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“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” - Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT)
I’ve never been a rule follower. Especially when it comes to rules that don’t seem to have any purpose. Like the “no chewing gum” rule in middle school, what was that all about?? I chewed gum everyday and got in trouble for it more times than I can count. I’m the kind of person who walks on the grass instead of the sidewalk if it’s the faster route. Sometimes I consider road signs to be “suggestions.” I know all the rules of grammar. And. I. LOVE. To. Break. Them. And don’t even get me started on “fashion rules.” DON’T CARE.
This week we are talking about loving people. Difficult people. And when it comes to loving everyone around us, it’s not about following the rules. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He clips through the law and rules of the day and turns them upside down. In His day, much of the religious and government law dictated how to treat others, but Jesus knew that real love went further than just following the law. Real love does whatever it takes. Sometimes real love breaks all of the world’s rules. Other times, real love goes a step beyond what even the law dictates. This week we will follow Jesus through His Sermon on the Mount and take a look at what it really takes to love even the most difficult people.
Is there someone in your life you find extremely difficult to love? Put them on your mind this week. Pray for them. Ask the Lord to open your heart to new ways of honestly loving that person. Read Matthew 5:38-48 in preparation for this week.Share Tweet
“If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” - Matthew 5:38-42 (NLT)
In both of today’s verses, Jesus is talking about actual Roman laws that His listeners would have known well. The courts dictated if a poor person lost their court case and didn’t have the money to pay what he owed, he could make payment by giving the shirt off his back. Roman law dictated that if you passed by a soldier and he asked you to carry his gear, you were obligated to do so, up to one mile. In both of these situations, most people would do only what was required of them and nothing more. So what Jesus is suggesting sounds preposterous! If a person gave up their coat in court, they may have nothing to sleep under at night. And someone carrying a soldier’s gear was sure to drop it at the one-mile marker. It was heavy and burdensome.
Why would Jesus take it a step further? Because He knew us. He knew our flesh and our propensity to do just enough to squeak by. But see, Jesus is not concerned with how well anyone understands and follows a specific rule; He is more concerned with the state of our hearts, with our character and maturity. See, Jesus knew that loving a difficult person would take more than doing just the bare minimum. A mature person, a person full of the love of God, would do whatever it takes to love their neighbor. They would give their coat, their time and energy, their money, whatever it took. And ultimately, when He went to the cross, Jesus did the same for us.
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” - Matthew 5:46-47 (NLT)
I read an article in Time Magazine recently that said our world is more “me” focused than ever before. Narcissism is on the rise, with 58% more college students scoring higher on the narcissism scale in 2009 than their counterparts in 1982. The most sought-after jobs are fame related. More people than ever make a living by blogging, vlogging, and photographing their personal lives. Social media has become the standard way to create and maintain relationships. So from a super young age, kids learn how to craft their personal “brand.”
We are obsessed with self. We live in an “I deserve” kind of world, and when we don’t get what we think we deserve, things can get pretty ugly. I’m not saying that fighting for your rights is wrong, but I do think that when we are consumed with what we individually deserve, often times we can miss out on what we are called to individually give. As a matter of fact, I think the kingdom that Jesus came to create is the opposite of a rights-based Kingdom, but instead one where people lay down their rights. To serve instead of being served. To give instead of get. We will never be able to love the difficult people in our lives if we are totally self-focused. We have to look up from our phones and see the hurting people around us.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” - Matthew 5:43-45 (NLT)
Some of the most difficult people to love are the ones who have hurt us, the ones that have wronged us, or broken our trust. Jesus addresses these people directly in His sermon when He says, “Love your enemies.” If you thought the part about giving your coat away was difficult, imagine being told to love the guy that took the coat from you on top of that? Yikes. No thanks. But the love Jesus came to give and teach was not the kind of love that our world knew. It was a whole new kind of love that killed bitterness and brought constant blessing. And Jesus knew the only way to love difficult people and kill bitterness was by way of forgiveness. In his book, Reason for God, Tim Keller says the only way to break the cycle of wrongdoing is to take on the pain. He says:
“Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You not only suffer the original loss of happiness, reputation, and opportunity but now you forgo the consolation of inflicting the same on them. You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out of the other person. It hurts terribly. Many people would say it feels like a kind of death. Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the lifelong living death of bitterness and cynicism.”
One of the best steps you can take toward loving difficult people is truly forgiving them. But forgiveness has to be granted before it can take root in your heart. Eventually, it will lead to freedom, peace, and resurrection. And it will stop bitterness right in its tracks.
“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” - Matthew 5:48 (NLT)
This verse has always baffled me. “Be perfect.” There is so much that goes into that word - perfect. So much that I don’t live up to on a day to day basis. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this verse and just decide to brush it under the rug. But what was Jesus getting at when He said this? He knew we weren’t perfect people. What did He really mean? This week my friend Gary Black taught me the Greek word that Jesus used in this verse. It’s the word teleios. Now, teleios does not mean “sinless perfection” (like you might think). The Greek word for sinless perfection is anamartetos, used when Jesus said: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Teleios has a different meaning. It means “completion” or “to reach an intended end.” In other places in the Bible, it has been translated as the word “mature.” So when you are teleios, you are moving toward maturity. Jesus was saying that as we chose to love and forgive our enemies, we would be moving toward mature love and strong character. It’s the kind of love that He gave when He willingly went to the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice didn’t show favoritism. His sacrifice wasn’t just for the people He easily got along with. It was “once for all” and as Romans says, it was “while we were still sinners.” While we were the difficult one to love, Jesus chose to die for us. He went first, and now He is calling us to the love all people around us in the same way.