Good Wednesday, everyone. Thanks for listening. We’re in a season on the podcast of looking at darker issues. That’s not by design. It just ended up that way providentially based on the questions that have come to us.
We’ve looked at whether we can be angry at God when life doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. That was two Mondays ago, in APJ 1828. Then we looked at how to overcome anger in the home in APJ 1829. Then a wife asked about how to address her husband’s ongoing sin patterns in APJ 1830. Then last time we addressed a wife who was betrayed. Her husband left her for another woman. How does she process the ongoing pain of that desertion? That was APJ 1831.
Today I want to build off Monday’s episode. Because in speaking to that mom of three young girls, now abandoned by her husband, Pastor John applied the category of “enemy” and spoke of “enemy love.” Those are Jesus’s words. “Love your enemies,” right? He commanded that to us in Matthew 5:44, a text Pastor John spent years studying. He published an entire book by the title: Love Your Enemies — it’s his doctoral dissertation.
So if that “enemy” category fits a former spouse, it raised a question in my mind as I listened Monday, and maybe in your mind, too. Who else qualifies as our enemy? How broadly does this category stretch? That exact question is answered by Pastor John in his 1995 sermon on Matthew 5. Here he is.
Around this globe today, there are tens of thousands of Christians suffering, and some of them laying down their lives, just to believe and to be obedient to Jesus Christ. So the first meaning of enemy is those who persecute you like that. Love them. Love them.
Enemies of God
The next meaning of enemy is less dramatic. In verse 45, about halfway through, it says, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). So here you have evil people and unrighteous people. And this morning, it was already getting light at 4:45 a.m. He’s making the sun rise on all the evil people in the Western Hemisphere. From Argentina to the Hudson Bay, there are millions upon millions of people who scorn the name of God, and he made the sun come up on them this morning, and he gave them breath, and he gave them life, and he held the planet in being. And he restrained anarchy. And he graced them with warmth on their skin, breezes on their faces, and green in the trees and grass under their feet, and birds singing in the trees.
And you know what was happening when that happened? The heavens were telling the glory of God, and the firmament was declaring his handiwork (Psalm 19:1), so that you here would hear this message before you got here. And that’s what I was praying for you this morning. I looked outside and I said, “God, you’re already preaching it. Preach it — preach it! Would you please open their hearts? Don’t let them turn on the TV and just start watching stuff. Would you turn on their hearts? Would you cause them to reach up and turn on the dial of the sky and say, ‘Do it! Say it! Say it to the city! Say it loud!’”
Nobody deserves what happened this morning at five o’clock — nobody. And he made it happen. He just brought it up — and look, he’s still doing it. He’s still doing it. There are people who didn’t give him a rip this morning. They didn’t give him the time of day. He doesn’t get two seconds of their day, and he’s just gracing them, hugging them, caressing them all day long today. They’ll go to lakes and they’ll take walks and they’ll ride bicycles, and he’ll be saying, “I love you. Come to me. Look at me. I’m a glorious God. I can do this for eternity for you, if you’ll have me.” And they don’t pay any attention. We need to witness to the Witness.
“Your enemy is anybody who resists you, who contradicts you, who crosses you, who antagonizes you.”
The enemy in this context is those who resist God, who disobey his laws, who ignore him. So if you translate that down into our situation, your enemy is anybody who resists you, who contradicts you, who crosses you, who antagonizes you, who makes life hard for you. Which means that the command “love your enemy” has an application to rebellious children, ill-tempered and insensitive and non-listening husbands, neighbors who complain about your dandelions. You may not call them enemies, and they don’t call themselves enemies, but that’s the kind of illustration we’ve got here. Most people don’t think of themselves as enemies of God, and yet God uses them as illustrations of how he graces people who are not whole toward him.
A third illustration of what enemies means comes in Matthew 5:46–47: “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?” So who’s the enemy here? Why is he using this in the context of enemy love? And the answer is your enemy is somebody who doesn’t love you. “If you love only those who love you” — meaning you should also love those who don’t love you. Or “if you greet only your brothers” — meaning you should also greet those who are your non-brothers. So enemy here in this paragraph is big. It starts with persecution and it ends with people who don’t greet you. They’re not your brothers; they just kind of pass you by. He says, “If you only greet your brothers, then you don’t know enemy love.”
“If you only greet your brothers, then you don’t know enemy love.”
So I ask now, in a summary fashion, Who are the enemies — who’s this text about? This text is about anybody that crosses your path. Love them and don’t stop loving them. Even if they offend you, even if they dishonor you, even if they anger you, disappoint you, frustrate you, threaten you, or kill you, don’t stop loving them. And if you just look in the mirror for a moment, the mirror of this word here, you will feel like, “I am spring-loaded to return evil for evil.” We feel it in our families especially. People we know best can irritate us the most. And just like that we’re returning evil for evil. A harsh word gets a harsh word, a criticism gets a criticism, a complaint gets a complaint — just like that. We’re just wired to return evil for evil, which means this call is for a very profound change, isn’t it?