Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will conclude our review of these here, as well as draw some general conclusion from Chapter 5. In these final examples, it is particularly easy to identify the “doing” associated with Jesus’ sayings – and that is a good thing.

However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into kingdom citizens, not to make or justify ourselves. This is a very good thing; only the most immature Christian would think they could do these sayings in their own strength.

Love, Bless, Do Good, and Pray for Your Enemies

Several times in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has used “You have heard…” to extend and enrich our understanding of the Father’s heart desire in the Law and the Prophets. As we will now discover, not only is our understanding potentially more limited and shallower than we would like, in at least one case, it might just be wrong.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But 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, 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. Matthew 5:43-45

In this case, Jesus is addressing a humanly devised extension of the Law which was not intended by God. While they were told to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), God never commanded the Israelites to conversely hate their enemies.

Israel had many nations as enemies, and God did identify a few who would suffer for their opposition to His people. However, these were exceptions. In fact, it was God’s intention to bless the nations through His people (a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3). The religious rulers of Jesus’ day had turned a few specific references into a general rule. In doing so, they caused the entire nation to lose sight of God’s eternal plan. As a side note: We would be wise to recognize our own tendencies to do this very thing, particularly those of us who are teachers and preachers of the Word.

It must have been a quite a challenge to the people of Jesus’ day to learn that the desire of God’s heart for His children is love, blessing, goodness, and prayer for their enemies. Remember, Israel was under domineering occupation at the time. Wouldn’t this invite their enemies to walk all over them? How could He expect such radical behavior?

This conflict – between the desire of God’s heart and the power of our reason – has not changed in the last 2000+ years. Read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or the more current reports of persecution provided by The Voice of the Martyrs, and you will see what I mean. You will also discover the power of martyrdom; that God uses the persecution and suffering of His people as a powerful witness of His love for all mankind.

Persecution has been the common denominator for explosive church growth all over the globe, from its beginnings in Jerusalem, to the Underground Church in 21st Century China and Iran. What Satan has intended for evil, God has turned to the good of His kingdom. Will the same be said of us?

Without question, this saying is one of the most critical for the American church. The storm that is coming will include persecution. In fact, persecution has come; and is coming in greater severity. Will our houses stand under its force?

Our houses will not stand if we wait for the storm to hit before choosing to obey this saying of our Master. It will be too late; and great will be our fall. Now is the time to begin loving, blessing, doing good and praying for our enemies.

As if recognizing the incredible challenge He has laid before us, Jesus gives further encouragement and understanding. He points out that our becoming sons and daughters of our Father in heaven is promised – and conditional – on our obedience to these sayings. Consider carefully the gravity of this. He leaves no option for His followers. We must be radically different that the world around us; radically different than the life we would naturally choose.

Notice that Jesus did not say that we are to passively love our enemies. Our love is to include action. We are to do them good. Amazing! I cannot begin to imagine even how to begin. It is certainly beyond me.

Praise God!! As hard as this seems, it is not impossible; for we have the Life that can. In fact, we have the Life of the One Who has done this very thing. Though we were enemies, He died for us; having humbled Himself to do the Father’s will. He continues to do the same through those surrendered to His Father’s will and work (Philippians 2:13).

Be Extraordinary; Be Perfect

Our God is a process-oriented problem solver. In fact, God has a way for every problem that concerns Him (e.g., blessing the nations and expressing His glory through mud-babies). The Bible is a story of process. God getting back what He lost in the garden has been a long process (filled with His long-suffering). Most of the major themes of the New Testament are processes: Belief, salvation, sanctification, and transformation are some of the most important ones.

This may be news to you; for we have become an event-oriented society, and much of our teaching has leaned in this direction. The mind of Christ runs counter to this way of thinking. The renewal of our minds will come more quickly for those that accept God’s way for solving the problems of His kingdom.

Let’s consider how this applies to the next of Jesus’ sayings.

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? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48

As you can see, Jesus expects that we shall be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect. Whether you believe this is a possibility for this life, or reserved for the next, it is the destination Jesus has in mind; and destinations require journeys. Connecting this to our treatment of others in this life makes it clear that we are in the process of being perfected.

Praise God! How miserable would the Christian life be if it were limited to waiting for some last-minute transformation? No, that is not God’s way. His Son is saving, transforming, and sanctifying His people as salt and light on this side of heaven. He is making each one that will follow Him into kingdom citizens. We are all in process.

So, what are we to do in the midst of the perfecting process? How are we to participate? We participate by setting our hearts toward extraordinary behavior. The bar we set for ourselves, and one another, should be exceedingly higher than that of the world.

Just how important is this in the here and now, on this side of heaven? Well, it is really, really, really important!! Jesus suggests that there will be no reward for those that choose to live the ordinary life. When was the last time you considered the value of God’s reward? Whatever understanding we have of “reward”, I suspect it is not something any of us want to miss out on. Better safe than sorry, right? If God has ten cities waiting for me, I do not want to settle for five. And heaven help those who have buried their talent in the ground.

This is sobering truth for those of us that are failing to love the brethren, much less our enemies. It is a reminder that the second great commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Do we think such a command should be taken so lightly? Jesus is encouraging us to move beyond the world’s ordinary.

Hearing the sayings of Jesus is not sufficient. It only qualifies us to have a house. There is still the question of that house standing, or falling in some terrible way. For most of us, radical changes are needed; changes in the way we think, feel and respond to the sayings of Jesus.

And so, I encourage you to receive and reckon, as truth for your own life: You are in process. God is working to will and to do to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). His pleasure is to give you His kingdom (Luke 12:32). Chances are you have already begun the process. The next step is discovering and surrendering to the desire He has put in your heart for the extraordinary life.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4

The Hebrew word translated here as “delight” means “to be soft”. Become like clay in the Potter’s hand and He will give you the desire that He has put in your heart to be an extraordinary follower of Jesus Christ; and you shall be perfected.

Chapter 5 Summary

Did you know that the Bible was not written in chapter and verse form? Chapters were first introduced in 1227, by Stephen Langton. Verse divisions were introduced by Robert Stephanus in 1551. Chapter and verse divisions were added for the convenience of reference and quotation purposes (Stewart, D., 2020).

However, “it must always be remembered that the divisions into chapters and verses are human-made. They are sometimes arbitrary, and they sometimes interfere with the sense of the passage. The divisions into chapters and verses can actually cause some problems (Steward, D. 2020).” See BlueLetterBible.org FAQ by Don Stewart for more on the challenges that chapter and verse introduce in Bible interpretation.

Having chapter and verse divisions certainly makes it easier to find passages and direct others to them. It also makes for convenience in summarizing a series on “These Sayings of Mine”. So, with care to avoid any problems such delineation may cause, here is a brief summary of Matthew, chapter 5.

Beginning His sermon with the Beatitudes, Jesus lays a foundation for our understanding of the normal Christian life. It is a life of being, and being made. It is essential that we understand this from the beginning; for the sayings that follow are otherwise confusing and/or discouraging. Jesus made it clear from the beginning that our hope must not be in our self will and power.

Only Jesus Christ can live the normal Christian life. We know that He has come to live that life through us, in the process, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. The first disciples did not have the advantage of that understanding; and, still, they determined to trust and follow Him. For the modern disciple, this is a challenge and encouragement to embrace the truth: That Jesus would only command that which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were willing and capable of doing in and through us.

Emphatically, Jesus states that we are the salt and light of the world. Our responsibility is to be surrendered vessels; to let our light shine. Similarly, we learn that Jesus came to fulfill the law; and to do that from within us. This has been the Father’s plan from the beginning – to transform us into the image of the glory of His Son.

From this foundation, we have hope for a house that will withstand every storm. We have hope for hearing and doing the sayings of Jesus.

Concluding Encouragement

While chapters and verses are man-made, we recognize that the order and flow of The Sermon on the Mount is not. Jesus only spoke what the Father was speaking; and that with intentionality. It is critical that we stop here to believe the word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds in the truth of it, before moving deeper into our Master’s sermon.

Let us pray, for ourselves and those we love, that God would enlighten our hearts; and in receiving the gift of faith and the love of the truth, we would become His instruments of righteousness. Let us pray for transformation, that the world would see the light that is within us. Let us pray for the Life that saves us. Let us pray in His holy name. Amen.

Humbly yours and forever His,

Rob

Steward, D. (2020). Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible Divided into Chapters and Verses?
https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_273.cfm (last reviewed on October 5, 2020).