Matthew 5:38-48 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 ” Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
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 and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons 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. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” NASU
Let’s take up the question we concluded in the last devotional, “What is Distinctive about Genuine Christianity?” I mentioned that if we are to find any helpful answers and come to some concrete conclusions regarding that question we must look at the Early Church or the Early Christians.
One of the distinctive things I immediately see in them was that they “Specialized in Brotherliness.” By that, I mean that they out-loved their pagan neighbors. They practiced what Jesus taught in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 ” By this, all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.” He echoed that in John 15:12 and John 15:17. Our Lord spoke about Love in such a way that His followers knew it was the telling evidence of their salvation. I am never more disturbed than when I see or hear believers blasting other believers rather than loving them. Love covers a multitude of sins and if we learn to love and practice loving we will find common ground as believers. No, I did not say compromise your convictions but let Love rule the heart and thereby the actions and relationships.
They were taught by our Lord that Love was the mark which identified them as Christians and the distinction was that if a person did not love they were not to be identified as followers of Christ. I know that there is not a more powerful influence in the world than Love! No wonder, the apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonians believer in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 that God would cause them to increase and abound in love for one another and for all people. He witnessed the fact that they were doing just that. In Hebrews 13:1 the plea is to “let brotherly love continue.” Then the incredibly powerful and arresting words of John in 1 John 3:14 reminds us, “We know we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that does not love his brother abides in death.” How could that be any clearer? Love drew people to Christ and the Church and still does!
Another distinctive characteristic of the Early Church was the Loved Outsiders. The words of Jesus in verse 43 of our text highlights this requirement and objective of our Lord for us. In Matthew 19:19 we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves and that is repeated in Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; and Galatians 5:14, leaving us with a clear understanding that this is not optional. In Romans 13:10 we find, “Love works no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law.”
Love bridged the gaps and divides. Our world today is incredibly divided on many fronts. The chasms that divide us are deep and wide and that is also evidenced in the world of Christianity. There are gaps to be bridged between men, between races, social classes, political ideologies, and doctrinal differences. The early church’s uniqueness and distinctive characteristic were that they love every Human Soul!
They even loved their enemies. How we need that message today. There is something in the unregenerate heart that not only does not love it does not want to love those perceived as an enemy. I heard a preacher say of another preacher, “I could not love him, even if I wanted to.” What? Even if you wanted to? That means you have chosen to hate and refuse to extend forgiveness and love. That is completely other than Christlike.
If modern day Christians loved as the Bible directs us to love our world would be evangelized by now. The Bible through the words of Jesus tells us that we are to “Love our enemies.” The staggering and sobering reality is that if we do not then we are not identified as Christians by the Bible. Protest if you please, but I do not want to stand before God at the end of my journey and try to explain why I did not love. You are never asked to endorse sinful or vile lifestyles. You are never asked to condone sin, but you are commanded to Love.
Jesus practiced what He preached. Remember His prayer on the Cross, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” I remind you of Stephen when he was being stoned and prayed, “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge.” True Christian Love loves those of like precious faith, Christians or the brethren. We love those not in the Body of Christ and we love our enemies and we Love God!
I will pause again here and address this a little further in another devotional. May God bless you richly as you enjoy the day He has made and given to us to enjoy!