“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But 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, 45 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
This is the last place in the sermon on the mount that we see, “You have heard that it was said.” If you are at all like me, you are wondering where the Jews would have heard ‘hate your enemies.” Torah teaches something else entirely.
Leviticus 19:18 says, You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
So, where were the people hearing to hate rather than love their enemies? It was part of the teaching of the Essene community that lived at the Dead Sea. They wrote it into their scrolls. The Jews in the surrounding areas heard these teachings. The Essenes proclaimed them in the streets of Jerusalem.
In the “Manual of Discipline” it says: Of loving and hating fellow men:
And these are the regulations of conduct for every man that would seek the inner vision in these times, touching what he is to love and what he is to hate.
He is to bear unremitting hatred toward all men of ill repute, and to be minded to keep [·] from them. He is to leave it to them to pursue wealth and mercenary gain, like servants at the mercy of their masters or wretches truckling to a despot.
(If you’d like to know more you can find it here.)
The Leviticus quote is the only place in Torah that says “love your neighbor.”
Proverbs 25:21-22 says, If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
Romans 12:20 repeats this: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Now, doesn’t that sound loving? No, it doesn’t. Still, when we look through Hebrew eyes and consider their culture in those days, it makes sense.
You see, in those days, women did not have gas or electric stoves. Nor did they have matches. Still, they cooked over wood fires and needed to get up early to get the fire going for breakfast.
Every village had a person called a fire tender. This man’s job was to keep a fire going most of the night and then take the coals from his fire and distribute them to the women. He would take the coals and put them in a fire-proof hat. Then he went from door to door giving each woman a burning coal for her fire.
So, to “heap coals of fire on his (your enemy’s) head,” was a blessing for your enemy. In a sense, it made him the fire tender for the neighborhood instead of the tormentor. He was now a blessing rather than a curse.
Going on to the next verse of this passage it says, Matthew 5:45 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.
Today, DNA testing determines lineage. Yet here Jesus is saying that God doesn’t see differences between His children and others. He sees all of us alike. He blesses all with rain or sunshine the same.
In Hebrew culture, when a young man walks in the character of his father, he is his son. Character determines lineage. Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.
Jesus goes on to strengthen His point. Matthew 5:46-47 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?
Jesus is saying, “Love is not a feeling. Love is an act based on a choice of our will. To be a citizen of the Kingdom, love is required.”
Now we come to the closing statement of this chapter that sums up every piece of it.
Matthew 5:48 Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The word ‘perfect’ is rather daunting. It means without mistake, complete. But Jesus was referring to this quote from Leviticus 19:2.
“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’”
Is the fact that He is calling us to be ‘holy’ any less impossible? Let’s see:
Holy in Hebrew is Strong’s #6918 . It is an adjective meaning sacred, holy. It is used to denote someone or something sacred or has been set apart as sacred for holy use. It is the opposite of common or profane.
Thus, to be holy is to consecrate yourself to God alone. To do what He does, say what He says, and re-present Him to every person you meet. Isn’t that what the Beatitudes are all about and the rest of this chapter? If we lived this first chapter in the Sermon on the Mount, we would be different than the world around us.
When God spoke Leviticus 19:2 to Moses, He was taking Israel out of idolatry and separating them to Himself. They needed to LEAVE the pagan culture to become holy.
Later Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who were also in an idolatrous culture.
2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”
Are we seen as different from the world? Do we dress like the world? Do we do business like the world? How about our entertainment? How about the way we treat others? Are we generous or greedy? On and on the questions come. Are we pursuing a full consecration to Jesus? Not out of obligation or to win approval points with God, but out of honor to the One who gave His perfect life for us.
God made us blameless by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Ephesians 1:3-4 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love
Prayer: Abba, we live in a sin-sick world. Help us more and more to live in holiness, bringing You honor. May we be loving as You love, speaking as You speak, giving as You give, forgiving as You forgave, humbling ourselves and serving others with patience and compassion. Holy Spirit may we cooperate with You as You complete Your work within us (Philippians 1:6 & 2:12-14). Thank You Lord. It is in Your name we pray. Amen.
(We have a couple more feast days this month, so I am going to concentrate on those and get back to the Sermon on the Mount afterward.)