“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Understanding And Applying the Text
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Where did the Jews get that? Nowhere in scripture is there a command to hate your enemies. It is not in the Old to New Testament. It was false scribal teaching. It came from the narrow understanding of who was your neighbor. The scribes taught your neighbor was a fellow Jew.
Jesus included the whole human race as our neighbor. The Law commands us to love our neighbor. Neighbor is a general term. But the Scribes taught neighborhood in a narrow form. They said we were not to think of anyone as a neighbor unless he was worthy of the title. Or at the very least he acted as a friend
How often do we change God’s Law? We change it into something more accomplishable. But the Law is the standard. It is not what we can do. Our ability to meet the requirements has nothing to do with the standard. I remember back to my younger days in the Marine Corps. There was a fitness standard to meet. To be a Marine you had to meet it. Your ability to meet the standard was not germane. That was a standard. God’s Law is the standard we are to meet. Thank God that we can trust in Christ and rely on Christ when we fail. Because we fail often and daily.
We are to love our enemies. That is the standard. Jesus has already said we are not to seek revenge but here He states how far revenge is to be from our minds. We are not even to pray God punishes our enemies. If we love our enemies we will pray for their welfare and their salvation. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)
This command from Christ is hard. It goes against our nature. That is because our nature is sinful. We should expect righteousness to be contrary to it. We were Christ’s enemies. While we were his enemies He died for us. He treated us like friends while we blasphemed His name.
We are to love as He loved so we may be children of the Father. Christ is explicit. No one is God’s child who does not love those who hate Him. This sounds ridiculous. Who can love like that? But that is the command. That is the standard. We are to love our enemies while they are our enemies. We are to love them while they assault us. Thank God for the love of Christ.
Note what the command is. We are to imitate God in His love. He punishes the wicked. He drives the wicked out of the world. We are not commanded to imitate Him in those things. They are His prerogative. They belong to God. They do not belong to us. But it is His will, that we should imitate His goodness and love.
We are to do good so we may be the children of God. It may sound that we get sonship based on our good works. We become God’s children when we love our enemies. It is not unusual for scripture to use this manner of speech. It represents as a reward the free gifts of God. Christ is talking about the consequence of God calling us to His likeness. God makes His sun rise and fall on the just and unjust. God sends rain so both the good and the evil may enjoy the goodness of His earth.
If we reflect back to men what they give us, we are doing no more than sinners. “He needs to be taught a lesson.” Maybe. But that is not our calling or our job. Our calling is to love.
This passage ends with what to the natural man is the most ridiculous statement ever made. Christ tells us to be perfect.
Perfection is the standard. Perfection is attainable only through Christ. Christ imputes His righteousness, i.e. perfection, to the Christian. No matter how far we are from Christ’s perfection in Him we are perfect as He is perfect. We are to aim at what He shows us He is.