How to Love Your Enemies : Matthew 5:38-48

On Tuesday night 12% of you watched one of the most amazing tales of bravery and daring from the Second World War on BBC2. The scene was Holland, in mid-September 1944. Airborne forces were attempting to capture a key bridge at Arnhem during the ill-fated Operation Market Garden.

Major Robert Cain commanded a company of the South Staffordshire Regiment. These men landed eight miles from the so-called "Bridge Too Far" where the British were fighting desperately to retain their foothold at the north end. Disaster struck. The Germans sprang an ambush and 300 of our men lost their lives, including two of Robert Cain's closest friends.

He later admitted to shedding tears. But through his grief shone true courage and an amazing determination to fight back and defeat the enemy. Cain kept his nerve and led his men to an astonishing counter attack and an incredible escape. Major Robert Cain received the Victoria Cross, the highest, most prestigious award bestowed for gallantry.

Major Robert Cain - honour

And Tuesday night, he received an honour of another kind. His story was recounted on national TV by his son-in-law, the broadcaster
Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson presented the BBC documentary, “The Victoria Cross: For Valour”, examining the stories of some of our VC heroes, focusing on the one he found so personally inspirational.

Jeremy Clarkson with the medal

Usually Clarkson is to be seen extolling the virtues of shiny new motors in BBC2's Top Gear. But on this occasion he talked with a passion of something far more fundamental - the often forgotten heroism of men who risked their lives for their country. Men who included the father-in-law he never knew but deeply admired.

When the South Staffordshire regiment were ambushed with such appalling loss of life, it prompted Major Cain to write in his diary: "For the first time since childhood, tears sprang in my eyes. I turned away, swallowing hard and with rage in my heart."

Rage indeed…. With the remnants of his force retreating,
Major Cain and the remainder of the company had a stark choice, to fight like warriors or to give in to the enemy. And fight they did, losing another 40 men before being ordered to the last-stand defence of a village surrounded by 6,000 German troops armed with tanks, rocket launchers and 100 heavy guns.

Single-handedly, Cain destroyed three Tiger tanks, standing in the open a few yards from the enemy with an unreliable Piat anti-tank weapon.  At one point, he waited until a tank was just 20 yards away from him before opening fire. Although wounded by machine-gun bullets and falling masonry, Major Cain continued to fire, scoring several direct hits until he had immobilised the tank. He was temporarily blinded but after recovering, he led the defence with such ferocity that the Germans were eventually forced to withdraw, allowing Cain's men to escape across the Rhine. It is a sobering thought that nine out of every 10 recipients died in the action which led to their being honoured. In its 149-year history, only 1,354 have ever been awarded and as Clarkson discovered last night, the feats of the men who received it were truly remarkable. Major Robert Cain was one of the few who survived to enjoy the honour of being presented with his VC.

Jeremy Clarkson was clearly moved by the stories he told in last night's programme, not least that of his own father-in-law. And it prompted him to ponder a simple question which, in this period of remembrance for British soldiers lost in battle… I want us to spend a little while reflecting on this morning…  He asked: "How can we call the likes of David Beckham a hero for scoring a goal?"[1]  I wonder who your heroes are today?  And what about your children and grandchildren? Who are the heroes pinned to their bedroom walls?

Is it a footballer earning over £300,000 a week[2] Is it a sportsman who this week we learn traded a fortune of £20 million and his wife for 3 minutes in a broom cupboard with a stranger? Or perhaps its a leading businessman who this week will pay himself £203 million, to be funded through a bank loan spread over five years, on top of the £180 million he received from his company in 2002?  What kind of people do you aspire to be like? What kind of people do we want our children to aspire to be like?

I suggest we include the local men and women we honour today whose names are recorded on these memorials. For they paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). This is the radical lifestyle Jesus invites us to.  Please turn with me to Matthew 5. In our series of studies in the Sermon on the Mount we come providentially today to verses 5:43-48. Jesus spells out the steps to becoming a real hero. It is one thing to give your life to save a friend, to put your life on the line for a neighbour, to fight to defend your country. But Jesus calls us to an even higher standard of heroism. Jesus calls us to a radical, supernatural lifestyle.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) This is the kind of love that characterizes an authentic Christ follower.

1. Love Your Enemies  (
Matthew 5:44)
The love that God commands of us is love so great that it even embraces our enemies.  When Jesus said, “I tell you, love your enemies,” he must have startled his audience, for he was saying something that probably had never been said so succinctly, so positively, and so forcefully before.  The human tendency is to base love on the desirability of the object of our love. We love people who are attractive, we love hobbies that are enjoyable, a house or a car because it looks nice. The love of which Jesus speaks here, however, and which is most spoken of in the New Testament, is agape. The love that seeks and works to meet another’s highest welfare.  

"Eight times the Ministry of Education in East Germany said no to Uwe Holmer's children when they tried to enroll at the university in East Berlin.  The Ministry of Education didn't usually give reasons for its rejection of applications for enrollment.  But in this case the reason wasn't hard to guess.  Uwe Holmer, the father of the eight applicants, was a Lutheran pastor at Lobetal, a suburb of East Berlin.  For 26 years the Ministry of Education was headed by Margot Honecker, wife of East Germany's premier, Erich Honecker....[Then] when the Berlin wall cracked....Honecker and his wife were unceremoniously dismissed from office.  Under indictment for criminal activities the Honeckers were evicted from their luxurious palace in Vandlitz, an exclusive suburb of palatial homes reserved for the VIPs in the party.  The Honeckers suddenly found themselves friendless, without resources, and with no place to go.  No one wanted to identify with the Honeckers...

Enter Uwe Holmer.  Remembering the words of Jesus, 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,' Holmer extended an invitation to the Honeckers to stay with his family in the parsonage of the parish church in Lobetal.... Pastor Holmer's charity was not shared by the rest of the country. Hate mail poured in. Some members of his own church threatened to leave or cut back their giving. Pastor Holmer defended his actions in a letter to the newspaper. "In Lobetal," he wrote, "there is a sculpture of Jesus inviting people to himself and crying out, 'Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' We have been commanded by our Lord Jesus to follow him and to receive all those who are weary and heavy laden, in spirit and in body, but especially the homeless… What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us."[3]

This kind of agapeµ love is the love that God is, that God shows us, and therefore expects of us. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us“ (Rom. 5:5, 8).

God’s love sees all the hatefulness and all the wickedness of the enemy yet desires to free him from his hate, to do him the highest good, to rescue him from his sin, and save his soul.   Our “enemies,” of course, do not always come in life–threatening forms. Often they are people who are simply mean, impatient, judgmental, self–righteous, spiteful—or just happen to disagree with us. In all our personal relationships, God commands us to love them. Whether a conflict is with our spouse, our children or parents, our friends our fellow church members, a devious business opponent, spiteful neighbor, political foe, our attitude toward them must be one of love. The world says retaliate. Jesus says reconcile. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. How can we do that when we don’t want to?

2. Pray for Your Persecutors (
Matthew 5:44)

Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the forerunner of mercy. ” I like that - the forerunner of mercy. I'm sure you have found that when you start to pray for someone you don't get on with, God begins to answer your prayer by softening your attitude toward them.  We must love them because of who they are—sinners fallen from the image of God and in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, just as we were and do.  We must pray for them that they will, as we have done, seek His forgiveness and grace.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany, wrote of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:44, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. For if we pray for them, we are taking their distress and poverty, their guilt and perdition upon ourselves and pleading to God for them.” 

Love our enemies and pray for them.
Why should we love like this? Because God’s desire thirdly,

3. Become Like
Jesus (Matthew 5:45-48)

To love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors shows that we are children of our Father who is in heaven. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The sum of all that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount—in fact, the sum of all He teaches in Scripture—is contained in these words. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).

God’s will is nothing less than that we become like him. That which God commands, He provides. Our own self-righteousness is possible, but is so imperfect that it is worthless; God’s righteousness is humanly impossible because it is perfect. But the impossible righteousness becomes possible when we consciously, daily, willingly, lay aside our reputation, lay aside our rights, lay aside our self-righteousness, lay aside our pride, and trust Jesus Christ to give us His love for all, friend, neighbour, enemy.

And that is precisely our Lord’s point here - to lead His audience and us to an overpowering sense of our own spiritual bankruptcy - to realise that only Jesus can turn us from enemies of God into children of God.


“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1:21-22).


Jesus didn’t die just for his friends. He died for his enemies to make them his friends. He died for all who have ignored God, all who have rebelled against God, all who have denied God.  God’s enemies. That is what we remain unless we come in repentance and sorrow for all we have thought and said and done that has grieved God, has angered God.  Jesus gave his life to be your Saviour, the Saviour of the world.  Today we rightly remember with respect and honour the heroes whose names are written on those tablets.

There is another list of names. Its in heaven. One day we will get to see it. Get to see if our names are  included.
Its called the Lamb’s Book of life. It’s a list of all those who have acknowledged Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.  All those who, because they have received Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, have made peace with God. Have come over from the enemy side. Have had their guilt removed, their past wiped clean and their eternal future secure.

Let me illustrate this.
Dr Christianson was a Professor of Religious Studies at a small Mid-Western college in the United States.  He taught a compulsory survey course in Christianity at this particular institution.  Every student was required to take this course during their first year regardless of their major subject.  Although Dr. Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the Christian faith in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.  This year, Dr. Christianson had a special student named SteveSteve was only a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry.  Steve was popular, well liked, an imposing physical specimen. He was the starting center on the school football team, and was the best student in the professor's class.  One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay behind after class so he could talk with him. "How many push-ups can you do?" Steve said, "I do about 200 every night." "200? That's pretty good, Steve," Dr. Christianson said.  "Do you think you could do 300?" Steve replied, "I don't know .. . . I've never done 300 at a time." "Do you think you could?" again asked Dr. Christianson. "Well, I can try," said Steve. "Can you do 300 in sets of 10?  I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it?  I need you to tell me you can do it," said the professor. Steve said, "Well . . .. I think I can . . . yeah, I can do it." Dr. Christianson said, "Good! I need you to do this on Friday.  Let me explain what I have in mind."

Friday came and
Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room.  When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts.  Now these weren't the normal kinds of donuts; they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls.  Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr. Christianson's class.

Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, "Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?" Cynthia said, "Yes please." Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?" Steve said, "Sure," and jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten.  Then Steve got up and sat at his desk.  Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia's desk. Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, "Joe, what about you, do you want a donut?" Joe said, "Yes please." Dr. Christianson asked, "Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?"  Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut.  And so it went, down the first aisle -- Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got a donut. And down the second aisle, till Dr. Christianson came to ScottScott was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship.  The professor asked, "Scott do you want a donut?" Scott's reply was, "Well, can I do my own pushups?"

Dr. Christianson said, "No, Steve has to do them." Then Scott said, "Well, I don't want one then." Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn't want?"  With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups. Scott said, "HEY! I said I didn't want one!" Dr. Christianson said, "Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts.  Just leave it on the desk if you don't want it."  And he put a donut on Scott's desk. Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little.  He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down.  You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow.  Dr. Christianson started down the third row.  Now the students were beginning to get a little defensive.  Dr. Christianson asked, "Jenny, do you want a donut?"  “No thank you” Jenny said nervously. Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve, would you do ten more pushups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn't want?"   Steve did ten, Jenny got a donut. By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room.  The students were beginning to say "No" and there were all the uneaten donuts on the desks.  Steve also had to really put a lot of extra effort to get these pushups done for each donut.  There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved.

Dr. Christianson asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten pushups in a set because he couldn't bear to watch all of Steve's work for all of those uneaten donuts.  He sent
Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could count the set and watch Steve closely.

Dr. Christianson started down the fourth row. He started to wonder if Steve would be able to make it.  Dr. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next.  Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set. Steve asked Dr. Christianson, "Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?" Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, "Well, they're your pushups.  You are in charge now.  You can do them any way that you want." And Dr. Christianson went on.

A few moments later,
Jason, late as usual, burst into the room to shouts from all the students yelled in one voice, "NO!  Don't come in!  Stay out!"  Jason didn't know what was going on.  Steve picked up his head and said, "No, let him come." Professor Christianson said, "You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him also?" Steve said, "Yes, let him come in.  Give him a donut."

Dr. Christianson said, "Okay, Steve, I'll let you get Jason's out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?" Jason, new to the room hardly knew what was going on. "Yes," he said. "Give me a donut." "Steve, will you do ten pushups so that Jason can have a donut?"  Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort.  Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down. Dr. Christianson was nearing the end of the fourth row. Steve's arms were now shaking with each pushup in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity.  Sweat was profusely dropping off of his face and, by this time, there was no sound except his heavy breathing.  There was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular.  
Dr. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, "Linda, do you want a doughnut?" Linda said, very sadly, "No, thank you." Professor Christianson quietly asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn't want?" Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda.  Then Dr. Christianson turned to the last girl.  "Susan, do you want a donut?"   Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. "Dr. Christianson, why can't I help him?"

Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, "No, Steve has to do it alone.  I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether he or she wants it or not. "When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book.  Steve, here, is the only student with a perfect grade.  Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work.  Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups.  He and I made a deal for your sakes.  Steve, would you do ten pushups so Susan can have a donut?"  As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 310 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

Dr. Christianson turned to face the class and said. "And so it was, that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, on the cross, prayed to the Father, 'Into your hands I commend My spirit.'  Knowing he had done everything that was required of Him, he said “it is finished” and yielded up His life.  "Like some of you in this room, many people leave the gift on the desk, uneaten." Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile. "Well done, good and faithful servant" said the professor, adding, "Not all sermons are preached in words."

Today on Remembrance Sunday we realize we all need heroes. And we can be a hero to those we love, if we love our enemies, if we pray for those who persecute us and if we become become like Jesus. Today we also realize, above all else, we need a Saviour to turn us from enemies into friends. Which is your greatest need today? Lets pray.

With grateful thanks to John MacArthur’s commentary on Matthew and Nicky Gumbel’s Challenging Lifestyle.


[1] “One TV star's tribute to the real heroes” by Rob Davies Nov 5, 2003, Express and Star,