Did Jesus tell us to be as perfect as God? How is that possible?
Let us understand the measure of love God expects.
We will examine Matthew 5:38-48, an eye for an eye, insults, generosity, enemies, borrowers and God’s love.
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Matthew 5:38 Eye for Eye
How did Jesus explain an eye for an eye? Jesus addressed a law that many have applied in error, an eye for an eye, legally called lex talionis. A vindictive application might be trading tit for tat, escalating hostilities and hindering peace. A principle might be monetary compensation equal to an eye. Jesus taught a higher application of the the eye for an eye principle. As with many of Jesus’ teachings, this is very hard. Jesus suggested that if we have been responsible for injury to another, go above and beyond in compensation. Jesus wants us to go further than mere justice. He wants us to learn to create good will.
Matthew 5:39 Insults
What did Jesus say about responding to an insulting backhanded slap on the cheek? He said to turn the other cheek, not to retaliate but to humiliate ourselves by allowing further slaps. Even the business world understands that the best thing to do with a customer complaint is to allow them to vent without interruption, to get it off their chest. Give them time to calm down, and after having a hearing, many become a more satisfied customer. If even the carnal world understands how to win people, by respectfully giving them opportunity to fully complain, then how much more should we take insults in order to win peace for Christ.
Matthew 5:40 Generosity
What did Jesus say about losing the shirt off our backs in court? Perhaps we lost before we even got to court, by letting things go too far (1 Corinthians 6:7)? Did we fail to create peace? Were we at fault? Either way, Jesus told his disciples how to really win in heaven’s eyes. Give more than was asked for. Go way above the settlement price. If someone sues us for the shirt off our backs, let’s gift wrap our coat as well and give it away to the plaintiff. Does Jesus want us to be suckers who are easily taken advantage of, or does living generously really work?
Matthew 5:41 Enemies
Why did Jesus suggest that if a soldier from enemy occupation forces asks us for help carrying their equipment a mile, we should carry it two? In Roman occupied Palestine, there was a law that if a Roman soldier asked any Jew for help, they were required to come to their aid. Jesus alluded to just such a scenario where it was common for an enemy soldier to ask a Jew to carry arms for a distance. Jesus suggested helping out to double the distance asked. Jesus challenges us by teaching what is the exact opposite of our natural inclination. God is impartial and treats all people equally. Do we?
Matthew 5:42 Lending
Why did Jesus encourage his disciples to lend to the borrower and not turn him away? We have all lent something which was not returned. We become reluctant to lend again. Did Jesus mean that we are to keep lending until we have nothing left? That is how some criticize Jesus. He spoke of one borrower, not an unlimited number. Our natural inclination is not to lend at all or with very few exceptions for family or close friends. It is that extreme that Jesus challenged. He challenges us also to consider lending without discrimination. Of course there are boundaries and limitations, but perhaps we could lend to at least one.
Matthew 5:43-47 Loving our Enemies
Why did Jesus say to love our enemies? Isn’t the rule, love your neighbor? Jesus expanded it to include everyone. We love our friends but hate our foes. Now Jesus wants us to love even our enemies? Is that possible? How can that make any sense in a world of war and crime? We tend to follow the example of the good neighbors around us who treat their friends with respect and dignity, but Jesus challenged us to live above the standards of our neighborhood. We are to live by heavenly standards. Those standards are not defined by address, flag or national border, but by God who loves all peoples equally.
Matthew 5:48 Spiritual Maturity
How could Jesus expect us to become perfect? Should we be more nitpicky than the hypocritical Pharisees? The word perfect is better understood to mean mature or complete. It has nothing to do with nit-picky Christianity at all. Being obsessed with non-essentials is a mark of spiritual immaturity. Mature Christians are salty. They taste good. Mature Christians are a bright shining light. They are liberated from picky legalism. Mature Christians reconcile rather than harbor grudges. They preserve the sanctity of marriage. They are not pretentious, create good will and take insults without retribution. They are generous people who do not quibble and would treat an enemy the same as a friend.
It is impossible for us to live morally perfect lives, but we can grow in God’s love. Let’s start with our closest enemy.