Yesterday, our Pastor, Tim Liston, spoke on a portion of The Sermon on the Mount. Our text was Matthew 5:17-48. We’ve talked about the Pharisees before — they are the people who knew the law and they kept the law to the letter for outward appearances. They wanted adoration from the world. In the text today, Jesus is not talking about keeping the law to the letter, but instead is showing that keeping the law is about what is in our hearts. “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (v 20) Becoming righteous is not based on any deeds we can do. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,” (Romans 3:22)

As I’ve been studying and writing about filling my heart with love. A particular passage jumped out at me yesterday. “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?” (Matt. 5:43-47) Jesus showed us how to do that as he hung on the cross. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34a)

Jesus told us that we are to love EVERYONE, not just those who are lovable or who love us. In his letter to the Galations, Paul said:  “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galations 5:13-16)

In the letter to the Romans, we are told: Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’  These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” (Romans 13:8-10) The first line is a prohibition from incurring moral indebtedness. We are not to mistreat others in any way, but always do what is right and honorable. Just as we are not to cheat someone financially, neither are we to deceive them in other ways, or gossip about them, or seek their harm in any way. Acceptance of getting back at those who have gotten us is a worldly view, but we are called to be salt and light, and be transformed from a worldly view. Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44)

I admit, there are times and there are some people who I find difficult to love. Even when I remember that God created us all, and that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, it’s sometimes hard. Truly I sometimes can’t do it on my own. I have to ask Jesus Christ to love them for me, and to ask the Holy Spirit to do a work in my own heart so that I can love them. The Scripture is clear – whether we want to love them or not, we are to do it anyway. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21) 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was not talking about keeping the law to the letter, but instead is showing that keeping the law is about what is in our hearts. I have to continually ask the Holy Spirit to fill my heart with love for everyone, especially those I find it difficult to love. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) I need to remember that I’m also not easy to love, and yet He loves me beyond my comprehension. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)