The Superior Righteousness of the Kingdom
Love for Enemies (Matt. 5:43-48)
Part One

. THE SIXTH ANTITHESIS: Love for Enemies (5:43-48)

"You have heard that it was said:
'Love your neighbor' and 'Hate your enemy.'
But I say to you: 'Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you
so that you might become sons of your Father who is in heaven
because He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good
and He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust.
If you love [only] those who love you, what reward have you?
Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?
And if you greet only your brothers, what reward do you have?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Therefore YOU YOURSELVES be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This final antithesis serves as the climax for the previous 5 antitheses because "the practice of love is the most fundamental element of the Christian ethic" (WBC:133). In fact, it would probably be best to go back to the first 5 antitheses (murder, adultery, divorce, oath-breaking, and revenge and see them in light of the command to love. Because I am to love my brother, I am not to be angry at him; because I love ladies, I am not to lust after them; because I love my wife, I am not to divorce her; because I love others, I will be truthful to them; because I love others I will not retaliate against them. Jesus has just been interpreting the law of us in these previous 5 antitheses. According to Paul, what is love (See Gal. 5:14)?

According to Jesus, the Jews were taught to hate their enemy. Notice that He does NOT say that the OT taught people to hate their enemies: "though not taught in the OT, [hatred for one's enemy] is an inference that was commonly drawn, for example, from such passages as Pss 139:21-2; 26:5; or Deut 7:2; 30:7. On the basis of such passages, the Qumranites explicitly taught hatred of those regarded as enemies. The 'neighbor' meant fellow Jew; the 'enemy' meant Gentile" (WBC:134).

Now "this [command to love one's enemy] is revolutionary in its newness, having no exact parallel in the Jewish tradition. (Perhaps the OT comes closest to this in its attitude toward the alien)" (WBC:134). This is significant because many claim that Christianity adds nothing new to the area of ethics. That is simply nonsense. The elevation of humility and love and unique to Christianity, especially love for one's enemies. Besides the teachings of Jesus Himself, what else has happened that teaches us that God loves even His enemies?

Such "an attitude of love toward all, even one's enemies, is of crucial importance to the very identity of the disciple; thus Jesus stresses that such an unrestricted love must be manifested 'in order that' you may be 'children [lit. 'sons'] of your Father' (cf. 5:9). To participate in the kingdom relates the disciples 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, who has brought to them the kingdom" (WBC:134). In other words, because our heavenly Father loves His enemies, we too AS HIS CHILDREN should love our enemies. See also Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Pet 3:9.

According to Jesus, what two things in nature does God do which demonstrates His unconditional love for ALL people (Matt. 5:45)?

Jesus is not using rhetorical flourish whenever He calls God "HEAVENLY" Father. "The Father in Matthew is 'heavenly,' i.e., transcendent" (WBC:135-136). I recommend we should think of "the heavenly" in terms of Is. 55-7-8, which I think has been thoroughly misunderstood. I think the fact that "My ways are not your ways, neither are My thoughts your thoughts, for as high as the heavens are above the earth . . . " (Is. 55:8) explains the reason God encourages rebellious Israel to return to Him: "Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon." If God were earthly, then He would want to blast us into oblivion. The fact that He is heavenly, that He is NOT like us means that He will now forgive us and draw us to Him, even though we have been rebellious. In fact it is probably necessary for God to be a HEAVENLY Father because what earthly father would want US to be his children? I know I wouldn't.

The bottom line is this: if I hate my enemy but God loves them so much that He even sends sunshine and rain to them, who do I really have a problem with?

"The illustrative rhetorical questions [love those who love you and greet your brothers only] make the point that nothing wonderful has been accomplished when one returns good for good. This is but the standard of the world, which even 'tax collectors' and 'Gentiles' are able to fulfill. It is thus no achievement to love those who love you. The ethical standard of the kingdom calls the disciples to a much more radical love that includes even one's enemies--the unrighteous and the evil" (WBC:134-135).

Jesus declares that whenever we love those who love us we are no better than the tax-collectors. Who were these tax-collectors/tax-farmers? "In Judaism, too, tax-farmers were regarded as people who tried to get money dishonestly. In Jewish writings outside teh NT:

    a. They treat tax-collectors, tax-farmers and thieves as in a special way unclean. It is noted first that they have many contacts with Gentiles. . . .
    b. Publicans and tax-collectors were regarded as thieves or even robbers.
    c. Whereas direct taxes were regarded as a sign of subjection (Jos. Ant., 18. 4) indirect taxes, especially tolls seem to have been viewed more as injustice and chicanery" (TDNT 8:101-105 by Michel).

In other words, we no better than thieves and robbers when we only love people who love us.

Greeting one's brothers in Jesus' day meant a lot more than greeting them in our day. It consisted "in such gestures as 'embracing,' 'kissing,' 'offering the hand,' and even sometimes [worship or kneel before]. It also consists in words, especially a set form of greeting. The basic meaning of the term seems to be 'to embrace.'

    "For the Jews greeting is an important ceremony. This may be seen from Jesus' accusation that the scribes love [the greetings in the marketplace] (Mk. 12:38; Mt. 23:6 f.; Lk. 20:46; 11:43). Like the seat of honour in the synagogue or at a feast, greeting in the market-place is one of the distinctions to which rabbis raise claim by reason of the dignity of their office. A greeting is given on the street when ["peace," shalom] is first addressed to the one who is to be honoured. In their desire for a greeting, the rabbis want to be greeted first and therefore publicly recognised as superiors (cf. Alexander and the high priest in Jos. Ant., 11, 331). According to Mt. 5:47 the [greeting] of brothers is also customary among the heathen; it is a natural sign of the fellowship created by kinship and friendship. Jesus desires that we should greet on the street those who are not our brothers, and even our enemies, and thus draw them into the circle of our fellowship, not recognising the enmity. How seriously Jesus took this matter of aspazesqai may be seen finally from the rule which He gave His envoys in Mt. 10:12 f.; Lk. 10:5 [Jesus demands that his disciples greet strangers in the new city they have been sent to evangelize] (TDNT 1:496-499 by Windisch).
In other words, we are not simply to say "Hello" to our enemies; we are to treat them/greet them the way Jesus prescribed above.

Jesus now commands us to be "perfect" as our heavenly Father is perfect. In Matt. 5:20 Jesus commanded that our righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. He now explains what that means: "The righteousness of the kingdom, which altogether exceeds that of the Pharisees, involves a call to be like the Father" (WBC:135).

What does Jesus mean by "perfect"? "The word comes from telos, end, goal, limit. Here it is the goal set before us, the absolute standard of our Heavenly Father" (RWP 1:49).

"For Matthew, to be [perfect] means to fulfill the law through the manifestation of an unrestricted love (including even enemies) that is the reflection of God's love. This unrestricted love preeminently embodies ethical perfection. This perfection, and nothing less, is that to which Jesus calls his disciples" (WBC:135-136).

The key to understanding this command is the word translated "as." We are to be perfect AS our heavenly Father is perfect. To the extent He is perfect, we are to be perfect. Moreover, remember that perfect is not a relative term. There are no degrees of perfection. Perfection is an absolute. Either we are perfect or we are not. There is no inbetween.

CSL: "The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose-He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 4, chapter 9: last paragraph).