Sermon Passage: Matthew 5:43-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 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? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
The final illustration in the Sermon on the Mount describes the exceeding righteousness of the Kingdom person focused on motive. In some sense, the motive is the underlying truth in each illustration, but it is most prominent in this paragraph. In the first five illustrations, physical action is involved: murder, adultery, divorce, swearing, and retribution. But this last illustration, from the viewpoint of what we have heard, is “love your neighbor” and “hate your enemy” (Matthew 5:43). The motive of God is the basis for Jesus’ plea in the sixth illustration, and He challenges us to be like Him in our motive.
Having introduced motive in this last illustration, chapter six of Matthew expands it. This chapter begins with a discussion of the three fundamentals of all world religions: charitable giving (Matthew 6:1-4), prayer (Matthew 6:5-14), and spiritual discipline (Matthew 6:16-21). Although Jesus does not discourage any of these activities, His message is concerned with the motive of each event. Self-centered motivation destroys the reason for the activity. There must be a correct motive, or the proper effect of the action is lost.
What is the motive? According to the field of philosophy, there are three elements distinguishable in motive, the external object, the internal principle, and the state or affection of the mind, which results from the one addressing the other. For example, bread or food of any kind is the external object. The internal principle, appetite, requires sustenance; hunger or the desire for food is the internal feeling, which is excited by the presentation of the external object (bread) to the internal principle (appetite). The term motive applies to any of these three. However, strictly speaking in our general understanding, the internal principle of appetite is the motive.
A person might say, “It is my desire (motive) to go to heaven.” However, heaven would have no appeal to the person unless there is an internal principle (appetite), which excites the mind with desire. One might say, “It is my desire (motive) to be holy.” However, holiness would have no appeal to the person unless there is an internal principle (appetite), which excites the mind for holiness. Someone might say, “It is my desire (motive) to evangelize the world for Jesus.” However, winning the world for Jesus would be at best a duty, unless there is an internal principle (appetite), which stimulates the mind with concern. In our passage, Jesus deals directly with this internal principle (appetite)! What is the internal principle of your life?
The internal principle of what they “have heard that it was said” is self-sourcing, self-centeredness. “You shall love your neighbor” was most often interpreted as nationalism. Their “neighbor” was another Jew. “Your enemies” were those outside the Jewish circle. “Love” and “hate” were dictated by the personal qualifications of the group or individual. The internal principle forming the motive is self-focus. Jesus calls for a new appetite! The structure of His presentation shows us the heart of God, His nature. This “bread” stimulates the appetite in us, creating desires for the merger with Him. The motive is the appetite of the heart.
Jesus begins with a bold proposition, presenting four verbs: “love,” “bless,” “do,” and “pray.” Each verb is in the imperative mood, a command of Jesus, equal in their intent and value. These verbs are an expression of the same internal principle, motive. Jesus contrasts the two appetites of the heart motive, which are the self-centered appetite expressed in those of old and the self-giving appetite of the new Kingdom person. The Kingdom person cannot manufacture the appetite (motive); he can only express it. Each verb is in the active voice, which is why we can see the appetite (motive) in the setting of “enemies” and “persecution.” When persecuting enemies act on a person, the motive of the heart responds with “love” and “pray.
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with the premise, “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). We are helpless at the core of our lives without resources. Acknowledging our helplessness removes the barriers to His comfort. He, the Comforter, merges with me (Matthew 5:4), and His nature becomes the source of my nature. I now have His appetite, motive. It is not reasonable to have a Kingdom person’s appetite. Only in the merger with Him can my appetite change. If I do not embrace my helplessness, I live in emptiness. I use every situation for my resource to survive. I manipulate all circumstances for my benefit, guarding, and protecting for my safety. I cannot risk being redemptive. It is too costly. The quality of love Jesus requires for my enemy, I cannot give to my neighbor. I am helpless but act like I am not. My appetite does not hunger for what He hungers. What He commands is impossible. Indeed, it proves His premise. I am helpless and cannot possibly do as He commands. I must experience His appetite, motive!
Jesus began this statement with “that” (hopos), a purpose conjunction indicating the goal or aim of the action denoted by the word, phrase, or clause, which it joins. The purpose of our merger with His nature, to be an expression of His appetite or motive, is “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” The purpose of Christianity is that I become a son. I want to be born of His life, sourced by His heart! I want His appetite. I want to think like Him and my life structure to be His. I want His nature to shape me in every way. But most of all, I want what motivates Him to motivate me! If I have His appetite (motive), will I not act like Him? If His internal principle is mine, will I not see like He sees, respond like He responds, and have His attitude?
But being like Jesus is idealistic. I am not motivated like Jesus; my selfish survival demands my attitude to protect, guard, and defend. The idealistic impossibility of being like Jesus proves His point! I can never be like Jesus. He must come and do this within me! Would this be the answer to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus (John 17)? Just before the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus revealed the depth of His concern in prayer to His Father. He knew that His hour had come. It was an hour of glorification when the Father gave Him eternal life. What is this eternal life? “And this is eternal life, that they may know (ginosko) You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). “Ginosko,” the Greek word for “know,” is the most intimate word for a relationship used for the sexual intimacy between husband and wife. It is a word that expresses “oneness.” Jesus went on to pray, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-22). Think of the intertwining merger of oneness between the Father and the Son. Jesus was “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3).
Is this not the heart of a son? All that the Father is in His nature indwells me. I hunger for what He hungers; His appetite is the same craving I experience. His life and my life have become one, fulfilling the statement of the Hebrew writer, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11). The heart of this verse is the phrase “all of one!” The word “all” refers to “He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified.” Jesus, who is the “Captain of their salvation” is the sanctifying one. You and I are the ones He sanctifies. The writer says Jesus and you are “of” One. The Greek word “ek” is a movement term, always used for a movement originating from within something. The Man Jesus, as well as you and me, are birthed from the same life source. What produced Jesus produces us! We are out of “One.” It is the Trinity God “for whom are all things and by whom are all things” (Hebrews 2:10). We are brothers with Christ, for we are from the same life source, having the same appetite.
After presenting the purpose of this merger between you and Him, Jesus clearly states the basis or foundation for becoming sons. The nature of God, His Spirit, indwelling and merging with us is how God births us. But Jesus, in this illustration, focused more specifically on motive. He introduced this section with the word “for” a translation of the Greek word “hoti.” “Hoti” is a subordinating conjunction that expresses the basis or ground of action. Jesus commands us to “love” and “pray” to prove we are sons. We look like Him, have His DNA, and exhibit His mannerisms. But what is the power within God’s nature that allows us to complete His commands?
Jesus demonstrates this power with two illustrations. God’s activity in physical nature is one, and the second is the interaction of human relationship. God does not make any distinction between the good and evil or the just and unjust regarding the sun shining or the rain falling (Matthew 5:45). This lack of difference is explained only by the appetite of God. His motive is always to help. When He sees a need, His heart’s response is to meet that need. The ungodly need both sun and rain as much as the godly. God has no appetite to punish or withhold goodness from anyone. Is this not the explanation for the power behind redemption? Is the Trinity God not one who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16)? Did His Divine love not flow on the evil and good, the just and unjust? He does not withhold His grace from anyone! “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “His own love” is the appetite of His nature, His motive!
If this is God’s appetite, will it not be His birthed son’s appetite as well? Therefore, the power to love my enemies and pray for every person is the appetite of God! Because God and I have merged, His motive empowers me in every expression of my attitude. The expression of God’s heart motive within me is not a rule, duty, or discipline.
Jesus uses the illustration of human relationships (Matthew 5:46). The worst person in the mind of the Jews was the tax collector. But even the tax collectors mutually embraced each other against the world that hated them. If we express their appetite, how are we any better than them? If we withhold forgiveness and love from our enemies and persecutors, we express the appetite of the evilest people. In doing so, how can we consider ourselves “sons of your Father in heaven?” We do not have His appetite.
Again, Jesus forces us to remember the premise of the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot exhibit the motive of the Father if it is not our appetite. Jesus does not suggest a better way of life or reformation in living. He does not propose New Testament rules against the rules of the Old Testament. Jesus does not offer a new approach to meditation and social reform. He says loving our enemies is an impossibility for any human. We are helpless and have no resource within ourselves to achieve this (Matthew 5:3). We simply do not have the appetite for it. We should mourn over this until the Comforter comes!
The climax of this sixth illustration is startling! It is a troublesome statement over which most of us have struggled. We rationalize, ignore, and do not believe. The idea of “Therefore you shall be perfect” is incomprehensible. In the mindset of our culture, this is beyond anyone’s ability. It is idealistic, especially when Jesus’ required perfection is in the context of “your Father in heaven is perfect.” Suddenly we no longer compare ourselves to ourselves, but we compare ourselves to God. How ridiculous is this thought? I am to be perfect at the level of Divinity!
In the final illustration, we might consider perfection on the Divinity level, but Bible scholars agree we must apply the perfection to all six illustrations. The truth of the sixth illustration governs our interpretation of the other five. The Greek word translated “perfect,” related to us and God is “teleios.” It comes from “telos,” focusing on goal or purpose. Our word focuses on finished, that which reaches its end, term, limit; hence, “teleios” is complete, full, wanting in nothing. This definition does not help because if I were perfect in knowledge and wisdom, I would be omniscient like God, which will never happen in my lifetime or heaven. If I were complete in power and might, I would be omnipotent like God, which is never in the realm of possibility. If I were complete in presence, I would be omnipresent like God, although I might want it, I do not see it in my future.
You will notice in this sixth illustration there is no hint of perfection in any of the above areas. The single focus of the sixth illustration is the heart appetite of God, His motive. The Trinity God does not invite us to participate in what He has; He invites us to share in who He is, His nature! He wants to merge with us and create a new creature. This new creature demonstrates the appetite of God in the physical world. When we merge with God and show His appetite in our lives, we express completeness (perfection).
This completeness (perfection) is valid in each of the six illustrations. Although murder was not acceptable to those of old, God’s appetite in the Kingdom person will not tolerate anger, demeaning, or belittling (Matthew 5:22) because it is not God’s heart motive. Adultery was unacceptable to those of old. They had to control their sexual appetite and function within certain boundaries. Jesus speaks of sexuality that flows from the heart (Matthew 5:28). In the merger with God’s nature, the heart’s desire becomes one with God, controlling the perspective of the new Kingdom person. Those of old considered marriage from a selfish perspective, what they wanted. The heart of the Father is concerned about what is “caused” in one’s spouse (Matthew 5:32). Oaths for those of old allowed manipulating the truth for personal benefit. The motive of God must maintain integrity and honesty. It is His appetite that increases, builds, grows relationships, and personhood (Matthew 5:37). Those of old guarded, protected, and managed all things for themselves. The Kingdom person sees everything intersecting his life as an opportunity for redemption. The sovereign hand of God allows adverse opportunities for the Kingdom person to extend redemption to the life of others (Matthew 5:39).
The theme permeating every illustration is the appetite of God. How can I desire what He desires? Legislated activities cannot change my heart’s desire. I must have His motive. The premise of the Sermon on the Mount is that we are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). The fact we admit not having this inner appetite proves His point. We cannot manufacture such a motive. He must capture us! Outside the merger between His nature and my nature, I cannot reach this level. I consistently fail in my endeavor. I must merge with Him!