Be Perfect

Matthew 5:43-48
Your enemy may not be who you think it is. You may have grown up thinking that that person is your enemy; that you are not to even talk with him; that you are not going to lift a finger to help him if he is in distress. But is he really your enemy? The Bible says that hose people we would call enemies in one sense, are really our neighbors in another sense. We might have personal animosity towards some people. They may be exceedingly unattractive in many ways. However, they are our neighbors. That is the substance of what Jesus is communicating to us in this portion of His Holy Word.

The first verse presents us with a difficulty. We find written in many parts of Scripture that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is evident. However, nowhere in Scripture does it tell us to hate our enemies. Now, you might bring up the example of the Israelites having to expel the people of Canaan. Wasn’t that an example of hating your enemy? The answer is that it is not an example of hating one’s enemy, since God told the Israelites that they were God’s instrument to punish the wickedness of all those people. And certainly, no Israelite was to have any personal animosity against any of the inhabitants of the land, even though they were supposed to wipe them out completely. Well, what about the imprecatory Psalms, which speak of dashing the babies of the enemy against a rock? Again, those Psalms are directed toward God’s judgment of people that had opposed God. We can distinguish between praying for God’s judgment to come upon all unbelief, on the one hand, and personal resentment against wrongs committed against us, on the other. Well, if those are not examples of hating our enemies, then what is Jesus talking about when He says that people have heard it said that they should hate their enemies? Well, first we have to notice that Jesus says that we heard it said. He does not say that it was written.

The reality is that it was the rabbis that said this. The OT talks about the individual Israelite being kind to his neighbor. What the Jews did was to narrow their definition of “neighbor” so that only Israelites were their neighbors. Then they would limit the application of the laws of the land so that no law would apply to outsiders. The result of this narrowing was that no Gentile was to be treated with the same respect and honor that an Israelite could expect from his neighbor. The real question, then, is this: “Who is our neighbor?” There was once a man who asked Jesus this question. Jesus responded by telling a scandalous story about a man who was attacked by bandits and left for dead. Two Israelites, who should have known better, passed by on the other side of the road, while a Samaritan, of all people, came to the aid of the Israelite. Samaritans were enemies of Israel at the time that Jesus said this. The point of what Jesus was saying in that everyone in the world is our neighbor, if even our bitterest enemy can be defined as our neighbor.

Why should we think this way? Why should we treat even our bitterest enemy like a neighbor? The reason is given in verse 45. Jesus says that if we do that, then we will be like our Father in heaven. We should show the family resemblance, in other words. Like father, like son. Our Father in heaven does the same thing for His enemies that He requires us to do for our enemies. Notice the extent of this love. It is not saving grace that Jesus is talking about here. Instead, it is what theologians call “Common Grace.” Common grace is that unmerited blessing that God gives to absolutely everyone in the world. No one lacks these kinds of blessings. One could list such blessings: rain, sunshine, the presence of the church on earth, food, shelter, clothes, natural abilities, such as brilliant minds, artistic sensibilities, philanthropy, and all creation given to them as a witness. These are gifts that God gives not only to the just, but also to the unjust.

Common grace, by the way, is the reason why we can listen to unbelievers, and take some good things from them for our own good. We Reformed people say that all people are depraved. That is certainly true. However, the doctrine of total depravity does not mean that everyone on this earth is as bad as they could possibly be. I’m sure that we could all name some people we know who are unbelievers, and yet they are what we would call “good people.” They live a relatively clean life, and often put Christians to shame with their morality. There are still sparks of that original gift given from God, even if those gifts are never used by an unregenerate man for God’s glory. Such morality can never save them, since they exercise even their morality in a sinful way. They think to be let into heaven on the basis of their good deeds, and yet there is nothing that they can offer to God, that God should repay them.

So, the motivation for what we do with people who are our enemies is that God treats them with a degree of love. It is written in Scripture that God does not take delight in the death and destruction of the ungodly. We are to do what God does.

The example of God is truly amazing. Jesus is not telling us to do anything that He does not do Himself. Jesus is the perfect (!) example of loving His enemies. Even while hung on the cross, He petitioned the Father to forgive those who were crucifying them, since they knew not what they were doing.

Furthermore, we must remember that we were all enemies of God at one time. Paul says that in Romans, where he says that Christ died for us even while we were still sinners, and had enmity towards God. Even in that state, Christ died for us. That is the amazing thing. So, if God sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners, then we shouldn’t have any difficulty treating our enemies the way God does. And yet, how difficult we find that to do! How difficult it is to see an enemy as a neighbor.

It is clear that when it comes to how we treat enemies, we have something of a litmus test for Christians. How do you know that someone is a real Christian? You know because that Christian will not treat his enemies the same way that the world does. The world tells us to hate our enemies with passion, because that is strong. Jesus tells us that the world’s way of thinking is actually weak. It is weak because it only results in more anger, whereas what Jesus tells us results in more peace.

Here is a challenge for us: how often do we pray for our enemies? It tells us here to pray for them. How often do we remember in our prayers that our enemies need our prayers even more than those people who are not our enemies? If we are going to pray for them, we need to see them as God sees them. How does God see them? He sees them as desperately needy sinners, just like us. That is how we should see them.

How can we have the ability to see them that way? Ultimately, only God can help us to see our enemies that way. Therefore, we should pray to God that He will help us to see our enemies as He sees them. Still, even though it is God alone who can strengthen us to see our enemies this way, there are some practical ways, some practical thought patterns that can help us. Thomas Boston says it this way: “We must bear up in our hearts a deep sense of our own sinfulness, with the faith that our sinfulness has been pardoned…A sense of our own sinfulness against God, will blunt the edge of the enmity of others against us, so that it will not pierce so deep with us, as with the proud unhumbled sinner. So, to keep a firm view of our sinfulness and of God’s grace in forgiving our sinfulness, that will keep us from having anger in our hearts toward anyone, but especially our enemies.”

Furthermore, we should beware lest the faults of others and their blemishes blind our eyes to their beauties and excellencies. It is not right among us who have no beauty in ourselves that is without some kind of blemish, as Boston again says. In other words, just because there are many problems and blemishes in our enemies, we should strive to see what is good there, rather than constantly being a critic.

It is in this very deed that we show ourselves to be Christians. As Jesus goes on to say in our passage, the idea of loving our neighbors is a thoroughly secular idea. There is absolute nothing special or distinctive about it. Even IRS agents do that. Even the most odious sinner in the entire world could equal what we do if we only love those who love us. There is nothing above and beyond the call of duty in loving those who love us. Anyone does that. The question is this: will we love those are our enemies.

Jesus gives us a concrete example when it comes to greeting people. Now, by greeting people, Jesus is talking about our warm greetings, not jus those “Hello” kind of greetings that we might give everyone. Jesus is talking about those greetings that actually convince someone that you care about them. As Bruner says, what we tend to do is this: “We meet people all day long and, as we know from experience, we reserve our specially warm greetings for our especially close friends, and we calibrate our greetings down a very exact calculus from friend to foe.” According to the degree that we like that person, we greet them. This is not the correct attitude to have towards our enemies. Instead, our greetings are to be like the rain that God showers down on the just and the unjust. Obviously, we should treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with real affection. However, we should not think of the body of Christ as a body meant to keep people away from us. Instead, we should be attractive to people. People should want to say, “I really want to be a part of this, because I know that real love is being showed here.” What do you think people would say about our church? Would they say that our church is warm and inviting, or cold and cliquish? We should think about that question. And the very next question should be this, “How do I treat the person who comes in to our church? Do I greet that person with a warmth and invitation, or do I only really talk with those people I already know?” I would challenge us to give especially warm greetings to those people we do not know, when they come to our church. They are uncomfortable enough as it is, usually. We do not and should not make them even more so. If all we do is greet those who are friendly with us, then we are not doing anything more than unbelievers do. Jesus says here that we can do more than they do. In fact, Jesus expects that we will do more than unbelievers. That is definitely true if we are believers, since it is Christ who works in us to work and to do His good pleasure.

That leads us to the final verse. We need to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. That is a hard saying that we would normally just skip over, since we know we can’t be perfect. Not so fast. This statement is meant to give us a goal to strive after. Even if we know that we can’t there until we die, we should still strive for that perfection of morality. We should never give up the fight against sin. We should never give up loving our enemy as God loved us while we were enemies. We should never give up period. That is what it means to persevere. That is God’s will for us. There is no one who is not our neighbor. All people are our neighbors. That is what Jesus tells us. That is what we are to do.

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On the Road to Pietism?

Peter Leithart has a very interesting article here. He argues that the recent fuss over baptismal regeneration is really the fuss about Presbyterians going in a Pietist direction. However, one is puzzled by his method of argumentation: is he arguing that since the German Pietists argued for baptismal regeneration that therefore those who are opposed to the FV are not really in the tradition of Pietism? That is, is he trying to take the rug out from under Lig Duncan, Rick Phillips, etc? This would seem to be his method of argumentation. If it is, then he has forgotten one all-important fact: the language of sacraments. What I mean by this is what WCF 27.2 “There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.” And even in Leithart’s previous post about Chemnitz, we can see Chemnitz’s care in making faith integral to the effect of what baptism signifies. Duncan, Phillips, etc. would agree whole-heartedly with the idea that when baptism is improved by faith, regeneration occurs. They would merely deny that it occurs always at the time-point of baptism regardless of whether faith is present. That is my position, as well. So, Leithart has failed to take the rug out from under Duncan, Phillips, etc.