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Children of The Father

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We have come now to the last of Jesus’ examples of “true righteousness.” All of these examples started with Jesus’ clarifying statement that he has not come to abolish the law - but has come to fulfill it. And so far, in each example, we have seen how Jesus’ righteous ways do just that. Jesus doesn’t spit upon the law, He doesn’t denounce righteousness, He doesn’t belittle it or change it - He proves it.
Jesus proves righteousness in His life and living, He fulfills both the extent and the intent of the Old Testament in His coming, and He shows us what that true righteousness looks like practically.
So far, it has looked like reconciliation rather than anger. It has looked like self-control rather than lust and adultery. It has looked like faithfulness rather than needless divorce and untruthfulness. It has looked like Meekness rather than retaliation and living by “an eye for an eye.”
All of Jesus’ examples have both uncovered the true depth of the law in these areas, while also uncovering the shallowness of the common interpretations, or at least the common applications of the law. In all of these ways, men had found a means of “smoothing over” God’s revelation in order to be able to say “I am righteous in this category.” But in every example, Jesus has shown how a false pretense of righteousness is simply another form of unrighteousness.
In the last example, concerning “an eye for an eye,” we really see the heart of Christ, and we see a glimpse into what kind of a man He would prove to be. In His humility, meekness, generosity, and faith, Jesus showed us how to live a life that wasn’t controlled by “an eye for an eye” thinking.
But I also see Jesus’ words there in the last section as a precursor - a foreshadowing. For in those specific ways, Jesus’ proved His righteousness in His trial and His death. He did not retaliate in any way, but as 1 Peter 2:23 says, He trusted Himself to the one who judges justly.
So He is our example, but in being an example He was more than an example. Truly, Jesus is our example of righteousness, but more than that, He is our righteousness. After all, He came with a purpose. Jesus’ living was always moving toward His dying, and His dying was with an eye to His living again. The ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate payment, the ultimate victory.
As we move to the final example in Chapter 5, the fulness of Christ’s example and the picture of His passion shines through again, for in this passage we see the example of love.
One author I read this week put it this way. “Matthew 5:43-48 is a concentrated expression of the Christian ethic.” That is, the practical aspect of what it means to follow Christ is wrapped up in this short passage. It is love - and not simply as man loves, but as God loves.
We read of God’s love earlier in the call to worship.
Psalm 36:5–7 ESV
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
There is no love apart from God. Love is part of God’s essence, it is part of who He is. The Apostle John put it this way in His epistle.
1 John 4:7–8 ESV
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
“Love is from God - God is love.” That is not simply beautiful and poetic, it is theologically deep and true. If there is any one of God’s attributes that we could say is universally admired, it would be that of love. Now, how we define love may differ with many in the world, but you would be hard pressed to find a person who would not admit that love is a good thing.
Another thing about love as one of God’s attributes is this - there are attributes of God which we call incommunicable - that is, we can’t share in them. For instance, God is all knowing, all powerful, and omnipresent - we cannot share in those attributes. But there are attributes of God which we call communicable - that is, we can share in them at least in some sense. For instance, God is faithful and we can be faithful, God is holy and we are called to be holy, and God is love, and we are called to love.
And for Jesus’ audience, there was no doubt about the fact that we are called to love. But the question and qualifying nature of Jesus’ teaching here is this - whom are we called to love? That is a challenging question, a convicting question, and a pointed question - one that we must ask along with every reader of this passage, and one that finds a clear answer both in Jesus’ words and His subsequent life and death.

Love comes from God and shows that we are God’s children. God is the goal of love and all righteousness.

1. The Old Unwritten Rule - Vs. 43

Like in the other examples, Jesus gets the hearer’s attention with “you have heard it said.” Now, in some of the examples Jesus simply quotes a written law. In some of the examples, Jesus quotes a common saying that was deduced from the law. Here, Jesus quotes what seems to be a mixture of the two.
The first part of Jesus’ quotation comes from Leviticus 19:18
Leviticus 19:18 ESV
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
To love your neighbor as yourself was a clear command. And it is a command that makes sense. It is the essence of the golden rule. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
So “love your neighbor” - no problem there. The sticky portion is the second half of Jesus’ quote.
“you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
If that was the common teaching, or at least the common understanding, we have to ask where that came from?
Now, to be clear, there is no direct command in the scriptures to “hate your enemy.” So just with that, we can already say that “love your neighbor” and “hate your enemy” are on different planes. One is a clear command of God, the other is not.
Now, it is possible that it is an inference from passages like Deuteronomy 23.
Deuteronomy 23:3 ESV
“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever,
Now, there in Deuteronomy 23, there was a specific dealing with the Ammonites and the Moabites because of their belligerent past with Israel. You can read the account in Numbers 22-24.
There were certainly distinctions like this made in Israel’s history to protect the holiness of Israel as a Covenant nation - a nation called out to worship and serve the one true God. Yet, there was no command to hate your enemy.
It seems that “hate your enemy” was the unwritten rule born out of distinguishing between the righteous and the unrighteous in the Assembly of Israel. In a ceremonial sense, there was a distinction. Yet still, there was not a command to hate the enemy - but we can imaging how it would come to be the norm.
“Hating your enemy” is simply “an eye for an eye” born out. It is “an eye for an eye” as a lifestyle. Hating your enemy is “an eye for an eye” as the lens through which you view people. It goes beyond “that person harmed me so I will harm them,” to “someone from that group of people harmed someone from my group of people, so I will retaliate by hating their people.”
This was alive and well in Jesus’ day. We can’t go here today for sake of time, but Jesus was addressing a similar question in His parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan’s were the racial “enemies” of Israel, and the hatred between the groups went both ways. They thought they were completely justified in their hatred of the unclean, mixed-lineage of the Samaritans.
We have seen this born out in our day as well. Since the attacks of 9/11, for many there has been a clear and distinct “hate your enemy” attitude toward people from a middle-eastern culture. We have seen a “hate your enemy’ attitude born out in both directions in American slavery. We see personal applications of “hate your enemy” when a family turns their back on another family altogether because of a dispute or disagreement.
So we have no problem with the command “love your neighbor” as long as we can hold onto “hate your enemy.” We can excuse ourselves from loving anyone we wish as long as we can wrangle them into the “enemy” category in our minds. A difference in political affiliation? You’re my enemy. A difference in opinion on Masks and Vaccines? You’re my enemy. A difference in skin color or culture? You’re my enemy. A difference in upbringing or personality? You’re my enemy.
Except “hate your enemy” is not so much a command as it is a convenience. It is not really even implied as a command. “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” was simply the way it was - or perhaps, the way it is. But in Christ’s Kingdom, it is not the way it ought to be.

2. The True Radical Rule - Vs. 44

So when Jesus says “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” he was directly addressing the tendency of culture to live in a rut or a pattern. It is like when you are driving down the interstate in any amount of traffic - the easiest thing to do is go with the flow of traffic.
Lizzy and I were in Atlanta a few weeks ago as most of you know, and we drove there. Now, when you are from Vermont, any amount of city traffic is frustrating. I even find myself decrying Rutland traffic after living in Ira for a year. But there is not much traffic like Atlanta traffic. It seems that all of the Deep South converges on atlanta, right in the heart of downtown. Several interstates come together for a few miles to form one of the largest amalgamations of roadway I have ever seen. 8,9,10 lanes of traffic in one direction, and ever lane packed with cars just a few feet from each other. In that kind of traffic, it is hard to do anything but go with the flow.
That is a bit how “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” is. It is the flow of traffic, and not just generally, but almost ubiquitously.
But Jesus says “love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you.” That is a fish swimming upstream - a bird flying into a headwind - a bicycle pedaling uphill - a handplane going against the wood grain - like patting a cat against the fir. It sticks out - it is noticeable - it is difficult - it is not natural, but it is rightoues.
And Christ did not come up with that. There are examples of love and grace to enemies all throughout the Old Testament. Here are a couple.
Exodus 23:4–5 ESV
“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
Proverbs 25:21 ESV
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
Leviticus 19:34 ESV
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
So it is not “love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” it is “love your neighbor and love your enemy.” That takes away a lot of the convenience, doesn’t it? With the other way of thinking, we have the option of assigning someone we struggle to love as an enemy - and then we are off the hook. But now, the categories are muddled. We cannot consider ourselves righteous if we hate our enemies.
Now, compare this to last week’s example. Jesus taught us not to retaliate, but to turn the other cheek. If non-retaliation is the negative command, “this is what not to do,” then love is the positive command - not only are we not to retaliate, we are to love.
Now, a conversation could still be had about “who is my enemy,” but the distinction seems to fade away. When we begin to love everyone, it becomes harder and harder to consider them our enemies, and we find ourselves looking at them as God’s image-bearers who are in need of the same love and Grace that we have received from God.
Jesus specifically mentions “those who persecute you.” This goes back to the end of the beatitudes where we read this.
Matthew 5:10–11 ESV
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
There we read that we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And out of that blessedness, we are to love those who are our enemies. And Jesus also gives an example of how we might do that. If someone is dead-set against us, they may want nothing to do with us. If someone is truly our enemy in that they despise us, they hate us, they detest us, then we may not be able to get close enough to love them. Love, after all, is not a feeling or an emotion, it is an action.
So how do you love someone when you can’t get close enough to speak a kind word, to offer forgiveness, to lend a helping hand? You pray for them. Now, the word here for “pray” is the general word for pray. It could be supplication, intercession, crying for help, whatever it is, it is “going to the Lord on their behalf.” We have already noted that it becomes hard to consider someone an enemy when we love them, well it also becomes difficult to continue hating someone when you pray for them regularly.
Is someone estranged from you, and reconciliation seems impossible or at least improbable? Pray for them - go lovingly and boldly to God’s throne on behalf of them and the situation. Do you struggle to get along with someone because you have personal or political differences? Pray for them - perhaps in prayer God will make a way for a path to be paved within the mire of disagreement. Do you have an employer who you feel is incompetent or unjust? Love and pray for them - perhaps God will use you to shed some light where there is darkness. Do you have a government that you feel is corrupt and unjust? Pray for them and love them as people. Pray for righteousness and justice, but do not pray spitefully or in hatred. Pray for them and love them.

3. The Example - Vs. 45-47

And all this “love your enemies” is more than just good advice, it goes back to the character of God.
“So that you may be sons of your father.” That is an interesting statement, and it is worded interestingly. Note, Jesus is speaking here to those who already can rightly call God “father.” Now, that’s not an automatic - we are not born into the world as children of God. We become children of God through atonement, forgiveness, Grace, and faith. We read of that kind of sonship in John 1.
John 1:12 ESV
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Now, I’m getting ahead of the text there, but it is important to note that, because Jesus isn’t telling us how to have God as our Father - He is telling us how to look like His son’s.
“a son of the Father” is a mark, a mark of characteristic, a mark of distinction. We say often, “that boy is a spitting image of his father.” Now, fortunately for my children, they have inherited their mother’s appearance. That will bid them well in life - but in other ways, they have inherited my genes as well.
From the youngest age we pick up on how children are like their parents - whether it is mannerisms, or phrases, or facial expressions - we tend to mimic and become like those who raise us. That is Jesus’ idea here. And for that, we see another quotation from John.
1 John 3:1–3 ESV
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
I have a hard time believing that John did not get this concept directly from Jesus, for we read essentially of the same ideas there in 1 John 3. God has given us first his love, and that love makes and marks us off as His children - His sons and daughters.
We are God’s children by Grace through Faith, and we are called to look like God’s children as well. As John says there, Everyone who has that hope purifies himself as God is pure.
So we are God’s children, and we look like His children when we love like He loves. And how does He love? Well, the text tells us. He makes the sun to rise on the evil and the food, and sends the rain on the just an the unjust.
That is what is often called “common Grace.” Common grace is that good and benevolent love of God which provides life’s good experiences to all people without regard to their faith. We see it in the text as rain and sunshine - my unbelieving neighbor’s garden got the same natural benefits as mine did. We see it also in things like marriage, childbearing, humor, natural beauty, enjoyment, relationships - all these are good and wonderful gifts that the whole world can enjoy.
It comes down to this - we must love our enemies because God loves His enemies.
Romans 5:6–11 ESV
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Do you see it there? God’s love is chiefly displayed in the cross of Christ - an act that not only did not retaliate against enemies, but an act that went far beyond that to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to enemies. One simple way we can speak of the Gospel is this - “God loves His enemies.” And when we love our enemies, in a small but true sense we mimic and display the Gospel.
This is “Agape” love - you’ve heard of it. It is not brotherly love, it is not marital love - it is transcendent, unconditional love. It is love that is “unwavering.” Love that is “without shifting.” It is the unfailing love that is often spoken of in the Old Testament. That is who God is, and it is the kind of love that we are given and called to give out.
Earlier we read from Deuteronomy 23, where God’s people were no to allow the Ammonites or Moabites into their assembly. Yet, who was Ruth but a Moabitess? And what favor did she find in God’s eyes but to be in the very lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do you see how God loves his enemies?
One reason that we struggle to love our enemies is that we often have a hard time considering that we were God’s enemies. But when we see ourselves as enemies who have found love and grace in Christ, we then can extend and give out that love - the love that has been given to us - in being sons of the Father.
Vs. 46-47
Love of those who love you is natural, but it is not rewarded or blessed. Greeting only our brothers is natural, but it doesn’t display the righteousness of Christ in a true sense. We love and pray for our enemies, because God, our Father, loves His enemies.

4. The Goal - Vs. 48

As we close Matthew chapter 5, we come to what could be considered a discouraging and dreadful verse.
Matthew 5:48 ESV
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
But when we go through Matthew 5, we see a call to transformation. Consider where we started.
Matthew 5:3 ESV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do you see the beauty, then, in this passage? We come to Christ, wretched and poor in Spirit, and we end up as Sons and Daughters of God, displaying his righteousness!
A walk with Christ is a walk that is going somewhere. The word “perfect” shouldn’t be understood in a mathematical sense, but in a sense of Growth. The idea is maturity - wholeness - soundness. That is, as children, the goal is that we will mature into the image of our Father.
This is no different than what the body of Christ is called to in Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The goal is maturity - that we will grow up by Grace to look like Christ, and to look like our Father. Matthew 5:48 is as much a promise as it is a command. We saw the transformative and gracious power of God in the beatitudes, and God’s work in us is going somewhere.
We see the goal as maturity - perfection akin to our Father’s perfection - and we are driven back to the beatitudes. And when we are poor in spirit and mourn our righteousness, we are blessed - and when we hunger and thirst for the righteousness that we do not have, the promise is that we will be filled.
Our righteousness must be more than skin deep, it must be real and true - like Christ, like the Father. And as we walk the road of discipleship, may we walk by faith.
Philippians 1:6 ESV
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
May we live as children of God, and pray earnestly each day for the grace and strength to display his love and righteousness - to display the Gospel in our living.
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