Failure to Love

“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; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” – Matthew 5:21-26 ESV

Jesus has just finished saying, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 ESV). This was a direct reference to Pharisees and other religious leaders who were guilty of playing fast and loose with the Law. Jesus would make a habit of referring to these individuals as hypocrites, accusing them of putting their own man-made laws ahead of God’s commands. They would find ways to create loopholes regarding the Law by making their own set of counter-commands that allowed them to claim strict obedience while actually ignoring God’s commands altogether. So, Jesus puts a kibosh on their little scheme by revealing that adherence to God’s Law was not open to interpretation or alteration. Not even He, the Son of God, was free to eliminate or amend a single one of God’s commands. In fact, Jesus is about to show that obedience to the Law requires far more than external adherence. Keeping the letter of the law was not enough. It wasn’t so much about rule-keeping as it was about the condition of the heart.

One of the phrases you will see Jesus repeatedly use in this section of his sermon is, “You have heard that it was said.” Each time Jesus says it, He will juxtapose it with the words, “But I say.”  Jesus is setting up an important contrast between what His audience believed and what was actually true. He is addressing perception versus reality.

With the “help” of the religious leaders and interpreters of the law, the Jews had become confused concerning which were the commands of God and which were those of men. By stating, “You have heard,” Jesus was claiming that their understanding of the law was skewed and inaccurate. Somewhere along the way, they had missed the whole point. It really wasn’t about legalism and rule-keeping. It was about the condition of the heart. Refraining from doing something did not mean the desire to do so was absent. Righteousness was not a matter of moral restraint, but of an inner conviction of the heart.

For instance, concerning God’s command not to commit murder, Jesus infers that the general perception of the Jews concerning this law was inaccurate and insufficient. God’s prohibition against the taking of life was really about the problem of hatred, and hatred was a problem of the heart. In fact, Jesus is getting to the heart of the issue (excuse the pun). Murder is an expression of hatred or contempt. And just because you manage not to commit murder, doesn’t mean you don’t have the desire to do so in your heart. Later on, in this same Gospel, Matthew records the words of Jesus where He clarifies the true source of murder and why God created a law against it.

“But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

Jesus spoke these words in response to an accusation leveled against His disciples by the scribes and Pharisees. They had come to Jesus in a huff, wondering why the disciples failed to wash their hands before they ate. This was just one of the many man-made laws they had created and had deemed of equal importance to the rest of God’s commands. They were obsessed with outward purity and were accusing the disciples of eating with impure, defiled hands. And Jesus had some very strong words for these men:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” – Matthew 23:25 ESV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 ESV

God is concerned about the condition of the heart. That is why Jesus makes the argument that it is not only those who commit physical murder who are guilty and worthy of judgment but those who hate.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” – Matthew 5:22 ESV

Whoever insults his brother or, out of hatred, calls him a fool, is just as guilty as a murderer. Jesus knew the heart of man. He was well aware of the pride that welled up in the hearts of those who could claim to have kept God’s law because they had never committed murder. But Jesus gives them the bad news that, in God’s eyes, their hatred was just as condemning. 

Most Bible translations label the topic of this section of Jesus’ sermon as “Murder.” But what Jesus is really talking about is love or the lack of it. Most of us have kept God’s command not to murder, but every one of us is guilty of having hated another human being. You see, our perception is that murder is forbidden, and everyone who commits murder will be judged. But Jesus presents a much different reality. Hatred is forbidden, and anyone who hates his brother is just as guilty before God as if they had murdered him.

God’s ultimate desire for us is not that we simply refrain from murder, but that we replace our hatred with love.  Animosity and hatred were rife within the Jewish community, and they saw nothing wrong with it. In fact, they would come before God with their offerings and sacrifices, while harboring hatred for one another. This is why Jesus says, “if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT). How can you expect to show love to God by offering sacrifices to Him when you can’t even show love to those around you. The apostle John reveals the absurdity of that mindset.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. – 1 John 4:20-21 NLT

It is so easy for us to excuse our hatred of another human being. We justify it and rationalize it away while claiming that our hatred is well-deserved. We see our hatred as harmless. But Jesus claims that it devalues the life of another human being in the same way that murder does. It takes away their dignity. It diminishes their worth. We view them as undeserving of our love, all the while forgetting that God sent His Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). He had every right to hate us, but instead, He showed us love. The apostle Paul reminds us of the amazing reality of that love.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

God loves, and so should we. This isn’t about an absence of murder, but the presence of hatred and a lack of love for others. A world devoid of murderers would not necessarily be a place marked by love. A decline in the crime rate does not reflect a change in the hearts of men. It is more likely a result of increased law enforcement. The law can enforce compliance, but cannot change the hearts of men. Consider what Paul wrote concerning his former relationship with God’s law.

I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

Paul could try to refrain from coveting, but his heart would do everything in its power to disobey God’s law. Coveting could not be stopped by a law. It could only be controlled. The law can manage behavior, but it cannot change the motivation behind the behavior. A speed limit sign does not get rid of the desire to speed. It simply controls it by threatening punishment for disobedience. But fear is never the right motivation for obedience. It can force compliance, but it can never change the sinful disposition within.

Jesus came to change the hearts of men and women. He came to do what the law could never have done. Paul tells us the good news of what Jesus later accomplished by His death on the cross.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Not only are we capable of refraining from committing murder, but we are also able to love one another. We can even love our enemies. Not in our own human strength, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We have the capacity to love as God has loved us.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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A Lack of Love.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:21-26 ESV

Jesus has just finished saying, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 ESV). This was a direct reference to the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were guilty of playing fast and loose with the Law. Jesus would make a habit of referring to them as hypocrites, accusing them of putting their own man-made laws ahead of God’s commands. They would find ways create loop holes regarding the Law by making their own set of counter commands that allowed them to claim strict obedience while actually ignoring God’s commands altogether. So, Jesus puts a kibosh on their little scheme by revealing that adherence to God’s law was not open to interpretation or alteration. Not even He, the Son of God, was free to eliminate or amend a single law. In fact, Jesus is now going to show that obedience to the Law required far more than merely external adherence. Keeping the letter of the law was not enough. It wasn’t so much about rule-keeping as it was about the condition of the heart.

One of the phrases you will hear Jesus use repeatedly in these verses is “you have heard that it was said.” Grasping its meaning is essential to understanding what Jesus is saying. He is addressing perception versus reality. With the “help” of the religious leaders and interpreters of the law, the Jews had become confused about what the commands of God actually were. By saying, “You have heard”, Jesus is claiming that their understanding of the law was skewed and inaccurate. Somewhere along the way they had missed the whole point. It really wasn’t about legalism and rule-keeping. It was about the condition of the heart. NOT doing something didn’t mean you had NO desire to do it.

For instance, Jesus addresses the common perception regarding God’s command not to commit murder and labels it as inaccurate and insufficient. It wasn’t just about taking another person’s life. It was about hatred, and hatred stems from the heart. In fact, Jesus is getting to the heart of the issue (excuse the pun). Murder is an expression of hatred or contempt. And just because you manage to refrain from committing murder doesn’t mean you lack the desire to do so in your heart. Later on, in this same gospel. Matthew records the words of Jesus where He clarifies the true source of murder and why God created a law against it.

“But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

Jesus spoke these words in response to an accusation leveled against His disciples by the scribes and Pharisees. They had come to Jesus, in a huff, wondering why the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. This was one of the many man-made laws they had created that were of higher importance to them than the rest of God’s law. They were obsessed with outward purity and were accusing the disciples of eating with impure, defiled hands. And Jesus would have some very strong words for these men:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” – Matthew 23:25 ESV

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28 ESV

God is concerned about the condition of the heart. That is why Jesus makes the argument that it is not only those who commit physical murder who are guilty and worthy of judgment, but those who hate. “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22 ESV). Whoever insults his brother or, out of hatred, calls him a fool, is just as guilty as a murderer. Jesus knew the heart of man. He was well aware of the pride that welled up in the hearts of those who could claim to have kept God’s law because they had never committed murder. But Jesus gives them the bad news that, in God’s eyes, their hatred was just as condemning. 

Most Bible translations label the topic of this section of Jesus’ sermon as “Murder.” But what Jesus is really talking about is love or the lack of it. Most of us have kept God’s command not to murder, but every one of us is guilty of having hated another human being. You see, our perception is that murder is forbidden and everyone who commits murder will be judged. But Jesus reveals that the reality is much different. Hatred is forbidden and anyone who hates his brother is just as guilty before God as if they had murdered him. God’s ultimate desire for us is not we simply refrain from murder, but that we replace our hatred with love.  Animosity and hatred were rife within the Jewish community, and they saw nothing wrong with it. In fact, they would come before God with their offerings and sacrifices, while harboring hatred for one another. Jesus says, “if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT). How can you expect to show love to God by offering sacrifices to Him when you can’t even show love to those around you. The apostle John reveals the absurdity of that mindset.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. – 1 John 4:20-21 NLT

It is so easy for us to excuse our hatred of another human being. We justify it and rationalize it away as being well-deserved. We see our hatred as harmless. But Jesus would say that it devalues the life of another human being in the same way that murder does. It takes away their dignity. It diminishes their worth. We view them as unworthy of our love, all the while forgetting that God sent His Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). He had every right to hate us, but instead, He loved us. The apostle Paul reminds us of the amazing reality of that love.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

God loves, and so should we. This isn’t about an absence of murder, but the presence of hatred and a lack of love for others. A world devoid of murderers would not necessarily be a place marked by love. A decline in the crime rate does not reflect a change in the hearts of men, but is more likely tied to increased law enforcement. The law can enforce compliance, but cannot change the hearts of men. Paul wrote of his former relationship with God’s law:

I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

Paul could try to refrain from coveting, but his heart would do everything in its power to disobey God’s law. Coveting could not be stopped by a law. It could only be controlled. The law can only manage behavior, but is incapable of changing the motivation behind the behavior. A speed limit sign does not get rid of the desire to speed. It simply controls it by threatening punishment for disobedience. But fear is never the right motivation for obedience. It can force compliance, but it can never change the sinful disposition within.

Jesus came to change the hearts of men and women. He came to do what the law could never have done. Paul tells us the good news of what Jesus later accomplished by His death on the cross.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Not only are we capable of refraining from committing murder, we are able to love one another. We can even love our enemies. Not in our own human strength, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We have the capacity to love as God has loved us.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godly Love.

“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? – Matthew 5:43-47 ESV

Jesus has just finished addressing His listeners’ wrong perspective regarding the “law of retaliation” or lex talionis. The law, as they understood it, said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, it gave permission to seek retaliation against an enemy as long as it was equal in weight. But Jesus gave them a whole new interpretation of that law, saying, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:39 ESV). And He follows up His counsel to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile with something even more shocking. He tells them to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. Jesus is attempting to move their emphasis off of retaliation and on to love and reconciliation. But not just toward their friends and neighbors.

Once again, Jesus clarifies what was a wrong perception on their part regarding the law of God. And it is essential that we know what the law actually said. The specific law regarding love of your neighbor is found in the book of Leviticus.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:18-19 ESV

Notice that there is no mention of hating your enemy in this passage. And also notice that the law forbade hatred for a brother and clarified that hatred emanated from the heart. Hatred wasn’t necessarily a visible action but was most certainly an inward attitude, and its source was the heart. Yet the Jews had somehow taken this law and added to it an addendum that prescribed hatred for their enemies. Where the law was silent, they gave it a voice and one that was loudly and vociferously hateful to all those who didn’t meet their definition of neighbor. Because, as far as they could tell, the law only required them to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In their simplistic way of looking at things, they believed this law taught that love has its limits. The kind of love it demanded was reserved for neighbors, not enemies.  Enemies are unworthy of our love. But as He has done so many times already in this message, Jesus dismantles their false arguments and replaces it with the reality of what God was demanding when He gave this law. Jesus was trying to get them to understand that godly love knows no bounds. The law of God provided no place for partiality or personal preferences regarding who your neighbor might be.

This passage brings to mind a story that Jesus would later tell to an expert in the religious laws of the Jews. Luke records it for us in his gospel.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? – Luke 10:25-29 NLT

The man’s question to Jesus had to do with eternal life. More specifically, he was asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was wanting Jesus to tell him what actions he must take to be approved by God. And, as Jesus was so often prone to do, He answered the man’s question with a question. He asked the expert in religious law what he thought the law of Moses actually taught. And the man answered by quoting from part of the Shema, the morning and evening prayer recited by all faithful Jews.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  – Luke 10:27 ESV

And while Jesus affirmed that the man’s answer was correct, He also told him that it would require living it out in real life. So the man asked Jesus the next logical question, “And who is my neighbor?” What do you think this expert in the religious laws of the Jews expected Jesus to say? He was looking for Jesus to agree with his understanding of the word, “neighbor”. But instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus tells him a story.

A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On his way, he was attacked by robbers and left for dead. In the course of the day, three men will see him lying on the roadside. A Jewish priest came by but crossed to the other side of the road. Next, a temple assistant, another Jews, saw the man, stopped to look at him, but left him there. Finally, a Samaritan, a non-Jew, saw the man and stopped to offer him aid. Not only that, he paid to provide for the man’s ongoing care until he could get back on his feet.

After telling His story, Jesus asked the expert in the law, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (Luke 10:36 NLT). And the man responded, “The one who showed him mercy.” And, once again, Jesus affirmed that the man had answered correctly, but told him, “now go and do the same.”

What makes Jesus’ story so compelling is it presents a Samaritan as the hero. Samaritans and Jews hated one another. Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews. They were the descendants of Jews who had been left behind when the Babylonians had conquered Judah and taken tens of thousands in captivity in Babylon. Many of those who were left intermarried with the pagan nations. The Samaritans were looked down on by the Jews and were often referred to as dogs. They were enemies of the Jews. But in Jesus’ story, it was the Samaritan who showed mercy and love to a Jew. He treated him as he would a neighbor or fellow Samaritan. But the two Jews in the story refused to do anything to assist their fellow Jew.

So what does this story have to do with what Jesus had to say that day on the hillside in Galilee? In essence, Jesus was telling the Jews in His audience that they don’t get to choose who they love and hate. He was presenting a new paradigm, a new way of life, in which those who are approved by God will love in the same manner and with the same intensity as they had been loved by God. And the apostle Paul reminds us of just how great God’s love really is:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And he tells us we are to imitate God, following the example of love He provided through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

And Jesus takes this kind of love one step further, encouraging his listeners to pray for those who might persecute them. The natural human response would be to curse them and ask God to bring down hurt and heartache on them. But Jesus says,  don’t curse them, don’t wish ill on them and don’t seek revenge against them. And Paul would pick up on Jesus’ strange-sounding counsel, telling the believers living in pagan Rome:

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. – Romans 12:14 NLT

Peter would also echo the words of Jesus:

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. – 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

It would be natural to ask Jesus, “Why?” What purpose is there in loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? What possible good could come out of living and loving like that? And Jesus gives us the answer.

…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… – vs 45

This takes us back to verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Those who are blessed or approved by God will emulate Him. They will reflect His character. They will love like He loves. God is indiscriminate is His goodness, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45 NLT). He shows His love even to those who hate Him. He bestows His blessings on those who curse Him. He sent His Son to die for all who had rebelled against Him. Jesus Himself, while hanging on the cross, was able to pray, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT). And while He prayed that prayer, the Roman soldiers who nailed His hands and feet to the cross gambled over His clothes right beneath Him.

The love Jesus came to reveal was not a reciprocal kind of love. To love those who love you is an insufficient, earthly love. It is a selfish, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of love. But Jesus would later say, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT). And Paul would clarify that even our friends are undeserving of the kind of love to which Jesus is referring.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Jesus is calling for a love that emulates the love of God Himself. It is a selfless kind of love. It is a non-discriminatory kind of love. It is not based on the loveliness or lovableness of the other person. We are called to love as we have been loved by God. And our love is not to be reciprocal in nature, but redemptive. Our goal is restoration and reconciliation, not so much with us, but between our enemy and God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Praying in the Spirit – Part II

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. – Jude 1:20 ESV

Praying in the Spirit. What exactly is it? How do you do it? Jude was giving his readers some extremely important advice that was intended to prevent a potentially negative outcome in their lives. He had just told them, “you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:17 ESV). But what predictions did he have in mind? Jude leaves no doubt. “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 1:18 ESV). The prediction was that there would be those in the church who were worldly, controlled by ungodly passions and who did not have the Holy Spirit resident within them. In other words, they were not saved. But those to whom he was writing were in the “beloved” – they were members of the body of Christ and the family of God. As believers they were expected to live differently. They were to build themselves up in their faith. They were to grow spiritually. In fact, Paul told the believers in Ephesus that God had given to the church the roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV). Those within the church were to be equipped so that they could assist one another in their mutual pursuit of spiritual maturity.

The antidote to worldliness and ungodly desires is to pursue spiritual growth, to increase in our knowledge of God and our understanding of His Word. It is to become increasingly more dependent upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom and for strength. That is why Jude says that we are to pray in the Spirit. The very thing that sets us apart from the worldly is our possession of the Holy Spirit and His ability to empower our prayers, as well as interpret our prayers before God Himself. It is our growing reliance upon the Spirit whose presence within us allows us to understand spiritual truths and apply them to our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit who gives our prayers spiritual weight and allows them to resonate with God’s heart and align with God’s will.

While those around us may be devoid of the Spirit, we are to be filled with the Spirit. We are to be controlled by the Spirit. We are to be reliant upon the Spirit. It is this relationship with the Spirit that allows us to stay firmly planted within God’s love and provides us with the patience to wait for the return of God’s Son and eternal life. The Holy Spirit is a kind of down-payment, guaranteeing that what God has promised for the future will actually take place. He gave us the Spirit to help convince us that what He has said about eternity is true and well worth waiting for.

And while we wait, we are to grow and pray – all with the help of the Holy Spirit. As we wait, we are to show mercy to all those with whom we come in contact. Jude writes, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Ephesians 4:22-23 ESV). All that we do in this life and on this earth, we are to do in the power of the Spirit, and that includes our prayer life. We must never forget that without Him, we are nothing. Those devoid of the Spirit have no capacity to reject worldliness or their own ungodly passions. They end up causing divisions within the body of Christ and scoff at the things of God. But because we have the Spirit, we can grow, we can pray, we can love, we can show mercy, and we can live holy lives in the midst of an unholy generation.

A Love-Hate Relationship.

O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers!  They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. 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. – Psalm 139:19-22 ESV

Psalm 139

Having opened his prayer by expressing his awe and wonder at God’s involvement in his life, David suddenly switches direction. Knowing that God created him, cares for him, knows everything about him, and sees him when he sits down or stands up, David takes his latest problem to the Lord. He opens up with God about his need. Evidently, David was under tremendous pressure from those whom he considered wicked and described as murderers. Not only were these people enemies of David, they were enemies of God and misused His name. David expressed his loyalty to God. Because these people hated God, he hated them. These are strong words and seem to stand in such stark contrast to the opening verses of David’s prayer. The word “hate” seems so strong, especially for those of us who have grown up on a steady diet of preaching and teaching that focuses on the love of God. But David seemed to believe that God Himself hated these people and he was obligated to hate them as well. It is important to note that David’s hatred for them was based on their opposition to God. Yes, he was evidently under attack from them as well, but it would appear that it was because of his position as God’s appointed king of Israel. David was constantly surrounded by those who hated him because they hated God. And his hatred for them was based on their hatred for God. These people stood against the things of God and the people of God. They were enemies of God.

David was clearly under the impression that God hated evil and those who commit evil acts. “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (Psalm 5:5 ESV). “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5 ESV). David’s son, Solomon, included this sentiment in his collection of proverbs: “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV). It makes us uncomfortable when we read that “God hates”. But we tend to interpret the word “hate” using our own sinful definition. Our hate is mired by sin. It is selfish and self-centered. It is unholy and unrighteous. But God’s hatred is always righteous. His nature opposes all that stands opposed to Him. And yet, we know that God loves. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God hates, but God loves. God must stand opposed to everything that opposes Himself. But He must also love. Only He can do both righteously and justly. We seem capable of doing one or the other, but not both. God’s wrath stands against all those who have sinned and rebelled against His holy will. They are condemned and their sin is punishable by death. But God expressed His love for them by sending His Son to die for them. God knew that their rebellion could only be solved by the sacrifice of His own Son. God’s wrath was satisfied by His own love.

When we read of David’s hatred for his enemies, which he expresses throughout the Psalms, it sounds so harsh. And because David was a man, his hatred was sometimes far too one-dimensional. He lacked the ability to love those he hated. He brought a human perspective to the equation that limited his ability to express love for those who hated God. He simply wanted to see them eliminated. And while God’s holiness and righteousness requires Him to deal harshly with sin and all sinners, His love provided a way to redeem and restore those who were under His wrath. David could only see the wrath. He could only comprehend elimination, but not restoration.

It is interesting to note that when Jesus was preparing to send out the twelve disciples on their own, He warned them, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). Yet He was sending them out with His message of repentance and restoration. They were going to be hated, but He was expecting them to heal the sick, bring release to the captive, share the news of His coming and love those who hated them. We must stand opposed to all that stands opposed to God. We must hate what He hates. But we must always remember that God is ultimately about restoration. We live in a world that stand diametrically opposed to God and all that He stands for. We are enemies of this world. And yet, we are to show the love of God by sharing the message of Jesus Christ with them. It’s a love-hate relationship that only the Holy Spirit can help us hold in balance. We cannot afford to love this world or the things of this world. We cannot construe love of sinners to mean acceptance of their sin. We cannot tolerate what God hates. But we must always remember that the solution to sin and the hope for sinners lies in the love of God as expressed through the death of His Son. I can stand against those who hate God and yet lovingly share with them God’s solution to their problem. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “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 ESV).

David hated the enemies of God. He hated those who stood opposed to God. In his mind as a warrior-king, he could only see one solution: their complete annihilation and elimination. But God had a better plan. He was going to bring His Son, through the blood line of David himself, and provide a means by which His love could be displayed and His wrath against all sin satisfied. We live on this side of the resurrection. We know that God’s wrath was real. It resulted in His own Son’s death. But we also know that God’s love is real, because it provided us with forgiveness from sin and release from our condemnation. So while I may be justified in hating what God hates, I must also be willing to love as I have been loved.

Love and Hate.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. – 1 John 3:11 ESV

1 John 3:11-24

Love and hate. God and Satan. Dark and light. Faith and doubt. Belief and disbelief. Children of God and children of the devil. John paints a black and white portrait of life in this world. There are two systems at work and at war with one another. As children of God, we have been placed in the middle of an environment that is opposed to our very existence. The world, as a result of sin, is in rebellion against God. Many in the world reject that very existence of God. Others, unable to explain their own existence and desperate to find meaning for life, have concocted their own versions of God. But to make your own god is nothing short of the rejection of the one true God. The point that John seems to be trying to make is that those who have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ are going to find this world a place of conflict and contrasts. The very fact that we are His children puts us at odds with those who refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God and the only way to be restored to a right relationship with God. The result is that the world hates us. John confirms that reality. “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 ESV). Jesus gave us a similar warning. “This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:17-19 NLT). “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22 NIV).

John used the example of Cain and Abel – two brothers who should have naturally loved one another – to drive home his message of contrasts. Cain brutally murdered his brother. His act was an outflow of his anger toward and hatred for Abel. But it stemmed from his disbelief in God. He lacked the capacity to love Abel because he was devoid of a love for God. Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable to God because Cain lacked faith in God. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). Abel was motivated by faith in God. He believed in God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). John makes it clear a little bit later in his letter that God is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 ESV). Love is essence of God. But this is not some kind of sentimental, Hallmark-greeting-card kind of love. This is a selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that is not of this world. Without God, Cain couldn’t manufacture this kind of love. But this kind of love is what sets the children of God apart from one another. It was what caused the early church to stand out from the crowd and set it apart as distinctively different. In the book of Acts, we read of the early days of the church as thousands of people from all walks of life and a variety of ethnic backgrounds are coming to faith in Jesus. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45 ESV). That day, there were people from all over the world who heard the good news regarding Jesus Christ. “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11 ESV). And many of them came to faith and became part of a unique organism called the body of Christ. At that point, they became one in Christ. Their ethnic, economic, cultural, and idealogical differences were overshadowed by the love of God. Paul described the believers in Galatia in similar terms. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). 

Our adoption as sons and daughters by God have placed us all into one new family. God’s love for us manifests itself in a love for one another that is unique and distinctive. No longer is our love based on earthly standards. Our commonality and community is not based on ethnicity, language, economic status, country of origin or level of education. Our unity is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. So Jews who love Jesus can love Arabs who love Jesus. Muslims who have come to know Jesus as their Savior can call Christians their brothers. Blacks and whites can love one another. Individuals who were once enemies can now worship together because of the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:14 NLT). Our capacity to love is our calling card. It is what sets us apart. And in this world, it is what sets us up for hatred. This world can’t comprehend that kind of love. It makes no sense. It sees it as a threat. It views it as a weakness. The enemy can’t stand it, because he knows its origin. It is of God. And anything of God is repulsive to him. But God is love and we are God’s children. Love is the greatest expression of our God-likeness. Which is why Paul wrote: “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).

Proverbs 6b

Learning to Hate What God Hates.

“There are six things the Lord hates — no, seven things he detests…” – Proverbs 6:16 NLT

There are many in our world who refuse to believe in God. There are others who believe in God, but their version of Him is of their own making. They have chosen attributes and qualities they find comforting and non-convicting. They worship a God who is nothing but love, all the time. They tend to reject the God of the Old Testament as some other God. He is too angry, vengeful, and barbaric for their tastes. The prefer the God of the New Testament who sends His Son to die for mankind as an expression of His love for them. But when we reject the God of the Old Testament, we diminish the One we say we believe in. God is loving, but He is righteous and just as well. He is holy and, because of that character, He is required to deal with all unholiness. He must judge sin justly and completely. And God hates sin – all sin. As uncomfortable as it may make us feel, our God hates. Multiple times in the book of Proverbs we are reminded of His divine hatred. But we must never confuse God’s hatred with our own. His is perfect, holy, sinless, and completely justified. He understands the danger of sin and the damage it can produce in our lives. So Solomon tells us that there are six things the Lord hates – no seven things he detests. He hates them because they are an abomination to Him. He finds them shameful, unacceptable, and abhorrent.

We expect the list that follows this statement to be filled with some pretty horrible acts, like murder, rape, incest, genocide, etc. But instead, we read that God hates haughty or pride-filled eyes, lying, those who take life without cause, a heart that plans to do evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness, and one who stirs up trouble within a family. Interesting list, isn’t it? Only one seems to be what we would classify as worthy of hate, because it involves the taking of an innocent person’s life. But I think Solomon is showing us that, in God’s eyes, all of these things are hated equally because they are all detestable to Him. He hates the pride in our lives as much as He does the taking of innocent an life. All of these things are in violation of God’s law. He hates them because He is holy and righteous. His anger is His reaction to the breaking of His perfect law. As a just judge, He must deal with them rightly and righteously. Solomon is fully aware that his God hates sin and he wants his son to know it as well. So he warns him that these things are an abomination to God. They are not to be tolerated, played with, excused or minimized. When we see pride in our lives, we must remind ourselves that God hates it. When we lie, we must remember that God hates it. When we find ourselves thinking about doing anything that God deems wrong, or running ahead and doing it without even thinking, we must never forget that God hates it. God will not wink at it or ignore it like we do. His holy character will not allow it. He hates them because He knows their destructive quality and that each of them is really an assault on His sovereignty over our lives. He wants us to learn to hate what He hates and love what He loves. He wants us to know Him well enough that we share His heart. He wants us to get to the point in our relationship with Him that what He abhors, we abhor. Recognizing that God has high standards and a zero-tolerance for these things is key to wanting to work hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit to see them removed from our lives. Our cry becomes the cry of David, “Create in my a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NLT).

Father, teach me to hate what You hate, to abhor what You find abhorrent. Don’t let me become complacent with sin in my life or in the world around me. Let me know Your heart and learn to love what You love and hate what You hate. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org