“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:38-48 (NIV)

Looking at verse 41, the “go another mile” verse, the word translated as “forces” is used in only one other place in the New Testament: in Matthew 27:32 when the Roman soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross8. That speaks volumes to our vocation as disciples, to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus wherever he leads. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything he hasn’t already done. Miroslav Volf, a theologian who wrote on forgiveness and reconciliation based on his experiences as a Croatian processing the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s wrote, “The cross breaks the cycle of violence. Hanging on the cross, Jesus provided the ultimate example of his command to replace the principle of retaliation (‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’) with the principle of nonresistance (‘if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also’).”9 Jesus breaks the cycle of evil and thus ushers in a new world order where we turn the other cheek and, as we’ll talk about next, love our enemies.

So not only are we to choose peace by breaking the cycle of violence, we are to choose another fruit of the spirit – love – by loving even our enemies (again, this is from Kurt Willems). Again, Jesus is using the Old Testament law as a dialogue partner here. Drawn from Leviticus 19:18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Only this time, there’s been an addition by the Old Testament interpreters of Jesus day – hate your enemies – which shows up nowhere in the Old Testament!10 In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, Jesus is going to redefine who a neighbor is: not just someone who looks like you and acts like you and is easy to help, but anyone who shows up in your path11. And not only are we not to hate our enemies, we are to love them and even pray for them. “Praying for an enemy and loving him will prove mutually reinforcing.”12

How much more counter-cultural can Jesus get?

He is asking us to do what is so very difficult, what doesn’t make sense, what doesn’t benefit us, what we likely don’t want to do.

I’ve never been much good at sports and I don’t follow any sports currently. When I was a kid, I watched my dad ardently cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs and I wanted to be like him so I cheered for the Leafs as well. I would wear Maple Leaf pajamas, I would watch the games with my dad, and I even attempted to compile stats of the team and players just like my dad did. None of this stemmed, I believe, from a great love of hockey but rather from a great love of my dad and a desire to be like him. When we love our enemies, we are doing what God has done for us and for the whole world that, as verse 45 states, “we may be children of our Father in heaven.” And we will be able to reflect that piece of God’s character more when we understand our own deep need of him, that once we were his enemies and he has now brought us near. Ephesians 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We will be able to reflect this piece of God’s character better when we spend time with him in prayer, asking that we may be like him. This kind of love for enemies must be a fruit of the spirit for by sheer human willpower, I don’t think we’re going to be very successful. We are called to something more as God’s people, as Jesus followers enabled by the Holy Spirit.

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:46-47 (NIV)

In All Right Now, Tim Geddert gets it right: “How desperately our world needs examples of people who are willing to live the life Christ modeled for us – to love our enemies, whether personal or national. If Christians won’t be those models, who will? We do not ask how lovable the enemy is or for that matter how dangerous. We ask God how to treat enemies. God tells us, and God shows us.”13

This isn’t easy.

There’s no way that this can be easy. It’s hard to love enemies, it doesn’t make sense, and it will cost us.

Again Miroslav Volf provides us with some poignant wisdom here. “After I finished my lecture, Professor Jürgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: ‘But can you embrace a cĕtnik?’ It was the winter of 1993. For months now, the notorious Serbian fighters called cĕtnik had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a cĕtnik – the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me awhile to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. ‘No, I cannot – but as a follower of Christ, I think I should be able to’.”14

As Jesus’ followers, we know what we need to do, but we can’t do it on our own. We need to be in the discipline of following Jesus in the little things so that when we get to the big, overwhelming, impossible things like loving our enemies, we can do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray that we would be like Jesus, we need to invite the Holy Spirit to come, to indwell us, to show us the way.

Our passage ends with the instruction to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And this serves as the conclusion to all the “You have heard it said, but now I say…” passages. Now the word we translate as perfect is the word for end in Greek. RT France tells us why this choice of word is important. The end is “a life totally integrated with the will of God and thus reflecting his character.”15

Each day, we are faced with a choice: Will I reflect God’s character today? Will I choose peace and break the cycle of revenge, refusing to get even, refusing to put my rights as number one? Will I choose love for even my enemy when everything within me rebels at such a costly and paradoxical notion?

So let’s transport ourselves back to the Netherlands in the 16th century. Dirk Willems is faced with a choice when the ice cracks behind him under the feet of his pursuer. He could keep running, he could see it as a sign of good fortune and deliverance as this turn of events would allow him to escape his unjust imprisonment. So what does Dirk do? He chooses peace and love by turning back to rescue his enemy from the icy water even though in the end, this results in his re-capture and being burned at the stake.16 And as I’ve reflected on this story, I’ve asked myself, “What makes someone do that?” The only answer I can come up with is that when we follow Jesus, we are given strength to love our enemies no matter what the outcome.

“I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11

May Jesus give us strength and wisdom as we seek to choose peace and to love even our enemies. Amen.

Watch the full message

Taken from Stephanie Christianson’s message at Forest Grove Community Church, North Site, 2021
Transcribed by Cheryl Ashton

8 RT France. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. Page 222.
9 Miroslav Volf. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996. Page 291.
10 DA Carson. Matthew. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Revied edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Page 191.
11 DA Carson. Matthew. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Page 191.
12 DA Carson. Matthew. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. Page 192.
13 Tim Geddert. All Right Now: Finding Consensus on Ethical Questions. Scottdale, PA and Kitchener, ON: Herald Press, 2008. Page 90.
14 Miroslav Volf. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996. Page 9.
15 RT France. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: Eerdamns, 1985. Page 129.
16 Tieleman J. van Braght. Martyrs Mirror.

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