Loving Your Neighbors and Enemies

Part 1



Dr. John Hoole – October 23, 2016



In our last lesson we learned, in Matthew 5:38-42, that Jesus does not want his followers rendering evil for evil that is against us.  Our interaction with those who hurt us is not to return the same to them. 


In that lesson, I used a couple of board games to illustrate what our reaction and conduct with regard to what evil people do to you and me.  The games: Checkers and Chess.


Checkers, for example, is the Mutually Assured Destruction approach.  In checkers, in order to win the game, you literally have to decimate your opponent.  You need to remove all their pieces or put him into a box where they no longer have a move.  But, in the process, you will lose most of your pieces as well.  That is why I call it the Mutually Assured Destruction approach.  To win requires severe losses of assets by both players.


By contrast, Chess is an entirely different kind of game, though played on the same board.  It is possible to win a game of chess without losing any of your pieces.  And I am told that it is also possible to win such a game without your opponent losing a piece.  You put your opponent’s king in check, where he has no other places to move it.


When it comes to dealing with conflict of evil people and enemies, the world generally like to play checkers.  But God prefers that we play chess.


So often, we are more likely looking for an excuse to execute “justice” with them.  If I’ve been hurt, they should hurt.  If I’ve lost, they should lose.  After all, it’s an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  It’s only fair that they should suffer as they have made me to suffer.  They have taken a piece off my board.  I should be able to take some of their pieces off their side of the board too.  And the more pieces I can take away from them, the more satisfaction I will feel.


That is the game of Checkers.  I’m going to hurt you because you hurt me.  And I don’t care how much it costs me … because I am going to WIN.  Winning is the object of the game, and the more I can hurt you in the process, the better I am sure I am going to feel.


You see – that is not God’s game plan.  He has always intended to win His game with us without losing anymore pieces than necessary.  And Jesus tells us: that’s how God wants you and I to treat others.  God wants us to be like Him.  If He is our Father, you and I need to grow up to be like Him.


When we come to  the final illustration given by Christ in the fifth chapter, we will see that it is in some ways related.


In Matthew 5:43-44 (NKJV), Christ says:


43     "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

44     But I say to you, love your enemies,


It is possible that the “evil person” in verse 39 is the same as the enemy in verses 43 & 44.  Christ is telling us what our response should be to an enemy or an evil person.  He started by telling us how most people would respond – with an evil response.  The rationale – “Well, they’ve hurt you.”  They have treated you unfairly – they have done you dirty.  Maybe they cheated you, or said nasty things about you.  In short, there is usually a very good reason why you shouldn’t like them.


In His sixth, and last, illustration contrasting the false righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the true righteousness of God, Jesus contrasts their kind of love with God’s.


Nowhere did their humanistic, self-centered system of religion differ more from God’s divine standards than in the matter of love.  Nowhere had God’s standard been so corrupted as in the way the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees viewed themselves in relation to others.  Nowhere was it more evident that they lacked the humility, mourning over their own sin, meekness, yearning for true righteousness, showing mercy, purity of heart, and a peacemaking spirit which Christ mentions in the Beatitudes that are qualities belonging to those who are citizens in His kingdom.


Let’s read the full text of the final example or illustration in Matthew 5 of what a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees look like.



Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV


43     You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

44     But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,

45     that you may be sons of your Father 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.

46     For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

47     And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

48     Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.


Love my enemies?  Pray for them?  Why on earth would I want to do that?  So we can be like our Father.


         Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”


One of the reasons he wants us to be like Him is so that we stand out in the crowd.  He wants us to be known as those who do not hurt those who hurt us.  Notice that Jesus says: Even the tax collectors only love those who love them.  Even the pagans greet only those who are nice to them.  God has called us to be different than the pagans and the tax collectors.  He has called us to treat the world like He has treated us.


Let’s once again look at the first verse of our text.


Matthew 5:43 NKJV


43     You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'


The reason I wanted to examine this verse is because it is a perfect example of how Satan gets people to believe his lies, while all the while the people believe it to be the truth.


How does the enemy of our souls convince people that his lie is the truth?


         1.  He always includes a portion of truth.


         2.  By omitting part of the truth.


         3.  Through additions




Look at this verse and tell me the part that is true.  “You shall love your neighbor” is a true statement.  We are told in both the Old and New Testaments to love our neighbors.        


Satan’s perversions of God’s revelation almost always touch on the truth at some point.  A little truth makes deception more believable and acceptable.  This is why so many people are following the different cults.  They have an element within their belief system that is true.


In Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees had kept a part of God’s truth about love.  They had been commanded to love their neighbors.


Leviticus 19:18  (NIV)


18       "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.


But, although they kept part of the truth of what God instructed, the rabinnic tradition had perverted the Old Testament teaching both by what they omitted and by what was added.




As is seen in the Leviticus Passage we just read, the phrase “as yourself” had been omitted.  This key part of the Leviticus text could not possibly fit into their scheme of proud self-righteousness.  They did not care for others as much as they cared for themselves.


The complete text of Leviticus 19:18 was obviously well-known to the scribes and Pharisees.  The scribes were the lawyers of that day - the doctors of divinity, if you will.  They were the supreme students, preservers and interpreters of the law and when copying or reading directly from Scripture they were meticulously accurate.


So when the New Testament refers to lawyers, it is really referring to scribes.  Scribes and lawyers are synonymous in the New Testament and thus the two names are never joined in the New Testament.  They were conversant with the laws of God, not the laws of man.  It was their business to read and expound the law and the prophets.


In Luke 10, we see a lawyer - a scribe - come to Jesus, asking Him what must be done to obtain eternal life.  Jesus turns it around and answers by asking the lawyer:  “you know the law.  What does it say?” -- to which the man responds by accurately quoting by Deut. 6:5 and the end of Lev. 19:18.  – he includes the phrase:  “and your neighbor as yourself.”


The words of Scripture were fully known but only partially taught and practiced.  The scribes and Pharisees knew how well they loved themselves.  They loved to be honored, praised, and respected  (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16), and they believed they deserved it.


It was the Pharisees who, when they prayed, thanked God they were “not like other people”  (Luke 18:11).  This was typical of most Pharisees.  They just could not love others as they loved themselves.


Along with that significant omission, their traditions had narrowed the meaning of NEIGHBOR to include only those people they preferred and approved of.  For the scribes and Pharisees, that amounted basically to their own kind.  People like tax-gatherers and ordinary sinners were despised as outcasts and not even worthy to be considered Jews.


The Pharisees used Leviticus 19 to justify their narrow scope as to who a neighbor is.


Leviticus 19:17-18 NIV


17     Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.

18     Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.


They say it is addressed “to one of your people - i.e., Israel.” -- and the reference to neighbors here obviously refers to their own people for it seems to interchange “neighbor” with “brother” or “children.”  My neighbor, they argue, is one of my own people, a fellow Jew, who belongs to my race and my religion.


Since the law, as stated here, says nothing about strangers or enemies, it implies permission, maybe even an injunction, to HATE my enemy.  Since the command is to love only my neighbor, then it is OK to hate them who are not my neighbor.  This kind of reasoning is rationale enough to convince those who wanted to be convinced.


They evidently ignored the instruction earlier in the very same chapter where they were instructed to leave the gleanings of their fields and vineyards “for the poor and the sojourner” (Lev. 19:9-10).  A “sojourner” or a stranger, as the KJV states, is one who is not a Jew, but is a resident alien - a foreigner.


They had also overlooked the very pointed statement, later in the same chapter.


Leviticus 19:33-34   (NIV)


33       "'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.

34       The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, ……


         There’s that phrase again that was omitted by the scribes and Pharisees.  I love how the Word of God links together.


Similar to this, we read in Exodus 12:49, (NIV)  “The same law applies to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you."  God did not teach his people a double standard of morality – one for an Israelite and another for a neighbor.  And God says the same is true of an enemy.


The Pharisees also turned a blind eye to other commandments which regulated their conduct towards their enemies.


For example, Exodus 23:4-5  (NIV)


4        "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.

5        If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.


In Deuteronomy 22:1-4, we read (NIV)


1       If you see your brother's ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him.

2       If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, (obviously not talking about a blood brother) take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him.

3       Do the same if you find your brother's donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it.

4       If you see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet.


Almost identical instruction are given here regarding how to treat one’s brother as we read earlier about how to treat one’s enemy.  Again this shows that we are not to treat fairly only those who are in our family of people.  The same instructions are given whether the beast belongs to a brother or an enemy.


The rabbis must also have known very well the teaching of the book of Proverbs, which the apostle Paul later quotes as an illustration of how to overcome rather than avenge evil shown to you.


Proverbs 25:21   (NKJV)


21       If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink:


                            This was quoted by Paul in Romans 12:20.


One of the things about Jesus that disgusted Jewish leaders the most was His open willingness to associate with, eat with, and even forgive the obviously unrighteous people (Matthew 9:11).


But even that restriction of neighbor was not narrow enough for the religious leaders of Israel.  The scribes and Pharisees also despised and looked down on the common people.  They dismissed those who believe in Jesus by saying, “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him has he?  But this crowd (these common people) which does not know the Law is accursed  (John 7:48-49).  These religious leaders who knew, but perverted, the law disdained the common people who they felt did not know it and thus they were “accursed.”


We have looked at:


         a)   What was true of verse 43: Love your neighbors.


         b)   What was omitted:  the phrase, as yourself.


Now let us look at what had been added.




They also perverted God’s Law and its teaching about love by adding something to it.  They added that it was OK to hate your enemies.  Their addition was even more perverse than their omission.


It is obvious from the way they treated gentiles that the Jews of Jesus’ day did not consider gentiles as neighbors.  They didn’t even associate with half-breeds like the Samaritans, who were part Jewish and part gentile.


A saying of the Pharisees has been discovered that reads,


         “If a Jew sees a Gentile fallen into the sea, let him by no means lift him out, for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor,’ but this man is not thy neighbor.”




One excuse the Jews may often have made to justify  their hatred of Gentiles was based on God’s command for their forefathers to drive out the Canaanites, Midianites, Moabites, Ammonites and Hivites, and other pagan peoples as they conquered and possessed the Promised Land under Joshua (Joshua 3:10;  Exod. 33:2;  Deut. 7:1; etc.)


But those ancient inhabitants of Palestine were among the most vile, corrupt and depraved known to history.  They were unbelievably immoral, cruel, and idolatrous.  Human sacrifice was common among them, and even one’s own children were sometimes burned alive as an offering to their pagan deities.  They were a cancer that had to be cut out in order to save God’s people from utter moral and spiritual corruption.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that “the wars of Israel were the only ‘holy wars’ in history, for they were the wars of God against the world of idols.”


Israel’s harsh dealing with those people was entirely as the instrument of God’s judgment.  God’s people were never instructed to return evil for evil, cruelty for cruelty, hatred for hatred.


The traditions of the rabbis and scribes and Pharisees, and their hatred for their enemies, was no doubt also justified by them on the basis of some of the Psalms.  Theologians call these Psalms imprecatory Psalms.  To imprecate is to denunciate, to anathematize - almost to call for a curse upon someone.


David wrote in Psalm 69:22-28   (NIV)


22       May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap.

23       May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.

24       Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them.


These are very harsh words David is speaking here.  He goes on to add,


25       May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents.

26       For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt.

27       Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation.

28       May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.


But, in the midst of this seeming harshness and what might appear to be a call for retaliation, I think we can show that such words did not represent David’s personal vendetta but rather his  concern for God’s holiness and justice to be executed upon those who despised the name of the Lord and persecuted the Lord’s people.


The basis for David’s imprecations is found in verse 9 of that same psalm.  “For zeal for Thy house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach Thee have fallen on me.”  David was angered because of what was done and said against God.  When Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem of the moneychangers, the Bible says that “His disciples remembered” David’s words, “that it was written, ‘Zeal for Thy house will consume me’” (John 2:17).  David and Jesus shared the same righteous indignation.


A moment ago I stated that such words in Psalm 69 and others did not represent Davids personal vendetta against those who dishonored his God.


Consider David’s thoughts, as recorded in Psalm 139:22-24   (NIV).  Most of us know verses 23 & 24, but have we ever attached it to verse 22 that precedes it.


In verse 22, we read,    22  I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.  It was only after discussing his hatred for God’s enemies that he prays:


23       Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24       See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.


It is one thing to defend the honor and glory of God by seeking the defeat of His detracting enemies, but it is quite another to hate people personally as our own enemies.  Our attitude toward even the worst pagans or heretics is to love them and pray that they will turn to God and be saved.


The Scribes and Pharisees had no such balance.  They had no love for their enemies, but only for themselves.  They knew nothing of either righteous indignation or righteous love.


Just like he does in all of the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus is speaking of here is not about “civil law,” but about personal standards of righteousness.


The “enemy” spoken of in Exodus 23, and in the Imprecatory Psalms is not the enemy soldier met on the battlefield, but an individual – whether a fellow countryman or a foreigner – who is, some way or another, antagonistic.


God has never had a double standard of righteousness.  According to Psalm 119:96, His “commandment is exceedingly broad.”


He doesn’t limit one’s neighbor to someone who is part of their own family or social group.  HOW DID JESUS RESPOND WHEN ASKED “WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?  You can find his answer in Luke 10:30-37.  It is the story of the good Samaritan.


In the fullest sense, an Israelite’s “neighbor” (and also ours) was anyone in need whom he might come across in his daily living.


Matthew 5:43-44a NKJV


43     You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

44     But I say to you, love your enemies,…


Here Jesus is very pointed in His remarks.  He not only counters the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, who permitted hating one’s enemy but He says, in effect, “I don’t want you to be passive concerning your treatment of your enemy either.”  You are to love them.


This is possibly the most powerful teaching on the meaning of love in the Bible.  It is certainly one of the most powerful aspects of the Gospel, that while we were his enemy, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:9-10)


We didn’t belong to his group.  It wasn’t his friends for whom He died.  We didn’t even have any semblance of goodness in us.  And yet He loved us so much to die in our place.