Distinct in My Love

| Matthew 5:43-48

The Point:  Love everyone unconditionally.

Active Love:  Matthew 5:43-48.

[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 makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46]  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47]  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [48]  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  [ESV]

Love Your Enemies. Few teachings in Scripture are more memorable and more challenging than this: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you [44]. It is alien to our thought, our practice, and our nature. We are pleased with ourselves if we love our family and friends, though even that is a struggle at times. But love our enemies? What could motivate that? At best, we try to be polite and stay out of their way. Why would we want to love those who strive to do us harm? But let us listen to Jesus, so that we might understand and, with God’s help, obey. He says: 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 [43-45]. This is the final teaching in the major section, Matthew 5:20-48, which presents Jesus’ teaching on the true meaning of the law. He began that part of His sermon by saying, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven [20]. Jesus defines this surpassing righteousness more in terms of motives than in terms of external deeds. So, for example, He says nothing new about the act of murder, but He insists that His disciples banish its motive, the anger and contempt that lead to it. Likewise, He says nothing new about the act of adultery, but addresses the lustful eyes and thoughts that lead to it. Jesus is consistent in this, but He is also a spiritual fitness trainer. He keeps adding weight to the workout. As we have seen, His teaching becomes ever more challenging. In 5:27-32, He tells husbands to love their wives by shunning lust and divorce. In 5:33-37, He commands us to respect our neighbors by telling them the truth. In 5:38-42, He urges mercy, not vengeance, toward those who harm us. Finally, in 5:43-47, He mandates that we love even our enemies. This is not a repetition of the previous point, for others can harm us by accident, ignorance, or neglect. An enemy harms us with malice, hoping to wound. Jesus says, Love that enemy. In this part of His sermon, Jesus introduces each section by reminding His audience of what they have heard before. Five times Jesus says, you have heard that it was said, and once He says, It was also said. Each time He summarizes the law before He explains its full sense [5:21,27,31,33,38,43]. Each time Jesus quotes or summarizes the law before correcting a superficial reading of it [5:21,27] or removing a distortion of it [5:31,33,38]. But in the last instance Jesus combats a darker error. For what you have heardLove your neighbor and hate your enemy – is half a quotation of the law and half a fabrication. Love your neighbor as yourself is from the law of Moses [Lev. 19:18]. Indeed, Jesus says it is the second great commandment [Matt. 22:39]. It is the sum and fulfillment of the law – the royal law [Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8]. But hate your enemy? How could anyone think that the Bible commands hatred of enemies? In two ways. First, love your neighbor could be taken to mean, “Love only your neighbor and don’t bother with the rest.” It is possible to interpret love your neighbor in a way that removes our obligation to those who live at a distance. But the same chapter of the law that commands us to love our neighbor also commands us to love the stranger as yourself [Lev. 19:33-34]. The parable of the good Samaritan makes the same point. But second, certain Bible passages do appear to approve of hating one’s enemies. For example, God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites totally, without treaty and without mercy [Deut. 7:2; 20:16-18]. The Lord also promised to defend Israel, to fight her enemies, to put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you [Deut. 30:7]. Further, several psalms rejoice in God’s judgment on those who hate God and His people [Ps. 11:5; 139:21-22]. And this teaching is also found in Revelation [see 17:12-16; 18:5,7,13,24; 19:2,3]. Therefore, angels rejoice at Babylon’s fall, for it means the end of her oppression of mankind, the end of her rebellion against God. The settled enemies of God must fall and shall fall. When their rebellion is implacable and irreversible, they are ripe for God’s judgment, which is just and true [Rev. 16:5-7; 19:2]. On judgment day, God’s patience ends. This is how we must understand the psalms and prophecies that approve of God’s judgment. The Bible never commands us to hate individual enemies, but there is a place for righteous wrath toward God’s settled enemies. On judgment day, we will rejoice at their downfall, for their end is inseparable from the victory of God and His saints. Thus, when we view the wicked as a class, from an eternal perspective, our love for them ceases. In daily life, however, we have no right to adopt the eternal perspective. We cannot classify people. The man standing before us may be wicked, but we do not know whether he will repent or not. Remember the conversion of Paul. Once the archenemy of the church, he became its great apostle. Paul’s salvation demonstrates God’s unlimited patience [1 Tim. 1:16]. Therefore, we should be patient with sinners too. Still, no one should presume upon that patience [Rom. 2:4-6]. Therefore, sinners must hope in God’s mercy. Yet they must take warning, for God’s mercy will eventually run out. For now, however, disciples leave judgment to God and show His mercy to others, just as He showed mercy to us. When Jesus said Love your enemies, most Jews would have thought first of the Romans, who occupied and defiled their land. What good could ever come from loving the Romans? Would the Romans love the Jews back? No, but Jesus does not promise that love will turn enemies into friends. Our love of enemies is independent of the person loved, independent of their rank or attractiveness. None of that matters. Results are immaterial. The law always points toward love. It extends from friends to neighbors to enemies. Still, Love your enemies seems daunting. How can we love those who hate us, who plan evil for us? And this love includes both inward attitudes and outward deeds. One cannot genuinely pray for someone without hoping for their good. When we pray for an enemy, animosity dwindles and compassion increases. Love is an act of a whole person reaching out to whole persons. God’s love is the source and the model for love of enemies. Therefore, to love our enemies is to live like a child of God. Jesus says, Love your enemies … so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven [44-45]. Jesus does not mean that acts of love are the instrument we use to gain the status of sons. Rather, we demonstrate that we are God’s children when we love as our Father loves. Even so, the goal is not chiefly to demonstrate something to God. Rather, Jesus wants us to aspire to divine love. To love our enemies is to pursue a life patterned after God. It is our destiny and our obligation to be conformed to the character of God [Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 1 John 3:2-3]. God is our pattern when we love our enemies and pray for our foes. God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust [45]. We should shower enemies and friends with acts of loving kindness. Like God, we should give without regard for a return. Now Jesus defines divine love negatively, by comparing it to the lesser standard of ordinary decency. Sadly, we are inclined to congratulate ourselves for small, commonplace acts of kindness. Jesus says there is nothing especially commendable in returning a favor. It does not count as a sign of love or virtue. If we love those who love us, we deserve no reward. Humans are prone to think well of themselves for every token of decency, but to return a favor is nothing more than politeness and may be mere self-interest, since we know that one act of kindness begets another. There is no special merit in doing a favor for those who favor us. God need not reward that kind of love; the neighbor takes care of it [46]. By now, careful listeners suspect that Jesus’ moral ideal is splendid but unattainable. Jesus confirms our hunch when He says, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect [48]. This reminds us that the Sermon on the Mount is for believers, for men and women who have already entered the kingdom of God. No one can earn entry into the kingdom by keeping Jesus’ standards. But the disciple takes his failure to God and pleads for mercy. He contemplates God’s standard and pleads for grace. There is nothing else to do. But God offers hope for success, not just mercy for failure. Look at verse 48 again: it is a command, yet Jesus states it in a way that gives us hope. The command to be perfect describes what Jesus requires of His disciples. Yet, to be precise, the Greek is a future indicative: “You shall be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” In Greek and English, the future is used both to predict (it will rain) and to command (you will attend this meeting). Since Jesus is giving ethical instruction, it is best to think of the future indicative in verse 48 as a command (Matthew also used future indicatives for commands in 5:21,27,33,43). But Jesus’ teaching also points to the future. He makes promises. The meek will inherit the earth, those who mourn will be comforted, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled [5:4-9]. Therefore, we can read “You shall be perfect” as a promise as well as a command: we shall be perfect. In the Greek, again, the term you is emphatic. Jesus does not speak to mankind in general, but to His disciples. He charges us to be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect. The phrase your heavenly Father makes two points. He is in heaven, which puts Him far above us. But He is our Father, which puts Him near us. The standard is high, yet not completely out of reach. If we read Matthew 5 merely as a set of moral demands, it is unattainable. But it also paints a portrait of kingdom life, of life in the family of God, and that is the life that disciples experience in some measure. So Jesus says we must aspire to be like our Father. In the physical family, it is natural for a child to be like his father. It is also logical in the spiritual family, for God, our Father, is remaking us in His image. He has loved us with an everlasting love. The love He shows is the love He commands. It is our duty to love our enemies and pray for them. but it is also our goal to be like the Father. It would be blasphemy to claim such a goal on our own, but God commends it to us and empowers us for it. We are the children of God. We shall, by His grace and Spirit, find some desire and ability to love our enemies. Therefore, let us examine ourselves. Do our good deeds surpass those of the quid pro quo world? Do we love the undeserving, as God does? Or do we still do good only to get good in return? To live as Jesus lived, we must identify our enemies, those who make us think of revenge. Those enemies offer us the opportunity to love as our Father loves. For God loved us when we were strangers and alienated from Him. He loved us when we were His enemies. Our animosity could not thwart His love. He loved us, gave us new life, and drew us to Himself as His adopted children. He has poured His transforming grace into our hearts, so we can love our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies. As Matthew 5 moves to this climax, Jesus leads us to peer ever deeper into our hearts, that we may know ourselves. In chapter 6, the focus will shift away from the disciples’ internal life and toward the life of a disciple in this world, in the presence of God.”  [Doriani, pp. 186-195]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Jesus taught that a righteous act consists of three things: the act itself (according to God’s law); motivation (to the glory of God); and attitude (from a heart that desires to obey God in all things). How do we apply Jesus’ teaching on righteousness to His command, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

2.         How do we reconcile Jesus’ command to Love your enemies with certain Bible passages that appear to approve of hating one’s enemies [e.g., Deut. 7:2; 20:16-18; 30:7; Ps. 11:5; 139:21-22; Rev. 17:12-16; 18:5,7,13,24; 19:2,3]?

3.         Verse 48, in many ways, is a summary verse for Matthew chapter 5. How do we deal with this impossible command? Do we just ignore the command as an impossible task? Do we allow our failure to obey the command to frustrate us? What suggestions does Doriani give us on how to apply this verse to our Christian life?

4.         As we end our brief study on the Sermon on the Mount, we need to pause and examine ourselves. Do our good deeds surpass those of the quid pro quo world? Do we love the undeserving, as God does? Or do we still do good only to get good in return? Are we showing others that we are children of our Heavenly Father by the way we obey our Father?

References:

Matthew, volume 1, James Boice, Baker.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, D. A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.

Matthew, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, John Stott, Inter Varsity.