The Objective is Perfection

Matthew 5:43-48

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Five Commandmentsfor Christians

Love your enemies.
Bless them that curse you.
Do good to them that hate you.
Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven.

Once again Jesus takes on the false teaching  of the Scribes and the Pharisees. For many generations the people in Israel had been taught that Jews were to love their neighbors, and hate their enemies.   The Jewish people came to believe they had just cause to resent the many injustices the countries of the world have inflicted upon Israel over the centuries: the Babylonians, Medes-Persians, Greeks, and the Romans.  

Historically, among the most brutal of Jewish foreign conquerors was Antiochus IV who gave himself the title, Epiphanes, meaning “Illustrious One.”   Antiochus Epiphanes was a Greek king of the Seleucid Empire who reigned over Syria from 175 BC until 164 BC. As a blood thirsty warrior, Antiochus IV took his army and marched  to conquer Egypt. It was a foolish mistake, and a decision that was not to stand.   A Roman army was in Egypt. A Roman ambassador named Popillius stood in the way of Antiochus and his military forces. Popillius gave Antiochus a message from the Roman Senate ordering him to stop the invasion. Antiochus said he would think about it.

Popillius drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus, and told him, that if he did not give the Roman Senate an answer before crossing over the line in the sand, Rome would declare war. Antiochus made a strategic retreat as the Senate of Rome had demanded. But another conflict was to be engaged by Antiochus as he turned his attention to the Southern kingdom of Judah.  

During this time in history, there were two factions within Judaism: the Hellenists, who accepted Greek culture with its pagan practices, and the Traditionalists, who were committed to being faithful to the Mosaic Law and all the civil, ceremonial, and moral commandments. Antiochus intervened in this internal conflict. He sided with the Hellenists.  

Antiochus made a decree outlawing Jewish worship. He ordered a statue of Zeus, the god of thunder, and the Olympia ruler of all other deities,  to be placed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be worshiped rather than Yahweh. When the Jews rebelled, Antiochus slaughtered many men, women, and children.

Then, he proceeded to raid the temple in Jerusalem, stealing the wealth of the nation. Antiochus set up an altar to Zeus, and sacrificed swine on the altar. This was the Abomination of Desolation predicted by Daniel the prophet. The rite of circumcision was punishable by death. Jews were compelled to eat pig flesh and make an offering to Zeus.  

It was all too much, and in 167-166 BC, men like Judas Maccabeus led the Jews in a series of victories over the military might of the Syrian Greek. Antiochus was driven out of the land. In 165, the Jews cleansed and restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  

Because of these, and other events, the attitude of the Jews towards Gentiles changed. Gentiles were to be hated, not loved, nor even tolerated. Setting aside the plain teaching of the Law of Moses, the Scribes and the Pharisees offered to the people a new teaching that became popular: love your neighbors, but hate your enemies.  

It was the patriotic thing to do.  

It was emotionally therapeutic.  

It was the morally right thing to do because, as the Jewish leaders pointed out, the Gentiles were idolaters.  

To hate idolatry was to please God.  

It all seemed very natural, and made good sense, from their human perspective.   Then came Jesus, who challenged both the spirit of such thinking, as well as the theology on which hating one’s enemy was based.  The Scribes and the Pharisees were wrong when they taught the people that it was proper to only love their neighbors, and hate their enemies. The religious teachers were wrong for several reasons.  

First, to hate one’s enemies violated the will of God set forth in the Law of Moses. “17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. 18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:17,18). While affirming Leviticus 19:18, the Rabbis passed over Leviticus 19:17. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we ever find permission to hate our enemies.    

Second, the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees was wrong because it was unclear. Questions arose.  

“Rabbi, who is my neighbor?”
“Rabbi, who is my enemy?”
“Rabbi, can my neighbor be a proselyte, like Ruth the Moabitess?”

The Moabites were traditional enemies of the Jews. “Rabbi, can a Gentile be my neighbor, or must I consider every Gentile my enemy, and hate each one?”   Because these questions arose, and were hard to answer, a social wall of separation was built between Gentile and Jew. An important teaching of the religious leaders was unclear.  

Third, the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees was wrong because their doctrine filled hearts with unhealthy emotions. When a person is filled with hatred, anger and cruelty will follow. Any natural love for others will be suppressed. Ideally, the Lord Jesus would have His disciples display an impartial love to everyone.  

There are many passages in both the Old Testament, and the New Testament, which teach that God expresses an impartial love resulting in common blessings upon all mankind.

There is the blessing of God upon Ishmael, father of the Arab tribes.  

“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 17:20).  

There is the blessing of God upon the Egyptians.   “

“And it came to pass from the time that he (Potiphar) had made him (Joseph) overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field” (Gen. 39:5).  

There is the blessing of God upon the cruel Assyrians, when they repented, much to the chagrin of the pouting prophet. Jonah,  

“should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand [120,000] persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)  

Jesus took mercy upon the mixed multitudes to whom He preached and said,  

“I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2).  

The Lord God Almighty has always shown an impartial, or, benevolent love to all mankind. Benevolent love refers to God’s good will. God has a good disposition to all of His creatures even in their failures (R. C. Sproul).

From the benevolent love of God for all humanity flows His beneficent love manifested in the sunshine and the rain, fruitful seasons, food, and laughter (Acts 14:16, 17). God not only has good will toward His creatures, the Lord does good things for them, as Jesus indicated.  

Unfortunately, despite God’s benevolent love, and His beneficent love, there is little reciprocal love for God. Countless people live life as if God does not exist. Through philosophical arguments, and foolish theories, God is dismissed.   According to Pew and Gallup, two of the most reputable polling firms in America, both came to a similar figure in 2021. About 10 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God, and this figure has been slowly creeping up over the decades. How tragic it is that anyone should show so little appreciation for the Creator.

One day, those who reject the gospel will be found, in the Day of Judgment, to have been using God’s blessing to their own destruction.   But in time, the gracious principle of benevolent and beneficent love must be recognized and emulated. It is the will of Jesus. Hatred must not be allowed to fill the heart. To do so is to fail to reflect the character of a loving God who blesses the unworthy. Every person, just or unjust, enjoys the love of God in two ways—benevolent love and beneficent love.

The third kind of love revealed in the Bible is the love of complacency. The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary defines “complacency” as “a feeling of calm satisfaction.” God’s love of complacency refers to the unique delight and affection the Father has for His only begotten Son whom He calls, “My beloved.”   “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).  

The Father has a special love for Christ, which is extended to all who are in Christ Jesus. Here is the distinguishing love of God which He has for the Christian. God’s attitude towards the wicked is that of hostility.   “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry [filled with indignation] with the wicked every day” (Psalms 7:11).  

God’s attitude towards the Christian is that of complacent love which allows Him to be long-suffering, and willing to work all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28ff).

There is a fourth thought in our passage. To refuse to love an enemy in a benevolent and beneficial way is to put one’s self on a degraded moral and spiritual level with the very person who is despised.   One group whom the Jews despised were the tax collectors.

These people had the well-deserved reputation of being extortionist. If a Jew was a tax collector, he was not only an extortionist, but also a traitor, because it meant he was working for Rome. For a Jew to be openly in the service of the foreign oppressor was just too much for the patriotic, religiously zealous, orthodox Jew. Setting aside the cultural, emotional, and theological basis for hatred, Jesus commands His followers to do the following.  

First, the enemy is to be loved. This is a command, not a suggestion. If there is any question as to what authentic Biblical love is, 1 Corinthians 13 gives the definitive answer. There is to be a measure of kindness, an absence of evil thoughts, and a gracious forbearance.  

Second, there is to be a blessing bestowed upon those who curse you. In the Jewish economy a blessing was a meaningful act of wanting good to come to another. A father would bless his children. Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you.”   To make sure we have an opportunity to love, forgive, and bless an enemy, the Lord allows individuals to come into our lives to test our ability to live out these Christian ethics. Sometimes we will do well in the hour of temptation; sometimes, not so well. Unfortunately, we have all spoken things that we wish we had not said, and taken some regrettable actions. All that can be done is to apologize, when appropriate, repent, and try to never let it happen again. We can guard our hearts, and ask the Holy Spirit to completely conform us into the image of Christ. If the Holy Spirit answers our prayer, we will learn to bless our enemies.  

Third, the command of Christ comes to, “Do good to those who despitefully use you and persecute you.” While this is not easy to do, it is possible. Here then are the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44.   “Love your enemies,  bless them that curse you,  do good to them that hate you,  and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  

As the opportunity comes to obey Jesus, let us pray.  “Father, help me, personally, to remember the Lord’s example, and His teaching, in my quest for perfection.”  

It is often taught that the command of Jesus to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (v. 46-48), is not to be taken literally.   Why?   Because Jesus knows that no-one is perfect. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.   However, the truth of the matter is that the command of Christ stands.

The objective of the Christian is perfection in order to be like the Father. Just becomes we are weak does not mean the ethical standard is to be adjusted downward to our level of performance. God’s standard does not change and His standard is perfection. “The only place to get perfection is in Christ, who kept the standard perfectly” (R. C. Sproul).  

Those who are in Christ are clothed in His righteousness and His perfection. Herein is the grace of God whereby He gives us a gift. The gift is a Savior who is not only adequate, but perfect in every way.

“I hear the Savior say,
‘Thy strength indeed is small,
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.’  

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.  

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.”  

~Elvina Hall  

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