Sermons

June 14, 2020

What to Do When Suffering Is Great: Love (Stokes)

Kenny Stokes | Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”—Matthew 5:43–48

SERIES REVIEW

This message is the last in a series of three sermons that are intended to speak into our current context in Minneapolis, not to mention our nation and the world. 

  • Jason Meyer began the series from Job 2 answering the question, “What to SAY when suffering is great.” The answer, in short, is “Nothing” (Job 2:13). There is a time when the right thing to do is weep with those who weep and lament with sufferers.
  • Last week, Dave Zuleger continued with a sermon on the question, “Where to LOOK when suffering is great.” The answer, in short, from Hebrews 12:1–2 is to look to Jesus.
  • This week, before we return next week to First Peter, we’ll address the last question in this series, “What to DO when suffering is great.” The answer I want to commend to you all—black, white, brown and every ethnicity—is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43–48.

Introduction

The world was shaken by the killing of George Floyd captured on cell phone video—an unarmed, handcuffed black man killed by a police officer, not far from here on 38th Street & Chicago Avenue. And in the wake of that tragedy, there have been peaceful demonstrations, marches, prayer meetings, violent destruction of property, formal meetings, calls for police reform, and even movements toward abolishing the police force. 

Everywhere—in the news, the blogs, talk shows, social media, private conversations—we are talking about this. And—unless you’re still numb—all of you have been shaken in one way or another.

  • Some of you are angry because this is yet another example of blatant racism, alive and well in our city and in our country.
  • Some of you are angry because you feel like you are being unjustly called “a racist” because you are white.
  • Some of you are afraid for yourself or those you love—especially your sons or husband or father—because this is another instance of violence against black men by police.
  • Some of you are afraid because the marching crowds have been on your street.
  • Some of you are afraid and are planning to go out and buy a gun.
  • Some of you have lost your jobs because of the destruction—and/or lost your Target, Arby’s, or your corner store, bank, and post office.
  • Some of you are so sad and shaken that you cry and you really don’t want to talk about it with anybody.
  • Some of you are so very sad because of the all-too-familiar aspects of living in a racialized society where race seems to matter greatly for life experiences, opportunities, and relationships. Too often, tragedy triggers calls for change, and change proves to be elusive, leaving you in danger of feeling

Jesus has something to say to us, if we will hear it. The question this week is: What to DO when suffering is great. The answer from Jesus is this: “Love your enemies.” 

  • It is a command to believers. It’s a call that presumes that God has poured his love into your heart by the power of the Spirit and the word of Christ. It presumes faith to receive what Jesus says as good and wise. It is a call for far MORE than the love of unbelievers. Jesus even says, if you only love those who love you—even unbelievers do that! (cf. Matthew 5:46–47).
  • If you are not a Christian, this command of Jesus is NOT for you—and I probably don’t need to tell you that, because you hate what Jesus says here. But, if by God’s grace, you can see the powerful root from which this command flows, perhaps, by the saving power of God, that life-giving root will empower you to trust Jesus too. 

Jesus’ answer in this text is simple to say. It’s easy to understand. But it seems impossible. It goes directly against all our natural impulses to strike back. Yet, it is supernatural. What Jesus commands is more weighty and more powerful than the largest protest on the Mall in Washington, and its results are more enduring than the destruction left by angry vandals.

AIM: So, there is nothing up my sleeve, nothing sneaky here. My aim in this sermon is to call you to love. Love your neighbors—and love your enemies with a love that comes from the miracle of the love of God poured into your heart.

CONTEXT: Sermon on the Mount

First, let’s get a sense of the context. Our text is part of “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5–7). Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the midst of a large crowd. His flow of thought begins in Matthew 5:20.

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

Here, Jesus is not making the ethical commands of the Bible any lesser, but GREATER. He is correcting the way that the religious teachers have weakened the commandments. Jesus presses the point in a series of statements that contrast the teaching of the religious teachers of his day with what it means to live in accord with God’s word. 

He uses this repetitive pattern. First, he references the teaching of the day with the phrase, “You have heard that it was said …” and then he raises the bar with the phrase “But I tell you …”

Anger
You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”—Matthew 5: 21–22

Lust
 
You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matthew 5:27–28

Jesus continues like this, raising the call to righteousness in regard to divorce (vv. 31–32), oaths (vv. 33–37), and retaliation (vv. 38–42). Then, in our text, Matthew 5:43–48, Jesus corrects the false teaching of the day regarding what it means to “love your neighbor.” 

Although the Old Testament never taught, “Hate your enemy,” it was added by the religious teachers. Why? Perhaps they confused it with Gods specific instructions for taking the Promised Land; or perhaps they added it due to the sinful impulses of the human heart. Either way, it seriously diluted the intent of Gods command to love your neighbor. Jesus corrects this in Matthew 5:43–44. 

“You have heard that it was said,You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Love your enemies.” Let’s dig into it. With three questions.

1) Who?
2) How?
3) Why? 

1) Who are your ‘enemies’?

An enemy is someone who opposes you, or is against you, or is hostile to you—and/or you to them. Before you think you have no enemies, lets look at the three snapshots of the “enemies” Jesus is calling us to love.

First, an enemy is someone who ‘persecutes’ you (v. 44).

The word for persecute(διώκω) means to harass or oppress. It can be individualized or systematic harassment or oppression. For example, in the Bible the word is used for being ridiculed or slandered (cf. Matthew 5:11, 1 Corinthians 4:12), being brought before kings (Luke 21:12), being run out of town (cf. Matthew 10:23), and even being killed (cf. Luke 11:49). 

Do you have any enemies? Can you think of any who want to do you harm? Are there times when other people oppose you, ridicule you, malign you, slander you, harass you, oppress you? You probably do. But then Jesus expands the “enemy” category even more in verse 46.

Second, an enemy is someone who doesn’t love you (v. 46).

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

And you know, the most natural thing to do when someone does not love you is to not love them in return—to harden your heart against them. They don’t love you, and in that sense you think of them as your enemy. Jesus says,Love them.”

Third, an enemy is someone who is not one of your friends or family members (v. 47).

“And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Your “enemy” in this case is someone outside of your family or outside your circle of friendships. Again, apart from grace, the most natural thing to do is to love your own— your own family, your own friends, your own circle, your own tribe, the people of your own persuasion. That's good, BUT when your love does not extend to others, you are treating the others as enemies.

I met up with a long-time friend and brother and told him that I was preaching on Jesus command to “Love your enemies,” and he rolled his eyes and went silent. He did not want to follow where Jesus commands us to go. And yet, the truth is that Jesus is calling every one of us to this seemingly impossible, supernatural love. Search your own heart …

  • Do you love those who oppress you or ignore you or slander or hate you because of the color of your skin—because you are black, or brown … or white?
  • Do you love only those who march in peaceful protests? Or, do you love only those who don’t?
  • Do you love those who riot and break windows and burn buildings? Or, do you love those who don’t?
  • Do you love the person who always seems to disagree with you? Challenges you? Or do you love only those with whom you see eye to eye?
  • Do you love the person who does not share your deepest convictions, or only those who do?
  • Do you only love the people with “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts and signs? Or do you love only those who don’t?
  • Do you love the people who speak loudly about the racial inequities and injustices in our land, and who cry out for justice? And if you do, do you love those who don't?

2) How do we love our enemy?  

But specifically, what does Christ have in mind for us when he says to you and me, “Love our enemies”? What does that look like? Here is a quick biblical survey of what it means in practical, down-to-earth terms. “Love your enemies” means ...

A) Pray for God to Bless Them

Pray for those who persecute you.”—Matthew 5:44 

“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”—Luke 6:28

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.—Romans 12:14

B) Greet Them 

(When you pass them, you speak to them; you greet them.)

“And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?”—Matthew 5:47

C) Grieve Their Troubles

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.—Proverbs 24:17

D) Resist Revenge 

“To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”—Luke 6:29

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. … Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”—Romans 12:17

“Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”Matthew 5:39

E) Readily Do Good to Them

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.—Romans 12:20–21 

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. … And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”—Luke 6:27

If you meet your enemys ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.”—Exodus 23:4 

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.—Proverbs 25:21–22 

F) Seek Peace With Them

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.—Romans 12:18

3) Why?

Why in the world would anyone do this? Almost no one does this. Few things go against our human instincts as this does. Why would you love your enemies? If you do, you will be hammered with criticism. Jesus answers in verse 45 of our text in Matthew 5.

So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 

This little verse is packed with gospel dynamite. Spiritual power. Divine love. The reason to love your enemies is that when you do, you show that God has already become your Heavenly Father and that you really are a child of God. It’s not that loving your enemies makes you a child of God. No, we become children of God by the being born of the Spirit by the gospel of Christ.  

A little fact of parenting: In one way or another—it is inevitable—children resemble their parents, even adopted children:

  • You sound like your mother.
  • You remind me of your father.
  • Your parents are musical, aren’t they? 

God, your Heavenly Father, loves his enemies. Some theologians call this “common grace.” Every morning, God loves all people by causing the sun to rise. All life on earth is energized by the sun. The earth is warmed to a life-sustaining temperature. The plants grow, animals flourish, and human life is sustained. Every morning, God loves all people by causing the sun to rise and set in such a way as to sustain life on earth. This he does for all people—the good and the evil.

And likewise, day after day God loves all people by sending rain in its seasons. All life on earth is sustained by rain. Without water, life on earth ceases. With rain, plants grow and animals flourish. And human life is sustained. Every day, God loves all people by causing the rain to fall on the evil and on the good.

And, God loves his enemies with saving grace. As a believer, you yourself know the love of God for sinners in Christ by which he has forgiven you and reconciled you to himself:

­ But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … 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.—Romans 5:8, 10

You have received the love of Christ who was spit on, mocked, arrested, beaten, stripped, and crucified for your forgiveness—to bring you to God. The reason to love your enemies is so that it may be evident that you really are children of your Father in heaven. And having become his child in Christ, you yourself have received the enemy-loving love of God for yourself.

What Does It Look Like to Love Your Enemy?

I want to leave you with two historic pictures from recent Christian history that convey some of the reality of what Jesus is calling for to “love your enemy.” One is a moment of historic repentance, of seeking forgiveness and reconciliation from a large historically white Christian denomination. The other is a profound moment of love and forgiveness from an historic and influential black Christian church.

Southern Baptist Resolution on Racial Reconciliation

At the Southern Baptist Convention's 150th anniversary, the largest protestant denomination in America overwhelmingly approved a statement entitled, “Resolution On Racial Reconciliation.”[1] Quoting from the statement, it reads in part:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we ... unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin; and …

Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and 

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); and

 Be it further RESOLVED, That we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.

I believe this is one step in the path of heeding Christ's wider call to love—transcending the historic racial barrier that made whites view and treat blacks as enemies.

Mother Emanuel AME Church; Charleston, SC

Here is the other picture. This one is from aggrieved people, who, like Christ, forgive the undeserving and resist vengeance, leaving that to the horrible wrath of God.

In June 2015, a 21-year-old white man drove his car bearing a confederate license plate into the parking lot of one of the oldest black churches in America, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. “Mother Emanuel,” as it was called, was just about to begin its Wednesday night Bible study. He was the first white man ever to attend the Bible study, and he was well received and stayed through the meeting. Immediately after the Bible study concluded, he proceeded to kill nine of the participants, including the one of the pastors. Three survived. Shortly afterward, he was arrested.

Two days after the shooting, he appeared at his bond hearing in a packed courthouse. The families of those who lost loved ones were present. At the end of the hearing, the presiding judge unexpectedly invited representatives of the families whose loved ones had been murdered to speak. 

Ethyl Lance, whose mother had been killed, stood up and spoke: 

I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. God have mercy on your soul.[2] 

Pastor Anthony Thompson, whose wife had been killed also spoke:

“I forgive you … And my family forgives you.” I pause, unsure of what my next words will be. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the One who matters the most: Jesus Christ, so that He can change it and change your attitude. And no matter what happens to you, then youll be okay. Do that and youll be better off than you are right now.”[3]

For this, he and the other family members were creamed on social media with criticism. Explaining himself, Pastor Thompson writes of this in his book, Called to Forgive:

I chose to forgive, knowing exactly the appalling significance of the incident—the heartache, the sadness, and the deep nagging loneliness of having my best friend and life companion so violently snatched away. I was not oversimplifying my difficult decision to forgive, to pardon Dylann of this horrific sin as my heavenly Father had shown His mercy to me, a sinner. [4]

Surely a Christian must live his entire life looking through the lens of biblical forgiveness, experiencing the inescapable cruel realities of being human and beginning the many emotional restorative journeys that must follow.[5]

One reporter wrote of the scene in the courtroom: 

Even atheists had to see divinity in these families built by love. God was there in that courtroom.[6]

Brian Ivie, who was so moved by this that he directed a documentary film entitled Emanuel, was asked by a Washington Post interviewer, “What was different in this story?” He answered, “It was that they loved him. It was this moment when (survivor) Felicia Sanders said something to him that really changed me: 'We enjoyed you.’ When I go out and talk about the film, Im not just talking about them forgiving him because they wanted to be emotionally free from him. Im talking about a kind of love you rarely see. Their love for the shooter was a love that said, “I will bear the full weight of the wrong,” which is the highest kind of love—a love for your enemy.[7]

Conclusion

What does it mean to love your enemies? 

It does not mean … that you do not care about sin.

  • We must care about injustice.
  • We must care about evil. 

It does not mean … that you do not cry out to God for justice.

  • We must speak up for systemic change.
  • We must stand for what is right, and hate what is evil, and engage for justice.

It does not mean … that you do not call for righteousness.

  • We must confront sin and racism and prejudice.

It does not mean … that you are giving up and submitting to oppression and minimizing the offenses …

  • that you are cowardly
  • that you are damning your people with shame
  • that you are betraying your own race

Not to do so would be to ignore the wisdom of Christ Jesus.

What does loving your enemies mean?

It means that AS you do all these things, that you do so with a divine, God-empowered love for your enemies because you are a blood-bought child of God. You know the love of God. And by this “enemy love,” you show yourself to be an authentic child of God. You show yourself to be one who manifestly belongs to Christ, who, as he died for his enemies, said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

_______

[1] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention

[2] From an interview with her in the documentary Emanuel)

[3] Thompson, Anthony B., Called to Forgive, p. 64, Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

[4] Ibid., p. 66

[5] Ibid., p. 68

[6] Ibid., p. 65

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/06/16/how-forgiveness-is-explored-new-charleston-church-shooting-documentary-produced-by-viola-davis-stephen-curry/

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