Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Matthew 5:43-44 Be Distinctive Part I

It is sad to see people who name the name of Christ while living exactly the same as the rest of the world. As Jesus said earlier in this chapter, we are called to be salt in this world. I believe in saying that, He was saying that we should be distinctive. People should be able to tell a difference between a Christian and someone who isn’t a Christian. Sadly, that is often not the case. In these verses, Jesus continues to drive home this point by reminding us how we are supposed to treat people.

First of all, our Lord quotes from scribal teaching of the day when He says in verse 43 that the people had been told to “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. The first part of that sentence is from Leviticus 19:18. The second part of that sentence is not found in scripture. Instead, it is the interpretation of the Pharisees as they assumed it logically followed if you were called to love your neighbors, those who dwelt near you or that you considered friends, then you surely must be allowed to hate your enemy’s. It only makes sense, right?

Such was not the case. As our Lord has done in the previous verses, He again demonstrates how the teachers of the law had it all wrong. He tells the crowd that they should in fact “love [their] enemy’s and pray for those who persecute [them]”. Now, this is the exact opposite reaction that we would normally have. As I confessed in previous posts, I have a problem with anger and revenge. The last thing I want to do is be nice to someone who has been unkind to me. However, this is exactly what Jesus calls for Christians to do. He instructs the crowd to show their enemy’s “love” (agapao-25). Now, love in our language represents several different concepts. You could say “I love football, I love pizza, and I love my wife”. However, when you finish that sentence you would be wise to quickly explain what the difference between those three love’s is to avoid getting into trouble. Those living in Jesus’ day did have that problem with the Greek language. The kind of love Jesus calls for here is agape love. This love is selfless, sacrificing, and always seeks the best for the object of the love. In fact, it is a love that really has nothing to do with feeling but rather is a choice. It is a love that is willed by the lover and may actually be the opposite of what that person feels like doing. We are most like God when we display this kind of love and it’s not the kind of love that we normally show apart from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This love is distinctively Christian.

Further, we are called to “pray” for our enemies. The word translated “pray” means to intercede or make supplication to God. How can we ask God to bless someone who has wounded us or treated us badly? I submit to you we can do that by looking at the example of our Lord. When He was being murdered on the cross, charged with a crime when He was innocent, suffering insults and being mocked, He asked God to have mercy on those who treated Him like that. Now, I’ve been treated badly before and been insulted but never has anyone treated me like that. If He was able to forgive then I believe, since His Holy Spirit dwells in me, that He can enable me to forgive. I can forgive and pray for those who mistreat me and love them as God loves not because I want to or I feel like it but because I choose to. Our Lord set the example and it is up to us to choose to follow it.

Note: I should add that verse 44 reads differently in the NKJV and the KJV. The verse is harmonized with the parallel account in Luke’s gospel in the 6th chapter in the NKJV and KJV. The NASB and most modern bibles follow a reading from older Greek manuscripts. Some people make a big deal out of this variant. I think it’s important to remember two points. 1) The variant makes no doctrinal difference whatsoever. No one is going to be lead astray regardless of which reading was actually the one that Matthew wrote. 2) What we have in the gospels is not a verbatim transcript of everything Christ said exactly as He said it when He said it. We have the words that Matthew was inspired to write by God to communicate to us what He wanted us to know about what Christ said. Therefore, if there is a discrepancy between Matthew and Luke it is really not important because the meaning of what Christ said is preserved for us in the text of the New Testament. We can trust this faithful, inerrant, inspired witness to the truth of Jesus and His message.

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