The teachings of Jesus are often counter-cultural. Jesus’ words also challenge us as humans. Human history is full of sin. This sin stems from our sinful human nature. This sinfullness is something Jesus challenges in his teachings and one example is found in Matthew 5:43-48:
”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? 48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -NET
Christians have heard these words many times and that can cause us to be desensitized to them. Even if you have heard these words thousands of times I would encourage you to look at these words as if this was the first time you read them.
Jesus says that the Jewish people around him were taught that loving your neighbor was just as warranted as hating your enemy. I think most of us could agree with this sentiment. It is natural for us to love the people who are nice to us and hate the people who hate us, however, we are not called to follow what is natural. We are called to follow what is godly.
Jesus goes against human nature when he says that we are to, “pray for those who persecute,” us. He then gives us an amazing reason for this attitude and behavior. He says that we should be like the Father because the Father, “causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” The reason for Jesus’ teaching is because many people saw the Old Testament passages against sinful and evil people as hatred on God’s part.
Assuredly, God does hate sin and we see this in OT passages. But God has the right to do so. He is perfect and holy. He has never sinned and he is utterly righteous. So, for God to hate sin and sinful people is acceptable. What the teachers of the Law, like the Pharisees, did was take God’s right to righteously hate sin for themselves. What they failed to realize was they were sinful just like the rest of humanity. What Jesus is saying is that even though the Father has every right to punish any sinner, he still causes the rain and the sun to benefit both the “evil” and the “good“. We should follow this attribute of God because it shows his patients and his love for all humanity. What Jesus’ forbids is taking God’s righteous judgement of sin for ourselves because we are all sinners.
Jesus then gives us an example of humanities selective love. He highlights that loving someone who loves you is not true love but natural love. Any person can love someone who is nice to them. Jesus tells us that “tax collectors” and “Gentiles” do that. For a Jew these words would be shocking! Both tax collectors and Gentiles were hated by Jews. Tax collectors tended to be Jews that worked for the Roman government. Many were seen as traitors to the Jewish people because they were placing their allegiance to the Roman Empire and not in God’s Kingdom. Another reason for the Jews hatred was that these tax collectors were often greedy. They would often over tax people so they could fill their own pockets. Tax collectors were not the only disliked group among Jews, Gentiles were also hated. Gentiles were seen as heathens. They didn’t have the written word of the OT Law and so they were outsiders. For Jesus to compare the love these Jews show with the love of these other groups is extremely divisive and counter-cultural.
Jesus challenges us to be different from the average person who loves only the lovable. Jesus calls us to love the unlovable. Jesus calls us to pray for those who persecute us. We are not called to be like the average person on the street. We are called to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I pray that all of us will undertake this task to have counter-cultural and divine-like love for all.
Thanks for reading.
Yesterday, we looked at propitiation in Romans 3:25. I gave a brief overview of the word and discussed how it shows God’s righteousness. I encourage you to read “Justification (Hilasterion)” before reading this article. Along with God’s righteousness, propitiation also shows God’s love. Before we dive into 1 John 4:10 we need to look at the depravity of man.
The depravity of man is something that causes much debate in Christian circles. Calvinists call it “total depravity”. I do hold to this view but not because it happens to fit into my theological construct. I hold this view because Scripture clearly teaches it. There are many passages that speak on this but I will focus on two of them. The Apostle Paul understood the sinfulness of man. He understood that depravity was all encompassing and total. We see this in Romans 5:10 and Romans 8:7. Let’s start with Romans 5:10, which says:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. -ESV
Paul describes humans as enemies of God. Left alone to themselves, humans do not want to be united with God. The natural man battles against God, rejects God, and hates God. They do not want to accept his call to repent and believe, in fact, they cannot. This inability to respond to God’s call is shown in Romans 8:7 when Paul writes:
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. -ESV
Paul describes the natural mind as hostile towards God. This fits with Paul’s description of humans being enemies of God. Paul takes this one step further when he says that humans cannot submit to the law of God. It is clear that humans do not want to submit to God’s law but we need to understand that humans can’t do so. In passing, Jesus established this point in his ministry when he says:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – (John 6:44, ESV)
So, we see that humans are enemies of God and are hostile towards God. They fight God. They spit at God. They hate God. R. C. Sproul speaks on this in The Holiness of God and says it better than I could when he writes:
If we are unconverted, one thing is absolutely certain: We hate God. The Bible is unambiguous about this point. We are God’s enemies. We are inwardly sworn to His ultimate destruction. It is as natural for us to hate God as it is for rain to moisten the earth when it falls. -R. C. Sproul. The Holiness of God (Kindle Locations 1822-1823). Kindle Edition.
This now brings us to the love of God shown through the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus. 1 John 4:10 says:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. -ESV
I love how John describes Jesus’ sacrifice and how it is consistent with Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on the depravity of man. Notice that John tells us where love comes from and what love is. John tells us that we don’t love God. This is consistent with total depravity. We are enemies of God so it makes sense that love doesn’t come from us. So, where does love come from? Love comes from God!
God loved us so much that, even though we were deserving of death, he sent his Son to pay for our sins. Jesus fulfilled the need for humanity to enter into a life-giving relationship with God. His death makes people righteous before God even though they were deserving of punishment. This shows us how amazing God’s love is. God loved us more than we hated him. If you are looking for God’s love look no further than the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:8:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -ESV