Radicalized By Love

Please read Matthew 5:43-48.

NEWPORT, Tenn. (WVLT) — Justin and Cynthia Wagner were just about to head to bed on Sunday night when they smelled something burning. Justin said he looked out his front porch and noticed the garage he converted into a makeshift apartment was engulfed in flames.

He ran outside and tried to start the car that was between the garage and the house to move it out of the way, but realized the flames were already coming up underneath it.

“I told my wife, I said the car is gone just get out of here, don’t worry about nothing else, just let the fire department take care of it,” Wagner said.  The fire destroyed the Wagner’s garage, left their Mazda unrecognizable, and did extensive damage to their two-story home.

But then a friend found an unexpected surprise while he was helping the couple clean up on Wednesday morning. In the middle of the ashes was a Bible, opened up to John 3:16. The verse reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Wagner took that as a clear sign.  “That tells you right there that God is still here with us, he’s still here for us,” he said.  The majority of the Bible was burned with the edges of the pages blackened and charred, but the words of the passage are nearly untouched and clearly visible. Wagner said he has no doubt in his mind that God saved he and his wife that night because there is still more work for them to do on this earth.

“Maybe God let this happen to us so we could get a new start in life,” he said. “After I had seen the word of God and I seen it on that, I felt like God was reassuring me, I saved your life through all this. I brought you guys through this for a reason.”

Personally, I think the reason must be love.

<Retrieved from http://www.local8now.com/news/headlines/Newport-loses-everything-in-house-fire-364468041.html on 1/8/16.>

Message – Godly love meets the highest possible standard.

  1. You’ve got to know what love is.

“YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” introduces the false command.

This is the sixth of six consecutive sections of teaching introduced by this phrase; it is not used again in the Sermon On The Mount.  In every case, it involves something that originated in the Scripture but had become corrupted, misused by the people of God.

The proverb Jesus quoted in verse 43 was only half right.

The right half can be found in Leviticus 19:18, where God commanded, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” as part of a prohibition of revenge-seeking and grudge-holding. There is no evidence in the Bible or in history that the Jews paid any particular attention to Leviticus 19:18.  Jesus, however, paired it with the Shema (see Dueteronomy 6:4-9) as the two most important commands, central to His teaching.

The incorrect half is the “HATE YOUR ENEMY” part.  That was added by someone else.  This is a fine example of the kind of excuse-making people do when they want to rationalize their limited love.  Scot McKnight wrote, “Loving those we like and hating those we don’t is as common as skin.” (The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, p. 142.)

Jesus had nothing good to say about this kind of self-centered, excuse-ridden, limited love.  It’s such a low standard even TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS can rise to achieve it. (TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS were the Jews declared enemies!  For Jesus to throw that in their faces was like waving the red cape at the bull!)  No one who rises only to this superficial level of love should expect God to REWARD them for it. (Just the opposite!)

“BUT I SAY TO YOU” introduces the true command.  Real love is unconditional and universal; it makes no excuses for being anything less.

Loving only the lovable is NOT the kind of love God has in mind for His people.  He has shown us a more ambitious love.  As we have been love by God, so should we love one another.  We need to stop making excuses in a failing effort to conceal our lack of love.

– God has loved us unconditionally. He did not demand that we change first or in any way attempt to “earn” His love.  He loved us anyway.

– God has loved everyone; His love is universal. He could have said, “If you worship me, I will love you,” but He did not.  He loved all of us first and best.

As usual, Jesus radicalizes the standard, calling us to a deeper love; “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.”  Who’s your “enemy?” It doesn’t matter whether you’ve chosen to count someone as an enemy, opponent, or rival or they have chosen to treat you as one.  What matters is that you choose to love them.  The highest and best kind of love is spiritual in nature and that’s why Jesus specified prayer as a way to enact and demonstrate true love.

– I think this plays to human nature. It’s harder to be unloving to someone when you are earnestly praying for God to bless them.

– I also think this plays to our spiritual nature. If we are truly following God’s example, prayer is part of loving even the unlovable as God does.

True love is manifest in a thousand other ways in addition to prayer.  For example, being gracious to one another demonstrates godly love.  The Bible allows us to disagree, but it does not allow us to behave disagreeably.  One of the most common ways we fail to love is by speaking rudely to or about one another.

Remember: “Being right does not give you the right.” Jesus’ strategy is to turn enemies into neighbors by loving them.

Jesus promised that real love results in reward (v. 46).  What is real love?

McKnight wrote: “Love must be defined by how God loves. From God’s behaviors we learn that love is a ‘rugged commitment to be with someone as someone who is for that person’s good and to love them unto God’s formative purpose.'” (McKnight, p. 143, emphasis his.)  With that understanding, genuine, godly love is not mere toleration or kibbutzing with people just like us.  It is cooperating fully with those who differ from us for mutual spiritual benefit.  Surely this is what Jesus meant by His remarks about the SUN and the RAIN happening at the same time to people we consider deserving/undeserving.

What is the REWARD?  That’s spelled out in v. 45; “THAT YOU MAY BE SONS OF YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Being God’s children means receiving eternal life in the world to come and abundant life in this world.  It isn’t all duty and obligation; being God’s children is the greatest possible reward and therefore the greatest possible joy.

  1. God’s standard for life (and love) is PERFECTION.

When it’s up to us, perfection is impossible.  If this were the entire story, God would be perpetrating a great injustice on us.  If He set an impossibly high standard, one He knew we could not keep, and then condemned us for not keeping it, that would be unfair and unloving.

Thankfully, it’s not up to us alone.  God gives us forgiveness when we fail and the Holy Spirit to help us succeed.  (It’s all by grace, folks!)  He sets the standard so high we will always need His help to achieve it.  That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.  Here’s how the Holy Spirit helps us.

– The Holy Spirit perfects our character so that temptations will be less compelling.

– When we are tempted, the Spirit gives us the wisdom and the moral strength to resist.

– God has promised a DOOR OF ESCAPE in times of temptation to avoid them as they happen

– The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible so that we needn’t have any question about what the will of God is in any situation. We won’t fail because we didn’t know better – we do.

We don’t have to fail, but having a human nature means we are prone to create problems for ourselves, so God has us covered with forgiveness.  Like His love, God’s forgiveness is unconditional: all sinners who repent are forgiven.  As with His love, God’s forgiveness is universal: all sins are forgiven.  God also completely forgives.  He forgets our sins and heals all our ills.  He graciously gives a clean slate and innumerable second chances.

What does it mean to be “radicalized?”

It’s a word used everywhere in the news to describe people who have become so committed to a version of Islam that they are willing to commit acts of terrorism.  In that way, the word has come to have negative connotations, a way for the secular media to further marginalize people of faith.

However, the word simply means to cause someone to adopt positions or beliefs more radical than they had previously held.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  To go further, the word “radical” describes a fundamental change.

Our passage is a great example of the radical nature of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  He commands that we fundamentally change the way we think about and practice love.  Let’s be “radicalized” to love.

We are to cease thinking about love in lazy, worldly, and selfish ways and are instead to love in the way God has loved us.  God sets the highest standard for love and then equips us to meet His standard in our daily lives.

Let me conclude with an example.  We find it easier to tolerate people when they agree with us.  When they disagree or make us angry, we tend to demonize and dehumanize them.  We magnify their faults and ignore their strengths.  We push them aside or tolerate them coldly.  We’re too “nice” to call them an “enemy,” but that’s practically what they have become.

Jesus commands us instead to cooperate with that person.  To never diminish their personhood or standing before God, to never assume we know how they’re going to turn out.  Partnering with that person to seek the best, most godly outcome is one way we achieve & exercise God’s love.

Let me ask you – if we are incapable of loving in this way in our home and church, what hope to do we have of loving God’s way in any other context?  What hope does the world have if we do not love as God loved us?

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