THE TRANSCENDENT TEACHING OF JESUS REGARDING THE GREATER RIGHTEOUSNESS OF KINGDOM CITIZENS CLIMAXES WITH THIS COMMAND TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES WITHOUT PARTIALITY
E. Michael Green: The last example Jesus chooses of the ‘greater righteousness’ of members of the kingdom is the most challenging of all. It makes explicit what has been implicit throughout the whole chapter hitherto: love (5:43–48). The Great Lover has poured his love upon us unworthy rebels. He has purified us, has adopted us into his kingdom, and wants us to be his ambassadors in the human kingdoms. How is it to be done, and how is our allegiance to be shown? Supremely, by love. Love is the mark which, above all else, should distinguish those who know themselves to have been found by a loving God.
Leon Morris: This section is of fundamental importance for an understanding of the Christian ideal of love. We all love our friends, but love of our enemies is quite another matter. But the followers of Jesus are not to take their standards from the communities in which they live. The God they serve is a loving God, and therefore they are to be loving people.
William Barclay: There is no other passage of the New Testament which contains such a concentrated expression of the Christian ethic of personal relations. To the ordinary person, this passage describes essential Christianity in action, and even the person who never darkens the door of the church knows that Jesus said this, and very often condemns the professing Christian for falling so far short of its demands.
David Doriani: Few teachings in Scripture are more memorable and more challenging than this: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). 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.
I. (:43) TRADITIONAL TEACHING OF JEWISH RELIGIOUS LEADERS
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’”
E. Michael Green: And of course neighbour was to be taken in the broadest possible sense of ‘other person’, like the neighbour in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But that was too tough for many of the scribes. It was unrealistic to understand ‘neighbour’ so broadly. So they added yet another of their escape clauses: ‘and hate your enemy’. That command appears nowhere in the Old Testament. It is a concession to human frailty invented by the scribes. And it was emphatically underlined by the Essenes of Qumran, who enthusiastically awaited the final battle in which their enemies would be crushed. But Jesus will have none of it. It is not limited love, but unlimited love, love to the just and the unjust, to evil and good alike, that is the mark of the Great Lover. And it must not be sporadic, but a settled mark of our characters, just as the regular following of day by night is a mark of the settled character of God himself. That is the meaning of perfect, teleioi (48). Be like God in undiscriminating and undifferentiating love towards all and sundry. That is the mark of the Master. That is the mark of the disciple.
The word ‘love’ is significant. The ancient world knew about philia, friendship; it knew about erōs, sexual love; it knew about storgē, the love that binds families together; but agapē was something very different. That is why the word is practically unknown before Christ—the commodity itself was in such short supply. For agapē means a love that gives itself for the good of the recipient. It means love that springs from the nature of the donor rather than from the real or fancied worthiness of the recipient. Of course we cannot like our enemies. But we can love them, in this sense of agapē love. We can desire and work for their highest good. We can regard them as those for whom Christ came and died and who are therefore intensely valuable to him. At least, we can begin to move in that direction if we ourselves have been magnetized by the love of the God who treats us like that. And it is nothing less than that for which Jesus looks in his disciples. Like Father, like son and daughter.
Donald Hagner: Clearly, neither Jesus’ listeners nor Matthew’s readers would have been surprised by the added words, since the traditional interpretation had become regularly associated with the text. The “neighbor” meant fellow Jew; the “enemy” meant Gentile.
John Nolland: Two things are at once obvious.
- First, unless Matthew intends a rather limited understanding of ‘enemy’, this gloss is not true to 19:18, where the context speaks against hating, taking vengeance, and bearing a grudge — matters which arise when one perceives that another has behaved like an ‘enemy’.
- Second, the wording of 19:18 nonetheless opens itself to some kind of restricting gloss since it addresses the command to love (only) to one’s relationship with one’s neighbour.
J. Ligon Duncan: He teaches us that we must not illegitimately limit the extent of our neighbor love. That is, we must not come up with rationalizations that restrict God’s command to us to love our neighbor. The Pharisees were doing that. The Pharisees took a good law, you shall love your neighbor, and they appended an unbiblical truth ‘and hate your enemy.’ You see that law of neighbor love, some of which we heard in Leviticus 19, is a law that demands practical love of neighbor, not just sentiment towards neighbor, but a practical helping of neighbor. Not slandering your neighbor’s name, but looking for your neighbor’s interests in his estates, in his person, in his vocation, in his good name and reputation. In all these practical ways, Leviticus and other commands of Moses demand that we love our neighbor. But nowhere do those passages command that we hate our enemy. And the Pharisees, you see, were saying “Well yes, we must love our neighbor, but you have to understand who your neighbor is.” Your neighbor is the person who has a claim on your love. Your neighbor well may be a relative. Your neighbor may be a fellow citizen of Israel, but there are some who do not deserve that kind of treatment or love, they were teaching.
The Pharisees, you see, misunderstood the meaning of neighbor. They misinterpreted the Law of God in its teaching on our neighbor. They had a worldly understanding of who our neighbor is. They restricted the definition of neighbor. Jesus addresses this, of course, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, but He does it here as well. The Pharisees had defined “neighbor” as a person who had a claim on your love, a person who deserved to be treated lovingly by you, and so they had redefined neighbor.
II. (:44-47) TRANSCENDENT TEACHING OF JESUS
“But I say to you,”
A. (:44-45) Love Your Enemies to Demonstrate You Are Genuinely Sons of God
- (:44) The Radical Command
a. Love Your Enemies
“love your enemies,”
Grant Osborne: Two changes are important:
(1) from the singular “enemy” to the plural “enemies,” stressing the universal nature of the command, and
(2) the use of the present imperative, stressing the ongoing need of such an attitude.
This was revolutionary, and there is no evidence for such a command in Jewish literature. Leviticus 19:33–34 commanded love for the resident alien, and Prov 25:21 speaks of acts of kindness for one’s enemy (cf. also Exod 23:4–5; Job 31:29–30; Prov 17:5, 24:17), but nowhere is love commanded for one’s enemy.
David Doriani: 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.
Kent Hughes: Jesus’ call to love one’s enemies is supremely radical! “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” That is true! To love an enemy is divine, and to pray for an enemy – a persecutor – is supremely divine! The fact that the text mentions “enemies” (plural) suggests that Jesus means personal enemies who are presently doing us harm. This is amazing teaching. To the man on the street, the mere idea of loving his enemies is absurd and offensive and beyond his capability. It offends his natural sense of right and wrong. To those under the Old Testament Law, the idea of loving one’s enemies was completely contrary to their perception of God’s Law, which they thought required rejection and hatred of enemies – a limited love. Jesus commanded a love without limits, that loves everyone regardless of what they say or do to us. This is revolutionary, whatever one’s culture. In fact, if practiced by you and me, it would change our entire community.
b. Pray for Those Who Persecute You
“and pray for those who persecute you”
Leon Morris: He proceeds to an example of what he means with the injunction to pray for (or “on behalf of”) the persecutors. The verb “to persecute” (see on v. 10) can indicate persecution in any form, but here it is persecution specifically directed at Jesus’ followers (you). It may be possible to regard in a detached way persecution of others; it is not so easy when one is the object of the persecution. “Persecutors are the most difficult enemies to love” (Nixon). But it is precisely in a situation of persecution that Jesus’ followers are to show their love by praying for those who are harming them.
David Doriani: 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. Augustine said that God’s love is incomprehensible and unchangeable in that he began to love us before we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son. Our sin made us his enemies. Yet because our iniquity had not entirely consumed his handiwork, “He knew . . . how . . . to hate what we had done, and to love what he had done [in creating us].” Therefore, to love our enemies is to live like a child of God.
- (:45) The Reason
a. Prove Your Family Identity
“in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;”
Donald Hagner: To participate in the kingdom relates the disciple to the Father in a unique way, and that unique relationship involves doing his will. This is also the point of v 48. The children of the kingdom are called to reflect the character of their heavenly Father (cf. Eph 5:1), who has brought to them the kingdom. The early Church picks up the emphasis of this teaching in such passages as Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Pet 3:9. One important foundation for the unheard-of command to love one’s enemies is the very fact that God gives his good gifts of sunshine and rain both to good and to bad. The different words for “good” (ἀγαθούς, “good,” and δικαίους, “just”) and “bad” (πονηρούς, “evil,” and ἀδίκους, “unjust”) represent stylistic variation, as does the chiastic order of the nouns. The “bad” are, from the context, analogous to the “enemies” of God. To love one’s enemies is, then, to treat them as God treats those who have rebelled against him. Thus the children, the disciples, should imitate their heavenly Father.
Leon Morris: We will see that to be God’s children means to love. Love and membership in God’s family go together. Sons here are members of the heavenly family. There is a sense in which those members are infinitely diverse and another sense in that they are all characterized by dependence on and likeness to the Father; in this sense sons are “those who are bound to a personality by close, non-material ties; it is this personality that has promoted the relationship and given it its character” (BAGD, 1.c.γ). The conduct Jesus has enjoined in the previous verse is the conduct that characterizes those in close relationship with the heavenly Father. God loves like that, and his sons come to love in some measure like that, too.
b. Pattern Your Conduct after the Goodness of God
“for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Grant Osborne: The sunshine and rain are both natural blessings that form the basis of plant growth and therefore of life as a whole. God does not curse the wicked with all bad things and bless the good with all good things. Even those who reject God are made in his image and loved by him, so his people must reflect his goodness even toward their persecutors.
B. (:46-47) Love Your Enemies to Demonstrate that Your Heart Has Been Transformed by God’s Grace
- (:46) Your Righteousness Must Exceed that of the Despised Tax-Gatherers
“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?
Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?”
Leon Morris: Tax collectors have never been popular in any culture, but in first-century Palestine they were especially unpopular. Partly this was because they gathered taxes for the Romans, and anything that helped the conquerors was anathema to the subject Jews. Partly also it was because they tended to be extortionate. In the eyes of Jesus’ audience there were no more wicked people than tax collectors as a class. If even they would respond to love with love, then anyone would. They are the last people one would expect to show love, but they do — to their own kind. This example shows that there is nothing wonderful about this kind of love.
J. Ligon Duncan: You see my friends, if you want to measure whether you’ve gone beyond niceness to real Christian love, look at your hearts and ask yourselves: “How do I love those who have hurt me? How do I love those who hate me? How do I love those who have no claim on my love?” Then, you will see how far you have to go in love. Thank God, the Lord Jesus does not leave us to our own devices, for this love cannot be created by human effort. We must run back to Him. We must get more love to Christ if we are to grow in this kind of love to one another. You see, there is no humanly generated love that can enable you to love people in this sort of a self-sacrificial way. Only a living and loving relationship with the heavenly Father, an assurance that He has given you everything that you need in Christ, an assurance that all blessing awaits in glory, can enable you to love those will take advantage of you. And that’s precisely what Christ is calling you to.
- (:47) Your Righteousness Must Exceed that of Unsaved Gentiles
“And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
E. Michael Green: There’s a sting in the tail of this marvellous passage. For it is hard to miss the scorn in the designations tax collectors and pagans (46–47). Commentators often suggest that Matthew has failed to love the outsider with God’s all-embracing love, and reverts here to prejudiced descriptions inherited from his past. That is to assume Matthew made the sentences up. But if they came from the lips of Jesus, a very different scenario emerges. He hoists the hearers with their own petard. For almost all of them would despise the hated tax collectors and the Gentile pagans. And with gentle irony Jesus shows them that their loveless attitude is identical with that of the very people they despise. Love is a tender plant, and those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
David Doriani: Many churches seem cold and unwelcoming to visitors, but almost every church thinks it is friendly. Why? Because the members are friendly with their friends. They greet everyone who greets them. This is not noteworthy. Genuine love keeps an eye open for the quiet, the awkward, and the friendless, and seeks them out.
C. S. Lewis: The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. … The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity.’ The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.
(:48) SUMMARY OF KINGDOM RIGHTEOUSNESS = LIVE LIKE YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER INTENDS FOR YOU TO LIVE
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
D. A. Carson: Some interpret this verse as the conclusion of the last antithesis (vv.43–47; e.g., Allen, Hendriksen). In that case the perfection advocated is perfection in love. But “perfection” has far broader associations, and it is better to understand v.48 as the conclusion to the antitheses.
Donald Hagner: There is a sense, however, in which this verse also serves as the logical conclusion to all the preceding antitheses. The righteousness of the kingdom, which altogether exceeds that of the Pharisees, involves a call to be like the Father.
R. T. France: The disciple’s life-style is to be different from other people’s because it draws its inspiration not from the norms of society but from the character of God. Even the God-given law had been accommodated to a practical ethical code with which Jewish society had come to feel comfortable, but Jesus is demanding a different approach, not via laws read as simply rules of conduct but rather by looking behind those laws to the mind and character of God himself. Whereas any definable set of rules could, in principle, be fully kept, the demand of the kingdom of heaven has no such limit—or rather its limit is perfection, the perfection of God himself.
Leon Morris: That their standard is to be the highest possible (“no limit to your goodness,” REB) is shown by the words that follow: even as your heavenly Father is perfect. When Matthew uses the adjective heavenly it always refers to God (he has the word 7 times out of its 9 New Testament occurrences). In this he contrasts with Luke, who uses it of the heavenly host (Luke 2:13) and of the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19). Matthew thus employs the term to stress the difference between God and others, just as Father brings out his nearness and his love. To set this kind of perfection before his followers means that Jesus saw them as always having something for which to strive. No matter how far along the path of Christian service we are, there is still something to aim for. There is a wholeheartedness about being Christian; all that we have and all that we are must be taken up into the service of the Father.
Craig Blomberg: Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will—to become more like him. J. Walvoord rightly observes, “While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable.” But such godliness cannot be comprehensively formulated in a set of rules; the ethics of the sermon are suggestive, not exhaustive.
William Barclay: The Greek word for perfect is teleios. This word is often used in Greek in a very special way. It has nothing to do with what we might call abstract, philosophical, metaphysical perfection. A victim which is fit for a sacrifice to God, that is a victim which is without blemish, is teleios. A man who has reached his full-grown stature is teleios as distinct from a half-grown youth. A student who has reached a mature knowledge of a subject is teleios as opposed to a learner who is just beginning, and who as yet has no grasp of things.
To put it in another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed and made. In point of fact, that meaning is involved in the derivation of the word. Teleios is the adjective formed from the noun telos. Telos means an end, a purpose, an aim, a goal. A thing is teleios if it achieves the purpose for which it is planned; human beings are perfect if they achieve the purpose for which they were created and sent into the world.