SERIES: “SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”
Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor
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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
— Matthew 5:43-48
For over 27 years, while also serving as a pastor, I was bi-vocational with a secular job as a “special officer” with the City of Norwich Police Department. One of that job’s duties was the oversight of the city and state laws governing dog control. And, of course, one of THOSE duties was to see that every dog in our municipality four months of age or older possessed a valid dog license. Why? Many would ask me, “why do I have to get a dog license IF the dog stays indoors all the time – except to go out to do “his business”?”. Well, the dog license identifies the owner. It could even save the dog’s life – if the dog were hurt, the licensed owner could be quickly found and medical attention could be sought. And it does make the dog owner responsible. He must be a good steward for his dog’s rabies shot, the license, the finances for the dog. Owning a dog is more than just a status symbol. AND the dog license is with the dog for life.
The Father is looking for His children to remember that we represent Him. In reality, HE is our identification tag! “That you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (verse 45) separates those that love Him from those who don’t.
In verse 43, the Savior wisely describes the problem. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”. Did God say that? NO! It was one of the 613 laws of the Pharisees. They held to the Old Testament Scriptures, but their added “laws” took on more importance than those which were written by the Lord Himself. Did God show anger at any time, righteous anger which could be interpreted by some as “hate”? Of course! We don’t have to go far to see His righteous indignation on display, as at Sodom and Gomorrah, as with His instruction to destroy all the Canaanites. Or how about the lake of fire? In Matthew 23, the Savior gives a scathing rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, as epitomized by His statement in verse 13, “ “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in,” and in verse 15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” “Hell” in this verse is the Greek word “Gehenna”. A good Jew would know that it was the word used for the town “dump” outside the city, which was ALWAYS on fire! With that symbolism, the Savior was quite descriptive not only of the issue with the Pharisees but also the ultimate eternal consequences of their false theology.
And does not the world TODAY add many laws to the simplicity of the gospel? “You must be born again.” AND you must be baptized in order to be saved. AND you must go through classes in order to be saved. AND you must go to church in order to be saved. AND you must give to the church in order to be saved. AND you must be sure the GOOD LOOKING pastor is well taken care of in order to be saved. (I added that one, could you guess?). So the problem of Jesus’ day has not gone away, has it?
So how about the solution? Did you notice verse 45, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…”?
God’s view is JUDICIAL. He looks at His children through the eyes of eternity, AND He looks at the world through the eyes of eternity. Do I remember that when I look at people? Do I see them through God’s eyes?
God’s view is GRACIOUS. He looks at all peoples NOW. Do sinners enter into eternity the minute they commit a sin? NO! THAT is grace.
God’s view is PRACTICAL, When was the last time you quoted John 3:16? I mean, not rattling it off like one of your Sunday school students! Slowly now: “For. God. So. Loved. The. World, That, He. Gave. His. Only. Begotten. Son. That. Whosoever. Believes. In. Him. Should. Not. Perish. But. Have. Everlasting, Life.” Now that’s more like it! Really SLOW…! His view is practical. He analyzes the world. He is not dependent upon their nature nor on their response. Wow!
So with both the problem and the solution in mind, what action does He do? Look at verse 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,” Contrary to the negativity of verses 38-42, God gives a positive response!
First, there is the BLESSING: “bless those who curse you…”. Proverbs 15:23 says, “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” “In due season” has the idea of “in its proper time.” The tongue is POWERFUL! It is possible in the power of the Lord that the tongue can be an instrument of…BLESSING! Is yours? Um…is mine?
Isaiah 50:4 prophesies of the Messiah, “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned.”
AND WHAT DID JESUS SAY ON THE CROSS? “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!”.
Next, there is the ACTION. “Do good.” The Christian who is id’d as a child of the King will do benevolent acts. One version says “heap coals upon their heads”. Give them what they DON’T deserve!
Third, there is WORSHIP. Pray for them! This involves LOOKING AT YOURSELF! And ask yourself, “am I responding to them as they are responding to me? OR am I looking at them the way God looks at them? This further involves seeing their position as sinners with need. And last it involves praying for their ETERNAL needs.
WHAT’S THE GOAL OF ALL THIS? In verse 48, our Savior closes this section with a most confusing verse by today’s standards: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” I took a course in philosophy at my one year in a liberal arts college. The philosophers had interesting goals! Plato: “universal goodness” (sound familiar?). Aristotle: “ethical goodness – making the right choices”. Stoics: “being virtuous”. And Philo: “academic vision” (knowledge).
But what is the Lord Jesus’ goal? He said, “be perfect”. Various translations define this as: “reach an end”; “go toward an ideal – don’t be satisfied with anything short of it”; and “single-minded, undivided, obedient, complete, mature.”.
The Pharisees took upon themselves the judicial view of God, as if they were instruments of His eternal oversight on humanity. They did NOT see people through the gracious view of God, His present love.
Verses 38-42 talk about the negative: do not strike back. Verses 43-48 talk about the positive: love!
God responds with common grace (the rain even on the unjust as well as on the just!). But He also responds with LOVE, a love which depends on Him and not on the world’s response,
And when this is in full gear in the child of God who is dependent upon his Savior, what will the end be? He will be TOTAL. COMPLETE. MATURE.
Does that describe ME? YOU?
…Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.