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Matthew 5:43-48 by Robert Dean
If we only love those who love us, then how are we Christians any different from others? Listen to this lesson to learn what Jesus taught His disciples about the importance of love in the Sermon on the Mount. Inquire about two types of love in the Bible and see that loving our neighbor includes our enemies and those who treat us cruelly. Examine the positive and beneficial actions we can take to show our love for others. Understand that it is impossible to love others this way by our own efforts. Accept that this love comes as a by-product of a life spent walking by means of the Holy Spirit and learning and applying God's Word.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:1 hr 9 mins 16 secs

Love and Righteousness
Matthew 5:43-48
Matthew Lesson #034
May 18, 2014

We are in the last part of this section, which began in verse 21. From verse 21 down through verse 48 Jesus is contrasting the righteousness that is expected by God from His people with the righteousness that has been minimized and diminished by the teaching of the Pharisees. This had become popular teaching and belief in second temple Judaism for the previous century or two. The Pharisees taught a system of interpretation from the Law that might make it somewhat easier for people to fulfill. What they were doing was minimizing or rationalizing down the mandates so that they were achievable in some sense through the work of the flesh.

There were six examples that Jesus uses in this section and each of these builds towards a climax, so that the last one deals with the principle of love as mandated in the Old Testament. Love is still mandated in the New Testament. There are some differences between the Old Testament mandate and the New Testament mandate, but nevertheless it is still there.

Each of these other examples expresses something about love for other people. For example, the first example that Jesus used related to murder. Murder is obviously the opposite of love. This is why Jesus also is able to go beyond just the superficial mandate to not commit physical murder to show that what is also a part of that command has to do with the mental attitude. For He goes on to say that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever says to his brother Raca shall be in danger of the council, and whoever says, You fool, shall be in danger of the judgment of Gehenna. So He is focusing there on the mental attitude, which is a violation of love. Love that is taught in the Scriptures for believers, as we will see, is first and foremost a mental attitude. Murder, then, both in terms of overt murder as well as mental attitude sins of hatred, anger and antagonism are also a violation of love.

The second example, in terms of adultery is also a violation of the mandate of love for it is love that should be at the core of a marriage union. When sexual immorality takes place it violates the foundational law of love. It violates that mental attitude. So He deals with two examples. First the example in terms of what real adultery is. It is not only something avert but it also affects a mental attitude of lust, which violates the mandate for love in the Old Testament in terms of a mental attitude. Secondly, in relationship to marriage.

Then in verse 33 Jesus deals with the example of swearing falsely, and that has to do with how one expresses his loyalty and his love to God.

Then we have the fifth example, which we addressed last time, which deals with grace orientation and humility towards others; and this, again, is an example of how we show love to others, even those who are antagonistic to us. Each of these is an example of the final command that Jesus is going to address, and how it has been distorted by the Pharisees. 

We come to the first verse in this section where Jesus cites an example of the oral tradition that has been taught by the Pharisees. Matthew 5:43 NASB "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'" The word here for love is the verb AGAPAO. The cognate noun for that is AGAPE. This focuses on a mental attitude love. Now this is based on a passage in the Mosaic Law, Leviticus 19:18. Note that there is something that is not listed in Leviticus 19:18 NASB "You shall not take vengeance [overt sin], nor bear any grudge [mental attitude sin] against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." It is the last part that the Lord is quoting, which is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".

Notice that there is something different in Matthew 5:43. Where does it say, "Hate your enemy" in the Old Testament? It doesn't say that. This was an addition that was part of the tradition of the Pharisees by this time. Though it is not stated anywhere in the Old Testament that we are to hate our enemies, that is an accurate representation of second temple rabbinical thought. In fact, we have evidence of this even from MSS that have been recovered in Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, and in the various interpretations of the Law that were found there, there is a clear statement that the Qumran community taught love for those within the community but a hatred for those outside the community.

Where could they get this? It is always easy to take Scripture out of context. In the matter of hermeneutics one of the key principles is the comparison of Scripture with Scripture—the principle of analogy. But even when comparing Scripture with Scripture you always have to be careful how you compare Scripture with Scripture. Sometimes you are not really comparing the same thing. For example, in Ephesians 5 men are mandated to love their wives as they love themselves. And over in 1 Corinthians Paul makes the statement that he beats his own body into submission. Ephesians 5: husband love your wives like you own body. Conclusion: husbands are to love their wives by beating them into submission. That's not quite right. It is an example of where comparing Scripture with Scripture can lead to a false conclusion because you are not looking at the context. This is the kind of thing that the Pharisees would do.

In Deuteronomy 23:3-6 there is the commandment that the Ammonites and Moabites were not allowed to enter or participate in worship. They were not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord because of the fact that they had opposed the Israelites as they were coming out of the wilderness at the end of the forty years before they entered into the land. In Deuteronomy 23:6 we read "You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days." That was misapplied in terms of hating your enemy.

Psalm 26:5 NASB "I hate the assembly of evildoers, And I will not sit with the wicked."

Psalm 31:6 NASB "I hate those who regard vain idols, But I trust in the LORD."

Psalm 139:21 NASB "Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? [22] I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies."

These are verses that would be misapplied and used to support the view that we are to hate our enemies. Yet that was not a part of the concept in the Mosaic Law. Jesus is addressing this and correcting this.

What is going on here is that Jesus is teaching and explaining the kind of righteousness that should characterize those who will be participating in the kingdom. It is not a condition for being in the kingdom, but in the context of the time in which Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount He is preaching that they are to repent because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is around the corner; it is potentially coming. Therefore they need to be prepared. Part of that preparation means first of all they need to repent. That term means to return or to change your mind. If a person was an unbeliever in Israel at this time that meant that they were to turn to the gospel of the Old Testament, which was the gospel that God would provide salvation through the seed of the woman who would redeem Israel from their sins. So there would be a need to turn to God for salvation and believe in the gospel, that the Messiah, the seed of the woman, would provide salvation from their sins. Second, if they were already a believer in terms of the Old Testament gospel then they were to turn in obedience to God because many of them had turned to idols. Even though they weren't literal, physical idols—that had been removed from the culture following the Babylonian captivity—they were worshipping the more sophisticated idols of the mind. They were worshipping themselves; they were worshipping their own interpretation of the Law; they were worshipping material things; they were worshipping their own success and the various details of life. They weren't worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

For those who were saved repentance wasn't just a matter of a one-shot decision. I believe this was the background for understanding why John the Baptist addressed the Pharisees, not repent but "produce works in keeping with repentance". The works that were in keeping or consistent with repentance were works of righteousness. Now righteousness is one of those ideas in Scripture that has often baffled and confused students of Scripture down through the ages. Scripture teaches two categories of righteousness. One category is imputed righteousness, the righteousness that God requires us to have in order to have eternal life, an eternal destiny in heaven.

We have an Old Testament example of this in Genesis 15:6 where Scripture says that Abraham had believed God and it had been imputed to him as righteousness. That refers to this imputed righteousness, credited righteousness that we have at the instant of our faith in Christ. Whether it was Old Testament or New Testament we know that there is an imputation of righteousness. But that imputation of righteousness doesn't guarantee a moral change. This is a problem in a number of theological systems that we have in Protestant theology, as well as Roman Catholic theology, that somehow regeneration changes the moral inclinations of the individual. In other words, to say that the sin nature is not quite as capable as it was before salvation. That muddies the water between imputed righteousness and experiential righteousness. Imputed righteousness just changes our basis for righteousness. It is on the basis of the righteousness we possess from Christ, not our own righteousness.

Then there is experiential righteousness, which should develop in the life of the believer subsequent to salvation. He should live a certain way as a member of the royal family in the church age. This was also expected in the Old Testament. The Mosaic Law was not given as a means to gain imputed righteousness but to describe how believers in Israel were to live as God's chosen people. So as we look at this section on the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have misinterpreted the Mosaic Law. They have minimized it and teaching, as it were, a disobedience to the Law (Matthew 5:19). Part of living righteously, even in the Old Testament, involved loving your neighbor as yourself.

In the twelfth chapter of Mark Jesus is asked a question: "What is the greatest of the commandments?" It is important to note His answer.          

Mark 12:29 NASB Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD"… This is an introduction to the law in Deuteronomy. The word "one" there (echad in the Hebrew) is not a word that relates to a singular monotheism. By a singular monotheism I mean something related to a Unitarian monotheism that is a denial of plurality in the Trinity, a denial of multiple persons in the unity of the Godhead.

One of the ways we can demonstrate this is by looking at the way the word echad is used in the Old Testament. In Genesis chapter 2 Moses comments in relation to the marriage of Adam and Eve. He says, "And the two shall become one flesh [echad]". It is not a singularity but a unity in terms of plurality. The concept of "the Lord is one" also indicates the idea of uniqueness—the Lord is unique, or the Lord alone. In the context of Deuteronomy chapter six the previous verses were prohibitions against idolatry and polytheism. So contextually the idea of the uniqueness or the aloneness—God the Lord alone is God—fits the context.


Mark 12:31 "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

So Jesus emphasizes that there are two basic commands. All of the commandments in the Mosaic Law (613 commandments) basically reflects one of these two commandments.

Jesus expands on this: Matthew 5:44 NASB "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you".

And then the purpose for that: Matthew 5:45 NASB "so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven …" That is the goal. Implement and apply the command to love your neighbor as yourself so that you can be recognized as a son of your Father in heaven. Remember, this was written and stated under the Mosaic Law. Don't read back into these statements of Matthew 5 related to being a son of God the New Testament doctrines of adoption and sonship; that comes for the church age. He is addressing this in another sense to a Jewish audience under the age of Israel.

In the KJV and NKJV there is an expansion to this verse. It doesn't just say, "Love your enemies", it goes on to say, "Bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you". This is what we find in the Majority Text and is probably the superior reading. In the Nestle/A Text or the UBS Text there is a shorter version, which deletes that. The evidence from the MSS supports the Majority Text reading.

So when we look at the addition there we see that the primary command is to love our enemies. The word AGAPAO there emphasizes a mental attitude; it is not talking about an emotion or sentiment. Jesus is correcting this here because He wants us to understand that biblical love grounded upon the love of God is not based on the behavior of the object of love. Secondly, He says to bless those who curse you. Here the word "bless" has the idea of praising. This is more than just a mental attitude. It is calling upon us to do something positive and beneficial for those who seek to destroy us, those who treat us with great hostility. That is the idea behind the word "curse". The Greek word is KATARAOMAI, which means to execrate, to curse, to loathe, or to express hostility toward someone. So this is someone who just is always doing things antagonistic to you, somebody who spreads gossip and slander about you, someone who despises you. And yet our response to them is to treat them in praise and to be positive towards them, not to return their attitude toward them. Further, Jesus says we are to do good to those who hate us. The word for hate has the idea of someone who detests you, despises you. Fourth, he says we are to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us. The idea there of spitefully using someone is the idea of someone who is treated in a despicable manner, mistreated or abused.          

As we look at this concept of love we have to take some time to understand it. The word AGAPAO represents the love that we find here, the term to describe God's love for all mankind. Then there is the word PHILEO. In some passages and some times, depending on the context, these words can be virtually synonymous. But the distinction between them is that PHILEO describes a more intimate and personal love—someone who has a deep affection for someone. AGAPAO describes God's love for all humanity, whereas the word PHILEO is only used in relation to God's love for believers. When we go to passages like Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock", Jesus is expressing in that passage His love for those to whom He is coming. And the word there is PHILEO, not AGAPAO. That verse is not talking about salvation, as is commonly applied in our contemporary evangelical culture; Jesus is knocking on the door for fellowship because of His love [PHILEO] for believers.

The word that describes God's love for all mankind is really the foundation for our understanding of love. There are three passages that emphasize this:  John 3:16, "For God so loved the world in this way …" This is not talking about the degree of His love, i.e. loved the world so much, but the Greek particle translated "so" actually indicates manner or way in which a thing is done. He is using the gift of His Son as an example of His love. God's love is not described as an emotion. And in Scripture love is not defined as much as it is described and illustrated, so that we can grasp the concept of love; because it is foreign to us. John 3:16 gives the example of God's love. The way in which He loved us is that He gave His only begotten Son. It is grace in action towards those who are in opposition to God, those who have rejected Him, those who do not desire a relationship with Him.

This is further expanded upon in Romans 5:8 NASB "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us".

1 John 4:10 NASB "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son {to be} the propitiation for our sins".

This love is motivated by God's own character and integrity.

1 Corinthians 13:4 NASB "Love is patient, love is kind {and} is not jealous; love does not brag {and} is not arrogant, [5 ]does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong {suffered,} [6] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; [7] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Notice love is defined here more by negatives than by positives.  

This doesn't mean that love just ignores reality, but in a relationship love is positive. It seeks to believe the best about the object of love, hopes for the best for the object of love. Even though things may be difficult at times and the object of love may not be returning the love it sticks in there, hangs in there in the circumstances and endures all things.

In contrast, love is not jealous. Jealousy is a form of arrogance and self-absorption. Love does not brag and is not arrogant—both examples of being focused on self. Love focuses on its object. It doesn't act unbecomingly—the idea of acting in inappropriate ways. It does not seek its own—not self-absorbed, not involved in self-justification. It is not provoked—even where there is a basis for provocation it doesn't take advantage of that; it doesn't take into account a wrong suffered; it doesn't harbor grudges over a short time or a long time. It doesn't take into account past failures.         

It does not rejoice in unrighteousness. We have a positive that it rejoices with the truth and a negative, that is does not rejoice in unrighteousness. This is related to an absolute character quality, to an absolute standard.

The best way to understand this is to go back to our concept of the essence box. God is sovereign and righteous and just. He is love and He is eternal life. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. He is absolute and eternal truth; He is unchangeable/immutable. When we look at His character qualities there are four that come together to form what I usually describe as the integrity of God. His righteousness (His absolute standard); His justice (the application of that standard); His love (which is totally consistent with that), which is the expression of His goodness and kindness to those who are unworthy of that.

Often in theology people ask: How can a loving God send His creatures to the lake of fire? They seek to make a contrast, or make love and righteousness compatible. But Scripture teaches that love in only true love if it is compatible with God's righteousness and His justice, as well as His truth. So when we define love, basically love means to seek the highest and best for the object of love. When we get into difficulty here is when we are asked: what do you think is the best for the object of love? For most people that brings a subjective quality into love. As soon as you use the term "highest" you are bringing in some sort of relative value. How do we determine what is really the best for the object of love, or what is the highest for the object of love. This definition of love presupposes an external standard of righteousness. What is best is not dependent on what is best for me. It is not self-centered. It has to be best in terms of something outside of us, i.e. the character of God. When we think of the term "highest and best" we measure and understand that in terms of an absolute standard of righteousness. Therefore we can conclude that love is only as valid as the integrity of the character behind it.

In one sense, we can never truly love in a biblical way just on our own. We are too influenced by our sin nature, by our own self-absorption. The only way we can ever approach this is if God indeed provides something for us. This is why Jesus distinguishes love that is a part of the believer's spiritual life in John 13:34. He says it is a new commandment. He changes the dynamic. The old commandment was to love your neighbor, defined as anyone within your periphery, as yourself. The standard was your own self-love. But Jesus says we are to love one another—that relates to believers—as Christ loved us. That is the standard; that is what is unique. How can we, even as saved fallen creatures, ever manage to do that.

This is why we look at passages like Galatians 5:14 NASB "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the {statement,} 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF'."            

Notice the word "fulfilled" there. That ought to click in our mind in relation to our passage in Matthew 5. Jesus said: "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill". He is talking about what it takes to fulfill the Law, i.e. to apply the Law and to implement the Law. Paul uses this the same way. The way in which the Law is applied, summarizing it just as Jesus did—the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself—he quotes the same passage, Leviticus 18:19. Galatians 5:15 NASB "But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another". In other words, in a personal conflict it is an indication that you are not loving your neighbor as yourself. What is the solution? Galatians 5:16 NASB "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh."

The next few verses in Galatians talk about that conflict between the Spirit and the sin nature, and then give us an illustration so that we can know what is dominating in our lives. It gives a list of things that characterize a walk by the sin nature. Then Paul says, "But the works of the Spirit". The product of a life spent walking by the Spirit is, and then he lists several qualities. Note that the first one he mentions is love. The command is to love your neighbor as yourself. You can't do it on your own, it can only be done through God the Holy Spirit—through spiritual growth, learning the Word, applying the Word, and walking by the Spirit. That produces the fruit of the Spirit.

1 John 4:10 NASB "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son {to be} the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." The pattern for how we should love one another is God's love for us as expressed in our salvation.

If we are able to implement this then Jesus says this is for the purpose of being sons of your Father in heaven. Again, He is clearly talking to believers. He is not talking to unbelievers. He is still talking to His disciples as believers. They are the sons of their Father. God is not the Father of unbelievers.

The word translated son is the word HUIOS. It is easy to come to this verse and say it is talking about salvation. Then they will think about a verse like John 1:12—"As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to be called the children of God". The word there translated "children" is TEKNA, a child. That is talking about salvation and is not the word here, which is HUIOS = an adult son. He is talking about growing to spiritual maturity.

Matthew 5:46 NASB "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" It is easy to love attractive people, people who are being nice to us and who care for us. What is difficult, if not impossible, is to love those who are hostile to us, to those who are antagonistic to us. Jesus emphasizes this. He is talking about rewards here within an age of Israel, Old Testament concept. He is clearly talking to believers. 

The tax collectors were regarded as the lowest rung on the socio-economic scale in Israel. They were despised by the Jews as sell-outs to the Romans because they were collecting taxes for them, and often used that as a way to impose excessive demands upon the Jews because whatever they got in excess of what the Romans asked for they put in their pocket for themselves. It was a system created for abuse.   

Matthew 5:47 NASB "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing {than others?} Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"

In other words the kind of love that should characterize us is something that should distinguish us from the level of love that is manifested by the pagans around us. 

Matt 5:48 NASB "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This is a verse that has often puzzled me. The use of the word "perfect here" is TELEIOS, which usually means in almost every other example in Scripture to be complete, mature or full. It doesn't mean flawless perfection, yet that is how this is often taken. It is true that our Father in heaven is sinless and flawless, but you and I can never be sinless and flawless. So how can the Scriptures be talking about "perfect" in the sense of sinless or flawless. Instead, what Jesus is talking about is spiritual maturity. We shall be mature; we shall have a quality in our spiritual life of blamelessness and holiness. This is expected of believers. Those terms never mean sinlessness, because we still sin.

The word TELEIOS in the Old Testament is used to translate one particular word, tamam. There are other words that are used that are synonyms of blameless or rightness and they don't refer to sinlessness. The examples next don't use TELEIOS in the LXX; they use tamam, just an example of how God expected something of believers in the Old Testament that meant experientially righteous. It doesn't mean sinless perfection.

Genesis 17:1 NASB "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless'." God isn't expecting sinless perfection; He is expecting a walk in obedience. When there is failure there is confession and restoration but it is a life of obedience. It is parallel to experiential righteousness.

The same thing is stated in the Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 18:13 NASB "You shall be blameless before the LORD your God". This is parallel to the idea also expressed in the Old Testament: that we are to have an experiential holiness or righteousness. For God said the same thing to the Israelites in Leviticus 11:45 " … you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy".