We all think we understand the way the world works—like from the moment we’re born, we think we get it. “If I need something, all I have to do is scream!” Clearly that’s the only lesson some people ever learn. We all have this self delusion that we’ve arrived at our opinions by careful study and scientific evaluation of all the evidence. We’re the good guy, the person who sees through all the nonsense—we can’t be duped. But the truth is, we’re all just a mixed bag of partial truths and and half baked assumptions based on things we’ve heard other people say. We go through life and certain things just stick—then we think those things are true. We’re like a homeless lady pushing a shopping cart through life filled with a random collection of pop-culture, unread history books, and forgotten school lessons—we’re an arbitrary assortment of very specific experiences and memories. We think we understand the way the world works but none of us have enough wisdom, knowledge or perspective to justify our over confidence.
So the wisest among us look to the Word of God to be the key that unlocks the mysteries of the universe—the lens that we look through in order to understand reality. By faith, the people of God turn to the Holy Scriptures to be their guide, their standard, their ultimate authority—instead of what they merely see with their eyes or hear with their ears. The problem is that we use our eyes and our ears to understand Scripture, too. So then people use God’s Word, bending it and twisting it to their own purposes, and use it to hurt people and mangle the world around them—using the Bible like a baseball bat. Using the Scriptures to keep people from truly seeing the world.
Imagine a dystopian future where Christianity has been outlawed. The Bibles have been confiscated and burned. I don’t know why post apocalyptic dystopian settings are so much fun—but for some reason they are, and they’re fun to think about—maybe because they bring things back to the basic elements of survival. So in my little “after the world has become a barren wasteland” fantasy, there’s this guy and he’s a little crazy. He’s all alone, walking through the ruins of what used to be modern civilization, it’s a dangerous place and of course he’s some kind of ninja karate man and gets in a lot of fights with gangs of violent bad guys.
The thing about this guy is he’s got this little pouch where he keeps fragments of burned Bible pages—none of them are complete but his whole purpose in life is to go from town to town collecting these fragments. He’s hoping to piece together a complete Bible someday—because he’s a believer, but he’s never seen a Bible. Every time he finds a new fragment, he does his best to perfectly live that passage in the most literal and painful way possible. For example, one of the passages he has is 1 Thessalonians 5:6
“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
I picture him muttering that verse to himself over and over—the dude hasn’t slept in two and a half years. Another one in his pouch is Psalm 139:21–22,
“O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.”
So our sleep deprived Christian madman goes around slaying the wicked in the name of the Lord. One day he walks up on a bunch of bad guys who had just attacked a family and the only survivor was a five year old girl. He kills the bad guys and rescues the girl—but it turns out that her family were Christians. So now this little girl, who actually understands what faith in Jesus is really all about, she’s gonna be taken care of by the crazy Bible collector and slowly teach him about the God that all those random disjointed verses are about, what they actually mean. This is my sci-fi book to be made into a movie idea and It will be called “The Fist of God” and it’ll be awesome.
Today we’re gonna be looking at how important it is to let Scripture interpret Scripture in light of what we know about Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, He’s the true revelation of God’s Word to mankind. He’s the way, the truth and the life. No one can understand anything about God unless they understand through how God has revealed Himself to us through Jesus.
Prayer: Father in heaven, help us to understand what You have told us in the teaching of Jesus, in the person of Jesus, in His life and death and resurrection. Help us to get what You’re saying to us today in these fragments of Scripture that we’ll be looking at today. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
We’ve been walking through the teaching of Jesus found in Matthew chapter five, a passage called The Sermon on the Mount—today we’re at verse 43:
“You have heard it said, ‘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. 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. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43–48
When you were listening to that passage, what did you hear? What stuck out? There’s a lot to kinda be taken in weird ways—”hate your enemy,” or worse “love your enemy.” “Even pagans are nice to their friends” but you “Are. To. Be. Perfect.” Like God. Jesus says you gotta be perfect like God. What the heck are we supposed to do with that? Those would make some pretty good burned up Bible fragments for my “Fist of God” movie, don’t you think?
First of all, when Jesus says, “You have heard it said,” He’s always talking about how the religious teachers of the day have gotten things wrong. They’ve taken Scripture and twisted it. In this case He’s probably talking about a Jewish sect called the Essenes. They pretty much thought they were the only real believers, they thought the Temple was corrupt, they thought the Synagogues were corrupt—so they lived out in caves and told everyone they were the only ones who got it. One of their famous sayings was “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” They put it on hats and t-shirts and wrote country songs about it. Problem was, Jesus wasn’t buying it. Like a lot of the things Jesus said, this is the Son of God clearing up the intent of some Scriptures that had been misused. Like that Psalm where David says that he should hate God’s enemies and destroy them. The Essenes took that passage and thought the best way to destroy God’s enemies was — well, to destroy them. Cue “Fist of God” theme music for another epic fight scene.
But knowing what we know about Jesus—the true Revelation of God, the Word of God in the flesh—how does Jesus do away with His enemies? He lays down His life. He dies for His enemies. He loves His enemies and makes them His friends. That’s how Jesus wants us to do away with God’s enemies. He wants us to love them. He wants us to make them our friends.
That’s pretty out there, isn’t it? No one saw that one coming. Love your enemies. Pray for them. And I don’t think He only means to pray for them to get ran over by a bus—Kemper has a song called “A Malediction” which is a prayer that asks for God to save our enemies or slay them dead. Saving them and showing mercy is the first option if they’ll turn to Jesus and believe.
We’re called to be a new kind of humanity in the world. To bring hope and light and love to the world everywhere we go—and to do it as indiscriminately as sunshine and rain. You’ve seen that bumper sticker that says, “Kill em all and let God sort it out?” Yeah, Jesus is telling us exactly the opposite: He says to just love everyone and let God sort it out. Think about the news headlines—that’d be something new in the world, wouldn’t it?
This is a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, and Matthew is a guy who’d know a thing or two about being an enemy. He even draws attention to it in this text, did you notice? He said, “Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.” Matthew used to be a tax collector—those words had to sting pretty good. There probably wasn’t any group of people more hated than the tax collectors. They were Jews who worked for the Romans and went around knocking on doors extorting other Jews for money. They were like gang members who collected “protection money” for the mob from the local mom and pop stores. They were traitors. Sellouts. When Jesus says “if you only show love to people who show you love, you’re no better than those scum of the earth tax collectors—write that down Matthew, “scum of the earth tax collectors. S.C.U.M.”
So, how did Jesus get rid of his enemy Matthew the Tax Collector? He loved him. He made him a friend—a disciple. Then Matthew spent the rest of his life doing the same thing—making friends out of God’s enemies. Loving them. That’s what He’s telling us to do, too.
Not Natural. Jesus wants us to be a new kind of humanity. Bringers of light and hope by loving people that we would naturally not love. It’s not natural to love our enemies. We’re not supposed to just do what comes natural—we’re supposed to be supernatural. We’re supposed to love our enemies. And Jesus says that loving our enemies is like being perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. How are we gonna do that? How are we gonna be perfect? I thought Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven? I thought church was a place where “no perfect people are allowed?” Seems strange. If you heard me telling my kids to “be perfect” you’d think I was a terrible parent, right?
When we come across a strange passage like this, we have to let Scripture interpret Scripture. We have to go to passages that are more clear so that we can understand the passages that are confusing.
Like this whole love your enemies thing—that seems impossible. Think of the food you hate the most—now imagine God putting a big spoonful of it in your mouth and saying, “There. Love it! Love this thing that you hate.” But that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening is what Paul talks about in Romans 5:8-10,
“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”
We were God’s enemies and because Jesus practiced what He preached in the Sermon on the Mount—we’re not His enemies any more, not because He hated us and destroyed us, but because He loved us and made us His friends.
So this demand that Jesus is giving us to love our enemies is actually a picture of the Gospel. It’s what He did for you. The disciples are already sons of the perfect Father—they didn’t do anything to be worthy of being His sons—that relationship was a pure gift of grace. So now, in light of this gracious love because of Jesus calling them to be His disciples, His friends—they’re free of hate and are free to walk in the love that God has shown them. Perfect love. To keep growing in that love. That’s what being “perfect” as God is “perfect” means. It means to grow in maturity. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some other passages that use the word “perfect” the same way:
Paul says in Colossians,
“So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.” Col 1:28–29
Making God’s enemies into friends, so they can be presented “perfect” to God—because of Jesus, because of the Gospel.
Then at the end of the same book, Paul says
“Epaphras … always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God.” Col 4:12
James says it’s not gonna be easy, he says,
“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:3–4
Nothing’s gonna test our patience more than trying to love an enemy. I-10 at rush hour, plenty of opportunities each and every day to grow in our endurance toward perfection. An enemy in every shiny metal box. It’s like they come prepackaged for me to hate. Meee!
So when’s this all gonna come together? When are we gonna finally be perfect? Paul says in Ephesians,
“This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13
Sounds like that’s gonna take a while.
Love your enemy. Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Like we say in the Lord’s Prayer each week, “Father in heaven, help me keep Your name holy, help me do Your will on earth as it is in heaven, help me bring Your kingdom to this world by the way I treat people. Even by the way I treat my enemies.
It’s kinda the whole point of everything. Jesus wants His people to be a new kind of humanity. To be known by our love. To bring light and hope by loving people — especially the people that we don’t want to love. Tax collectors and aggressive drivers and democrats and republicans. We’re supposed to practice loving our enemies until it does come natural—which we all need to understand is gonna take a miracle. Fortunately, God is in the miracle business.
But that’s not how we want to do it. We want to be Christian on our own terms. We’re still the babies who came into the world screaming and trying to get our way. We think we’ve got it all figured out. We like who we like and we don’t like who we don’t like. We don’t like our enemies. We don’t want to have anything to do with them. We want to hide in the safety of our homes, in the comfort of our half baked opinions, in the selfish outrage of our confirmation bias. We don’t want to love our enemies. It’s the American way. But the God of the Bible, the One who was revealed to us in Jesus—He wants us to know something: He doesn’t work like that. We can’t say we’re following Him and continue hating our enemies. We’re gonna have to make up some other god if that’s how we insist on playing it.
So, the way my dystopian “Fist of God” story ends—the little girl who was raised by Christian missionaries slowly teaches the crazy ninja who wants to kill all the bad guys what it looks like to actually be a Jesus follower. Eventually he’ll have to make the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his own life to save someone he once considered to be an enemy. It’ll be gut wrenching and all the tough guys will have to pretend like something’s in their eye. The little girl will grow up and eventually assemble a complete Bible, establish a Christian community—it’ll end gloriously. Plenty of room for sequels. Extra scene after the credits and everything.
We come into this world thinking we got it all figured out. The wisest among us realize that the only way to understand this world that God created is to look at it through His Word. And the only way to understand what God is telling us is to listen to everything He says through the teaching of Jesus. Take everything we think we understand about the Bible and lay it at the feet of Jesus—filter everything through the Gospel. We were once the enemies of God but Jesus is in the process of destroying His enemies by making us His friends—then He sends us into the world to do the same. AMEN