Matthew 5:43-47

Setting and Overview
As His listeners were still coming to grips with the penultimate antithesis, the exhortation to forgo retaliation (vv. 38-42), Jesus follows with a final antithesis that takes this even further. It is one thing to relinquish one’s legal right to resistance, but to strive to not even hate those who would do us harm? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus calls His followers to do in verses 43-47.

Part of what they have “heard said” is the command to love their neighbor. This command (Leviticus 19:17-18) was known well and often taught and referenced. Jesus usually includes the rest of the command, “as yourself” when He quotes it (Matthew 19:19, 22:39), and the fact that He doesn’t here could mean that the command was often watered down by leaving that part out. Regardless, it is the second part of what Jesus does reference that draws our attention, as the Old Testament did not command a hatred of enemies. While some passages could give rise to a validation of that attitude (Deuteronomy 23:3-8, 25:17-9, Psalm 139:21-22), other passages command a love for those who are different (Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:19) and good treatment of enemies (Exodus 23:4-5, Proverbs 24:17-18, 25:21-22.) It could be that “hate” was being used more in the sense of loving less (Genesis 29:30-31, Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37, Matthew 6:24,) but since the Qumran community did indeed teach hatred of enemies, Jesus was likely simply referencing common teaching of the time.
In contrast, Jesus gives His expectation, and follows it with the reason and a description of what is looks like. To love our enemies means to have the same attitude toward those who would oppose us that we have to those who are closest to us. Persecutors (v. 44) would be one example of enemies, but are probably not to be seen as the sole intended reference. The reason is to reflect the character of God, and His use of genesthe for “be” indicates that this was something that was unnatural and would be a change from prior behavior. In a powerful description of common grace, He describes how God bestows good things even on those opposed to Him, unlike the word which pursues a self-serving and reciprocal love. In using tax collectors and Gentiles as examples, He identifies groups that would epitomize outsiders and outcasts. To “greet” another is to acknowledge their worth and to demonstrate respect (Matthew 10:11-14.) If Jewish people only love and greet those who love them and are like them, then they are displaying no more righteousness than those two despised groups.
Examination and Application

As we look back at those in verses 38-42 who were doing the mistreating, we have an opportunity to evaluate our love of enemies. Beyond our actions in response to them, how do we feel about them, and what do we hope and pray for them? In the parallel section in Luke 6:27-35, Jesus gives us concrete actions that would naturally flow out of a love for our enemies. Do we do good on their behalf (Luke 6:27), invoke God’s favor for them (Luke 6:28), pray for them (Luke 6:28), give to them without any potential benefit for us (Luke 6:34-35), and demonstrate kindness even to those who are ungrateful (Luke 6:35)? If so, then we are following in the footsteps of our Father.
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