Translation & sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 14 Aug 2011
43. Y’all heard that it was declared, “You shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy.”
44. Yet I myself am saying to y’all, “Love your enemies, and pray for the ones who are persecuting you,
45. So that y’all might become sons of your Father in heaven,
because His sun rises upon evil men and good men,
and it rains upon righteous men and unrighteous men.
46. For if y’all happen to love the ones who are loving you, what reward are y’all having?
Are not the tax collectors also doing the same?
47. And if y’all happen to love your brothers only, who are you doing better than?
Are not the Gentiles/tax-collectors doing the same?
48. As for y’all therefore, you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I did not grow up listening to country music; my family did not care for it. Of course, most of the stuff on Country radio stations is an attack on God’s standards of righteousness, but there is still a significant percentage of Country songs which uphold what is “true, right, pure, lovely, and reputable,” (Philippians 4:8), and, over the past decade, my son Josh has introduced a number of good Country songs into the culture of my household. In fact, as the quality of performance, the musical creativity, and the vocabulary of Contemporary Christian Music has notably decreased over the last couple of decades, I find myself enjoying Country stations more than Christian stations on those rare occasions when I do turn on the radio. At any rate, one common topic addressed in “Good Country Songs” is the relationship between fathers and their children. In one Montgomery Gentry song, a son hears his Daddy talk about the great feats of heroism he accomplished while flying jet airplanes in WW2, and the son, who has just lived an average blue-collar life, wonders aloud if he has let his father down by not doing great heroic things like his father did, he asks, “Are you ashamed of how I turned out?” But, as the song goes, “Well, he lowered his voice, then he raised his brow. Said, ‘lemme tell ya right now, That's something to be proud of, That's a life you can hang your hat on… you did it man!’”
That raises some powerful emotions, doesn’t it? God made us to want the approval of our fathers.
As we hear the teachings of Jesus, He teaches us to relate to God as our heavenly father, as He did Himself. And much like the relationships we have with our earthly fathers, God the Father spoke His approval over His son, Jesus when John baptized Him, saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased,” and further demonstrated His “you did it, man!” by raising Jesus from the dead.
Jesus spoke of a similar moment when we stand before God the Father, and He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things… enter into the joy of your Lord!” (Matt. 25:23)
How do we get there? What will it take to find that kind of approval from our father in heaven?
Jesus says here that we must be perfect.
Well, that rules me out!
Not so fast! As we unpack what Jesus means by “be perfect” we will see it’s a lot like the young man in the country song who was surprised when his Daddy said, “You did it, man! I’m proud of you.” It involves setting the perfection of God before us and growing in maturity toward God’s character, and that is something that even sin-sick and messy people like us can do with God’s help.
In the last few verses we studied, Jesus said that loving our friends as well as our enemies is what the children of God are called to do, because God Himself shows kindness to His friends as well as to His enemies.
Notice that the kindness God shows to His enemies is simply sunshine and rain. This passage does not teach that all of God’s blessings of salvation and eternal peace will be given to everybody. God is not unjust or indiscriminate, but He is generously kind to all.
Also note that this does not mean you have to become a pacifist. I’ve often harped on the fact that Jesus told His disciples to carry swords when He sent them out among Gentiles, and the fact that John the Baptizer did not tell the soldiers to beat their swords into plows when they asked him what they should do. There is a place for defending the innocent against violence and for expressing the wrath of God against evil through the arm of the civil government. Jesus was not addressing government authorities here in Matthew 5; He was teaching private persons not to hold personal grudges or show unkindness to mean people.
In the last 3 verses of chapter 5, Jesus adds to His teaching on love with:
1. a reminder of our heavenly reward
2. a reality-check for people who are inclined to be self-righteous,
3. an example of how to excel in love, and
4. a goal/direction to grow toward in life.
ἐὰν γὰρ ἀγαπήσητε τοὺς ἀγαπῶντας ὑμᾶς, τίνα μισθὸν ἔχετε;
46. For if y’all happen to love the ones who are loving you, what reward are y’all having?
s Jesus used the word “reward” earlier in 5:12: Y’all are being blessed whenever liars reproach you and hunt [you] down and speak every evil against you for my sake. Keep rejoicing and leaping for joy, because your reward is bountiful in heaven…The source of our joy is in heaven – not on earth.
s That reward in heaven is not something we earn by good works on earth; it is a free gift from God given to us simply because He chose to love us. (Ephesians 2)
s That reward is, more than anything else, a perfect fellowship with God Himself: Genesis 15:1 …the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, “Fear not, Abram: I am [your] shield, and [your] exceeding great reward.” (KJV)
s But here in Matt 5:46, Jesus asks us to consider what kind of reward we will get if we only love those who love us. The implication is that we will only get a small reward in maintaining nice relationships with people who are already nice to us.
s In Matt 6:1-3 Jesus goes on to say, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven…. [those who act ostentatiously to get honor from men already] have their reward in full…” After the applause is over, after the warm fuzzies have worn off, that’s it, that’s all the reward you’ll get. As quickly as it came to you, it will evaporate.
s If however, you also love those who don’t like you and pray for their best, even if you don’t feel like it, you are exercising faith in God and obeying Him, and there is a great and glorious reward which you will find in eternity for trusting and obeying God.
s Which are we living for? an immediate earthly reward from man on earth or the greater reward in heaven which must be waited for but which will still be thrilling even after we’ve enjoyed the presence of God for 10,000 years?
s (more on that next week) I want the reward in heaven that will never fade away.
46b οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ποιοῦσι;
Are not the tax collectors also doing the same?
47 καὶ ἐὰν ἀσπάσησθε τοὺς ἀδελφοὺςTR,N-A,UBS/φίλουςMaj,Byz ὑμῶν μόνον, τί περισσὸν ποιεῖτε;
And if y’all happen to love your brothers only, who are you doing better than?
οὐχὶ καὶ οἱ τελῶναιMaj,Byz,TR,f13,goth,arm/ ἐθνικοἱא,B,f1,UBS,it,syr,cop,eth οὕτωMaj,Byz,TR/ τὸ αὐτὸN-A,UBS ποιοῦσιν;
Are not the Gentiles/tax-collectors/pagans doing the same?
· Jesus mentions tax-collectors in the 2nd half of v.46.
· As Matthew recorded this saying of Christ, he must have been especially sensitive to putdowns of tax-collectors, for he himself had been a tax-collector, yet Jesus had included him among the disciples.
· Israel was subject to the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, and the empire levied taxes through wealthy Romans who contracted with the government for the privilege of collecting the taxes from certain designated areas – mostly charging import and export tolls on merchandise that moved across the borders of that area. In Israel, these Roman publicans would sub-contract Jewish tax-collectors to actually collect the money (Ralph Earle, William Hendricksen) and would give them almost unlimited power to collect all the money they wanted, backed by the force of the Roman army. So these Jews were considered traitors to the Jewish nation, and, on top of that, they tended to get corrupt with all the power and money they wanted at their disposal.
· To the Jewish audience that Matthew originally addressed his gospel to, the word “tax-collector” was even worse than it seems to us today. Today, when we think of tax collectors, we think of burdensome government and the IRS, but we don’t necessarily associate tax-collectors with moral corruption. Apparently in Jesus’ day, the tax-collectors were both oppressive and morally corrupt.
· Theocritus the Greek was once asked, “Which of the wild beasts are the most cruel?” He answered, “In the mountains, Bears and lions; in the cities, Tax-collectors...” (Adam Clarke)
· We might get the same effect today if Jesus said, “you know, if you love your brother and hate your enemy, you are no better than an extremist Muslim terrorist!” That was meant to rock people back on their heels, to provide a reality check for people who thought they were better than the average sinner.
· In the parallel passage in Luke 6:32ff, we see the word “sinner” as a synonym for “tax-collector” – “even sinners love those that love them… even sinners do good to those that do good to them.. even sinners lend to sinners to receive again…”
· Jesus says the same thing again in Matt 5:47, “If you only say ‘Hi’ to your friends, you’re no better than a paganNIV/GentileNASB,ESV/tax-collectorKJV.”
· If you have a KJV, He mentions tax collectors again, but if you have a translation based on the oldest Greek manuscripts of Matthew, you’ll have the comparison instead to “Gentiles” or “pagans.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s almost a coin toss as to which is the right word, τελῶναι/ ἐθνικοἱ - it appears that Greek texts in modern-day Turkey and Central Asia tended to have the word “tax-collectors” in v.47, whereas Greek texts in Africa and Europe tended to have the word “Gentiles/pagans.”
s This second word ἐθνικοἱ in v.47 is found in three other places in the Bible, each indicating the heathen natives of the world’s nations who are not part of God’s holy people.
s If we are just nice to those who like us, what are we doing that’s any better than what non-Christians do?
It is easy to
flatter ourselves into thinking that we are good people. “I tell the bank
teller, ‘Have a good day,’ I smile at Wal-Mart greeters, and I don’t write
Facebook posts in all caps. I am a pretty nice guy!”
Yeah, but that doesn’t really distinguish me from anybody else in the world w. a little common courtesy. Being a Christian isn’t about being as nice as everybody else, it’s about loving God enough to love enemies.
s Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Romania who was imprisoned after the Communist Russian takeover and cruelly tortured for his faith. In his book, Tortured for Christ he wrote, “I have seen Christians in communist prisons with 50 pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold, and praying with fervor for the communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was shed into our hearts. Afterward, the communists who had tortured us came to prison, too. Under communism, communists, and even communist rulers, are put in prison almost as often as their adversaries. Now the tortured and the torturer were in the same cell. And while the non-Christians showed hatred toward their former inquisitors and beat them, Christians took their defense, even at the risk of being beaten themselves and accused of being accomplices with communism. I have seen Christians giving away their last slice of bread (we had at that time one slice a week) and the medicine which could save their lives to a sick Communist torturer, who was now a fellow-prisoner... Communists have committed and still commit horrors but ‘many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it. Love is strong as death. Jealousy is as cruel as the grave.’ As the grave insists on having all — rich and poor, young and old, men of all races, nations and political convictions, saints and criminals — so love is all embracing. Christ, the Incarnate Love, will never cease until He wins the communists too. A minister was thrown into my cell. He was half dead. Blood streamed from his face and body. He had been horribly beaten. We washed him. Some prisoners cursed the communists. Groaning, he said, ‘Please, don't curse them! Keep silent! I wish to pray for them.’”
s Next time you’re tempted to think you are a loving enough person, try comparing yourself to that rather than comparing yourself to the world’s normal politeness.
s Why? Because God doesn’t want us to cheapen the greatness of His love by being content with being like everybody else, He wants us to keep maturing and growing in love, to press on to greater depths of love, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).
So Jesus has given us in v.46 a reminder of our heavenly reward, and a reality-check for self-righteousness. Next we have in v.47:
· According to several historians of the time, Jews did not salute Gentiles or Samaritans, and in later days they did not salute Muslims or Christians with the same familiar greeting they would use among themselves.
· The word for “greet” (ἀσπάσησθε) here is variously translated: Greet, Send greetings, Salute, Welcome, Take leave of, Cherish, Be fond of, Hug, Remember to someone else, Hail, Acclaim, or Pay respects to. (A&G)
· 1Cor. 16:19-20 The churches of Asia [province] greet y’all [including Gentiles!]. Aquila and Prisca greet y’all profusely in the Lord, together with the church corresponding to their house. All the brothers greet y’all. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
· Why greet?
Once again we can look to an example from the
modern persecuted church for how our forefathers have lived out Jesus’ command:
Richard Wurmbrand was initially put into prison for preaching the Gospel to
Russians in his native country of Romania after the Russians had conquered his
country. Instead of hating the oppressive Russian soldiers who patrolled his
streets, he preached God’s love to them. In his book Tortured for Christ,
“The Russians were very fond of watches. They stole watches from everybody. They stopped you on the street and everybody had to hand them over. You could see Russians with several watches on every arm. You could see Russian women officers with alarm clocks hanging around their necks. They had never had watches before and could never get enough of them. Rumanians who wished to have a watch had to go to the barracks of the Soviet army to buy a stolen one, often buying back their own watch. So it was common for Rumanians to enter the Russian barracks. We of the Underground Church had a good pretext, that of buying watches, to go into them, too. I chose for my first attempt to preach in a Russian barrack an Orthodox feast, the day of St. Paul and St Peter. I went onto the military base pretending to buy a watch. I pretended that one was too expensive; another was too small; and another too big. Several soldiers crowded around me, everyone offering me something to buy. Jokingly I asked them, ‘Is any of you named Paul or Peter?’ Some were. Then I said, ‘Do you know that today is the day when your Orthodox church honors St Paul and St. Peter?’ (Some of the older Russians knew it) So I said, ‘Do you know who Paul and Peter were?’ Nobody knew. I began to tell them about Paul and Peter. One of the older Russian soldiers interrupted me and said, ‘You have not come to buy watches. You have come to tell us about the faith. Sit down here with us and speak to us! But be very careful! We know about whom to beware. These around me are all good men. When I put my hand on your knee, you must talk only about watches. When I remove my hand, you may begin your message again.’ Quite a great crowd of men was around me and I told them about Paul and Peter, about the Christ for whom Paul and Peter died. From tune to time, somebody would come near in whom they had no confidence. The soldier would put his hand on my knee and I would talk about watches. When that man went away, I resumed preaching about Christ. This visit was repeated many, many times with the help of Russian Christian soldiers. Many of their comrades found Christ. Thousands of Gospels were given out secretly. Many of our brothers and sisters of the Underground were caught and heavily beaten for this...
· So here’s an implied suggestion as to how to love your enemies. In addition to praying for them, try greeting them in a way that shows you are not going to shun them but are wanting to build a positive relationship, and you are open to addressing needs in their life.
· “We cannot expect the reward of Christians, if we rise no higher than the virtue of publicans.” ~Matthew Henry
ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι, ὥσ[περMaj,TR] ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐρανιοςN-A,UBS/ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖςByz,TR τέλειός ἐστιν.
The word for you is plural and emphatic. It’s awkward to translate both the plural and the emphasis into English from Greek, but the Greek grammar draws a strong contrast between the way the world normally operates and the way we as Christians should operate.
48. As for y’all therefore, you shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The word translated “perfect” here in Greek is τέλειός. This Greek word has a little different set of connotations than our English word “perfect,” so I want to begin by running through every way it is used in the Bible:
s Genesis 6:9 And these are the generations of Noe. Noe was a just man; being perfect in his generation, Noe was well-pleasing to God.
s Exodus 12:5 It shall be to you an unblemished lamb, a male of a year old: ye shall take it of the lambs and the kids.
s Deuteronomy 18:10-13 There shall not be found in thee one who purges his son or his daughter with fire, one who uses divination, who deals with omens, and augury, a sorcerer employing incantation, one who has in him a divining spirit, and observer of signs, questioning the dead. For every one that does these things is an abomination to the Lord thy God; for because of these abominations the Lord will destroy them from before thy face. 13 Thou shalt be perfect before the Lord thy God. (cf. Lev 19:2: “You shall be holy, for I Jehovah your God am holy.”)
s 2 Samuel 22:26-27 David instructs Solomon: With the holy thou wilt be holy, and with the perfect man thou will be perfect, and with the excellent/pure thou wilt be excellent, and with the froward [perverse, stubborn] thou will be froward.
s 1 Chronicles 28:9 And now, my son Solomon, know the God of thy fathers, and serve him with a perfect heart and willing soul: for the Lord searches all hearts, and knows every thought: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou shouldest forsake him, he will forsake thee for ever.
s 1 Kings 8:61 So Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple: And let our hearts be perfect toward the Lord our God, to walk also holily in his ordinances, and to keep His commandments, as at this day.
s 1 Kings 11:4-5 And it came to pass in the time of the old age of Solomon, that his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.
s 1 Kings 15:3 ditto for King Abijam
s 1 Kings 15:11-14 And Asa did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, as David his father. And he removed the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols which his fathers had kept up. And he removed Ana his mother from being queen, forasmuch as she gathered a meeting in her grove: and Asa cut down her [Ashtoreth-worship] retreats, and burnt them with fire in the brook of Kedron. 14 But he removed not the high places; nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect with the Lord all his days.
s 1 Chronicles 25:6-8 …Asaph, and Idithun, and Æman. And the number of them after their brethren, those instructed to sing to God, every one that understood singing was 288, And they also cast lots for the daily courses, for the great and the small of them, of the perfect ones and the learners.
s Psalms 139:22 I have hated them with perfect hatred; they were counted my enemies.
s Song of Solomon 5:2 …the voice of my kinsman knocks at the door, saying, Open, open to me, my companion, my sister, my dove, my perfect one... (repeated in 6:9)
s Jeremiah 13:19 The cities toward the south were shut, and there was none to open them: Juda is removed into captivity, they have suffered a complete removal/exile.
s Matthew 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
s Romans 12:2 And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
s 1 Corinthians 2:6 We speak wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought:
s 1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, be not children in mind: yet in malice be ye babes, but in mind be men. (context: don’t make meaningless utterances in unknown languages)
s 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.
s Ephesians 4:11-15 And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ;
s Philippians 3:9-15 I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you:
s Colossians 1:28 [Christ] whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ;
s Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, saluteth you, always striving for you in his prayers, that ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
s Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.
s Hebrews 9:11-12 But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.
s James 1:4 And let [hardship which teaches] patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.
s James 1:17, 25 God’s law and gifts are perfect, in keeping with His nature: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. 25 But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing.
s James 3:2 For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.
s 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.
s Above OT passages modified from Brenton’s English translation of the Septuagint and NT passages from the American Standard Version of 1901.
1) Brought to its end, finished
2) Wanting nothing necessary to completeness (Strong’s primary definition = “complete”)
3) Perfect; 4) that which is perfect: 4a) consummate human integrity and virtue,
4b) of men: Full grown, adult, of full age, mature
· Jesus said, “Be perfect/complete/mature as your heavenly father is.” God is already completely perfect; He cannot mature any further, but we on the other hand, are incomplete and imperfect.
· The command is not a hopeless one. God is not badgering us with an impossible requirement; He is not saying we can be utterly free of all sin. (Jesus taught His disciples a few verses later on to pray to God to forgive their sins, so He obviously didn’t expect them to be sinless.)
· He is saying that we need to focus our attention on Him as our standard of perfection, as our goal for what it looks like to be mature, and grow in that direction.
· Calvin put it this way, “Perfection here is not in the sense of equality, but in relation to its likeness… we are said to be perfect as He is, as long as we aim for the same goal that He presents us with in Himself… it is called God’s perfection when we show, sheer and free generosity… or in Luke’s words, ‘Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven…’” (Lk. 6:36).
· This is a call to fulfill the dream of every child, and that is to grow up and be like your Father.
· Of course our earthly fathers are not perfect, but our natural bent to be like them is a parallel to the upward call and longing we have to be like our perfect heavenly father.
· Since I started with a country song, let me end with another Good Country Song by Rodney Adkins that teaches by a parallel to our earthly fathers how to aspire to be like our heavenly Father:
We got back home and I went to the barn,
I bowed my head and I prayed real hard.
Said, “Lord, please help me help my stupid self!”
Just this side of bedtime later that night,
Turnin’ on my son’s Scooby-doo nightlight,
He crawled out of bed and he got down on his knees.
He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands,
Spoke to God like he was talkin’ to a friend.
And I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to pray like that?”
He said, “I’ve been watching you, Dad; ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I want to be like you,
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are.
We got cowboy boots and camo pants,
Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we Dad?
I want to do everything you do,
So I’ve been watching you.
With tears in my eyes I wrapped him in a hug,
Said, “My little bear is growin’ up.”
And he said, “But when I’m big I’ll still know what to do,
‘Cause I’ve been watchin’ you…”
Are you watchin’ Jesus so you can grow up to be like your heavenly father?