This was a tough week in our country. In El Paso, Dayton, Chicago, and multiple other communities across the country, hatred was on full display as bullets flew. The carnage and discourse over the last week has been unsettling as we all grapple with why our fellow citizens would delight in shooting up a retail store, night club, or a park full of kids.
We can easily run to simple answers in times like these and demonize a faulty mental health care system, excessive citizen gun ownership, a broken immigration system, impoverished neighborhoods, or longstanding racial unrest. Undoubtedly, these are significant contributors to many senseless acts of violence, but the word of Jesus about hate would have us look a bit deeper into the heart to understand why humans commit such senseless and vile acts. While most of us would never think of shooting into a crowded space or even taking the life of another person, Jesus illustrated the truth about the way that our hearts respond too often. We, too, have a propensity to hate. In Matthew 5-6, Jesus challenged his followers to respond completely differently than what was typically seen in their surrounding community and culture.
To best understand the Sermon on the Mount, you need to understand the areas where Jesus’ ministry took place. His ministry took place within communities full of racial tensions, violence, and unrest. Politically, an invading force governed over the country as ruling despot, and most people lacked confidence that the government could do much of anything to stop the unrest. The rulers used public beatings, crucifixions, and imprisonment to ensure that the ruling party would stay in power. Government leaders sought to enrich themselves through unfair and increasing taxes. I think you can see some of the parallels to our times fairly easily. Jesus didn’t speak the words in the Sermon on the Mount to a culture any more or less sophisticated than ours. The Sermon could be preached today, and every part of it would be just as relevant.
Hatred isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, from the beginning pages of scripture, we see that hatred resides in the heart every man, even in the best of circumstances. No man is immune from actions and feelings of hatred. We all can easily go there. Jesus quoted the popular proverb of the day, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” They knew exactly that “hating our enemy” is the most common response. However, Jesus then flipped the script and asked us to take seriously several illustrations of hatred that are common dynamics of hate and to understand how they are impacting the relationships all around us.
It’s easy to pretend like we aren’t prone to hatred when we see some extreme images of hatred, but on a relational level, we deal with far more hatred than we might ever imagine.
In Matthew 5, Jesus gave us three illustrations of hate that help us see the hate in our own hearts and relationships.
Vs. 38-39 Hate is demonstrated when I choose to seek revenge.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Relational Application: When we are hurt or wounded in relationships, our heart is prone to seek revenge. Whether a harsh word, withholding kindness, or intentional acts of malice, Jesus reminds us that revenge is not his way. Some may fear that removing revenge as a possibility may put them at a power disadvantage, but there is a healthier way to work through even these types of situations. Refusing revenge is a commitment to always act in the best interest of the one who hurts you, even in calling out their behavior. Remember, revenge starts in the mind before it ever moves into action. Even ruminating about revenge takes us further from God’s heart.
Vs. 40-42 Hate is demonstrated when I choose to ignore my neighbor in need.
 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Relational Application: It would be fairly difficult to relate well to one who is an unjust accuser. But that is the dynamic that we often find in our family, marriage, church, or workplace. We feel falsely accused and we want to set the record straight. To view the unjust accuser as the one in need or to practice extravagant generosity, demonstrates a heart for people more than things. To walk the extra mile, means I am willing to sacrifice my time and energy to help others.
This is why the brother of Jesus came to conclude in James 1:27 that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Failing to see and act on behalf of the world in need around us was an evidence Jesus pointed out as a heart prone to hatred. Start with the needs in your own family and marriage first! Those in your home and family are you closest neighbors.
Vs. 43-45 Hate is demonstrated when I fail to seek justice.
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (ESV)
Relational Application: If Jesus reminds us that we are the “sons of the Father” and we are to act as our Father in heaven, then we need to take note of how the Father acts. He does not withhold light or rain from his enemies. He desires for them to seek him. It makes a huge perspective shift in our life if we are confident that our aim is to live out the love of Father in this fallen world. Our aim is not to avoid pain and suffering, accumulate wealth, feel better, or make a name for ourselves. Whose agenda are you serving in your relationships? When you don’t get your way, do you sulk or sneer? Do you trust God enough that you can pursue justice for others, even when you may not feel like you have been treated fairly yourself? Do you have to receive what you want from God first, in order to be willing to do good to others?
Notice how verse 48 ends with a call to pursue the heart of God. The word “perfect” here is a statement of mature love. Jesus does not expect you to be morally perfect, he alone is our only means of perfection; but we can in greater ways reflect his values and heart. We can resolve to treat the haters around us with an uncommon pursuit of their good. That is how God treats us, he is good and he is maturing us for our good.
Conclusion: Hate was not just on display in El Paso, Dayton and Chicago this past weekend. Hate is a dynamic of our fallen hearts that God is seeking to change. As sinners prone to hate haters, what we need most is to recognize how much we have been loved by a good God. We need to live in gratitude rather than hurting others with hateful words and actions.
While I don’t hold out much hope that the next five years will bring dramatically different levels of hatred in our culture, those who follow Christ have a tremendous opportunity to stand out as different by demonstrating a different posture of our heart. That was the point when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount more than2,000 years ago, and his words are just as powerful today. Let’s not live in demonstration of hatred, but let us be people marked by love and wisdom.
Wonderful article. Thank you for those pearls of wisdom from the heart of God.
Matthew 22 presents Jesus’ on the Royal Law as the response vertically to God and then horizontally to all others.
“And he said to him, “You shall (selflessly and other-directedly) love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall (so) love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.””
Matthew 22:37-40 ESV