17. Radical Love: The Ethic Of Kingdom Citizens (Matthew 5:43-48)Related Media
“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 may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NET)
How can we practice the radical love of the kingdom?
In this text, Christ gives believers the highest standard one can aim for—being like God. He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (v. 48). The word “perfect” can also be translated as “mature.” It has to do with an end, an aim, a goal, or a purpose.1 In the context, this goal is to love like God. In fact, Christ says that when we love our enemies, we show ourselves to be children of God—mature children that look like him.
In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ continues teaching how the believers’ righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). He has tackled five misinterpretations of the law where the religious leaders lowered God’s standards: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and eye for an eye. This is the sixth and final one where Christ discusses love for our enemies.
True salvation changes a person’s life, and this is most clearly seen in the radical way a believer loves. There should be a supernatural love in the life of believers, which distinguishes them from the world. In Matthew 5:47, Christ says, “And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?” Christians should be marked by “more”—they should have a radical love.
In this study, we will consider principles about this radical love. As we consider these, we must ask ourselves, “Is the radical love of the kingdom being demonstrated in my life?”
Big Question: What principles about the kingdom’s radical love can be discerned from Matthew 5:34-48?
Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated to All People
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’
Interpretation Question: How did the Jews interpret “love your neighbor” (Lev 19:18)?
Who one’s neighbor was, was a running theological debate among the Jews. When Christ taught that loving God and loving one’s neighbor were the greatest laws, a Jew questioned, “Who is my neighbor?” as though it wasn’t obvious (Lk 10:29). Christ answered by teaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan (v. 30-37). Jews hated Samaritans, so it would have challenged their thought of who a neighbor was. A Jewish man was hurt and, while religious leaders walked by and did nothing to help him, a Samaritan cared for him and gave him the help needed.
At this point in history, the religious leaders taught a very limited view of “love your neighbor.” It referred only to Jews—not to Gentiles, and certainly not to one’s enemy.
Interpretation Question: How did they come to the conclusion that loving their neighbor only referred to fellow Jews?
Leviticus 19, where the Jews were called to love their neighbor (v. 18), begins with “Speak to the whole congregation of the Israelites” (v. 1). Moses wrote this to the Jewish nation, so they argued that loving one’s neighbor was limited by that context. However, even within chapter 19, there are many calls to love Gentiles. Leviticus 19:33-34 says:
“‘When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
This was a choice omission by the religious leaders. Among Jews living in Christ’s day, this belief was very common. The Qumran sect who preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls had a common saying, “Love the brother; hate the outsider.” Essentially, many Jews believed it was their duty to love fellow Israelites and hate outsiders.2 Instead of love, racism and ethnocentrism were exalted.
Sadly, these types of views, though not explicitly taught, are not uncommon among Christians today. It has often been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week. It is the time where people of the same ethnicity and socio-economic status gather to worship God—away from those outside of that community. Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering with those like us; however, there is a problem when others are intentionally excluded and racist and classist views are harbored. It’s not uncommon for a Christian of one race or socio-economic background to not be allowed to date or marry a believer from another race or socio-economic background. The rich and educated are often exalted and the poor and less educated are commonly looked down on. The church often doesn’t love its neighbor—it has a limited love like the world. Racism and partiality flood our churches.
Paul describes the acts of our sinful nature this way: “idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions” (Gal 5:20). Until the death of our bodies or Christ’s return, we will harbor a sinful nature and therefore, struggle with a propensity to get into factions based on race, culture, wealth, education, and even secondary doctrines. Sadly, the teachings of our spiritual leaders often facilitate these wrong views, even if they only come from parents. This discord was evident in the early church as Greek widows were being neglected in preference for the Jewish widows in Acts 6. In Galatians 2, Paul confronted Peter for shunning the Gentile Christians when other Jewish leaders were around. This partiality was also happening among the Jewish Christians in James 2, as they were favoring the wealthy over the poor. This divisive, worldly spirit is still as prevalent in the church today as it was in the early church.
In Matthew 5:43-48, Christ properly interpreted the law—leaving no room for racism and partiality. People of the kingdom of heaven should not practice racism, classism, ethnocentrism, or general dislike for those different from us, whether that be because of personality or background. Christ’s death on the cross purchased a people for God of every race, tongue, nationality, and socio-economic background. What was separated because of sin, Christ brought together through his death. The body of Christ is a Jewish and Gentile bride without factions of any kind—no first or second-class citizens. Therefore, we should be characterized by a radical love for all.
What are your views towards outsiders—those of a different race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status? Do you treat them differently than those who are like you? Have you conquered the spirit of hate, dissension, and factions in your heart? Kingdom citizens should be radically different than this racist and divided world. Are you truly loving your neighbor—including people who are different from you?
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced racism, classism, and ethnocentrism in our contemporary culture? How have you seen it operating within the church? How should we conquer this worldly spirit—in our lives and others?
Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated Specifically to Enemies
But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
Interpretation Question: How did the religious leaders conclude that the Jews should hate their enemies?
Not only did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day teach the need to dislike Gentiles but also to hate one’s enemies. Again, they limited the understanding of “loving your neighbor” to Jews and likeable people. However, Christ’s teaching to love one’s neighbor even applied to one’s enemies. In fact, this was taught throughout the Jewish law. Consider the following verses:
“If you encounter your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, you must by all means return it to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, you must not ignore him, but be sure to help him with it.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
These verses emphasized how Jews should treat those who personally harmed them. It did not refer to judicial situations like war or a civil court case.
Well, then we must ask, “How did the religious leaders come to the conclusion that the Jews must hate their enemies?” It’s not hard to understand. The leaders considered how the Lord commanded the Jews to wipe out all the Canaanites—not sparing any of them—and applied that to enemies in general. They also drew this conclusion from the imprecatory Psalms which often displayed a great animosity towards one’s enemies. (Imprecatory means to call down curses upon.) For example, Psalm 139:19-22 says:
If only you would kill the wicked, O God! Get away from me, you violent men! They rebel against you and act deceitfully; your enemies lie. O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!
These are difficult verses; they ask for God to slay the wicked. David declares that he hates and abhors those who rebel against God, and that he counts them as enemies. It is not hard to understand how the religious leaders came to the conclusion that Jews should hate their enemies.
With that said, it is clear that the Old Testament taught the Jews to love their enemies in many passages including the ones we just considered (Prov 25:21-22, Ex 23:4-5). And it is also clear that some passages seem to teach hate for enemies by doctrine and example.
Interpretation Question: How can we reconcile these two seeming contradictions—the call to love enemies and the animosity seen in the slaying of the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms?
Here are a few thoughts:
- Verses that emphasize hate, especially in the imprecatory Psalms, are written from a judicial standpoint and not a personal one. For example, David writes as the King of Israel who was called to execute judgment on the Canaanites—a sinful people God had called Israel to wipe out. God was going to wipe them out as an act of justice because of their excessive and violent sins: They sacrificed their children to false gods and practiced gross immorality and violence like the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel was called to execute God’s wrath and anger on these people. Romans 13:1-5 teaches that this is the government’s role—officials are God’s servants called to execute wrath on wrongdoers. Therefore, the execution of the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms express this judicial role. Properly interpreted, they don’t teach Israelites, or us, to practice personal animosity towards enemies (cf. Prov 25:21-22). That was the misinterpretation of the religious leaders, which Christ was correcting.
- In addition, God’s judgment, as expressed towards Canaan and in the imprecatory Psalms, reflects God’s righteous anger, which we should also have. Ephesians 4:26 actually calls us to “Be angry and do not sin” (ESV). Sometimes we’re in sin because we’re not angry. We should be angry when God is dishonored and people hurt (cf. John 2:13-16). However, in response to personal wrong, we should be gentle, even as Christ was (cf. 1 Pet 2:21-23).
Often, we only emphasize that God is love, as he epitomizes it. But God also epitomizes perfect anger and wrath. God is holy, and he hates sin. In contrast with our common saying, “Hate the sin and not the sinner,” Scripture doesn’t really separate sin from the sinner. A person who lies is a liar. A person who commits adultery is an adulterer. A person who commits murder is a murderer. Believe it or not, God hates sin and the sinner, and at the same time, loves them. That is why Christ died for sinners; he died for sinners to demonstrate God’s love for them but also to pay the penalty for their sins by bearing God’s wrath. It’s a paradox—God both loves and simultaneously hates. Consider the following verses:
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
The Lord approves of the godly, but he hates the wicked and those who love to do violence.
Certainly you are not a God who approves of evil; evil people cannot dwell with you. Arrogant people cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who behave wickedly. You destroy liars; the Lord despises violent and deceitful people.
In the New Testament, this hate or anger is often called God’s wrath. John 3:36 says, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.” This is the state of all of mankind apart from Christ. God loves them, as he desires for them to repent of their sin, believe in Christ, and follow him as Lord and Savior. But he also hates both the sinner and the sin itself—his wrath abides on sinners and on the cross his wrath abided on Christ for sinners. If we will not repent and accept his Son, God will judge us eternally. Therefore, both love and hate are characteristics of God. And as we follow him, they should both manifest in our lives. We must love, and we must hate. However, Scripture teaches that our hate must not be selfish and vindictive—concerned with personal retaliation (Matt 5:43-44). It must be concerned with God’s glory and the benefit of others. John Stott put it this way:
The truth is that evil men should be the object simultaneously of our ‘love’ and of our ‘hatred’, as they are simultaneously the objects of God’s (although his ‘hatred’ is expressed as his ‘wrath’). To ‘love’ them is ardently to desire that they will repent and believe, and so be saved. To ‘hate’ them is to desire with equal ardour that, if they stubbornly refuse to repent and believe, they will incur God’s judgment. Have you never prayed for the salvation of wicked men (e.g., who blaspheme God or exploit their fellow humans for profit as if they were animals), and gone on to pray that if they refuse God’s salvation, then God’s judgment will fall upon them? I have. It is a natural expression of our belief in God, that he is the God both of salvation and of judgment, and that we desire his perfect will to be done.3
The Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible adds:
We cannot love with a perfect love, nor can we hate with a perfect hatred. But God can both love and hate perfectly, because He is God. God can hate without sinful intent. He can hate the sinner in a perfectly holy way and still lovingly forgive the sinner at the moment of repentance and faith (Malachi 1:3; Revelation 2:6; 2 Peter 3:9).4
The Pharisees’ misinterpretation of the law allowed people to hate those who wronged them—apart from a judicial context and in a selfish manner. However, Scripture does not allow that. We are called to love our enemies. There is a righteous anger, especially towards those who dishonor God and hurt people; however, we tend to fall short of the righteous anger of God, as it becomes selfish anger (cf. Jam 1:20). Like Stott said, we must love in the sense that we want people to repent and turn to God, and we should go out of our way to act lovingly towards these people. But we must hate in the sense that if people continue in rebellion towards God, that we desire for God to vindicate himself and bring justice. Ultimately, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer—your kingdom come, your will be done—we are praying for his justice (Matt 6:10). When Christ brings his kingdom, he will judge the earth. This is what the martyrs in heaven cry out for in Revelation 6:9-11, as they ask for the holy God to judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge their blood. The Jews wrongly applied this reality to their honor instead of God’s honor, and they applied it to personal situations rather than judicial. Therefore, they neglected to practice God’s radical love for all, including their enemies, and kept the Jews from practicing it.
Observation Question: How should we demonstrate radical love towards our enemies?
Christ implies two ways:
1. Love must be demonstrated in acts of kindness.
When Christ calls us to love our enemies, he uses the Greek word “agape.” This word is not primarily an emotional love but a volitional love. It is an act of the will, and therefore implies acts of kindness. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses fifteen verbs to describe agape: love is kind, love is patient, love perseveres, love never thinks the wrong, etc.5 Agape certainly involves attitude, but it is best described by what it does. In fact, in the parallel passage of Luke 6:27, Christ said, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” This is the way God loved us: Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Though we were enemies and separated from God, God acted in love towards us by dying for us. We must do the same to those who wrong us. We must love them by performing acts of kindness to them. Romans 12:20-21 says: “Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
However, it also must be noted that by acting in kindness to them, our emotional love for them will also grow. C.S. Lewis’ comments on loving our neighbor, and thus our enemy, are helpful:
The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. … The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity.’ The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.6
As we show acts of kindness to others, especially our enemies, we will find our love for them growing.
2. Love must be demonstrated through prayer.
Out of love, the Lord also calls us to pray for those who persecute us.
Application Question: What types of petitions should we request for our enemies in prayer?
(1) Certainly, we should request for God to forgive them. In Luke 23:34, we saw this with Christ who prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The imperfect tense of that prayer suggests that he didn’t only pray this once, this was his continual prayer. He continually asked for their forgiveness, as they hammered spikes into his hands and feet, and raised his body up on the cross. As they continually mocked and derided him, Christ continually went into God’s presence pleading for their forgiveness. We should continually do the same, even in the midst of people hurting us or when the bad memories come back. (2) In our prayer, we should also request that the Lord restore and heal our relationships with our enemies. It’s God’s desire for us to live at peace with others (Rom 12:18). (3) In addition, we should also continually plead for their salvation and correction (1 Tim 2:1-4).
John Stott said this about praying for our enemies:
Moreover, if intercessory prayer is an expression of what love we have, it is a means to increase our love as well. It is impossible to pray for someone without loving him, and impossible to go on praying for him without discovering that our love for him grows and matures. We must not, therefore, wait before praying for an enemy until we feel some love for him in our heart. We must begin to pray for him before we are conscious of loving him, and we shall find our love break first into bud, then into blossom.7
In the Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who pastored and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany described Christ’s call to pray for our enemies as the “supreme demand.” He said, “Through the medium of prayer, we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”8
Are you willing to plead for your enemies in obedience to Christ’s command? By doing this, you not only love your enemies but also grow in love for them. You also take part in God’s plan to redeem or correct these people. Let us remember that those who persecute us are the very ones God is calling us to pray for—they should be first on our prayer list. In a sense, by their constant antagonizations and our memories of those hurts, the Lord strongly encourages us to intercede on their behalf. Let us imitate Christ’s example by loving our enemies radically both by our acts of kindness and prayers.
Application Question: Why is it so difficult to do good to our enemies and pray for them? Describe a time that you acted kindly to your enemy and prayed for them instead of returning evil for evil. What were the results on your own life and the person?
Radical Love Proves the Salvation of Disciples
so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Interpretation Question: What did Christ mean by saying that showing love towards our enemies makes us “like” our Father in heaven?
In Matthew 5:45, Christ gives believers incentive for showing radical love to our enemies. The reason is that we may be like our “Father” in heaven. Other versions translate this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (ESV) or “that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (NIV). What did Christ mean by this? Obviously, no one enters the family of God, and therefore is saved, by loving others. Christ meant that this radical love distinguishes a child of God and, therefore proves that we are born again.
This is a very important doctrine and endeavor for everyone who professes Christ. This has been lost in much of Christendom, but there is a need to prove our salvation. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ warns:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
Among those who profess Christ, there are many who are self-deceived. Instead of obeying the will of the Father, they practice a lifestyle of evil. When others mistreat them, in rebellion towards Christ’s words, instead of loving and praying for them, they return evil for evil. Christ says in the last days, he will say to many professed believers, “I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” Love in a believer’s life is the proof of purchase. Christ said it this way, “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Radical love, even for enemies, should mark believers in this world.
John, the disciple of love, said:
By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.
1 John 3:10
If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:20
Does radical love for believers and also your enemies mark your life? The absence of this love could prove that one is illegitimate—not a child of God. It is not natural for a person to love their enemies. It is a supernatural work from God in the life of someone who is truly born again. Romans 5:5 says “the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (paraphrase). At salvation, God pours out his “agape” in our hearts to love both him and others. To lack it to the least extent, might prove that we have never received it. God loves both the good and the evil. He provides rain and sunshine for those who don’t love him. He also sent his Son to die on the cross for those antagonistic towards him. To love “like” him is to prove that we are his children and therefore affirm our hearts before him.
It is important for each professed believer to have assurance of salvation; for within the church are both wheat and weeds, good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats. Therefore, Scripture calls for us to prove our salvation by our works. Consider the following verses:
but I declared to those in Damascus first, and then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds consistent with repentance.
Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!
2 Corinthians 13:5
Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin
2 Peter 1:10
Are you demonstrating your repentance by your deeds? Are you examining yourself to see if Christ is in you? Are you making your calling and election sure? The primary way we do this is by our love. Radical love is a proof that Christ—the one who died for his enemies and prayed for them on the cross—is in us. This doesn’t mean we won’t fail at this. We will. But when we do, we should repent and come to Christ for grace to try again. If we are content to simply live a life of bitterness and unforgiveness towards those who have failed us, maybe we have never truly received the mercy of God (cf. Matt 5:7).
Does the way you respond to those who harm you confirm your citizenship? Remember Christ is teaching that if our righteousness doesn’t surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were jealous, vengeful, and unforgiving. Though religious, they cursed, lied about, and murdered our Lord. If our love is no different than theirs, we have never truly been saved, and therefore, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Application Question: In what way have you experienced a change in the way you respond to those who harm you since following Christ? How do you still struggle in this area? What should a person do if they have never experienced a change in their response to those who hurt them—in that they are still vindictive and unforgiving?
Radical Love Will Be Rewarded by God
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Another incentive for demonstrating radical love is the fact that we will be rewarded for it. In Matthew 5:46, Christ begins to teach on the reality of heavenly reward. He continues this teaching throughout Chapter 6. He calls the disciples several times to not perform their works of righteousness (giving, praying, and fasting) to be seen by others—lest they lose their reward (6:1,3-4, 6, 17-18). He even commands them to store up riches in heaven instead of on earth (Matt 6:19-20). Christ wants his disciples to receive rewards from their Father. Rewards are the culmination of God’s approval and affirmation on our lives. Every believer should desire them (cf. Matt 25:14-30, 1 Cor 9:24-27).
In considering his kingdom, Christ said his disciples should live in such a way that they will be rewarded. They will be rewarded by practicing a life of secrecy instead of doing their works to be seen by others. They will be rewarded for living by faith instead of living for the things of this world. But they also will be rewarded for practicing a radical love to all, including those who harm them.
In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul said,
If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
One day, the works of believers will be tested by God and the works that last will be rewarded. One primary concern will be that of motives. Was everything we did motivated by love? In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said we can do many radical things for God and others like speaking in the tongues of men and angels, prophesying great mysteries, having faith to move mountains, and offering all we have to the poor; however, if we don’t have love—agape—it will profit us nothing (v. 1-3). Only what is done out of agape—God’s radical love—will be recognized and rewarded.
Sadly, often the reason we serve others is to be seen, applauded, and potentially get promoted—we love to receive in return. That is how the world loves. However, receiving is not a condition for agape love. Agape love only cares about the object of its affection. This is how God loves us. He showers his rain and sunshine on the good and evil, without the condition of love being returned. In fact, he knows that we can’t return it, apart from his grace (cf. Rom 8:7). This is the type of love that God will test our hearts for, recognize, and reward in this life and throughout eternity.
What type of love are you showing to others? Is it a selfish love that needs to be seen, recognized, and returned by others? If so, it may profit others, but it will profit you nothing (1 Cor 13:3). Only agape love—radical love—will be honored and rewarded by God. Will your love be rewarded?
Application Question: What are your views on heavenly reward? Does the prospect of heavenly reward motivate you to serve God more faithfully and love people more radically? Why or why not?
Radical Love Distinguishes Believers from the World
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Interpretation Question: Who were the tax collectors and how were they viewed by the Jews?
Finally, Christ challenges his listeners by using the examples of tax collectors and pagans. The Pharisees and scribes considered tax collectors and Gentiles the lowest of the low—they were outside of God’s grace. Certainly, of all people, the religious leaders were better than them. Tax collectors were employed by the Roman government to collect a certain amount of taxes from the Jews, and whatever they collected over that amount was theirs to keep. Therefore, this led to widespread bribery, extortion, and overall corruption.9 The term ‘tax collector’ was essentially synonymous with being a crook—a rich crook. In addition, Jews hated tax collectors simply because they were employed by their enemies—the pagan Romans. Therefore, the examples of the tax collectors and pagans would have greatly challenged the spiritual leaders and Jews as they considered themselves God’s chosen, and everybody else, especially the tax collectors and pagans, was outside of God’s grace.
However, the love of the Pharisees and scribes was no different than theirs. They loved those who were likeable and hated those who were not. All they had was a human love instead of a supernatural love. Christian love should be noted by “more”—more than what the world offers. Christ calls us to be salt and light of the world and that is primarily demonstrated through our radical love.
Kent Hughes said it this way:
The question we must each ask is, is there a “more” in my love? Is there something about my love that cannot be explained in natural terms? Is there something special and unique about my love to others that is not present in the life of the unbeliever? These are important questions because if there is not a “more” to our love, if we love only those with whom we have something in common and who treat us well, if there is nothing more than that, we are perhaps not Christians at all. Notice, I did not say we must perfectly exhibit the “more” of his love. But is there a “more”?10
Are you living a life of more—a life of radical, kingdom love? Or is your love natural—only loving those who are friendly and likeable? Does your love distinguish you from the world?
Application Question: In what ways are you experiencing the growth of your love for God and others? In what ways are you experiencing the life of “more” (Matt 5:47)? How is God challenging you to grow in loving others, especially your enemies?
It has been said that, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.”11 Christ taught that this divine love—this radical love—will be demonstrated in the lives of kingdom citizens. They will be persecuted and hated for their faith (cf. Matt 5:10-12), but they will respond with radical love. Radical love is the Christian ethic—it should define believers. What are characteristics of this radical love?
- Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated to All People
- Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated Specifically to Enemies
- Radical Love Proves the Salvation of Disciples
- Radical Love Will Be Rewarded by God
- Radical Love Distinguishes Believers from the World
Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
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1 Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible – Matthew I.
2 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 141). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
3 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 117). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 The Preachers Outline and Sermon Bible, “Matthew 5:43-48”.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 345). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 144). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
7 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 118–119). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
8 The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller [2d rev. ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1960
9 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 56). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
10 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 142–143). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
11 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 141). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.