Matthew 5:43-48

I said, at the beginning of this section concerning Pharisaical perversions of God’s Law-Word, that none of us would be able to go through the next six weeks without coming face to face with “self” and having our religious affections challenged.  We have heard Jesus describe His people, and we all have been found wanting.

We have heard Him pronounce blessed those who have His virtues.  And we wondered how on earth we could ever attain to that.  We heard that we are salt and light when we have those virtues.  And for five weeks now we have heard Him condemn all sorts of perversions of His Holy Law.  And in each case we were all guilty of the same perversions.  We have been made to see, through the worlds of our Lord, that our hearts are full of iniquity.

Out of that wretched self comes murderous anger toward others.  And faced with perverted sexual stimulus the first reaction of self is to enjoy it.  We constantly make commitments that we have no intention of keeping if the circumstances change.  And we are always protecting what is ours with vicious self-interest!  That self-protecting anger comes up from the depths of our being, and it takes over – and we give full vent to it.

And the Pharisees, in order to protect that depraved self, have gone so far as to distort the very Law-Word of God in order to get around the condemnation of that depravity.

Rather than flee to the Messiah, where there is power to mortify self, they reinterpreted the Law!  And then they dug their own holes deeper by writing down the distortions and teaching that to the people – making the whole nation submit to the distortions!

But you see, this whole sermon, by our Lord Jesus, describes the full content of the righteousness of the Law.  And not only does it point to the atonement and covering for that innate depravity, but it also drives us to put the old self to death!

This is why many evangelicals hate the Law so much.  This is why they stop their preaching and teaching at the point of covering for sin, and leave off the mortification of sin!  The self protects its own interests by cutting off that which threatens it!  Hatred for God’s Law-Word is self-interest and self-protection!

But Jesus continues to preach that the self has to be put to death.  And the virtues of Christ must be put in its place!  And the Law of God very carefully and explicitly defines the righteousness to which we must aspire!  And Jesus’ Own summary of that Law comes right out of the Law itself.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus says that.  Right in this Gospel of Matthew He says that.  And He is quoting from the Old Testament Law!

But men on the other hand are always in the “lust” mode.  The sinful lust of the flesh is revered and protected by men.  We are always on the defense of self - always on the look-out for insults or attacks or injuries.  And we are always delicately and sensitively poised for disturbances to the equilibrium of the “self.”

But Jesus says we must deny self and follow Him!  That defensive posture we have built around the self must be denied.  In other words we have to put it to death and put on the nature of Christ!

A statement by a great man of the faith impressed me so much.  He said,


“There was a time when I died.  Utterly died.  Died to (myself) and my opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”


The sensitive, defensive posture of sinful men is built up around themselves in order to protect the depravity that is there!  But this man finally reached the point, by the grace of God, when the approval or disapproval of men did not activate his lust mode!  He had mortified it.  Killed it.  Put it away.  He had died to the world and its approval or disapproval.  He had died to self.

That is exactly what the apostle Paul says, in First Corinthians four, three.  He writes:  “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or of man’s judgment; yea, I do not even judge myself.”  You see, the Corinthian Church had become very angry with Paul, and they had treated him like dirt.  But Paul had committed the whole question of his judgment to God, and he had entered a state and condition in which he just would not be hurt by the anger and unjust treatment of men!

Paul had put away the old “self” and its self-interest protection devices!  He had denied self.  And the need for the preservation of ego had been mortified.  And he said, “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”

Christ’s people have to become utterly different.  We have to become entirely changed.  We must become a new creation in Him. That is what the Old Testament Law prescribed.  And that is what Jesus is describing here as He condemns the Pharisees distortion of that Law.  And rather than submitting to the Law’s requirements for a changed heart toward God and neighbor, the Pharisees had disfigured the Law in order to protect their own self-interests and continue in the lust mode!

And up to now in our text Jesus had been condemning the subtle changes and “out-of-context” perversions of the Law that they used in order to do that.  But this sixth one, this morning, is not like the others.  It is an outright, bold, addition to the Law which allowed them to discriminate between who was a neighbor and who was not!  And which allowed them to hate and retaliate against anyone who treated them unjustly!

As I said before, this Law is found in three places in Moses.  We will read just one – Leviticus chapter nineteen, verse eighteen.  It says this: 


“You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.” 


But Jesus does not even quote from that!  He quotes from the rabbinical tradition which actually adds to the Law something which is never found anywhere in the Law!  He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”  Where does God’s Law say that? It doesn’t!

Jesus said that if you are angry with your brother you have committed the deadly sin of murder.  And an eye for an eye does not mean retaliation – it means legal righteousness.  Jesus is covering the entire second table of the Law with regard to our living in society – and the Law’s requirement for a man to deny self and love God and neighbor!

But the Pharisees correctly observed that their own perverted nature hated those who treated them unjustly – even to the next generations!  And since that was the case, they had better change the Law to match their own nature!

So they redefined who their neighbor was!  And their neighbors were defined as those who treated them fairly and justly!  All others were not neighbors – but enemies!

And the text makes it clear that these were personal offenders.  These hated enemies were not necessarily nations; or Gentile people, or barbarians!  These were individuals, or families, who committed some injustice to another person or family; and they immediately became enemies to be hated.  It was allowed – prescribed – enscripturated!

The question of God’s enemies is not in the text.  And no conclusions are to be drawn here concerning them.  This perversion prescribes hatred for a man’s personal enemies.  In the Rabbinical tradition, if the guy next door offends, he loses his status as a neighbor!

But Jesus says,


“That is not what My Law says.  I say to you, you should love your enemies and be praying on behalf of the ones harassing you.  My Law says that you must have a heart that denies your own depraved nature, and puts it to death, to such an extent that you are not hurt at all by your neighbor’s unkindnesses and injustices, and that you return his anger – not with retaliation and anger of your own, but with mercy and kindness, praying on his behalf!  You shall love your enemies!”  Verse forty-four.


Love?  Yes.  Present tense (so is praying for them).  Continual action.  Your enemies – personal enemies.  People who are flagrantly breaking the Law of God – people who come under the condemnation of God for persecuting His people – people who, with anger and malicious intent, or just with ambivalent disregard, cause you injury; deny the old perverted nature that rises up in defensive self-protection, and mortify it.  Put it to death.  It is such a little thing, says Paul.

Love.  Agapan, here, is a higher love than the Fileo affectionate love.  Our enemy might not take well to affection from us.  We could not well like him either!  But Agapan sees the hatefulness and wickedness of an enemy, feels the blows of his perverse heart and devious mind, and understands the bondage of sin and depravity; and it seeks his good!

That wickedness, or that deviousness, or that unconcern, or that distaste for you is not attractive; and it is foolish to think that we could affectionately incorporate him into our devoted friendship.  His slander, and his lying, and his hate, and his attempt to shame, and his attempt to defraud does not make him an attractive companion, but we must seek his good!

The highest good is to mortify the defense of our own self-image and return kindness and mercy – and seek to free him from his hate and his sin!  That last part is not the main purpose but a resulting benefit.  The purpose is for us to deny self and follow Christ!

Now, you can see, if you have a KJV of the Bible, that there is a lot more written in verse forty-four than I have read.  But better and more critical texts have been found since KJV was written.  Much of verse forty-four in it was inserted later from the Luke parallel passage by some scribe somewhere down the line.

But the true agape presents the image of Christ, and then enlists the grace of God in prayer for our tormentors.  And the fact that the present, durative tense is used indicates that they may go on persecuting us.  And we must go on being the image of Christ and praying.  Pray “huper” – over them, on behalf of them that they might, by the mercy of God, repent and seek God’s pardon.

Verse forty-five:  (you should love your enemies) “in order that you may assume the character, as sons, of your Father in the heavens….”  When we assume the character and nature of God, which we have seen in the beatitudes, and salt and light, and obedience to the full intent and content of His Law, and mortify the lusts of the flesh, we will love our enemies!  We do not love them in order to be like God!  That is foreign to Scripture!  In loving our enemies, we exhibit the fact that we are like Him!  As in generation.  The One from Whom we come out of when we are born.  You see, it is son-ship!  The son assumes the character of his Father!

We are not earthy any longer - we are from the Heavenly One.  We are of Him.  And we furnish evidence of that fact.  By His grace He has put us into the wonderful and blessed relationship through His Only Begotten Son, and we then seek, purposefully, the worlds’ good – especially the unlovely!

The sun, as Jesus goes on to say here in verse forty-five, rises on the wicked, who openly are His enemies, as well as on the ones who are not His enemies.  He causes it to do that.  Same with the rain.  And the wicked reveal that.  By their lack of faith, life and divine son-ship, the perverse reveal that God is merciful to them as well as to His Own sons!

And the fact that God sends His rain and His light, and many other blessings, on His sons and His enemies is revelatory of His agape purpose!  Do not think that it costs God nothing to send blessings on the wicked.  It is His Goodness and His agape that restrains Him from sending only destruction!

But every time it rains on the property of the unrepentant – every time the sun comes up on the world of the unrepentant, it is further indication that God is merciful in giving another day for them to see it, and give God the glory through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is the One without Whom nothing would hold together!

Next, in verses forty-six and forty-seven, come the two arguments to the contrary – set in rhetorical form. 


“For if you should love the ones loving you, what reward do you have?  Aren’t the tax collectors doing that?  And if you love only your brothers, what are you doing extraordinary?  Aren’t the heathen also doing that?”


See?  If the disciples of Christ do not love their enemies, if they do not assume the character of their adoptive Father, how can they maintain that they are sons?  If they withhold love from their enemies, they remain on the same level with the heathen!  That is not a bit better than the tax collectors.  They were the despised, renegade Jews, who, for their own profit, bought up the Roman assessments in a particular locality, paid over to the Roman Government the assessed amount, and then collected as much as they could from the people!  Almost everybody hated them!  And even these people, known as extortioners, and who had very few friends, loved those who loved them.  Does God’s holy Law in Leviticus chapter nineteen mean no more than that?

And the barbarian Gentiles who do not have God’s Law – even they love their own brothers!

If there was recognition from God for our loving the ones who love us, then there would necessarily have to be heavenly recognition of the tax collectors’ love for these who love them.  And if there was recognition from God for our love for our own brothers, then there would have to be recognition from God of the heathen’s love for their own brothers.

But the Pharisees’ perversions and distortions of the Law were worse even than that!  They concentrated on “the children of your people” in the Leviticus nineteen passage, and disregarded all the rest of the content of the Law.  They despised all Gentiles as dogs, not children of their people.  And the Gentiles responded in kind.

So the question is, what do you do more than the pagans if you love only your own race?!  Your own nationality!

Jesus’ conclusion of all this, verse forty-eight, is that those who have denied self and assumed the character of the Father, loving even our enemies, will be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.  “You, on your part,” He says, “shall be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now, the comparison here is with the teaching of the Pharisees and their righteousness.  They mutilated the Law and tried to subtract as much as possible from it; they haggled with God about every point!  And what they ended up with was useless, external scraps!

But Jesus says that we are to be different!  Loving and delighting in His holy Law – devoted to the will of God revealed in His Law-Word.  Not haggling with Him about points – not trying to get around it – not bringing up specific circumstances that do not seem to apply – not taking two quotes from out of their contexts, putting them together to free yourself from the intent of its commanded righteousness.

Now let us deal with perfection in the last verse.  And let me say this first.  There is no sinlessness in any man.  Not for a month, not for a day, not for a minute – never.  The English word “perfect” as it is used here in the text, is responsible for the damnable doctrines of momentary sinlessness and perfectionism – that there are times when man can be free of sin!

But Jesus says that His people are poor in spirit and mourning their sin.  And they are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, which they do not have.  And they are requiring of mercy constantly.  The whole of Scripture, and the entire history of God’s salvation, is man being made aware of his great sin nature and the constant need for covering before God in the body of Christ.

And let me say further, as I said last week concerning retaliation.  It is wrong for us to think that loving our enemies is too high for us.  This we must reach, or God cannot regard us as sons.  And even though being enabled by the grace and mercy of God to love our enemies is a great step in our sanctification, it has nothing whatever to do with sinlessness.

As I said, the word “perfect” in this text is responsible for terrible doctrinal error.  But, if there was a better word to use to translate the Greek word, I would have used it.  But there is not.  So “perfect” needs to be explained in the context in which it is used.

The Greek word is teleios – from telos – which means end, or goal.  Complete.  And its antithesis is commencement – or beginning.  You have often heard me speak of the three fold – or three cornered triangle that we must conceive when making wise, ethical judgment.  The Ontological corner is the being and objective truth of God and His Law-Word.  The second corner is the Existential – situation, or the facts of the case.  And the third is the Teleological corner – the end result or the goal of the judgment.  That word teleological comes from this word teleios, here in our text.

And it means “end” or “goal” – as in beginning, advance and maturity.  It means “whole” – as in “whole burnt offering.”  It means completed, fulfilled and full-grown.

And in this context of the divided hearts of the Pharisees, where they wished to love the ones who loved them and hate the hateful, the word means “undivided, whole, pure in heart.”  The Pharisees’ hearts were divided. And a divided heart is an idolatrous heart.

But God’s heart is not divided.  He sends the rain and the sun on the righteous and the unrighteous.  And our hearts are not to be divided.  We are to love with a purpose the ones loving us and those who consider themselves our enemies!

We are to assume the character of God as sons, and have the heart of God toward our enemies – a heart that is not divided.  “Then you shall be undivided as the Heavenly Father is undivided.”  The divided heart does not assume the character of God and cannot be considered His son!

But the disciples of Christ must be unrestricted and undivided in their love – bringing even their enemies into its compass.

People, we cannot be Pharisees.  We have to take the Whole Law of Liberty and do it.  The whole Law, when it is done, grants freedom, sets us free, makes us undivided and unrestricted, and detached from anything which separates us from God.  The end and fullness and goal of Christ is maturity to the point of loving even our enemies, which is our full-grown assumption of the character of God.