A Chip Off the Old Block
“43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 ESV
Dear Church Family,
Sometimes, things just stick with you. The verses for this week are the first substantial passage of scripture that I ever memorized. I usually think about this passage around this time of year, because it was during a Vacation Bible School that I memorized it. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which we are studying as a part of our Matthew study on Wednesday nights.
Matthew 5 has a series of these, “You have heard…but I say,” sayings of Jesus. In them, Jesus explains that outward obedience to God’s word that does not include our true feelings and motivations is not really obedience. Actions that are not truly representative of your heart are hypocritical. There is, of course, no Bible verse that commands us to hate our enemies. Rather, Jesus is condemning the common Jewish attitude that would conclude that the command to love enemies implies that it’s okay to hate enemies.
Jesus’ correction has two elements. First, he states simply and boldly that we are to love our enemies—even those who are trying to harm us. I’m sure we’ve all known someone who was…um…hard to love. Well, my father taught me something a long time ago that has helped me in these situations. It is harder to feel animosity toward someone when you are actively praying for them. The act of prayer simply puts us in a different mindset about them.
The second element of Jesus’ corrective has to do with examples. On the one hand, Jesus presents “tax collectors” and “Gentiles”—two groups that your average Jew would have looked down upon. They might have even been among the “enemies” that the Jews hated. Jesus points out that even these people love those who love them and greet those who greet them. If the Jews only love their neighbors, but hate their enemies, they are no different than the groups they hate.
All of this sets the stage for the real example Jesus wants to present—the Father in heaven. The command to love enemies is “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (v. 45). We’ve all seen the tendency of children to emulate their parents—for good or ill. We say, “he’s just a chip off the old block,” and stuff like that. Well, what example has God given us? He has given the blessing of life, rainfall, sunshine, etc. even on those who have rebelled against him. If we want to be “godly,” to be “perfect” (v. 48), we must treat others the way God has treated them (and us), with love and grace. That’s being a chip off the most ancient block of all.