Sermon Passage: Matthew 5:46-47
“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so” (Matthew 5:46-47)?
The Pharisees’ belief in Jehovah God was from a physical, external view. They were committed to the law, which shaped their perspective on external obedience. They were strict in their observance of the ceremonies and feast days, which through the generations, became a physical activity causing them to lose the heart of the celebration. If every Pharisee had been present when the death angel passed over Egypt, and the blood of the lamb had saved their lives, their hearts would undoubtedly have grasped the wonder of it all. But now, several thousands of years later, they went through the ceremonies without feeling or heart involvement.
Without knowing the Jewish culture, we see that the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees reveals the truth about their heart involvement. Jesus often broke their oral traditions. He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath Day (Matthew 12:9-14). The compassionate heart of God valued this man more than sheep making it necessary to heal him; however, the Pharisees considered it a violation of the law. Jesus’ disciples picked grain and ate it on the Sabbath Day, disobeying the Pharisee’s external law (Matthew 12:1-8). But it was entirely proper for God to be more concerned about mercy (an internal condition) than sacrifice (external obedience).
There was undoubtedly a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. He had many discussions with them that revealed their need to be seen by men. He exposed their hypocrisy in giving of charitable deeds, their prayers, and their fasting practices (Matthew 6). Jesus’ exposure of the Pharisees may have been the reason they sought to eliminate Him by crucifixion. When the Pharisees’ external activities led them to be seen by men, this limited their reward to just that, and they received no real bonus from the Father. After one encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus had a private conversation with His disciples. He said, “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matthew 15:17-18). Included in the last public message of Jesus, He vividly explained the heart of the Pharisees. He said, “For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
A fundamental principle of the six illustrations Jesus gave in the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount is this reality of the external versus the internal. Each illustration strikes a blow at the external physical approach and highlights the inner heart motive. The Pharisee was content with not murdering, but Jesus focused on anger (Matthew 5:21-22). They proposed the moral standard of not committing adultery, while Jesus spoke of eliminating the inner heart of lust (Matthew 5:27-28). They based a person’s honesty on the physical object he used for his oath. Jesus declared it was a matter of evil in the heart (Matthew 5:33-37). The Pharisees measured fairness by physical circumstances; Jesus wanted to redeem the person through the compassion of the redemptive heart (Matthew 5:38-42). Now in this last illustration, Jesus proposes the climax of this truth (Matthew 5:43-48).
The Pharisee could not conceive how he could love his enemies. His neighbor was someone within the boundaries of his fellowship and love. Outside those boundaries, there was no motive or resource to cause love to exist. Jesus consistently reminds us of the Father, who has no limitations of love. He allows the rain to fall and the sun to shine on both the good and the evil. Even the worst of sinners, the tax-collector, loves within the realm of his boundaries. He loves those who love him and accepts those who accept him. He greets those who greet him but excludes all others. If we claim to be the righteous ones and do the same as the worst of sinners, how are we any better than them?
It becomes apparent in these verses (Matthew 5:46-47) that Jesus is discussing the nature of the person. The tax-collector cannot love beyond his boundary because his nature cannot do so. He does not have the nature of the Father. In these two verses, Jesus uses the Greek verb “poieo” three times. The difference between the Greek words “poieo” and “prasso” is long-standing in our studies. The translation of both Greek words is “do;” however, they are not the same. “Poieo” is intimately tied to the nature of the source of the doing, consistently used for trees “bearing” fruit. The fruit is a direct result of the nature of the tree. “Prasso” is also doing but is focused more on duty or activity. “Prasso” is never used in connection with Jesus. Since the Father sourced Jesus, He always acted from the Father’s nature.
Look at what Jesus declares in our passage. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do (poieo) not even the tax collectors do (poieo) the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do (poieo) you do more than others? Do (poieo) not even the tax collectors do (poieo) so?” (Matthew 5:46-47). The tax-collectors were limited to the sourcing of their nature. They could not produce fruit that was not in the capacity of their nature. Loving people outside their limited boundary of those who love them was an impossibility. They could not greet those who were not their brethren. It was not within their nature to produce such fruit. Jesus does not give us a new rule to do (poieo), something that we cannot do (poieo). He calls us to a change from our self-nature to having the nature of the Father. With the Father’s nature, loving their enemy would not be a problem; they were within the extended boundary of the Father’s sourcing nature!
To properly understand this teaching of Jesus, let us investigate several questions answered by the word and concept of “poieo.” The foundational issue of Christianity is not what you do, but why you do what you do? Sin is never defined strictly by the action of the deed. If the action of the deed defined sin, we could make a list of all sins and avoid doing them. Every act or deed has the potential of being a sin. The best deed one may do on their best day could be the worst thing they have ever done. The real focus is not the action of the deed but on the motive or source behind the deed. What drives you? What causes you to do what you do? What is the inner nature of your spirit that can accept your activity?
Jesus reveals the actions of “your Father in heaven.” He said, “for He makes His sun rise” and “sends rain.” There is purposeful involvement in the action of the sun rising and the rain falling. The Greek word “anatello” is translated, “He makes rise.” The prefix “ana” means “up,” and the root word “tello” means “to set out for a goal” or “cause to rise.” These actions do not occur by neglect or accidentally. Jesus intends to characterize the inner nature of God through the everyday work of the sun and rain. Carefully, Jesus describes the selfish nature of the worst of sinners, the tax collectors. They only love those who love them and greet those who are their brethren. In the case of the Father and the tax collector, it is merely an expression of their inner nature. This inner nature is the same logic and argument Jesus used repeatedly. At the peak of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, they accused Him of having a demonic nature. They cried, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). The Pharisees did not criticize Jesus’ act of casting out the demon. Everyone applauds the deliverance of a person from the clutches of an evil demon. The Pharisees’ issue was the action coming from Jesus. He openly discussed the matter with them. His advice was, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). We must not deny the correlation between the inner nature of the tree and its fruit. A tree with a good nature cannot produce bad fruit; likewise, a tree with an evil nature cannot produce good fruit. We cannot mix them.
Then Jesus applies it to the Pharisees, “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34, 35). It is an undeniable truth that a person speaks from the nature of his heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proposed the question, “Why?” Answering this question requires sincerity and complete honesty. How easy it is to blame circumstances, others, or all kinds of pressures. All of these other things only set the stage upon which we reveal our real nature. Without honesty at the deep level of our life, there is no hope for change.
Immediately, the question shifts from “why?” to “what can I do about it?” The first hurdle in answering this question is the sinful nature itself. If we do what we do because of our inner nature, the inner nature must change. But the sinful nature is not opposed to this. It will make all kinds of adjustments to survive. The Pharisees were the real proof of this factor. The worst of sinners, the tax collectors, indeed expressed the evil nature. They were content with cheating their fellow countrymen by charging taxes far beyond what Rome required. They felt no remorse in betraying their faith in Jehovah by cheating their fellow countrymen. But the Pharisees expressed this same attitude in the religious realm. The self-benefit that drove the tax collector also was the motive behind the action of the Pharisee. The Pharisee merely adjusted his self-centeredness to create a self-righteousness. It remained an expression of the same evil nature.
What can I do about it? Is it possible Jesus said that we could not do anything about it? A nature change must take place. The Father must replace the old sinful, self-centered nature with His selfless nature, which I cannot do. If I cannot do this to myself, someone else must do it to me! But this makes total sense. If I could do it for myself, then I would take pride in what I did, expressing more of my self-centeredness. If someone else does this for me, I have to rely entirely on them and praise them for what they did.
Jesus challenges us to be like the Father. However, the sinful, self-centered nature may interpret this to mean “imitation.” I reduce Christianity to a list of rules or activities that self accomplishes, catering to and expressing the old sinful nature. The call of Jesus is “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). Son of the Father is a new species, a new creation. It is the merger Jesus expressed at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. We must embrace our absolute helplessness (Matthew 5:3). My helplessness must so overwhelm me that I live in a state of continual recognition of it (Matthew 5:4). The Holy Spirit activates His work within us to merge with us. In the merger between God and man, God creates a new creature, a son of your Father in heaven. Our mind and His mind come together in a fusion. His heart and our heart begin to beat together. We begin to want what He wants. We “poieo” as the Father!
The self-centered nature tends to make the Father’s nature a goal we must achieve. We state phrases such as “I am working on it” or “God’s not done with me.” No one would question that growth and maturity take place when we merge with the Father. However, the self-nature of doing will make excuses. It will compare the self-improvement of the present with the activities of the past. “I am better than I was” becomes the standard, reducing Christianity to “improvement” rather than “conversion.” It is “adjustment” rather than “transformation.”
Jesus convinces us that loving those who love us has no reward (Matthew 5:46). Even the worst of sinners can accomplish this. When we greet those within the boundary of our friendship, we are on the level with everyone else (Matthew 5:47). Again, even the worst of sinners do this. Does not the language of these statements convince us that this attitude and response is not acceptable in any form? I cannot embrace any excuse in these statements. Any expression such as “I am having a bad day,” or “they pushed me too far” does not excuse a violation of this call.
As Jesus moves to a conclusion, the strength of the call becomes even more substantial. He says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The translation of the Greek word “eimi” is “shall be.” It is a state of being. It is in the future tense and the imperative mood. Some translators state this as “must be.” If we are kingdom people, this is the state in which we must dwell. Becoming a kingdom person is not a challenge to accomplish; this is a nature to experience, not a standard to maintain; this is a state resulting from the birthing of the Father. The “poor in spirit” who embrace their helplessness in mourning “shall be comforted.” The nature of the Father produces (poieo) through the son, the expression of His heart. What a relationship!
Paul developed this same idea in his contrast between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” He gave a list under the heading of the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21). It is not an exhaustive list, but each deed listed is an expression of the nature of self-centered evil. In great boldness, Paul said, “Just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” As he focused on the “fruit of the Spirit,” he contrasted it with “works.” “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). He reminds us that none of these things violate the law. The “fruit” is a “poieo” concept. It is the very expression of the nature of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus!
The final question answered by the “poieo” concept is “Where?” In what areas of my life should the nature of the Father give expression to His heart. The answer is all-inclusive. Since it is a state of being at the core of the individual’s existence, the Father’s nature must influence every area. Certain religions have attempted to separate the physical from the spiritual. In some sense, this was the continual battle Jesus had with the Pharisees. They excluded the inner mind and heart and accepted only a token of the expression of God’s law in physical practices.
Having the nature of the Father is the heart of Jesus’ argument as He gives these six illustrations (Matthew 5:21-48). In this study of these six illustrations of life, I have desperately attempted to find one area not included in the six examples. I have not been able to find even one. The nature of the Father must give expression through the son in every area of life. There is no area not affected by His presence. Jesus does not propose reform or adjustment; He calls for a new creature who is produced (poieo) by the Father. This new creature is an individual who embraces his helplessness and allows the Spirit of Jesus to merge with him. The new creature is the fusion of the two. The issue is not, “will I do it?” The problem is, “will I allow Him?”
In this sixth illustration, Jesus described the expression of the Father’s heart nature. Isn’t it exciting? He selects the physical rain falling and the real sun shining on every individual, both good and evil. He does not isolate the expression of the Father’s nature, to religious activities, miracles, or spiritual gifts. It is the most common, everyday activities in which we experience the core of the Father’s nature. No doubt the purpose of this illustration is to instruct us. When we merge with Him, will He not express His character through us in the everyday, ordinary, routine functions of our lives? Is this not the real test of our relationship with Him? We all love the high moments of religious experience. However, Jesus calls us to be consistent in everyday living in the presence of His Spirit. The expression of “poieo” must be in our lives!