DUNCAN/God’s law vs. human tradition: Part VI
Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 5:43-48. The Lord Jesus Christ is setting forth the righteousness of His kingdom. He is setting forth the kind of life that His disciples are going to live. He is setting forth the standard of the kingdom. The Lord Jesus is not teaching us how we can work our way to heaven. He is teaching us how people live once heaven has been implanted in their hearts, as they have trusted, as they have rested on Him alone for their salvation. We see three things in this passage. First, we must not illegitimately limit the extent of our neighbor-love. Second, we must willingly embrace our obligation to love our enemies. And third, we must be imitators of our heavenly Father in our life of love.
I. We Must Not Illegitimately Limit the Extent of Our Neighbor-Love.
In verse 43, Jesus sets forth a command to love our enemies. He says in verse 43, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” In the process, He teaches us that we must not illegitimately limit the extent of our neighbor love. That is, we must not come up with rationalizations that restrict God’s command to us to love our neighbor. The Pharisees were doing that. The Pharisees took a good law, ‘you shall love your neighbor,’ and they appended an unbiblical truth ‘and hate your enemy.’ This law of neighbor-love in Leviticus 19, is a law that demands practical love of neighbor, not just sentiment towards neighbor, but a practical helping of neighbor. Not slandering your neighbor’s name, but looking for your neighbor’s interests in his estates, in his person, in his vocation, in his good name and reputation. In all these practical ways, Leviticus and other commands of Moses demand that we love our neighbor. But nowhere do those passages command that we hate our enemy. The Lord Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have misunderstood the command because they have limited the extent of what is required when they read “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
II. We Must Willingly Embrace Our Obligation to Love Even Our Enemies.
Jesus then says in verse 44, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s easy to love those who love you. It is easy, at least sometimes, to love those in whom you delight. But it’s hard to love those who have abused you. It’s hard to love those who do not love you. It’s hard to love those who are not seeking your best interest, in fact, who would like to undercut you at every point. That is hard. And that is precisely what the Lord Jesus is calling us to. Our natural tendency is to not wish good for those who wish us harm. Our natural tendency is certainly to be cold in our love towards those who are cold in love towards us. In fact, our natural tendency is to hate those who hate us. When we see our enemies, we often treat them as if they were less than human. We want to be treated as if we were more than human. When we see others, we must see them as ourselves and love them as ourselves. It’s easy to love those who have claims on our affection, those who love us, those that we delight in, but Christ is asking us to show kindness and love to those who have no claim on our affections, those who do not evoke our delight.
III. We Must Be Imitators of Our Heavenly Father in Our Life of Love.
In verses 45-47, Jesus teaches us that we must be imitators of our heavenly Father in our life of love. He says, “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His 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? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Jesus is doing three things here: first, He tells you that the Pharisees teaching is wrong. In this passage, He tells you why you ought to be motivated to keep that law, why you ought to be motivated to love your enemies, why you ought to be motivated to love your neighbor, and He tells you that your great motivation ought to be a desire to be like your heavenly Father. Law dodging is a hobby of the Pharisees, but believers have a keen appetite for righteousness. They seek the living God, and they want to be like the living God in His moral character, and so they seek after Him and they desire to be like Him. In verse 45 we see that common mercies are instances and proofs of God’s bountiful, sovereign love. They are manifestations of a God who gives good gifts and who shows His love towards people who hate Him. The Father’s love is a love which reaches out to those who hate Him and pours out His bounty on those at enmity with Him, and the Lord Jesus says that’s what we ought to desire to be like. We ought to desire to show the same kind of love as the love of the heavenly Father.
The Lord Jesus, in verses 46 and 47, makes it clear that our love must exceed the love of the world. The Lord Jesus is saying that even tax collectors love those who love them. They look out for those who love them. But He is asking us to do more than that. And this is exactly what Christ is saying in verse 48. He says, “You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, is calling His people to love those who are both not in a position to reward us for our love, and even to love those who despite our love seek to abuse us. It is a love which loves not because of what it will get out of others, but it is a love implanted in our hearts by God Himself that enables us to love without anticipation or expectation of reward for that love, except from the heavenly Father. You see, there is no humanly generated love that can enable you to love people in this sort of a self-sacrificial way. Only a living and loving relationship with the heavenly Father, an assurance that He has given you everything that you need in Christ, an assurance that all blessing awaits in glory, can enable you to love those will take advantage of you. And that’s precisely what Christ is calling you to.