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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the unrighteousness. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.
Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.
We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.
The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?
Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.
But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.
So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.
You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.
We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.
But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.
Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26
And Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Though we should keep short accounts with everyone, this time the subject is our dealings with non-believers.
Whatever the spiritual difference we may have with others, God’s grace does not exonerate us from misdealings with the world. Whether business or personal affairs, all should be done as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:7]. In so doing, we bring glory and honor to God and may win some to His saving grace [1 Peter 2:12].
So first of all, we should do everything in our power not to end up in a legal situation. Obey policies and procedures of our workplace. Don’t slander, gossip, lie, steal, accept bribes or otherwise act corruptly [Exodus 20:15-16 & 23:8; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 4:16; Proverbs 17:23 & 26:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:9; James 4:11]. Pay back our monetary debts and give people the things that belong to them [Romans 13:8].
But if we do find ourselves in a situation where we have wronged an unbeliever, we need to do everything we can to settle the matter without court arbitration. It is our responsibility to take responsibility for our actions–whether knowingly or unknowingly wrong–and make restitutions for them. When we can be honest, act in integrity and swallow our pride. We can submit ourselves to whatever consequences befit the situation.
But if we try to distort honesty, if we pervert integrity and act pridefully, then we will surely have to stand trial in the world’s courts. Then, the consequences for our actions will be so much worse.
Whether we choose to settle the issue out of court or in court, we will still have to make our wrong right. But settling in court may mean that we are subject to more severe penalties than just correcting the misdeed.
Do you already have a job? Do you do your job with honesty and integrity that brings glory to God? Do you keep short accounts with everyone, but especially your unbelieving coworkers?
“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:4-6
John was an ordinary guy. He wore commoner’s clothes and ate desert forage–locusts and wild honey. While his father ministered in the temple, and these foods were in keeping with Jewish dietary law, John was introducing baptism in a whole new way.
The Pharisees of his day immersed themselves in water to remove ritual impurity [Matthew 15:2; John 2:6]. The Old Testament did in fact set this precedent, especially for priests [Leviticus 15, 16:4 & 24]. All Jews had to observe these ritual baths to be pure so that they could enter the temple and participate in its services during major festivals [Numbers 9:10; John 11:55; Acts 21:24-27]. But the Pharisees practiced regular immersion out of religiosity–following the rules to look good to men, rather than living from a heart for God.
John took baptism out of the temple. But just like the temple, people came from all over Israel to be ministered to. They came from Jerusalem where the temple was. From Judea, the whole region surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. From the whole Jordan river region which extends north to south through the land of Israel.
John took baptism into the Jordan. This was the river that God parted so that the Hebrews could pass through on dry land and enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3-4]. A river analogous to the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].
John baptized without priestly garments. But he led people to recognize and confess their sins to God. In effect, John launched the self-as-priest-without-need-of-a-Levitical-mediator ministry, preparing hearts for Jesus’ ministry, and people responded to it in droves!
And John baptized by immersion, which meant that a person’s whole body passed through the water. This is symbolic of the days of Noah. Before the flood, people did not confess their sins to God, many no longer even recognized right from wrong. Everyone just did as they saw fit. The floodwaters purified the world of the sin that had grown so rampant, wiping the proverbial slate clean for righteousness to start again.
Noah’s ark is an archetype for Jesus. By faith, Noah and his family were saved in the ark. By grace, we are saved through faith in Christ. When we confess our sins and are baptized, it should come from a heart to live for God. It should truly represent a change from living however we want to wiping our hearts clean, clothing us with Christ Himself, so that we can start anew and live righteously.
Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you been baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus? Is your faith purifying your heart?
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:18-19
In Greek and Roman mythology, gods–likely stories of fallen angel exploits [Genesis 6:4]–had physical relations with men and women all the time. And they did so for their own corrupt pleasure. God Almighty, however, is holy. He treats human beings with the respect for which He created us. He did not create women to sate some physical lust of His own. He created woman for man alone [Genesis 2:18-24].
So when His Holy Spirit overshadows her, God is respecting Mary’s person and her future marriage union. The babe, Jesus, is miraculously conceived without any physical union [Luke 1:35].
In those days, even engagement was considered a part of marriage [Deuteronomy 22:24]. Once you were engaged, that was it. That was your spouse for life even though you weren’t yet permitted to live and sleep with them until the official wedding.
Mary and Joseph were both God-fearing people who honored the marriage covenant. Because of this, Joseph knew it was wrong to marry someone who was having another man’s child. No matter how much he himself loved Mary, living a holy and upright life was most important to him. Before God intervened, Joseph decided to protect Mary with a private divorce–the only way to break an official engagement in his day–so that she would come to no harm [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:23-24].
Wow! Look at how important guy-girl relationships are to God. It isn’t just because we’re reading about how Jesus’ holy birth came about. God desires such holiness and righteousness in all of our dating, engagement and marriage relationships. He desires people to honor His design for us–one man and one woman for life.
So much of TV and media teaches us to experiment with physical pleasure seeking. The world says just do whatever feels good and don’t worry about God’s standard. They’ve redefined everything about everything when it comes to a Godly marriage and intimate relationship–time frames, people involved, longevity–everything! But God transcends all cultural corruptions of couplehood. He is constantly good and holy and sets a moral right that continually imparts goodness and holiness to its adherents–aka BLESSINGS!
It’s like playing with fire. If you start a fire in a hearth, then it will burn and give warmth to the house without danger. But start the fire in the middle of the living room floor and you’re going to have a problem. Physical relationships belong only in a marriage between one man and one woman for life. That’s God’s moral standard, the intention with which He designed us.
Are you treating your future marriage with the goodness and holiness that God intended? Are you keeping your body pure and waiting for the blessings that God has for your marriage?
“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” Genesis 2:3
God is holy. Holiness, however, is not a part of our human condition. The only reason we have the word in our language at all is to describe God, whom we are not.
The first place that we encounter the term holy in scriptures is immediately following the Creation, on day seven. Yet the original Hebrew for this verse renders the seventh day as consecrated and other English translations used the term sanctified. So let’s explore the linguistic trail to get a better understanding of what holiness is.
To consecrate is to make or declare that something is sacred. It is to dedicate it to a religious purpose according to the world, but according to God, consecrating is dedicating to a Godly purpose.
To sanctify is to set apart as holy, to purify or free from sin or to make something legitimate by a religious sanction. While sacred means that something is connected with or dedicated to God and should, therefore, be venerated–treated with honored respect, that is, reverence. And holy comes from wholly–wholeness–being whole.
So after our holy God created all that is, He dedicated one in seven days to be set apart as His, dedicated to Him alone to make us whole again.
After God finished creating everything, God saw that it was very good [Genesis 1:31]. Man was tasked with stewarding the earth, loving God and one another. But–being omniscient–God knew that a day was coming when humankind would work the soil and labor to raise children [Genesis 3:16-19]. And being both good and wise, God dedicated the sabbath for our good.
It is not good for our health–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or relational–to work 24-7. It is not good for the ground to be constantly used without rest to regenerate [Leviticus 25:4]. As young people, we can often be enthused to work and save up money for phone plans, clothes, cars, college and the like. We can sometimes feel invincible too, like the strength and energy will never run out.
But the sabbath should be treated with reverence. God’s purpose was not to bind people up, keep them from making an extra day of pay–but to free them to rest and be made whole in Him [Mark 2:27].
When we don’t take the time to respect the Sabbath from our youth, the bad habit of pushing ourselves to overwork or over extend our time continues into early adulthood and the rest of our lives. The wear and tear that we didn’t notice grinding us down in our youth, magnifies earlier in our adult years than if we had taken the time to rest and regenerate our relationship with God as He intended for us to do each Sabbath.
It also communicates to God that we believe our ways are better than His, rather than the other way around [Isaiah 55:8-9]. That we are our own good and wise god and will decide such things for ourselves, thank you very much.
The Sabbath isn’t about rituals on the same day of every week. It is about dedicating one day in seven to time with God so that He can make us whole. Have you committed to honor the Sabbath rest with your life?
“David said to Gad, ‘I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” 2 Samuel 24:14 & 1 Chronicles 21:13
God is merciful. And we were made in His image to love one another and to do good works [Leviticus 19:9-18; Mark 12:31; Ephesians 2:10]. Not the least of these is to be merciful and compassionate with our fellow human beings [Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31].
Mercy is the deeds accompaniment to our faith [James 2:17 & 26]–giving a cup of cold water [Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41], doing more than just wishing someone warm and well fed [James 2:16].
Mercy extended to the people around us reflects our love for God. How we treat the apple of His eye is how we treat Him [Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalm 17:8; Zechariah 2:8; Matthew 25:31-46].
How ironic that the eternity in our hearts calls to the mercy we were made for yet rejects He who is our mercy [Ecclesiastes 3:11]. How many decry God’s mercies because the people in their lives are not merciful? How many insist that because human beings can be ruthless and wicked that therefore God cannot be merciful?
When we recognize wrong, it is because of God’s justice patterned deep in our image. When we recognize foolishness, it is because of God’s wisdom calling to the eternity in our hearts. When we recognize apathy and cruelty, it is because of God’s mercy woven intricately into the fiber of our being.
We were made in the image of the All-powerful, All-loving and All-merciful God. We were made to compassionately meet needs. We were made to love those who hate us [Matthew 5:10-12 & 44; Luke 6:27-28]. We were made to take up the cross of Christ and to daily forgive the multitude of wrongs visited on us [Matthew 16:24 & 18:22; Luke 9:23].
And when we do not do what we were made for, the world accuses God for our unfaithfulness. The world rejects God, because His light is dimmed or dirtied by our sinfulness.
Will you live out the mercy you were made for?