Turn the Other Cheek: Matthew 5:43-48

Turn the Other Cheek
Matthew 5:43-48

Do you recognize the name Corrie ten Boom? She was a Dutch watchmaker in the mid-1940s. The Nazis had invaded the Netherlands and the ten Boom family hid the Jews and for two years, they helped them escape. Eventually, an informant told the Nazi Secret Police and Corrie ten Boom and her family - eventually 30 in all - were arrested and sent to a Nazi concentration camp.

Eventually, they were sent to the Ravensbrück women’s labor camp in Germany. They held worship services there and Corrie’s sister died there at the age of 59. Corrie herself was 52. Two weeks later, through a clerical error, Corrie was set free but seven days after that, all the women in her age group were sent to the gas chambers.

Corrie ten Boom wrote a book about her experiences, titled The Hiding Place (published in 1971) that was made into a movie in 1975.

Ten years after her release, Corrie ran into a lady who wouldn’t look her in the eye. Asking about her, Corrie was told the woman had been a nurse at a concentration camp. Suddenly the memories flashed back. Corrie recalled taking Betsy, her sister, to the infirmary to see this woman. Betsy’s feet were paralyzed, and she was dying. The nurse had been cruel and sharp-tongued.

Corrie’s hatred now returned with a vengeance. Her rage so boiled that she knew of but one thing to do. “Forgive me,” she cried to the Lord. “Forgive my hatred, O Lord. Teach me to love my enemies.”

Corrie felt the rage being displaced by love. She began praying for the woman, and one day shortly afterward she called the hospital where the nurse worked and invited the woman to a meeting at which she was speaking. “What!” replied the nurse. “Do you want me to come?”

“Yes, that’s why I called you.”

“Then I’ll come.”

That evening the nurse listened carefully to Corrie’s talk, and afterward Corrie sat down with her, opened her Bible, and explained 1 John 4:9. The Nazi nurse listened carefully to Corrie talk about God’s love for us, His enemies. That night, the Nazi nurse came to faith in Christ.

This is the 10th sermon I have done on the Sermon on the Mount since we moved here in 2014. It is essentially a summary of the teachings of Christ which He gave throughout His three-year ministry. Luke records a very similar sermon in Luke 6, which is often referred to as the “sermon on the plain” (6:17; a “level place”).

As we begin to focus our attention on our selected text, 5:43-48, we observe that Jesus said the righteousness of His disciples must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). Then, He begins to contrast the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees with His own teachings, at 5:21. Here are the topics Jesus talks about as He contrasts what the religious leaders were teaching with what they ought to have been teaching, what Jesus Himself was teaching and what He wants you and me to teach:

Murder versus anger (5:21-26)
Adultery versus lusting (5:27-30)
Adultery and divorce (5:31-32)
Vows and trustworthiness (5:33-37)
Revenge versus giving (5:38-42)
Hatred of enemies versus love for enemies (5:43-48).

We also notice that before each new topic, Jesus says something like “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you.” That’s the reason Matthew records at 7:28-29, that the crowds recognized that Jesus taught as One having authority and not like the scribes. Jewish scribes would quote other scribes, older rabbis, who were well-known and well-respected. Jesus quoted the OT, quoted it as it was the word from the mouth of God, but otherwise, He taught as if He, Himself, had all the authority: “But I say to you…”

In the paragraph we’re looking at today, we observe that Jesus deals with one of the most fundamental issues in human existence - sometimes people don’t like us. Sometimes people hate us. Sometimes people want to kill us. What should our response be?

Let’s meditate on the word of God this morning…

The command to love their neighbors is found in Leviticus 19:18. Leviticus 19:18 is quoted again in Matt. 19:19; 22:39 and will be found in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:27).

Certainly, no OT passage commanded one to hate his enemies. However, some passages could be forced to draw that conclusion (Exo. 34:12; Deut. 7:2; 23:6; Psalm 26:4-5; 139:21-22).

For example, in Deuteronomy 7:2, the Law of Moses commanded the Israelites of Joshua’s day: “when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” The Qumran community (the Jewish community contemporary with Jesus which gave us the Dead Sea scrolls) did instruct its members to hate their enemies (1QS 1:4, 10-11; 9:21-26).

Response #1 - “Love your enemies.” What does that mean?

“To love” (ver. 43) is used 143 times in the NT, 8 times in Matt. This verb (agapao) is often considered the highest form of love in the Greek language. It is not always distinguishable from phileo love (brotherly love). But, it does suggest the idea of desiring what is best for the other person, regardless of the cost to the one loving.

God could not tolerate the idea that hatred of enemies is acceptable. No one should be an enemy in God’s eyes. They are only enemies if they set themselves against God. But that does not mean that God’s children should treat them disrespectfully or with contempt.

Christians are to be known by their love for their fellowman, including their enemies: Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 4:31-5:2; 1 John 4:7-12; 1 Peter 1:14-25; 3:9; James 2:8.

I think sometimes we find this command to be hard to do because we misunderstand what “love” is. That’s why I’m focusing on “The Art of Loving” the first Sunday of each month next year. To love our enemies does not mean we have them over for a steak dinner. We might not be able to have warm, fuzzy feelings for them in our heart. But, love is not like that, not biblical love. Biblical love means we want what is best for the other person regardless how it impacts us. That means that biblical love means I treat my enemy with kindness and respect, trying my best to give them the benefit of the doubt, not assuming the worst from them all the time.

In fact, let’s look at the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and put that description in the context of our enemies:

I should be patient with my enemy. Do you remember what Jesus said to God while He was hanging on the cross and He prayed for His killers? He said, “Father, forgiven them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
I should be kind toward my enemy.
I should not be jealous of my enemy. Maybe the guy at work got a raise and a promotion and he didn’t deserve it. Maybe he gets credit for what I am doing. Don’t be jealous. Be patient. Be thankful to God for what you do have. Let God balance the scales of justice.
I should not brag toward my enemy. I should not even brag toward my enemy that my morality is superior to his. I also have my own spiritual struggles that I can not forget.
I don’t need to be arrogant toward my enemy. There are things he knows that I don’t. There are things he can do better than me. I should recognize that fact.
I should never act “unbecomingly” toward my enemy. That means “dishonorably.” In other words, if Jesus were watching my behavior toward my enemy, would He nod His head in approval or would He shake His head is disappointment?
I should not seek to put myself above my enemy.
I should not allow my enemy to provoke me to anger so that I lose my temper and sin against God and against my enemy.
I should not take account of a wrong suffered. The point Jesus would like to get across is that we should talk to our enemy, try to work out the disagreements between us, so that they do not pile up and pile up and pile up. Deal with them as they appear and try to resolve them as quickly as possible.
I should not rejoice in the unrighteousness of my enemy - being glad that he “gets what he deserves.”
Rather, I should rejoice when truth is revealed.
I should tolerate as much as possible the idiosyncrasies of my enemy, knowing I have my own peculiarities that he has to tolerate.
I should do my best to think the best of my enemy. Maybe he’s doing the best with what he has.
I should hope for the best for my enemy.
I should endure what I can from my enemy.
I should not allow my love to ever fail regarding my enemy.

That is putting “The Art of Loving” into practice relative to my enemies. That’s a hard task, isn’t it? Well, that’s probably why Jesus followed up the command to “love” with the command to “pray…”

Response #2 - “Pray for those who persecute you.” How can you possibly do that?

Here (ver. 44) is the first time “to pray” is found in the NT. The word is used 85 times in the NT, 15 times in Matt. It suggests the idea of “asking toward” someone.

Jesus’ disciples should love their enemies, pray for them, bless them, and seek their highest good.

Since Jesus is our best example in everything we are to do, let’s take a look at 1 Peter 2:21-25 and see how Jesus responded to His enemies.

First, we observe that Jesus did not sin when He was abused by His enemies (ver. 22).
Secondly, we observe that Jesus did not sin with His mouth when He was abused by His enemies (ver. 22).
Third, we observe that He did not give “tit for tat.” Jesus did not fight fire with fire (ver. 23).
Fourth, we observe that Jesus did not threaten His enemies when He suffered (ver. 23).
Fifth, we observe that Jesus “kept entrusting Himself” to His Father, who balances the scales of justice (ver. 23).
Sixth, we observe that Jesus accepted punishment that His enemies deserved (ver. 24).
Seventh, we observe that Jesus tried to direct His enemies toward righteousness (ver. 24).
Eighth, we observe that by allowing Himself to be wounded for His enemies, Jesus tried to heal the broken relationship between Him and His enemies (ver. 24).
Ninth, we observe that Jesus continues to be the “Shepherd” of the souls of His enemies, trying to guide them to heaven and to be the “Guardian” or “Bishop” of their souls, trying to do what is right for them spiritually.

Jesus did not just teach love for one’s enemies; He practiced it (Luke 23:34).

That is a pretty high standard for us to live up to, but as Christians and followers of Christ, we pray for the strength to do that and we pray for our influence over our enemies, and we pray that God will do right for our enemies and do for them as He knows is best for them and for our relationship with them.

First, so that we would be “sons of our Father who is in heaven.” What does that mean? Jesus means that if we love our enemies and pray for them, we will reflect the nature of being God’s children. Jesus is about to tell us that God does the same thing Himself; if we are God’s children, then we need to reflect His nature in our lives - even relative to our enemies!

God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good. God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Paul will later say that God sends a harvest to atheists (Acts 14:16-17). We should do no less. We should do good and be kind to our enemies. That’s reflecting the nature of our Father in heaven to the people around us.

Also, in verse 46, Jesus says that we will have a reward from God if we love our enemies and pray for them! A reward. There’s not such a reward in loving those who love us - that’s kind of expected. It’s easy to love those who love us! Tax collectors, among the most despised people by the Jews in the first century, love those who love them! This word for “reward” is used 29 times in the NT; the verb is used 48 times! Jesus will use the word 7 times in the first 18 verses of the next chapter. Jesus knows we need the enticement of a reward to help us regulate and control our behavior. There is reward for loving our enemies and praying for them.

In verse 47, Jesus asks that if we greet only our family members, what do we do more than anyone else? Remember, Jesus began this talk back in verse 20 saying that our righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Atheists greet their family members! But will we greet atheists? That’s the challenge. And if we do, in the name of our Heavenly Father, then there will be a reward in it for us.

“Perfect” is found 19 times in Scripture, in Matthew only here and at Matt. 19:21. It translates a Hebrew term which referred to animal sacrifices which were perfect specimens. The idea is complete, mature, or perfect in that sense, not sinless perfection (Gen. 6:9; Deut. 18:13; 2 Sam. 22:26).

Rather than “be perfect,” Luke’s account (6:36) says, “be merciful as your Father is merciful.”

In Leviticus 19:2, God had said, “Be holy for I am holy.” That would be the OT parallel to 5:48.

In fulfilling the OT requirements, motivated ultimately by love, then Jesus’ followers will be complete, just as their heavenly Father is complete. This challenge echoes what God has expected of His followers since He called Abraham (Gen. 17:1). In other words, try your best to act like God would act if He were in your shoes.

Booker T. Washington wrestled at one period of his life with the gross difficulties of forgiveness but found the path to victory. He said, “When I saw the injuries and insults hurled against my people, I grew to hate white men. I hated them until my soul dried up. Then I took my hatred to Jesus Christ. He took the hatred out of my heart. He showed me how to forgive and how to love white men.”

We have not experienced what Christ experienced. We have not experienced with Corrie ten Boom experienced. We have not experienced what Booker T. Washington experienced. But surely we can follow their example and learn how to love our enemies and pray for them.

Take home message: The teachings of Jesus need to be integrated into our character so that we will reflect His nature, including loving and praying for our enemies.


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