, this created equity among social classes. So regardless of whether you were rich or poor, the punishment should always be fair.
The intent of the law is to maintain fairness within a court. But like all of the laws that Jesus has recited in this chapter - these words had been twisted. These words were no longer used in a manner that protected the criminal but rather, it was being used to give license to the victim.
Instead of being understood as a measure for fairness, the law was being used in a way to make sure you got your pound of flesh.
If someone wronged you, you had permission to get revenge. In fact, it was your right to inflict pain upon another person.
An “eye for an eye” was permission to retaliate.
And so Jesus completely blows this understanding up in the next sentence. “Do not resist the one who is evil.”
It’s contrary to everything the Jewish leadership had been teaching. They had taught that you had a right to a pound of flesh when someone wrongs you.
Jesus is challenging the spirit of retaliation.
But what exactly did Christ mean when he said, “do not resist the evil one,” and “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also?”
I think there’s a lot of confusion over “turn the other cheek.”
Is Jesus saying you shouldn’t protect yourself and let someone beat you up? Is he saying you should shrug your shoulders as you watch someone rob you? Isn’t that turning the other cheek?
I think this passage is often understood in that way. But Scripture must interpret Scripture.
Interestingly, in John 18 Jesus is struck by an official as he’s being questioned by the high priest about his teaching and Jesus said tells them that he never taught anything in secret. This is what John says beginning in verse 22.
When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
Jesus doesn’t turn the other cheek. In fact, he protests!
Why did Jesus protest being hit? Not because he was offended. Not because he wanted to best them with his words.
Jesus protests being hit because THE TRUTH was at stake. The truth is bigger than personal insults. The truth is bigger than our feelings. The truth of the gospel is always worth defending. You must speak!
Think about what’s going on in John 18 - they’re questioning the authenticity of the claims of Christ. He protests based upon the content of what he said which is very different from a personal defense. He doesn’t say, “you don’t know who you’re messing with!” He doesn’t try to exchange blows. In fact, he doesn’t jump to defend himself as you’d expect.
So with John 18 in mind how do we understand turning the other cheek?
It means don’t seek retaliation or revenge. Don’t exchange a blow for a blow.
And at the same time turning the other cheek doesn’t mean you have to become a doormat for everyone to walk on.
It falls perfectly in line what the central idea of verses 38-42 is this: we shouldn’t exchange a lawsuit for a lawsuit just as you shouldn’t exchange blows for blows.
These verses force you and I to ask ourselves do we really believe that vengeance is the Lord’s? Or do we want to get revenge on our terms?
The Christian should be marked by a spirit of love regardless of the circumstance.
With that in mind, Christ sets forth two illustrations in verses 41 and 42. Apparently, it was a legal for a Jew to sue another and take his tunic. But Christ says, don’t just give him your tunic - but give him your cloak as well.
The tunic was the inner garment and the cloak was the outer garment. Jesus says give more than was required.
Ever heard the expression: he would give you the shirt off his back? It’s sort of similar. That expression describes a very generous person. But here’s the difference between that expression and the words of Christ: If someone tries to forcibly take something from you - give them more than what they’re asking for.
In other words, folks don’t need to take anything from you because you’re so generous that not only will you give them the shirt off your back, but you’ll give them your jacket, a tie, and a pair of shoes too.
The second illustration Jesus uses is similar. In ancient Rome a soldier could solicit a Jew to carry baggage to the another staging area; to wherever they’re headed next. They might make you lug their stuff a mile.
Think about that: you could be at your house minding your business and a soldier could break in and compel you to carry something for them. This was the also the case in the Old Testament during the exile of the Jewish population. They were forcibly removed from the homeland. They likewise were probably forced to carry things they didn’t want to.
Jesus says, go with them beyond what they required. Go with them a second mile.
Not only should we not resist a desire for revenge - we should do the things we’re forced to do willingly.
What’s the purpose of Jesus’s tunic illustration and his second mile illustration?
I think it’s this: As a Christian you shouldn’t be obsessed with your personal rights. You shouldn’t always be thinking about how inconvenient something is. You shouldn’t always be thinking about how unfair something is.
Our state of mind should be focused on the things above, that inconvenient circumstances should have little impact on our attitudes. Easier said than done.
But think about the result: Whenever you go above and beyond what’s required of you - doesn’t it spark interest in those around you?
They wonder - she is different. What’s different about her?
Why did he give more than was required? He went above and beyond the duty required? What’s up with him?
People are forced to conclude that this person is unconcerned with her own interests.
I think though we shouldn’t get bogged down in the details of Jesus’s illustration and lose sight of his broad principle. Christ compels you and I to love beyond the circumstances.
It’s really shouldn’t be a surprise that he says here: give to those that beg from you. It’s easier than giving or serving more than is required. A beggar is not forcing you to do anything. He’s not taking the shirt off your back. He’s not compelling you to walk a mile.
The beggar is appealing to your generosity.
Interestingly Christ doesn’t say, “Only give to the beggars that can pass a drug test.” Or “Only give to the beggars that have genuinely fallen on hard times.”
He simply says, Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
But the reality is, many beggars are seeking to take advantage of you. But instead of determining the beggars motivations, Christians should be marked by love and generosity.
Are you able to love those that want to take from you and compel you to service?
It reminds me of a story that I recently read on NPR.
Julio Diaz had a daily routine. He lived in New York City and every night he’d end his hour long subway commute one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.
One night, as Diaz stepped onto a nearly empty platform a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife and demanded all his money.
So Diaz gave him his wallet and said “Here you go.”
As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."
The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim like, “What's going on here?" "The boy asked Diaz, 'Why are you doing this?'"
Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.
And so Diaz treated the young man to dinner that night.
Julio Diaz froze a criminal in his tracks because his generosity and kindness exceeded anything he could have predicted.
When someone gives more than is expected or goes the extra mile it forces people to pause. Wait, what? You’re going to give me your tunic and cloak? You’re going to walk an extra mile? It’s the opposite of retaliation.
Not only that, but it creates an opportunity to share the gospel. People always wonder what compels your generosity?
But the temptation to get even and get revenge when someone takes something from you or compels you to service is very real.
I think every believer must ask themselves: Are you able to love those who desire to take advantage of you?
Who cut you off on the interstate?
Who share an offensive point of view on Facebook?
Who ask a lot of you at work? Talk back to you? Push your buttons?
It’s all-too-easy to react and retaliate.
And to be honest, that’s the reaction everyone expects. But we shouldn’t be concerned with how we’re treated. We shouldn’t care about insults. We should be more concerned with honoring Christ than maintaining our reputation.
Rather we should honor Christ by giving more than is demanded and serving longer than is expected.
Are you willing to love someone even if you know they want to take advantage of you or get under your skin? Christ compels you and I to love regardless of the circumstances.
And he also commands us to love regardless of whether or not the love is reciprocated.
Love Others Regardless of Reciprocation (43-48)
Remember the central statement of this entire passage is “love your enemies.”
Christ says love your enemies in response to the false teaching of the Pharisees and Scribes that he recites in verse 43. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
The phrase love your neighbor is a quote from Leviticus 19:18 which says, You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
What makes Leviticus 19:18 so interesting is that the verse emphasizes love over vengeance. In other words, the actual verse the Pharisees used to support their lovelessness actually encourages love. It’s the opposite of what the Pharisees and Scribes taught in verse 43.
The Pharisees and Scribes considered only fellow Jews to be “neighbors.” Therefore, anyone who wasn’t Jewish could be considered an enemy and hated. Only friends were neighbors.
So this law gave Jews license to hate anyone who wasn’t like them . Especially those of another ethnicity.
And to make things even worse, the phrase “hate your enemy” is found nowhere in the Old Testament. What they were teaching wasn’t even biblical.
And it’s with all of this in mind, Jesus makes his famous statement in verse 44:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Remarkably, this is a new teaching. Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say, “love your enemy.” Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were encouraged to assist the foreigner. But nowhere were they commanded to love the foreigner.
The words of Jesus are certainly a leap. There is a thousand mile divide between assisting and loving.
It’s easy to assist someone without loving them. You can do something nice for someone and never really like them.
Think about how Jesus flips what the Pharisees had taught. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t even mention loving your neighbor in verse 44, but he states his reasoning in the proceeding verses. He says it’s easy to love those who love you! Even evil folks like tax collectors love those that love them.
Reciprocating love is easy. Everyone does that.
Interestingly, that’s what separates Christian love from the love of the world. The world says that anything less than approval isn’t love.
Christians are often ridiculed for disapproving of sin and loving the sinner. But when the roles are reversed, when the Christian is disapproved, ridiculed, or even hated, he is called to love the person who is disapproving, ridiculing, or hating them.
Loving your enemy is infinitely harder than loving someone who reciprocates your love.
But the enemy isn’t necessarily a persecutor. There’s a difference between someone who hates you and someone who hates your faith.
Jesus doesn’t require the impossible. He doesn’t say be best friends with the guy that wants to throw you in prison or kill you for your faith.
But he does say, pray for him.
How do we understand “love your enemies?” Are we supposed to idly watch evil?
There’s a great 17th century minister named Matthew Henry who wrote a fantastic commentary. Here’s what he said about “loving your enemies.”
Note, it is the great duty of Christians to love their enemies; we cannot have complacency in one that is openly wicked and profane, nor put a confidence in one that we know to be deceitful; nor are we to love all alike; but we must pay respect to the human nature, and so far honour all men: we must take notice, with pleasure, of that even in our enemies which is amiable and commendable; ingenuousness, good temper, learning, and moral virtue, kindness to others, profession of religion, and love that, though they are our enemies. We must have a compassion for them, and a good will toward them.
If you look hard enough at anyone you can find their faults. It’s easy to do with that with loved ones and it’s even easier to find the faults in your enemy.
But Christ says, don’t do that. We’re supposed to love all people and therefore we’re to honor and respect all people.
Everyone is made in God’s image: this includes our friends and our enemies.
But I think loving your enemies will have an even more profound impact on your heart. It’ll protect you from bitterness. If you look for the positive attributes, even in your enemies, doesn’t it change your perspective? Isn’t it easy to be bitter and resent those who hate you?
But if you can look beyond their hatred, and love as Christ commands, your heart will soften toward them. As Matthew Henry said, you’ll have compassion and good will toward them.
But what about the truly wicked enemies?
Interestingly, there are a few passages in the Old Testament that call on God to curse the enemies of the Israelites. In Psalm 137, the psalmist says blessed is the one who destroys the children of our enemies.
The psalmist in Psalm 137 doesn’t seem to be loving towards his enemies. How do we reconcile that with the words of Christ?
I think the answer is that we pray that God restrains evil. We pray that God restrains the evil of ISIS. We pray that God restrains the evil of Kim Jung Un.
The ultimate form of God’s restraining hand is through their conversion and faith in Jesus Christ.
That’s why we need to be in frequent and fervent in prayer. The Lord hears our prayers.
If you know God’s grace, then you should be the first person to extend grace. You and I should be instruments of God’s grace.
Jesus even gives us a picture of God’s grace in verse 45.
God is so gracious, he makes his sun rise on the just and unjust and the rain to fall on the just and unjust.
And it’s with that graciousness and kindness that you and I demonstrate we’re a son or daughter of God.
And then, as if loving your enemy isn’t difficult enough, Jesus ends with You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Talk about taking the wind out of your sails. Those are probably the most discouraging words in the entire Sermon on the Mount.
Much of the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus correcting the teaching of the Pharisees because they thought they could keep the law. The whole point of Jesus’ sermon is to show that God doesn’t care about your outward religiosity. He doesn’t care about how righteous you appear. Rather he demands something from you and me. He requires perfection.
The law of God, the Ten Commandments, was to show you how far short of perfection you fall. Hatred in your heart toward someone else is murder. Lust in your heart is adultery.
You can’t do it on your own. You need a perfect mediator. You need perfection and righteousness of Jesus Christ and the only way you can receive it is by putting your faith in Him.
If you’re a Christian, you’ve been given the righteousness of Christ. You’re perfect before the Father not because of your works, but because of the work of Jesus Christ.
And yet we know, in this life we’re not perfect.
Nevertheless, you and I should strive for perfection. We should resist sin, and give ourselves to the truth of Christ not because we like the way it makes us look. Not because we enjoy the appearance of holiness. Rather we should pursue perfection and holiness because it honors God.
We should strive to be more like Christ.
And just as Christ loved those who didn’t reciprocate his love, we should love those who don’t love us back.
Are you familiar with the book of Hosea?
Hosea was an Old Testament prophet who God required to marry a prostitute to serve as a visible sign of God’s relationship with the people of Israel.
You see, Hosea’s wife didn’t reciprocate his love, she was constantly chasing other lovers just as the people of Israel chased after false gods and didn’t reciprocate God’s love.
Throughout history, God has graciously bestowed his love on people who didn’t love him back.
Christ loved self-sacrificially. He loved to the point of death. This is the key to everyone’s favorite verse, John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I think we spend so much time on the “whosoever believes in him” part of the verse we forget about the “For God so loved the world” part. We like to focus on God’s salvation in this verse, but the greater emphasis is on God’s love.
Are you capable of self-sacrificial love? Do you love those that are just takers? Is your love big enough to extend to others that just want your stuff and time?
When you put yourself out there and love those folks - you will get hurt. There’s no question about it. Takers will hurt you. Your enemies certainly want to hurt you. Persecutors want to hurt you. We all know this. None of this should be new to you.
In order to avoid being hurt you and I have a tendency to cacoon ourselves up by only being around folks that are just like us.
Interestingly, that’s what the Pharisees taught, encouraged, and did. And that’s why there was such a divide between the Jews and Gentiles. Before Jesus said love your enemies, the Jews were taught to hate people who weren’t like them.
But really it’s a self-defense mechanism that continues today. If you’re only around people like you and people that love you - you’ll never get hurt.
But Romans 5:10 says, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
You see, you were an enemy of God!
When Christ died on the cross, he didn’t die for his friends. He died for his enemies. Enemies like you and me.
Christ died for those who did not reciprocate his love.
That is the sort of love that you and I are called to demonstrate through the power of the Holy Spirit. On our own, we’re not capable of this love.
A love that’s shared in difficult circumstances. A love for those who don’t reciprocate it.
Are you content to do the convenient? To react and retaliate in your relationships with those around you?
Or are you willing to lay down your pride, open yourself up to being uncomfortable, and demonstrate the unconditional love of Christ?