A New Way to Live
The values which are commonly held by men and women throughout the world and throughout history are not what they ought to be. When Jesus came into the world and began to teach and preach, he challenged the prevailing assumptions turning them upside down. Anyone who would become one of Jesus' disciples must be prepared to have his way of thinking transformed and renewed as he follows his Master.
The Christian must learn the mind of Christ.
Some of the changes in the way the Christian thinks will be seismic and quasi-instantaneous. Other changes will be smaller and take much longer to be acquired – the Christian will not leave Christ's school of discipleship as long as he lives.
The Christian disciple then, learning to see things as God sees them, is to be radically different from the world in which he finds himself. But he is not only to be radically different in what he thinks but also in what he does. Jesus continued his sermon with a call for his disciples to learn to do things as God does. The Christian disciple is to seek to imitate or emulate his Heavenly Father.
This is a high calling indeed! But it is clearly what Jesus has in mind:
Lk.6:35-36 "love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
Matthew in his report on the Sermon on the Mount put it this way:
Mt.5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
And the theme is by no means forgotten in the rest of the NT where this idea of completeness or perfection is taken up again and again:
Jas.1:4 "let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
1Pet.1:15-16 "as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.""
Eph.5:1 "be imitators of God, as beloved children."
The apostle Paul also realised that he left other Christians an example that they could follow as he sought to do imitate Christ:
1Cor.11:1 "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."
Love for the Unlovely
If Jesus' way of thinking is radically different from the way in which the world likes to think so is his way of behaving radically different from the way in which men and women habitually organise and behave in their daily lives.
Today we may well be tempted to think that Jesus' teaching about love is somehow rather ordinary. We might suggest that all religions teach the same thing at this point. But we would be very wrong.
When Jesus burst onto the scene the religious big-wigs of his day were teaching something very different indeed, something that was very appealing to man's fallen human. The teaching of Jesus' contemporaries went something like this:
'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.'
And this was being taught in the name of religion!
But Jesus transformed all of that – yes, it was right to love one's neighbour but there was something else that his followers ought to do as well:
v.27 "Love your enemies."
What Jesus was teaching was a challenge if ever there was one to the "normal" responses of the human heart!
You know what it's like, don't you? You're in a hurry and someone gets in your way and dithers right in front of you – you're tempted perhaps to push roughly past them or to say something out of turn …
I wonder whether you've always reacted well at the cash till of a supermarket when someone has pushed in at the head of the queue…
Did you here about that man recently who was on his way to a job interview? In the tube he was very rude to someone who inadvertently got in his way – he didn't think anything about it, he'd never see this person again, none of it mattered. But he did see him again – the man he insulted was the very man conducting his job interview! Do you think he got the job?
You're driving and someone cuts you up badly – you angrily flash your headlights, you think about tail-gating him, maybe you can cut him up at the next set of traffic lights…
Don't you find that thoughts of retaliation can so easily arise at times like these?
One writer has suggested however that when we resort to retaliation towards an enemy we mustn't imagine that somehow we are manfully resisting aggression, rather, he wrote, we are making an unconditional surrender to evil.
Maybe you don't actually do anything – perhaps you're sitting there thinking that you're glad you're not like – but do you realise that Jesus has set the bar higher than that. He doesn't call for inactivity in the face of boorish or rude or nasty behaviour he calls for positive loving action instead!
It may not be that difficult to refrain from doing something hostile towards those who have in some way (real or imagined) offended us – but it is a whole lot harder to positively do things that are good!
What Jesus Taught
As we move in to consider more closely what Jesus actually taught we need to be in no doubt about one fundamental trath.
Jesus is NOT telling his hearers what they must do in order to become his disciples. He is NOT telling them how to make themselves members of God's family. What he is telling them is what kind of lifestyle will be expected of them when they are brought into God's family and when they have become his disciples.
This kind of behaviour will then have evidential value demonstrating what is already true about them. Living this way they will show that they are Sons because the distinctive traits of family-likeness are obvious for all to see.
v.35 " But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil."
So then if you are a Christian this morning this is the kind of lifestyle that should be becoming yours – as you mature as a Christian the family-likeness should be becoming ever more evident.
If you are not yet a Christian then you need to know that when you become a Christian it will have an impact on the way you live your life – you'll be expected to live this way.
But we must not put the cart before the horse! You must become a Christian before you can begin to live the Christian life. You do not become a Christian by trying to bring about moral changes in your own life!
Now we are in a position to look more closely at just what Jesus had to say. He
began with the declaration of his general principle.
illustrates just how this principle should be worked out in various specific contexts.
gave a guideline that would help his hearers know what exactly they were to do.
Having thus explained what sort of behaviour was to be expected of his followers he then moved on to explain why this was so.
some reasons to aid clear thinking
The Christian life is a reasonable logical life and we must always allow our minds to be informed. Indeed when our minds are properly informed we will be able to give an answer to those who question us, we'll be able to explain the nature of our Christian faith and our Christian hope.
The General Principle.
We have already referred to this principle but it is worth doing so again:
Lk.6:27 "But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…"
The Christian must have the right attitude in his heart but having such an attitude is only the half of it. The Christian is to be actively involved in doing good to those who don't deserve any such treatment.
But what is involved in this doing good? Jesus goes on to give us some examples.
Love in action
v.28 "bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
Love will find expression in kind words.
As children we may have learnt the little ditty "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me". It was meant to teach us not to pay too much attention to name calling in the playground. But we know that words can hurt indeed they can be amongst the most hurtful of things!
Well as Christians following our Lord our words are to be full of kindness. When something nasty is said to us/about us the easiest thing in the world is to respond in kind but we won't do that. Instead we'll return blessings for the curses that come our way. Christians will pray for their enemies too – not invoking curses but as Jesus showed us the way "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Lk.23:34)
And if Christians are to use kind words to those who are hostile then surely kind words are to be used for others who are indifferent, or simply unknown. Warm friendly greetings and an openess to others is surely included here.
v.29 "To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…"
This time love is emphasised as the response to unwarranted violence used against us. This kind of individual personal response to violence perpetrated against the innocent victim when put into effect would put an end to the spiralling violence that we see being worked out in so many places.
How many vendettas would have been brought to an early conclusion if the Jesus lifestyle had been adopted?
Think of the Middle East and the situation prevailing between Israel and the inhabitants of Gaza. Neither side wants to back down. Each side wants to be able to retaliate and to have the 'last word'. And the world looks on in despair, hopeless of a lasting peace solution being found.
Now of course it is possible to be cowed into a reluctant submission. You don't retaliate because you've weighed up the possible outcomes and realised that you'll be a loser and so you don't fight back but still there is that hatred in the heart and a strong desire to see your enemy suffer in other ways. That is not the kind of reaction that harmonises with what Jesus is calling for.
Retaliation is possible and it calls for strength of character and strength of resolve not to employ it but to deliberately choose another course of action designed not merely to serve your own interests but to further the interests of the one who is acting as your enemy.
Who says that it is easy to be a Christian?
v.30 "Give to everyone who begs from you…"
In this sort of situation Jesus is calling for love for people to take precedence over our interest in our own personal possessions.
In giving his instructions Jesus is not encouraging the professional beggar. He is not encouraging Christians to be unthinking in their use of their ressources. He is calling for love for people to be the driving force in determining what we do with what we have. To give freely to a person in genuine need is a demonstration of what Jesus has in mind. But to give to a fraudster, to a charlatan, to a conman is not a demonstration of love but rather of naivety. It may be done to salve a personal conscience without considering whether the recipient is positively helped or not. A charitable gift that only encourages further dishonesty is hardly a demonstration of the kind of love Jesus calls for.
And of course we may get this wrong from time to time and we may well get deceived and do the wrong thing. There is a way of course to avoid ever making a mistake and giving to a crook – we could determine beforehand that we will never under any circumstance help another. But taking that route however would preclude us from ever helping someone in genuine need too.
Exercising this kind of loving behaviour can be a costly and risky business!
A simple guideline
Worldly wisdom with a smile on the face says something like "do unto others before they do it to you" or "get your revenge in first".
Of course even the world can rise above this. Several people before Jesus also expressed a rule of thumb useful in directing our moral relationships with other people putting it in the following negative form:
"Don't do to others what you would find hateful if done to you."
But Jesus appears to have the first to put it in the positive form that he did:
v.31 "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them."
Reasons and false reasons
We often find it an easy thing to justify what we do and the way in which we behave and often we can try to make something very ordinary look very virtuous. But the Christian can't flatter himself and imagine he's doing anything very special if he loves only those who love him.
With devastating logic Jesus declares that there is nothing to write home about if all we do is the same as what any old sinner can and does do!
Our pattern is not to be that of the world which readily loves its own – we even talk, don't we, of there being a certain honour amongst thieves?
The Christian is not to be like that but like his Heavenly Father who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. We are to be merciful because that is his nature and because that is how he has already treated us in making us, unworthy as we are, members of his family.
Jesus lived what he preached and his is the example to which his followers aspire and must aspire:
1Pet.2:21-23 "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."
But let me repeat what I said earlier you must not interpret Jesus' words as though he was saying to you "live like this and God will accept you". You must first come to God for acceptance by faith and then, filled with his Spirit, you may begin to live in the way he always intended.
May God have mercy on us all.