Session #042 Practice Makes Perfect
Scripture Matthew 5:43-48
Summary Matt 5:43-48 may begin with neighbours and enemies but ends with Father and sons. The subject is love, and the target is perfection. In the end, Henson shares practical tips on how believers can put into practice the seemingly impossible command of loving our enemies. The Father did it, and He expects His children to grow up into maturity that they too may be able to do the same.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour 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. 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 5:43-48
The issue of Love, agape or agapao in Greek, is an act of will for the benefit and good of another. Love fulfils the Law and the Spirit of the Law is always about love. The Law is given for Israel’s good, and God’s commandments are not burdensome once we understand that it is about His love. As this Love is worked out, Practised, the result is growth and maturity, perfection. Our relationships with one another are to model after our Father’s relationship with us.
Who is my neighbour? Who is my enemy?
You Have Heard: Neighbours and Enemies (Matthew 5:43)
“Love your neighbour” can be found in Leviticus 19:18 whilst ‘hate your enemy’ may be inferred from passages such as Deuteronomy 23:3-6, 25:17-19 and Psalm 139:2.
Who is My Neighbour? If I know who my neighbour is, then whoever does not fall within these parameters will automatically be my enemy. So groupings begin, Neighbour vs Others, Jews vs Gentiles, Shared Values/Position vs Differing Values/Position, Friend vs Enemy; and Love vs Hate.
Over time, these groupings can become nationalistic, exclusive, prideful, narrow-minded, inward, and even selfish. Extending to interpersonal and casual relationships, this resulted in infractions, party lines, religious positions, and cliques, developing a US vs THEM mentality. Society became fragmented, family relationships strained, marriages broken. Enemies are anyone who opposes or disagrees with me – a spouse, parents, schoolmate, colleague, boss, pastor, cell leader, church member, and the list goes on.
In Greek, plesion, from pelas meaning near, close by or proximity, is where a neighbour is derived from. Neighbour is made up of two parts nigh (near) and bor (dweller). Read the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) which sought to answer this question asked by the lawyer seeking to justify himself, “And who is my neighbour?” More critically, the parable illustrated the meaning of plesion. Jews and Samaritans, by definition, were enemies. They would have nothing to do with each other and stayed as far as possible. The Priest and Levite were both Jews, but chose to pass by “on the other side” – they moved further away. The Samaritan “went to him” – he moved nearer and closer to him. He loved the Jew by taking care of him, doing good. Not just someone in need. But someone who was an enemy. Not just helping someone, but loving and serving one who does not agree with you, or opposes you even.
Another illustration is farmers whose only neighbour may be miles away, they are not very close by, but still, they are neighbours. The key principle is if we allow another into our “space”, he becomes our neighbour; even an enemy. If we are willing to extend our “space”, everyone becomes our neighbour.
Instead, like the Pharisees, we tend to draw very clear boundaries, and Churches may tend to do so too. Are ministries the same too? If you do not serve with us, you are not one of us. If you do not agree with me, then you are against me.
Here is another point to ponder: if you are not my neighbour, then you are my enemy; however, if you are not my enemy, it does not mean I consider you my neighbour which results in apathy and self-centeredness.
But I Say To You: Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:44–45, Luke 6:27-36)
There is consistency in Matthew and Luke’s writings, where they teach us how to love one’s enemies. You are to bless those who curse you, do good (kalos) to those who hate you; and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute.
The other New Testament writers teach the same points in Romans 12:20–21, 1 Corinthians 4:12, and 1 Peter 3:8–9.
Sons are expected of those regarded as children of God, our Heavenly Father. As children of God, we are to be like our Father. Yet, not by our own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit who enables us to cry Abba Father, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for … because …
God’s Common Love and Grace (Matthew 5:46-47)
God loves all, God’s common love and grace are extended to all. His sun and His rain are given to all who are evil or good, just or unjust.
When He withholds, that is His prerogative and by His instruction. Often, we see that for the group of people, the “cup of sin” has reached its fullness, and that is when God acts in His judgment at the perfect time that only He knows.
Are we supposed to call rain and fire and brimstone on our enemies? Was Elijah directed by God to withhold rain? Or did he do it by himself? Are we correct to prophetically declare these things these days? As if God must adjust the weather for us, to suit our battle plans against enemies? In Luke 9:51-56, Jesus rebuked James and John, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”
God demonstrates His love to all, including His enemies (Romans 5:8, 5:10 and Colossians 1:21-23a). He invites all to be saved into His kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4). But not all will respond to this invitation and demonstration of His love. Jesus loved His enemies, both Jews and Gentiles, but was reviled, persecuted and crucified (1 Peter 2:21-24).
In the same way, we are to love our enemies. Bless them, do good to them, pray for them but not all will respond positively or kindly, though some might (Luke 6:35b).
Even the worst of the worst know how to love their own (Matthew 5:46). Tax collectors were the Jews’ enemies, traitors. These were considered heathens and pagans. The sad truth is that some non-Christians are even better than Christians.
If I only love my own, or those who agree with me, or those who treat me well, I am no different from the way the world operates. Luke 6:32-35 warns us that when we do good to those who do good to us, there is no credit given to us.
The Main Point And Goal Is Perfection
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
“Therefore” is a summary statement, wrapping up this segment of Jesus’ teaching. Stating that “You Shall Be Perfect”. Not Sinless but growing towards maturity, completeness and wholeness. This is expected of sons and daughters of God – not just teknon which means adopted child but huios, a child who’s been marked as someone’s son or daughter because of the similarity between the parents and the child, it is the similarity of facial features, character, and attitude (Ephesians 5:1-2). To love our enemies in the same way that God loves those who oppose Him, whether or not they finally accept or turn to Him.
Are we perfected in Christ? Or being perfected? We have been perfected in Christ but we are still being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Our salvation is being worked out toward perfection and maturity. This cannot be achieved by the flesh but in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption by whom we cry “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15-17). In the flesh, we will react according to the ways of the world and hate our enemies. But in the Spirit, we are enabled to walk “upside down” in the ways of the kingdom to love our enemies.
Embrace the possibility of suffering, trials and tribulation brought upon by the ones we try to love (James 1:2–4). The Holy Spirit will intercede for us in our weakness, assuring us that nothing separates us from the love of our Heavenly Father.
All these are so that we might be conformed to the image of His Son – fullness of maturity (Romans 8:28-29).
Practice Makes Perfect
If you want to mature in Christ, get ready for some kingdom assignments that train you towards perfection as these will reveal misalignment and help us rightly realign in the Spirit.
Be faithful and obedient in the small things. Start with little or petty disagreements, and these will be opportunities for us to bless others, to do good, and to pray for those who oppose us or give us trouble. It will be challenging when you begin as the initial reaction is to strike back or to suppress. But we are to surprise if not them, then ourselves.
Reconsider how you define neighbour and enemy: how big is your “space”? Technically, there is only One enemy, Satan (and his fallen angels). Fallen humanity is held captive by him to do his will. We are to be aware that we are not likewise deceived, but we are not to hate them. Instead, to bless and pray, hoping that some may respond and be saved.
In the Church, there may be disagreements, but they are not enemies. These are brothers and sisters in Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:14–15). Until and unless we are very clear that any is a false prophet or apostle or teacher, let us be careful with our words and labels.
How big is your space? How big is your heart? How big is your grace? How much grace have you received from the Heavenly Father that you can extend that same grace?
We need to start by the Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Ask God to bless them with good, health, wealth, abundance, promotion and prosperity. If needed and where possible, love them through a simple act. Pray for them, not imprecatory prayers but for their well-being, for their salvation, for them to know the Lord.
Over time, it becomes easier and more second nature. It is evidence of one being led more and more by the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that you never get upset ever again; or that you never fail in your attempts to love your enemies. The parallel passage in Luke phrases it differently: “Therefore, be merciful just as your Father in heaven is merciful.” Luke 6:36. As we grow towards perfection, we will make mistakes but our Father is merciful and gracious.
Love is the fulfilment of the Law. And in learning how to love more and more like Jesus, we grow up into perfection and maturity, “to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” as in Ephesians 4:13.
This refers to each of us; and it also refers to all of us, collectively as the kingdom community. Remember, Jesus was addressing His disciples, people of the kingdom. They were all ready to overthrow their enemies. And Jesus says, “No. This is not the way to advance My kingdom. Instead, love your enemies.”
Imagine how Church, family, society, and the world would be if followers of Christ, Christians, would live like this?
This may sound overly simplistic, especially if you have been badly disappointed or hurt by someone in the past. If that is the case, I pray that you will receive the forgiveness, healing and restoration that is found only in the work of the Cross. And having received it that you may learn how to extend the same to those who have hurt you.