Perfect Love- Matthew 5:43-46

In this passage, Jesus teaches on love, and He introduces here a new and revolutionary understanding of what love is. He begins by quoting a slogan which was commonly taught by the Hebrew teachers of the time, and shows His audience how this slogan is actually a misunderstanding of the Old Testament. This slogan is quoted here as “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. The love your neighbor part is actually in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18), but the hate your enemy part is not. It was inferred by Hebrew teachers and added by them, and became a principle commonly taught by Hebrew teachers at the time. “Your neighbor” here was said to refer to fellow Hebrews, while “your enemy” was said to refer to all Gentiles, so this teaching led to Jewish hatred of all Gentiles. Jesus quotes this slogan not to agree with it, but rather to contradict it, and He uses it as a launching point to lead into His teaching here about love. He begins verse 44 by with the phrase “But I tell you”, clearly showing He is about to contradict what the Hebrew teachers had been teaching. He tells them instead to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. The word translated enemies here is the Greek ethnos, literally “nations”, or those who were not Hebrews. Jesus here tells His hearers not to hate their enemies but rather to love them, and in doing so He revolutionizes the idea of love and introduces to them the idea of love for their enemies, an idea which was completely alien to them and to their way of thinking. In the Greek language, there are four words translated as love: storge, eros, phileo and agape. Basically to love someone means to seek their good, to do what is in their best interest. The difference in the four loves is not in what love is, but in who it is that is loved. Storge describes love of family, for example the love of a parent for a child. Eros describes romantic love, for example the love of one spouse for the other. Phileo describes the love of friendship, the love of one friend for another friend. Agape, in the Greek language and culture, was essentially a synonymn of phileo, the two words described the same thing and were used interchangeably. At the time Jesus is speaking here, use of the word phileo was very common, while agape was hardly used at all. The word Jesus uses for love here is agape, and Jesus, in this teaching, redefines the word. He takes a word which was rarely used and gives it a new meaning, for He is about to use this word to describe a love which was basically non-existent in and foreign to the Greek and Hebrew language and culture. The love for enemies Jesus is about to espouse is a revolutionary idea, and is very different from the other types of love. The common factor in the other “loves” was that the object of love was one who was in some way seen as deserving of love, one for whom the lover had some sort of affection and would generally return the love that was expressed. They were all love for those who love you. Agape, however, is used here to refer to love for those who do not love you, for those you do not like and who may not like you. Jesus tells them here to love like this so they may be “sons of your Father in heaven”. Remember that a true son is one who does what his father does, and Jesus is telling them here that true sons of God will love like God loves, will love their “enemies”. We should also remember that our created purpose is to be the image and likeness of God, and we look most like God when we love in this manner, when we show love for those who do not love us. God provides sun and rain for those who do not love Him, He sent Jesus to die for those who don’t love Him. Jesus then further explains this revolutionary new understanding of love by comparing it to the other “loves”, showing us that even evil people love those who love them (family, spouse, friends), but love for enemies can come only from God. Jesus Himself is living proof that God loves His enemies. Jesus then concludes with a statement which can seem very perplexing, telling His hearers to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This command (be perfect here is an imperative), is not quite so pereplexing when it is kept in context. The entire teaching which this command concludes is a teaching about love, and in it Jesus introduces to us the revolutionary concept of love for one’s enemies. We are to love our enemies because that is what God does, and we are created to be the image and likeness of God, that is our purpose. The Greek word perfect here is teleioo, and one who is teleios is one who fulfills their purpose. Our purpose is to be the image and likeness of God, and we fulfill that purpose (are “perfect”) when we love as God loves, when we learn to love our enemies, to love those who don’t love us. So what Jesus ultimately commands here is not to be flawless and live a mistake free life, but rather to live a life which shows us to be sons of God, to live a life in which we love as God loves, in which we love those who do not love us.

No Comments Christianity  //  Conformed to the Image of Christ  //  Growing In Grace  //  Jesus Christ  //  Living with a Purpose

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