6. The Spirit of Truthfulness and Love (Matthew 5:33-48)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (41:50)

33 "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37)

"Don't swear at all," we read, and wonder if this applies to us. We don't use foul language, perhaps. We certainly don't take oaths by Jerusalem. Why include something this obscure in the Sermon on the Mount?

Because the point of Jesus' words is the Spirit of Making Promises, and that applies in every age. To understand what Jesus was saying, we need to begin in the Old Testament.

Oath Taking in the Old Testament

A number of places in the Old Testament, people were warned to keep the vows they made when they invoked the name of the LORD.

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Exodus 20:7)
"Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:12)
"When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said." (Numbers 30:2)
"If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin." (Deuteronomy 23:21)

Since ancient times, especially in legal situations, people were required to take an oath in the name of their deity, as a way of testifying to their truthfulness. The idea was that if you swear by what you hold holy and are telling a lie, then your deity will surely punish you.

As the King James Version puts the Third Commandment this way:

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7)

In other words, if you use the name of your holy God in an oath, you'd better keep it. Otherwise your words are empty.

A number of times God swears an oath by his own reputation and holiness. The ceremony we see in Genesis 15:12-21 is an ancient ceremony of "cutting" a covenant and swearing to the other party to keep it. Joseph speaks of the land that God "promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Genesis 50:24). See also Hebrews 4:3 (quoting Psalm 95:11), and Hebrews 6:13, where the writer says, "When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself."

Occasions for Oaths

We have a similar custom in our day. When someone is inducted into office he or she is required to take an "oath of office" to "uphold the constitution ... so help me God." When a person gives testimony in court, he is required to promise "under oath" that what he says will be "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God."

Under our laws, to lie "under oath" is to commit a grave crime, a felony, perjury, punishable by time in jail.

Pharisees' Perversion of Oaths

In order not to use the actual name of Yahweh "in vain," the Jews developed the habit of substituting another word in its place: "LORD," "heaven," etc. But were these substitute words of sufficient holiness to make the oath binding? The Pharisees, the strict religious elite of their day, had made a mockery of oath-taking. They took frivolous oaths, designed to mislead the hearers. Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus severely castigates them for how they use an appearance of truth-telling to deceive and mislead:

"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it." (Matthew 23:16-22)

They had developed a complicated system to determine which oaths were and were not binding. In the Jewish code of law called the Mishnah, there is an entire tractate devoted to the validity of oaths. Jesus tells his followers,

"Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King." (5:34-35)

Why? Because there is no difference in holiness between heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem! They are all equally God's, and equally holy. He was calling the Pharisees' intricate system of oaths what it was -- a sham.

Don't Swear at All (5:34)

Jesus' answer to this foolishness? Don't take oaths at all!

When I was a boy when we wanted someone to believe us, we'd say something like, "I swear on a stack of Bibles!" or "Cross my heart and hope to die." These days, the young men in our church tell me, that you say something like, "I sweaaaar!"

But why should we invoke the deity to get someone to believe us? To even feel the need to do so tells us how our credibility has fallen. As A.M. Hunter puts it, "Oaths arise because men are so often liars."1 Jesus says that we aren't to resort to oaths in order to be believed.

Let Your "Yes" Mean "Yes" (5:37a)

He says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No' " (5:37).

In other words, don't play games to deceive with your words. Let your words be plainly true themselves.

So easily we fall into word games. In 1998, President Clinton became famous for his careful definition of the word "is" and "sexual relations," words he used with his own private definitions with the intent to deceive, but with the demeanor of one who was telling the truth.

What would Jesus say to this? "Say what you mean!" Not that we have to blab everything we know. We need to be discrete, and make sure we are "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), but we need to speak the truth.

More Than This Comes from the Evil One (5:37b)

Jesus attributes attempts to use deceitful speech to the evil one, Satan, who is a liar. In one of his confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus told them:

"You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).

When we use language to deceive, we are following the devil, not our Lord.

Q1. (Matthew 5:33-37) What does it mean: Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no? If we obeyed this command, what would be the result in our speaking? In our credibility?
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Practical Application

We need to be plain-spoken people who mean what we say and say what we mean. Sure, we'll make some people angry in the process. We can't please everyone, and when we try to please everyone, we catch the politician's disease of promising people whatever they desire with no intention of keeping our promises. Do we want to be classed in the same echelon of credibility as used car salesmen and politicians? Then we need to be plain-spoken. People will respect us far more if they know they can trust what we say, even if they disagree, than if they take us for slick-talking deceivers.

A good test of our credibility starts at home. When you promise your spouse you'll do something, does he or she believe you? Does your child believe you? Our credibility depends upon our follow-through. We shouldn't have to take an oath to feel obligated to fulfill our word. When we make a promise, Jesus teaches us, we must mean it and fulfill it -- without resorting to some kind of impressive-sounding oath. Jesus' band of followers were called to be Promise Keepers.

The reason Jesus included this section on oath-taking in the Sermon on the Mount is because learning to speak the truth is essential if we are to be disciples of The Way, The Truth, and The Life. If we would be his followers, we must speak truth like he does.

And love fulfills the law, because love does not deceive but honors another person enough to be honest with him. You'd want to know the truth, no matter how painful. Speak truth to your neighbor in the same way as you'd like to have truth told to you yourself. Love him as you love yourself. Love her as you love yourself.

Refuse to Take an Oath?

Finally, we need to examine how far we are to take this refusal to take oaths. Some sincere religious groups such as Anabaptists and Quakers refuse to take an oath; instead they insist on "affirming" something, in order to contentiously keep Jesus' command here. Is that what he had in mind? Are we to take this literally?

I don't believe so. His point was to end the foolish vowing that was a way to deceive someone. He wanted his disciples to speak the truth consistently so that they would be believed without an elaborate oath. He wanted their word to be their bond.

I don't believe we need to refuse to swear when required to do so in a court or similar situation. Jesus himself didn't. When he was in a mock trial at the high priest's house, he was required to speak under oath:

"Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, 'Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?' But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.'
'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.'" (Matthew 26:62-64)

Paul, too, sometimes calls God as his witness (Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:5, 10). The point is not a legalistic one -- a legalistic parsing of words is what Jesus was trying to combat! Jesus' word, "Do not swear at all," is intended as a solemn command to his disciples to speak truthfully without having to resort to any device to prop up their believability.

As John Stott concludes,

"If divorce is due to human hard-heartedness, swearing is due to human untruthfulness. Both were permitted by the law; neither was commanded; neither should be necessary."2

We Christians are called not to oath-taking but to truth-telling. Not just on solemn occasions but every day, in every situation, so that we might reflect Jesus' truthfulness and his love for everyone around us.

The Spirit of Love versus Retaliation (5:38-48)

William Blake, The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve (ca. 1826), Tate Gallery, London.
William Blake, "The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve" (ca. 1826), Tate Gallery, London.
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:38-48)

The second part of the passage we're looking at in this chapter may seem contradictory and impractical on the surface.

"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (5:39)

How can that be right? How can that be responsible? What is Jesus getting at? What does he mean?

An Eye for an Eye (5:38)

James J. Tissot, Cain Leadeth Abel to Death (1896), watercolor.
James J. Tissot, "Cain Leadeth Abel to Death" (1896), watercolor.
Larger image.

Perhaps we should start at the beginning. As he has in the previous reinterpretations of the Law, Jesus begins by stating what the Pharisees were fond of stating:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'" But I tell you...."(5:38)

This is an ancient command, quoting from Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; and Deuteronomy 19:21.

At first glance it seems almost vindictive. If you hurt me, then I have a right to hurt you. If you put my eye out, I have a legal right to put yours out. But to see it this way is surely a misunderstanding of the ancient Near East. Two things we must understand about this famous lex talionis, "law of retaliation." First, it was designed to restrain man's vindictiveness, and second it was designed to be administered as the justice of a formal court.

1. Restraint

We need to go back to the days when there was no police force. When someone injured you, your first angry reaction was to go and injure him. And not just to the extent that he injured you. Hurt him so badly that he'll never forget it. Crush him. Humiliate him. Destroy him. Anger is vile when it is aroused.

The lex talionis, "law of retaliation," simply stated says that you may not extract from someone who has injured you any more than you have lost. In other words, the punishment should fit the crime -- no more, no less. Modern jurisprudence is based solidly on this sort of principle. Such a law didn't begin with Moses. We find it first in the ancient Code of Hammurabi, a king who ruled in Babylon from 1728 to 1686 BC.

§196: If a seignior has destroyed the eye of a member of the aristocracy, they shall destroy his eye. [Seigneur is "a man of rank or authority; especially, the feudal lord of a manor."]
§197: If he has broken a(nother) seignior's bone, they shall break his bone.
§198: If he has destroyed the eye of a commoner or broken the bone of a commoner, he shall pay one mina of silver.
§199: If he has destroyed the eye of a seignior's slave or broken the bone of a seignior's slave, he shall pay one-half his value.
§200: If a seignior has knocked out a tooth of a seignior of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth.
§201: If a seignior has knocked out a commoner's tooth, he shall pay one-third mina of silver.3

The point here is to restrain man's vindictiveness, not encourage it.

2. Judicial Administration

Look again at section 200 of the Code of Hammurabi: "... they shall knock out his tooth." Who are "they" referred to here? Obviously it is the court that is administering the punishment, not the individual who was injured.

Look at the context of the "eye for an eye" passage and you see the same thing:

"One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
"If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." Deuteronomy 19:15-21

Clearly, the context is a court of law giving sentence. We see the same thing in Exodus 21:22-25. This is judicial punishment decided by a court. As John Stott puts it:

"It thus had the double effect of defining justice and restraining revenge. It also prohibited the taking of the law into one's own hands by the ghastly vengeance of the family feud."4

Q2. (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:15-21) What was the purpose of the "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth" regulation? Is this law designed to be administered by a court or judge, or by an individual? Is it designed to govern judicial action or personal action?
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Pharisees' Interpretation

But the Pharisees of Jesus' time had twisted this law. Apparently they had wrenched it from its judicial context and were applying it to justify their own personal actions. They had similarly misinterpreted Leviticus 19:18, since Jesus restates their interpretation:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" (Matthew 5:43)

That may have been what the Pharisees said, but it wasn't what the scripture had said:

"Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:17-18)

Apparently, the Pharisees had twisted the scripture to allow themselves just the opposite: to personally retaliate against their enemies, to seek revenge, to bear a grudge.

Personal Non-Retaliation (5:39-42)

Until we grasp the Pharisees' twisting of the intent of Scripture, we won't be able to understand Jesus' words. Notice that Jesus' teaching here concerns personal and not judicial action:

"But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (5:39-42)

Jesus isn't placing his followers outside the protection of justice, but he is calling them to a higher standard. Instead of retaliation and resistance against enemies, he calls them to a radical love.

"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (5:44-45)

In other words, do good to your enemies -- anyone can love friends.

Cameos (5:39-42)

The theme is non-retaliation. Jesus states the principle in verse 39a:

"Do not resist (anthistēmi) an evil person." (5:39a)

But perhaps "resist" is too easily misunderstood. It sounds like passivity in the face of evil. The Greek word is anthistēmi, which means literally, anti, "against" + istēmi, "put, set, place." It means "be in opposition to, set oneself against, oppose" and carries the idea of hostility.5 You know the inner feeling that rises up when someone insults you or takes advantage of you. You automatically "set yourself against" that person in your heart. There is the outward resistance as well as the inward hardening towards that person. Jesus says: Do not set yourself against the evil person.

Then he illustrates this in four brief cameos or portraits. We need to be careful to see these as they were intended -- as illustrations. They are not case law to serve as the basis of a new Christian legalism. They are examples -- and striking examples at that:

  1. "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (verse 39b). A slap on the cheek refers to an insult more than an overt physical attack (2 Corinthians 11:20; John 18:22-23; Acts 23:2-5). It was a matter of honor that required appropriate financial recompense as damages.6
  2. "And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well" (verse 40). Though taking the cloak was prohibited on humanitarian grounds in the Old Testament law (Exodus 22:25-27; Deuteronomy 24:12-13), the disciple is to offer it freely. This is an example from law.
  3. "If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (verse 41). This is an allusion to the right of a Roman soldier to require a subject to carry his baggage one mile, highly resented as the prerogative of the oppressing army. Jesus counsels the disciple not only to renounce his rights, but to love his enemy.
  4. "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (verse 42). While one couldn't obey this command literally for more than a few days without going broke, Jesus' point is that in the kingdom of God self-interest doesn't rule, but rather love.

I am tempted to give a detailed explanation of each, but I don't think this is Jesus' intent. His point is clear. He wants us to do more than is required of us by our enemies, by those who are trying to use us, by those who are trying to take advantage of us. Rather than turn on them with resistance and retaliation we are to -- in love for them -- give them more than they require.

Q3. (Matthew 5:39-42) What do Jesus' examples or tiny cameos in verses 39-42 have in common? Someone has said that if we were to carry out verses 39-42 literally, we would aid and abet evil. Do you agree? How should we take these examples: As case law? As hyperbole? As a series of aphorisms or adages? In another way?
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Q4. (Matthew 5:38-42) If we were to assume that Jesus is teaching on retaliation and revenge rather than pacifism in verses 38-42, how would you sum up his teaching in a single sentence?
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Overcoming Evil with Good

Love can overcome evil, and we Christians are called to overcome evil in this world by love, our own self-giving love as we are breathed upon by God's Holy Spirit.

The Bible carries a number of examples and statements of this principle, both in the Old Testament and the New: The spirit of the law is quite clear.

"If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it." (Exodus 23:4-5)
"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18)
"If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs." (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you." (Proverbs 25:21-22)
"If I have rejoiced at my enemy's misfortune
or gloated over the trouble that came to him,
I have not allowed my mouth to sin
by invoking a curse against his life...." (Job 31:29-30)
"Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me;
I'll pay that man back for what he did." (Proverbs 24:29)
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17, 21).

One of the best examples of loving your enemies we have seen in the twentieth century is the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. King was stabbed, beaten, jailed, and finally shot for his opposition to white-imposed segregation in the South. Please read my synopsis of his sermon on "Loving Your Enemies" in Excursus 5 to get a flavor of what he believed and lived out.

Christian Pacifism

Some interpret this passage as teaching pacifism. My Presbyterian minister grandfather was a pacifist during World War I. Other ancestors were Quakers, traditionally opposed to war. They would argue, perhaps:

War is certainly a great evil. How could a Christian ever serve as a soldier? As such you would not be "turning the other cheek," but the opposite, taking a human life. You can't love your enemies and be a soldier. Peacemakers are the sons of God; soldiers are just the opposite of that. War also requires deceiving the enemy, which is antithetical to the truth-telling required of a Christian. One can't possibly imagine Jesus fighting in a war.

While I respect the great moral courage shown by many who hold such a position, I respectfully disagree.

Yes, war is a great evil. It has been used throughout the ages as a tool of proud leaders to impose their will on others. There have certainly been unjust wars. I could see myself opposing an unjust war, and perhaps refuse to serve in one. The issues are confused, of course, by human evil. Even "just" wars always seem to involve some injustice and hatred, and usually racism and atrocities. War brings out the worst in some people.

We see in Paul's writings, however, a clearly articulated teaching of civil authorities acting as administrators of justice.

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience." (Romans 13:3-5)

This judicial and police function of the state is clearly supported in scripture.

Thus I contend that absolute pacifism, that is, opposition to any and all wars, is not taught in the Bible. Moreover, there are times when you must clearly defend yourself and defeat evil, if you don't want it to prevail. Hitler murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies, dissenters, and religious leaders because the German people acquiesced to it. A world war to right these wrongs and bring justice to the peoples of the earth was righteous.

People sometimes read pacifism into Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount by a lack of care regarding the intent and meaning of the passage. As I have indicated above, "an eye for an eye" is God's law to guide judges in administering law fairly and justly. What Jesus is faulting is the Pharisees' misinterpretation of the law that justified their personal vengeance and retaliation against their enemies. Be very clear on this:

  1. "An eye for an eye" applies to justice under law. This is for God to execute. It does not apply to any individual's personal action. God delegates part of this role to the state; the remainder he executes on Judgment Day:
  2. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19, quoting Deuteronomy 32:35).
  3. "Turn the other cheek" applies to personal ethics and treatment of our enemies. It does not apply to the judicial function of God or of the state.

Sometimes we simultaneously are called upon as citizens here on earth to fulfill a dual role, such as a policeman, soldier, or judge, at the same time as we operate on a personal level according to Jesus' insistence on loving our enemies. For example, it is entirely possible that a victim will forgive an offence while the offender is sentenced by a judge to punishment for his crimes. We must separate the personal from the judicial or we get in trouble. Of course, the judicial function, too, is to be guided by God's laws. It should operate under God, not as a law to itself.

Martin Luther the Reformer put it this way:

"Christ is not tampering with the responsibility and authority of the government, but he is teaching individual Christians how to live personally, apart from their official position and authority.... A Christian should not [use violence to] resist evil; but within the limits of his office, a secular person should oppose firmly every evil."7

Q5. (Matthew 5:39-44) If the principle that underlies verses 39-42 is found in verse 44 and 22:39, are there times we must defend ourselves physically against evil men in order to fulfill the principle? What might be some examples?
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Be Perfect (5:48)

Our passage concludes with a firm command:

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (5:48)

It has become axiomatic to excuse ourselves by saying, "After all, nobody's perfect." It seems self-evident. But too often it becomes a reason not to rise to anything better. Jesus calls us to rise above our imperfect love to his perfect agape love.

The word translated "Be perfect" in verse 48 is Greek teleios, "complete, perfect," from the verb teleō, "bring to an end, finish, complete, carry out, accomplish."8 Leon Morris comments:

"Teleios has the meaning 'having attained the end (telos) or aim'; if anything has fully attained that for which it is designed, it is perfect. It can refer to the maturity of an adult man -- the end or aim of that to which the boy points."9

God's love for the just and the unjust is the end or purpose or goal of our love. It requires us to renounce our selfish and discriminatory love in favor of love for all, even love for our enemies. Christ's death on the cross for our sins is perhaps the best example of all.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

But in a sense, Jesus did even more: He laid down his life for his enemies. The Apostle Paul observes:

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:7-8)

What the Prince of Peace did was to put to an end the enmity between God and man. The wrath of God for sin was poured out upon him, "and by his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto, by Ralph F. Wilson
Sermon on the Mount: The Jesus Manifesto
is available in paperback and ebook formats
We Christians cannot settle for a love that only loves friends. Instead we are to embrace a greater love, impossible unless the Holy Spirit grows this love within our hearts. We aspire to a love that forgives the unforgivable, a love that bridges the enmity of decades, a love that refuses to tire from rejection, a love that never gives up. This is the love we are called to. This quality of love is God's perfection and glory, and is to be ours as well.

Will we attain it? Yes, to some degree, though I'm sure we will fall short of its fullness. Aspirations, goals have a way of reformulating what we try for, what we seek, what we strive for, so we are commanded to Be Perfect.

We are not to reinterpret the Law in order to justify our hatreds, as the Pharisees did. Rather, we are to redefine ourselves, be renewed in God's image, and imbued with His Spirit so that we might "be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect."

Q6. (Matthew 5:48) In the context, what do you think verse 48 means for the Christian? Is perfection taught here? Does maturity express the idea best? How about the doctrine of "sinless perfection"? How does verse 48 relate to verse 45?
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Prayer

Father, we have such a long way to go in our love. Forgive us for our selfishness, our pettiness. Help us to love with constancy -- as you do. Teach us to love our enemies -- as you do. Teach us to overcome evil with good -- as you do. Have mercy upon us as we learn to have mercy on others. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

References

  1. Archibald M. Hunter, A Pattern for Life (Westminster Press, 1953), p. 51.
  2. Stott, Sermon, p. 101.
  3. Quoted in The Ancient Near East, edited by James B. Pritchard (Princeton University Press, 1958), p. 161, §195-201.
  4. Stott, Sermon, p. 104
  5. Anthistēmi, BDAG 80.
  6. France, Matthew, p. 220. He cites m. B. Qam. 8:6 to the effect that a slap with the back of the hand was far more insulting and would entail double damages.
  7. Martin Luther, quoted by Graham N. Stanton, "Sermon on the Mount/Plain," DJG, p. 738.
  8. Reinier Schippers, "Goal, telos," International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 2:59-66.
  9. Morris, Matthew, pp. 133-134, footnote 172.


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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