This week’s scripture reading – Matthew 5:43-48,
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others?] do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. * (publican – a tax collector) * (brethren – brothers)
A recommended approach to this collection of verses on children of the Father is to view them in full context first and then unpack them for better meaning. This teaching of Jesus continues along Old Testament commandments such as thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery and an eye for an eye. As with them, this one also brings with it a more inward perspective. Let us now delve into this incredible message from the Lord and see how it applies to faith.
But I Say Unto You
In a more contrarian approach, Jesus is flipping the traditional way of thought from love your neighbour to love your enemies but how does this really work with our natural inclination to do the opposite? It is indeed something that would benefit from the theme expressed throughout most of these studies where new spiritual birth in Christ should produce such remarkable qualities in believers toward all people as shared in Gal. 5:22-23, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Old Testament Roots
That aside for a moment, it is worth learning about the origin and context surrounding the proverbial neighbour before delving into the New Testament teachings. Nothing is worse than living in a wonderful home only to have a loathsome neighbour next door and given the Old Testament teachings on this there was likely evidence of neighbourly challenges throughout history.
The Lord God provided fairly comprehensive guidance on relations with neighbours noted within the same context as the Ten Commandments in Ex. 20:16-17, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s. In short, this teaching has motives for being truthful and honest and not desiring or taking that which belongs to your neighbour which is also reiterated by Paul in Rom. 13:9-10. * (covet – to desire wrongfully) * (ass – donkey)
Who is my Neighbour
Fast forward to the New Testament now for a parable on neighbours. A certain lawyer once questioned Jesus on how he could inherit eternal life. This was followed by Jesus’s response in Luke. 10:27, And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. The lawyer, wanting to justify himself, presumably based on his own approach toward his neighbours, proceeded to ask Jesus a follow up question, who is my neighbour? This was met with a most compelling story shared by Jesus and while a bit lengthy the context is worth noting in that the person’s neighbour in the parable turns out to be a complete stranger to him as recorded in Luke 10:30-37,
And Jesus answering said, A certain [man] went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded [him,] and departed, leaving [him] half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked [on him,] and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion [on him, ] And went to [him,] and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave [them] to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. * (Samaritan – people that were despised by Jews) * (raiment – clothing) * (Levite – someone who typically assists in the temple) * (morrow – next day) * (pence – sum of money)
Love your Enemies
What does it mean to love your enemies and what does the Bible say to love your enemies? Well, there are many other noteworthy phrases used by Jesus during his teachings in this week’s study and one of them is love your enemies. The reason to highlight this is because through our sin nature, we were once ourselves enemies of God. Paul writes about this in Rom. 5:10, For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. Paul continues along the same message in another letter as recorded in Col. 1:21, And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled. As scripture is delved into like this, the pattern of how to be children of the Father starts to become more evident.
Why should we love our enemies and what does God mean when he says love your enemies? As the apostle John wrote, our reconciliation through Christ is illustrative of God’s incredible love for us while still in our sinful state as shown in 1 John 4:10, Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. The point in this message then is that Jesus is now asking us to emulate the love he showed us to our fellow man in all walks of life, even if they are considered our enemies. By having such compassion, kindness and charity among people this reflects the characteristics of children of the Father. * (propitiation – appease, conciliation)
Children of the Father
In most cases, children in the context of scripture is an endearing term used by Jesus for his followers, typically meaning in a figurative sense an immature believer. Jesus also used this term to describe children of the kingdom versus children of the wicked one (Matt. 13:38), children of the bridechamber, with himself as the bridegroom, (Luke 5:34), children of God and children of the resurrection (Luke 20:36), and children of the light (John 12:36), to name just a few examples from scripture. Similarly, the disciples of Jesus used this phrase such as Paul calling believers little children (Gal. 4:19) and by John no less than eleven times in 1 John. Like Jesus, John also distinguished between children of God and children of the devil (1 John 3:10).
Be Therefore Perfect
The last phrase, be ye therefore perfect, has likely perplexed many readers of scripture, thinking they must be perfect in all of their ways. Even back in Gen. 17:1, God instructed Abram to, Be thou perfect before me. The Lord God even made it a commandment in Deut. 18:13, Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. This is indeed a tall order for fallen humanity since God’s very nature is reflected in 2 Sam. 22:31, [As for] God, his way [is] perfect.
This side of heaven however, people should view perfection perhaps as a work in progress. For believers in Christ, there is a new spirit dwelling inside them as described by the apostle in 1 John 3:9, Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. This is indeed spiritual perfection as believers are given the righteousness of Christ.
John though helps to clarify the reality of believers still dwelling in the physical flesh with all of its propensity for sin as noted in 1 John 1:8-10, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Being perfect in God’s eyes is referenced by Jesus during a discussion with someone who inquired of him on how he could obtain eternal life. After Jesus had reiterated the commandments from God’s law, he went on further to express other noble actions for the individual to do in Matt. 19:20-21, Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.
During a lengthy prayer of Jesus to the Father, he indicated a desire for his followers to be made perfect as noted in John 17:23, …I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Being perfect before God is also expressed most eloquently by Paul, reflective of how we conduct ourselves in Rom. 12:1-2, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Perfection in the Spirit
Paul wrote extensively in his letters to believers on the notion of being perfect before a holy God. He was also quick to clarify that such perfection does not come from the desires of the physical nature, but it is rather derived from the new spirit as shown in Gal. 3:3, Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? His comments in another letter indicate the work in progress among believers towards this godly perfection as noted in Col. 1:28, Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
Paul also expressed this desire during his written prayers for believers in 1 Thess. 3:10, …Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? Paul also indicated the importance of scripture in a believer’s life as part of this godly perfection in 2 Tim. 3:17, All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. It should go without saying that man implies all believers in Christ as we continue in becoming children of the Father.
To close off this Bible Study on children of the Father, readers should have picked up on some of Pauls’ comments that being perfect in God’s sight also consists of doing his will in your life. The importance of this needs to be underscored. There is a message shared to believers that helps to bring the collective teaching together from this week’s study as shared in Heb. 13:20-21, Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Let us end with this on children of the Father. Christ himself is our righteous and as believers we are created in his righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24b). Paul summarizes not only the gospel of saving grace but also doing the will of God which should follow thereafter from Eph. 2:8-10, For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. It is therefore through Christ where our good works are manifested in loving our enemies.
Bible Study Questions
- In this study called Children of the Father, why do you think Jesus says for us to love our enemies?
- What source do most of the teachings of Jesus originate from in scripture?
- As Christians we are to love our neighbours. True or false?
- In the section Love your Enemies, who does it say we were enemies of God and how were we reconciled?
- What does the word children mean or imply in the section Children of the Father?
- Fill in the blanks – Are ye so foolish? having begun in the _________, are ye now made perfect by the ________. Gal. 3:3.
- While it may be difficult, is there someone who you have considered an enemy whom you should pray for today?
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