46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors, do they not do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Even the Gentiles, do they not do the same? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Last week, we looked at Matthew 5:43-45 and Jesus’ correction of the Pharisees mixing truth with error by teaching ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ We found out that the Pharisees commandment to hate your enemies is found nowhere in the Old Testament. We learned that Jesus tells us not only to love just one enemy, but to love all our enemies, even those who make it the most difficult to love them. Self-interest cannot be our driving motivation, if we are to love our enemies, and one of the pinnacles of what it means to die to self, and follow Jesus. God does His work through us when we love our enemies, and conforms us to His image, while Glorifying His name on Earth.
45 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;
Jesus is saying that in loving even those who hate us, we are acting how God acts. Our treatment of people is based on the dignity that they have, as persons created in the image of God, and on the need that they have that we can fill. And today, in our materialistically wealthy society, these needs are going to often go beyond just giving someone some money. And the love that we show when our enemy is in need may be the one opportunity that we have to point them to Christ. If God has put someone in our lives with a great need, He is trusting you with an important task. As James 1:27 puts it 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. And that means that even if the particular widow happens to be an enemy, the fact that they are in distress means God wants you to show love for them and help them.
This idea of our sonship, our family resemblance to God being tied together with the genuineness and depth of the love that we show toward one another is echoed throughout the scriptures. And it begins with God. In Romans 8:14, Paul speaks of this sonship saying 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God. So, the leading of the Holy Spirit within us, shows us how to follow God’s will for our lives. And He gives us power. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” So, the Holy Spirit gives us power not to be afraid, because we have the confidence of being Children of God. And, we have the power to pray and make petitions to God, and we know that we will be heard, and answered by God. Not only that, 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, so we have both the 100% assurance that we are saved. Follow His leading you to follow Christ, and you will be assured that you are saved! Jesus ties all of this into having love for everyone, even our enemies.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
In other words, loving people who love you in return is just normal human behavior. It’s a good thing, and even a great thing, but by itself it’s not a witness that you are in Christ, and does not demonstrate God’s love in such a way that anyone would notice. Now, contrast this with Jesus’ words in in Mathew 10:42 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” Notice the difference here. Jesus’ example of giving only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple is about being concerned that God is glorified. And that’s what loving our enemies is all about.
Even the tax collectors, do they not do the same?
Matthew, as we recall, was a former tax collector. In first century Israel, they were not only disliked, they were detested. They gathered taxes for the hated Romans, who used the money to fund the oppression of the Jews. There was a kind of brotherly love, one tax collector to another, but it lacked the genuine generosity, warmth and self-sacrifice that Jesus was talking about. We’ve all experienced the kind of conditional, limited love that the world offers. Matthew had probably experienced the loss of most of his tax collector friends, who probably thought he was putting on airs by following Jesus as a disciple. Mathew had seen the limitations of their kind of love, but He wanted something more—real, unending agape love that cared about him because he was loved and valued in God’s eyes—not for what he could do for someone else, but just for the beautiful person God had created him to be.
47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?
By, brothers and sisters here, Jesus likely meant other Jewish people, since they also called each other “brother” or “sister”, just like Christians often do today. This is what the lawyer in Luke 10:25-29 is getting at, by asking whether he really has to love foreigners and Samaritans in order to please God. Jesus replied by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. Isn’t it interesting that the lawyer’s question related to what He must do in his flesh to inherit eternal life. The man thought that he may have had a chance to make it on his own, without believing in Jesus by keeping all of the commandments. And the man thought, well, I treat my Jewish brethren neighbors as myself, I think, so I may still have a shot. But when Jesus called him to love even those he regarded as his enemies as himself, he knew that he could not accomplish this on his own. He needed God’s help, and that’s what Jesus was trying to tell him.
48 Therefore you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
During the Last Supper, when Jesus spoke of His having to leave them, He gives them a commandment. It was the only new commandment Jesus ever gave, and He gave it to these same disciples that the Sermon on the Mount is directed to, these same Citizens of Heaven. He said in John 13:34-5 34 I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.”
Truly loving even our enemies with the graceful, caring, providing, self-sacrificing love that God has shown us, is one of the purest outward expressions of a close relationship with God.
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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father 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 “You have heard that it was said,
Jesus’ interpretation is going to uphold exactly what God had said, not changing the law one bit, but also correcting the Pharisees false teaching
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
While it’s certainly true that the Old Testament says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Lev 19:18). The Pharisees admonition to “hate your enemy” is found nowhere in the Old Testament. There are many admonitions in the Old Testament NOT to hate. Lev 19:17 says 17 ‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may certainly rebuke your neighbor, but you are not to incur sin because of him. (Leviticus 19:17). The Israelites were commanded even to love the stranger among them in Lev 19:35 saying 34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. And instead of telling people to hate their enemies, the Law required them to show kindness to enemies and assist them when they fall into difficulty as in Exodus 23:5, 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall not leave it helpless for its owner; you must arrange the load with him. In fact, Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs 24:17). Jesus leaves the Pharisees no excuse for their false teaching, brings a correction and rebuke to them in verse 44
44 But I say to you, love your enemies,
So Jesus sets up a contrast between what the Pharisees have been teaching, and God’s actual moral expectations of the people of God. Now, let’s get one thing straight—you’d rather love anyone else, rather than your enemy. And notice that it says enemies (plural). That means we are to love all our enemies, even those who make it the most difficult to love them. The word love used here is agape, and it means “generous, warm, costly self-sacrifice for another’s good.” Self-interest cannot be our driving motivation, if we are to love our enemies! This is an even higher calling than our verses last week. It’s one of the pinnacles of what it means to die to self, and follow Jesus. Not only are we to not strike back, but we are to love in return. When we do this, we (Prov. 25:22) 22 For you will heap burning coals on his head, we force our enemy to try to figure out why we are blessing them. It forces them to confront the fact that maybe it’s not us that they hate, but God. And that will get them wondering why they hate a God who loves them so much. And that might just give us an opportunity to share with them how much God loves them, and how He has provided a way that they can repent and be saved from their sins, through Jesus’ sacrifice for them on the cross.
bless those who curse you,
As we bless those who curse us, it’s going to make them feel ashamed. It will make them want to take back their words, and this can be the start of a change in their attitude toward God.
do good to those who hate you,
We must think of those who are persecuting us and hating us in the right light. We must understand that they have been duped by Satan. They are helpless against his influence in their lives to sin more and more, and to hate what is good, as he does. We must see them as hell-bound sinners, and we must do everything that we can to point them to Jesus. And that’s going to mean swallowing our pride and doing good for them. Loving them, and praying for them.
and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
And God uses these persecutions and tribulations to transform our hearts as well. Jesus assures us in John In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” It’s part of our lives as Christians, and we know that this will happen to us. But God gives us instructions on how we are supposed to handle it, and how we are supposed to feel about it. In 1 Peter 4:14 we are assured If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, and of God, rests upon you. And so, if we are reviled, if people rail against us, scorn and malign us because we are Christians, we can look at it as a blessing for a very specific reason: God has given us an opportunity to glorify His name on Earth, and has given us spiritual strength to endure whatever however the world wants to defame us, and blacken our reputation.
As we learn to pray for our enemies instead of letting anger rise up and holding on to bitterness and resentment and bitterness. Pray for them, and you will sooner or later find any anger or resentment you have toward them melting away.
45 that you may be sons of your Father 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.
Jesus says: This is how true members of the family of God act. Our treatment of people is based on the dignity that they have, as persons created in the image of God, and on their need. This is how God acts. He gives sunshine in it’s season and sends rain on crops so that they grow. God not only blesses the efforts of those who love Him, but those who hate Him too. He has patience with people, urging them to turn from their sin and follow Him. Now is the time for salvation, before it is too late and God must stop dealing with you on the basis of His love for you, and instead ratify your decision to reject Him and His offer of Eternal life. Choose Him today.