Love. Pray. Live.
So over a week ago, I saw a picture of some friends of mine on Facebook, but they decided to take this picture in the clock section at Walmart... so as a result, what stood out to me in that picture was actually the clock behind them! Because there was a little 3 word phrase on it that said: Live. Laugh. Love.
Live. Laugh. Love?
I’m sure most of you have seen this phrase somewhere, written on mugs, or paintings, or even human skin! It’s like one of those one-liners that almost sound like Scripture! Like the phrase God helps those who help themselves (probably in the book of Hesitations)! Or cleanliness is next to godliness (My mom applied this to my bedroom all the time)... But I was curious about where Live Laugh Love came from, so I did some research. It turns out that it’s from a poem in 1904 called “Success,” and it was written by an atheist author: To achieve success is to live well, to laugh often, and to love much.
It’s funny because this is an atheist’s perspective on living a good life, yet I’ve actually seen these words hung up in Christian households... Though there is nothing inherently wrong with those three words, Jesus seems to teach something completely different. When we looked at the Beatitudes, he says “blessed are those who mourn” (not laugh often), or "blessed are those who are persecuted for my names sake” (not live well). He basically said “look to live your best life later on!”
In doing so, he shocks his hearers, especially when he starts talking about the law! “You have heard it said... but I tell you.” It seemed as if Jesus always said the exact opposite of what his hearers would know or expect (5:21-42).
If you follow along in 5:43, Jesus does it one last time when he says: “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”
Love your Neighbour... and Hate your Enemy?
Now, we all know that “love your neighbour” is all over Scripture, both in the NT and the OT (Leviticus 19:18). But I’ve never seen “hate your enemy” anywhere in the Bible. So I cross referenced, looked at concordances and Bible study tools just to find the words “hate your enemy” together. But nowhere in Scripture does God command his people to hate their enemies.
As I consulted commentaries this week, scholars agree that “hating your enemy” was mistakenly thought from the command to “love your neighbour.” On top of that, it was also adopted from the fact that God hates evil. The psalm that we read earlier mentioned that “God does not delight in wickedness. He hates all evildoers.” But I think David’s lament at the end of Psalm 139 is the most explicit one:
“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” (Psalm 139:19-22)
Essentially, Jesus says: “Moses told you to love your neighbour (Leviticus 19:18) and David told you to hate your enemy (Psalm 139:21-22).”
But I say to you. I hope these words have been like a song on repeat in our heads for the past month, as we’ve explored Jesus’ authority over the law as the fulfiller of it! Every time, he takes the standard that was set by Moses or David or “those of old” (5:21), and he raises the bar by going after the heart! And the first thing he says to do is...
Love Your Enemies. Now, usually when we people think of the word love, it is usually in the sense of emotion and feeling right? As an old professor of mine described it, “I love how I feel when I feel like I love you.” Feelings are definitely a part of it, but Jesus’ command here is not limited to that. We’ll look at this more in a few minutes, but if you look at verse 45, it says that God makes his sun rise...and sends rain... he shows an active form of love.
So here, when Jesus says to love your enemies, it is not just a call for internal love, but a call for external love: to put love into action. Paul says it like this: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink... do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-20). So in comparison to our passage last week about not resisting the evil one, we are to actively love them too. If the Roman soldier, who is your enemy, forces you to carry his things for a mile, you go for two.
Seriously? I already struggle with doing this for my friends/loved ones! When my mom asked me to take out the garbage as a kid, I couldn’t even walk the 10 feet to go outside! But now I have to walk two miles this for my enemies?! And if that wasn’t hard enough, he adds the second part: “And pray for those who persecute you.”
Pray for your persecutors. Not only do you have to practice external love for your enemies, but you must practice internal love for your persecutors. How? How do you pray for people who make your life miserable? I hope you’re hearing the nature of this command. It was next to impossible for Jesus’ hearers back then, and I would argue that it is just as radical for us today, if not more.
Examples: About Jesus on the cross, John Stott says: “While the iron spikes were being driven through Jesus’ hands and feet ... [he manages to keep praying for his enemies to the
point that He says] ‘Father forgive them. They know not what they do.’ If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for his enemies, what pain/pride/prejudice could justify the silencing of ours?” (Cited from D.A. Carson’s The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew. p.2).
In Acts 7:59-60 (Stephen). As he was getting stoned to death, in the last few seconds of his dying breath, he manages to pray for his persecutors by saying: “God don’t hold this sin against them.” Is this how we respond when we feel attacked and persecuted? And to think that we haven’t even lost our lives yet!
As the author of Hebrews says, “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3-4). When you feel like your rights or your reputation are being attacked, remember all the blood that has been shed for the gospel. Not a single drop of your blood has come out of your head yet, it’s just boiling in your head!
Yet in these situations, Jesus tells us to love and pray. But what is the basis for that? It’s so easy to gloss over the magnitude of these words. I learned this as a kid at Sunday school, and I always heard “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you because Jesus said so.” Is that really all?
“So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (5:45a). To be clear, loving/praying is not the means by which you are adopted into sonship through Jesus Christ. Rather, loving/ praying is what sons and daughters of God the Father do (5:9-10, peacemakers/persecuted). A couple chapters down, Jesus talks about his true family; knowing full well that his mother and his brothers were outside, he points to his disciples and says: “Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).
This brings us to the third point, because to 1) love your enemies and 2) pray for your persecutors is to 3) live as children of the Father. This is why I brought up the “live laugh love” catchphrase, because it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus is saying here (which is why I titled this sermon love/pray/live). Jesus’ catchphrase here will not make you laugh often. As a matter of fact, it might just make you cry.
If you read the Psalms, David and friends cry out to God (Psalm 13, “how long”). But they never end there. They end by submitting to the will of the Father, because that is what children of God do: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). This is a radical kind of love, a radical kind of prayer, and a radical kind of life that Jesus calls his disciples to.
Those who love their enemies and pray for their persecutors live as the true sons and daughters of their Father in heaven. But why? Because this is who their Father is. We see this in verse 45: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
This Is Who God Is
Not only does God make his sun rise on those who believe Him, he makes his sun rise on those who reject Him. Not only does God send rain on those who love Him, he sends rain on those who hate Him. Because He has purchased a people from every tribe tongue and nation (Revelation 5:9), and He desires all kinds of people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), God shows kindness to people who hate and reject him in order to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4). This is the character of God. This is the gospel. And this is just as important for believers as it is for unbelievers. Why?
Because we all were children of wrath by nature. We were once in darkness. We were once friends with the world, and friendship with the world is enmity with God. Simply put, we were enemies of God. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “You who were once far off have now been brought near by the blood of Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:13). And if you believe this, then what audacity do you have to not love your enemies?
Friends, if you truly understand the gospel, you will look at those people you hate/dislike in the eye and love them anyway just as Christ did for you and I. If you understand the self- sacrificial love of Christ in his life and in his death, you will pray for those people in those moments as they whip away at your flesh by their back-stabbing, as people stone you and your reputation with their words and their slander, just as Christ did for you and I. Because who are we to hate our enemies, when God shows grace to His enemies?
Big Picture: To love our enemies and pray for our persecutors is to live and breathe the gospel as children of God. That’s why this is is crucially important. And if we are not doing this, how are we any different from the world? That’s why Jesus issues a challenge with these two questions:
How Are We Any Different?
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (5:46). Matthew would’ve understood this well, because he was a tax collector who worked for the Roman government. And this would’ve been a punch in the face for Simon the Zealot, the Jewish nationalist who totally hated Rome and guys like Matthew. Because essentially, Jesus says to him: “You’re just like Matthew in his past life.” You are no different from the people you hate if you don’t demonstrate the greater love that Jesus showed in laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13) and for his enemies.
“And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (5:47). Greetings back then were usually associated with your social status. This is why the Pharisees loved being greeted as “rabbis” (Matthew 23:7). Jesus asks, what more are you doing than these people who only greet those who love them back?
Friends, if we only love our families and our little circle of friends who love us back, what more are you doing than godless pagans who do the same and are destined for hell? That is not exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that is required to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
How are we separating ourselves as children of God from the children of the devil? Even they love their own, and do it well. Can’t we do any better? Jesus calls us to rise above the standard of the Gentiles in order to achieve the standard of God, which is why Jesus concludes by saying: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).
We Do This Because He Is
Now, a lot of scholars would agree that this phrase sums up the whole teaching on the law, and they would also say that this is a call towards moral perfection. Yet, Jesus knows that we are nothing close to being morally perfect and that we have come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), which is why he is saying these things in the first place.
So is this a call for repentance because this perfection is unattainable? Or is this a command for his disciples to actually pursue perfection? Well let’s look at what we’ve covered so far: Jesus calls his disciples to love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, and to live as children of God, because this is who their Heavenly Father is. Then he raises the standard with his questions, and says that you must be perfect, because your Heavenly Father is perfect.
Do you see the connection yet? We love/pray/live as children of God because that is who He is. So we must be perfect by loving/praying/living... because that is who He is! This is how we conform to the better righteousness of the kingdom, by pursuing the very nature of our Father in His perfection through our love for our enemies, our prayer for our persecutors, and our lives as children of God!
Jesus doesn’t raise the standard here to make it unattainable; Jesus raises the standard because that is who God is! To be perfect is to imitate our Father in heaven who is perfect! As D.A. Carson says, “To be persecuted is to align yourself with the prophets who were persecuted (5:12), but to love and bless your persecutors is to align yourself with the character of God” (Cited from D.A. Carson’s The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew. p. 3).
So the more we love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, and live as children of God, the more we conform to the true righteousness of the kingdom, and more we conform to the perfection of God. When we abide in God, He abides in us, by which love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment (1 John 4:16-17). And we can be sure of this friends, that “He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), who is the “author and the finisher (the perfecter) of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Practice Makes Perfect
As a kid, I always heard this. Love and pray. Because you need to deal with those annoying kids in the playground! But we also need to deal with annoying people at work or even at home! So how do we put this love into action?
First, love and pray for your unbelieving enemies. Do you wanna share the gospel? Start by responding like a child of God who imitates the Father. By rising above the standard of unbelievers, and showing them who your heavenly Father is. Your Father who shows grace to his enemies. Therefore, you as His child are responsible to do the same to your enemies in your love, prayer and life. This is living out the the gospel. Whether it’s at school or work, or maybe you even have family members who are unbelievers. Before they even listen to a word that you say, they have probably already watched your actions.
Now, what about the government? Instead of ranting on Facebook or to other people, why don’t we rant to God about it? In 1 Timothy 2, Paul talks about prayer as the first step towards gospel shaped living. And the first group he mentions are “kings and all who are in high authorities...” (2:2) so that we can be free to live out the gospel (2:3).
Second, love and pray for your believing enemies. The gospel is just as necessary for believers as it is for unbelievers. How do you live out the gospel with other children of God? It’s called being the church. The body of Christ. So if one member suffers, the whole body suffers. Matthew 18:15-18. In that moment that you realize or feel that your brother or sister has indeed sinned against you, you are responsible in demonstrating the nature of your Father to your brother or sister. By your love and prayer for them in order to live out the gospel and imitate your Father in heaven.
To love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors, and to live as children of God is to pursue the perfection of God. We do this because this is who our Father is. And we can be confident that on that day, we who conform to the better righteousness of the kingdom and pursue our Father’s perfection will enter the kingdom of heaven, into the joy of our Master.