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Robert Jeffress - Straight Talk About Your Enemies


Robert Jeffress - Straight Talk About Your Enemies
Robert Jeffress - Straight Talk About Your Enemies
TOPICS: 18 Minutes with Jesus, Enemy

Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. When someone wrongs us, our natural response is to get mad and get even, but Jesus prescribed a far different approach for dealing with our enemies, so different, in fact, that many would write it off as impractical. So does God really expect us to turn the other cheek when we're struck by injustice? My message is titled "Straight Talk About Your Enemies" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.

We live in a culture that celebrates, it awards revenge and retaliation. I think about a key scene in that academy award-winning movie from 30 years ago, "The Untouchables". Do you remember the movie? There's a key scene in it in which Sean Connery plays a tough Irish American cop, and he's giving some advice to Elliot Ness, the FBI agent played by Kevin Costner, on how to get Al Capone. Remember what he said? "You want to get Capone? You want to get Capone? Here's what you do. He brings a knife, you bring a gun. He sends one of your guys to the hospital, you send one of his guys to the morgue. That's the Chicago way". That's the American way, isn't it? Retaliation, revenge. Don't get mad, get even, which makes Jesus' words all the more mind boggling when it comes to the issue of how do you deal with your enemies?

Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. but I say to you, do not resist an evil person: but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also". Today our study on the sermon on the mount has brought us to perhaps the most familiar but least understood passage in the entire sermon Jesus gave. In fact, it's a passage of scripture that has caused many people to turn away from the Bible. Reading these words has convinced many that the Bible just is unrealistic and it's irrelevant to our culture today. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today we're going to look at some straight talk from the Savior about how to deal with our enemies.

If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew chapter five. Matthew chapter five. Remember, I can't say it often enough, this sermon is not a checklist on how to get to heaven. This is how to live after you're assured of heaven, after you are saved. Remember 2 Peter 1:3 says, "God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and Godliness". We have everything we need in the Holy Spirit to live the kind of life Jesus outlines here, and he outlines this kind of living not as some legalistic requirement. It is the path to enjoy genuine joy in this life. So here are three key distinctions that will help you understand the passage we're going to look at today.

First of all, the difference between vengeance and justice. Vengeance and justice. We've talked about this in our series on forgiveness. The best definition of vengeance I know is vengeance is my desire to hurt you for hurting me. That's what vengeance is. We want to hurt others for hurting us, and the Bible says we are to give up our desire for vengeance. Romans 12:19, Paul writes, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. For it is written, 'vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord". God can settle the score better than we can. Leave that up to him. Give up your desire for vengeance, but that's different than justice. Justice is the payment God may demand from those who have wronged me. Justice is the payment God or sometimes God working through others may demand from those who have wronged me, and the Bible said never should we give up our desire for justice. Isaiah 1:17. "Learn to do good: seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow".

Ladies and gentlemen, to ask the victim of a crime like theft or rape or incest or the murder of a loved one to tell people, "Oh, just give up your desire to see your perpetrator suffer for what they did", that's not only unrealistic, it's unbiblical. They are to suffer, but it's not you who inflicts the suffering. It's letting God, letting the others deal with that. By the way, one primary channel through which God demands payment from wrongdoers is through the government. In Romans 13, verse four, Paul reminds us, "For it," that is, government, "Is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid: for government doesn't bear the sword for nothing". That's a good word about capital punishment. God gives government the power of the sword. "For it is a minister of God," that is government, is a minister of God, "An avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil". We give up vengeance, but that doesn't mean we give up our desire for justice.

Secondly, we need to understand the difference between individuals and government in scripture. Back during the 2016 presidential election, a reporter asked me, "Pastor Jeffress, wouldn't you prefer a candidate who would run this nation according to the principles of Jesus found in the sermon on the mount? Wouldn't you prefer that"? I said if any candidate pledged to run this country according to the principles of the sermon on the mount, I would run as far and as fast from that candidate as possible. When it comes to electing a president, I want the meanest, toughest you know what to lead this country who will protect our country from our enemies. That's the role of government.

Well, people went hysterical when I said that. I mean, "Oh, pastor Jeffress threw Jesus under the bus," one headline said. No, I wasn't throwing Jesus under the bus. Jesus never meant for the sermon on the mount to be a constitution for nations. No nation is ever called to turn the other cheek or to forgive a nation that bombs them. That's not the role of government. Government is to protect its citizens. This sermon is about individuals and how they govern their personal lives. You have to understand that distinction.

And then third, we need to understand the difference between rights and responsibilities, especially in these 11 verses we're going to look at. Rights vs Responsibilities. Now, I know I'm treading on controversial issues here when I say this, but I think it needs to be said. If you listen to some Christian leaders today, they would have you believe that the core value of Christianity is we've got to stand up for our rights. Stand up for your rights. Don't let anybody push you around and tell you what to do. They would have you believe that's what the gospel of Jesus Christ is, standing up for your rights.

Now, honestly folks, as you read the New Testament, can you really say the core teaching of the New Testament is holding onto your rights? That's what some people would have you to believe. We're confusing the Bible with the platform of the republican party or with the platform of the democrat party, depending on which imaginary right you're talking about. But that's not the message of the New Testament. How are we to handle our rights? Listen to Philippians 2, beginning with verse three. "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus".

What was that attitude? He goes on to say, "Although he existed in the form of God, he did not hold his equality with God a thing to be grasped, to be held onto, but he emptied himself". He gave up his rights as God in order to come and to meet our needs. That is the message of Christianity. We're to hold our so-called rights very loosely, especially when it comes to others, but there's a difference between rights and responsibilities. I may voluntarily surrender my rights. I can never release my responsibilities. Now, with those three key distinctions, let's look at these 11 verses. How do you deal with your enemies? And it divides nicely. Verses 38 to verse 42, Jesus said, first of all, we're to release our rights and not retaliate. And then in verses 43 to 47, he says we are to love rather than hate.

Now let's start with release, don't retaliate. You know, some of our most cherished rights as American citizens is found in our judicial system. Our constitution says we shouldn't have to worry about government knocking down our front door and seizing us or our property without a trial. And even if there is a trial and we're found guilty, there's a limit to the kind of punishment that government can exact from us. The last point comes from one of the most basic laws in human history. It's the idea that the punishment should fit the crime, and it's behind Jesus' words in verse 38. "You have heard it said," and then he quotes from Exodus 21, "An eye for an eye in a tooth for a tooth".

That's what the Old Testament law was. The Old Testament said you can't engage in excessive punishment and you're not to exact the punishment yourself. Leave it to the legal system. Well, the pharisees took that rule and applied it to personal relationships, where it didn't belong. And so in verse 39, Jesus said, when it comes to relationships, "Do not resist an evil person". Not only are you not to engage in excessive retaliation, you shouldn't seek retaliation at all. Now, again, we're not saying something Jesus isn't saying. Don't make Jesus say something he didn't say. He didn't say don't defend yourself, don't defend others around you. He didn't say nations, if somebody drops a nuclear bomb on you, just turn the other cheek. He's talking about personal relationships here, ones that aren't governed by other scripture, and we ought to be ready to release our rights rather than hang on to them, even with our enemies.

For example, Jesus said we need to release our right to dignity. Look at verse 39 again. "But I say to you, don't resist an evil person: but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also". What he's saying is don't return insult for insult. That's tempting to do, isn't it? To want to one up the person who has insulted you. That's what Jesus is talking about here. Go ahead and give up your right to personal dignity. Secondly, he says we need to be willing to release our right to property. Verse 40. "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt," that was a reference to an undershirt, a garment, undergarment, "Let him have your coat also". A coat was the most basic unit of clothing in the Middle East. Everybody had a right to a coat. And what is Jesus saying here? Is he, again, saying something that he really didn't say?

Jesus isn't saying if somebody's trying to harm you, it's wrong to go to court. It's not always wrong to sue, but what he's warning about is an excessive focus on getting and keeping your rights can crowd out God in your life. If you've ever been in a lawsuit before, you know how it can just totally consume you if you're not careful, and Jesus said there are times you need to be willing to release your right to property. Paul talked about that in Romans 12, verses 19 and 20. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And if your enemy is hungry feed him, and if he used thirsty, give him drink, for in doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head". When you refuse to retaliate and sue, and instead do something kind for your offender, what does that mean, you heap coals upon his head? That hurts. That's a way of bringing conviction into a non-Christian's life, so maybe he will want to know what's different in you that would make you respond that way to wrongdoing.

Thirdly, Jesus said sometimes we need to be willing to release our right to autonomy, to do what we want to do. Verse 41. "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two instead". Remember, this is your enemy. What is he talking about? Well, under Roman law, a Roman soldier could compel a Jewish citizen to carry his luggage or armament for one mile. Say here's a Jew who's going on another errand. He's going to work. He's going to do something to his family. Roman soldier has the right to compel him to drop his plans and go in the opposite direction with him, but he can only do it for one mile. The Jews hated the Romans. They were the occupiers of their land. Jesus said if your enemy wants to interrupt your schedule, and ask you to do something, go that extra mile.

Teenagers, if your parents ask you to wash the dishes, don't just wash the dishes, dry them, put 'em in the cupboard. Employees, if your boss asks you to stay late and work, don't only stay late, but buy pizza for everybody else who's having to stay late and work as well. That's what he's talking about when he says go the extra mile. Fourth, he said be willing to release your right to money. Now, this is where Jesus goes from preaching to meddling, right here. Verse 42. "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you". What Jesus is saying is, if somebody, even your enemy, needs something from you, and you have the means to provide that, don't refuse him. Give it to him.

Now, again, there are boundaries to that. Proverbs talks about the dangers of lending money, but the idea is hold your money loosely. It doesn't belong to you anyway. Ultimately, it belongs to God. Hold it very loosely. That's what he means when he says, "Give to him who asks of you". Hold your money, hold your possessions loosely. Will you get ripped off? Sure you will, but it's a reminder that all your possessions belong to God. Now, Jesus said, first of all, how do you deal with your enemies? Don't hold onto your rights. Release your rights and don't retaliate. But then he goes a step further. He says love, don't hate. That's a step above what anybody would expect. Not only are you not to retaliate against your enemy, you're to love and even pray for your enemy. Look at verse 43, "For you have heard it said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'."

Now, in your Bible, the words you shall love your neighbor are probably in all caps, like in my Bible. That means it's a quotation from the Old Testament, and that's Leviticus 19:18. "You shall love your neighbor," but the words and hate your enemy aren't found in the Old Testament. The pharisees came up with that one. They added to what the Old Testament said. Love your neighbor, hate your enemy. But Jesus said, "I say to you," verse 44, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". What in the world does that mean? Love your enemies? Why are we to love that way? Jesus gives two reasons. He says, first of all, love makes us like God. Verse 44. "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father who is in heaven: for he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous".

We are never more like Jesus than when we love and pray for our enemies. Isn't that what the Savior did on that Good Friday? As he hung nailed to that cross, he said to those who had put him there, "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they are doing". God calls us to that same kind of love as well. And secondly, love makes us different from the world. It's a way we distinguish ourselves as Christians, being able to want the best for our enemies. Verse 46. "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have"? That's easy. Even the tax collectors do the same.

Now, the tax collectors were on the bottom rung of Jewish society. They were Jews who were turncoats and collected money for the Roman internal revenue service. They were the worst, and yet even they love those who love them, so there's no merit in that. But then he goes one step further, verse 47. "And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Don't even the gentiles do the same"? If you're only friendly to other Jews, other people like you are, that's easy. Even gentiles, non-Jews, the scoundrel mongrel dogs who roam the streets of Jerusalem, even they do that. What reward is there for you? No, Jesus calls us to a higher standard, and he sums up his teaching on this entire subject of enemies with these words in verse 48. "Therefore you are to be perfect". That word means complete. "You are to be complete as your Heavenly Father is perfect".

Jesus isn't talking about sinless perfection. We're not going to hit the mark every time, but we're able to hit it most of the time, and that should be our goal. I was studying for this message, and I came across some words from a Bible commentator from yesteryear who summed up this entire passage with these insightful words. He said, "To return evil for good is devilish, to return good for good is natural, but to return good for evil is divine. To love as God loves is moral perfection, and this is the perfection Christ tells us to aim at. Aim high, hit high. Aim at God, and you will find your character and conduct slowly taking on a Christlike quality. Nothing would surpass the righteousness of the world, scribes, and pharisees more than that".
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