[This sermon is one of a series entitled "Sermon on the Mount, Concentrating on the Beatitudes," which is being preached on Sunday mornings by Pastor Tim Senter.]
Much of what we are about to discuss actually stems from our discussion last week where we discovered loving our neighbors takes on a completely different connotation than just looking at the person next door and giving all our possessions to them. We found that there are certain aspects of love we are to have strictly for believers. In loving our neighbor – which is loving believers in Christ – we are to give our all in love. There is nothing we should deny a believer in need. However, this “neighbor” is not what the unbeliever sees as their definition of the word. They see a neighbor as one living next-door, one living in the same community, or even a neighboring town.
Studying this passage, we found that we are to love even those unsaved people selflessly, though differently. We are to give our all for them, but we curtail this to a specific ministry of the gospel. Our first priority is to give those who are lost the gospel of Christ and to give our all in love to do so. The unbeliever will not and cannot understand your difference in love for them. That is because they are not a neighbor; they are an enemy. Next we work to constrain our enemies and know where they are to track them, and to show them what a life of freedom in Christ is really like. Then, we pray our testimony engenders a desire for the lost to want freedom from sin and Satan. That is the operation of loving our enemies. We used as our example the loving care an officer must have when they apprehend and incarcerate a suspect. The conviction and incarceration that limits freedom is supposed to engender a desire for freedom such that the perpetrator will submit to the laws of the land.
Finally, we discovered a reason for this love. The reason is in the Beatitudes where Christians are described through the life example of Christ on earth. The reason is because the Christian is a changed person in Christ Jesus. The reason is God’s love for us and our Heavenly home provided out of this love. The reason is also that there are other believers in this world and they need to be brought into our fellowship to join in fellowship with God.
Today, in Matthew 5:46-48, we look at love from a different direction. We have mentioned the world’s love a number of times; but to look at this biblically, we need to identify the unlovable – those we should have a hard time loving, and those we actually do have a hard time loving. What does the scripture say then? Read Matthew 5:46-48.
Here we sit now at a crossroads in many ways. We have on one hand our Savior provided for us as a perfect sacrifice on the cross at Calvary so we can have redemption in Him and be a resident in the holy place of God. Simultaneously, He tells us repeatedly that we are not worthy of that residence. Many people think that this paradox is the problem with Christianity. In fact they would say, “We are brow beaten by the Savior on how imperfect spiritually, how incompetent morally, and how incapable physically we mere humans are to secure salvation, or even to live a godly life.” The truth is, this paradox does exist, but not in so horrid a fashion as described by the world. Lloyd Jones identifies this paradox with this statement:
“Have we not felt that as we have been working our way through this Sermon? Is there anything known to us that is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Take this passage from verse 17 to the end of this fifth chapter – these detailed illustrations given by our Lord as to how we are to live. Is there anything more discouraging? We feel that the Ten Commandments, the ordinary moral standards of decency, are difficult enough; but look at these statements about not even looking with lust, about going the second mile, and throwing in the cloak together with the coat…”
The question is, can you actually do this? Can we as sinful souls accomplish these things in life and operate in a fashion that our Lord demands of us? Is it possible for the natural man to accomplish these great feats of self-sacrifice and the perfection in Heavenly ethics that our Savior espouses? We see these things and think, we must be able to because our Lord tells us to. We think, therefore, that we can. Isn’t that implied in the expression that we must? In other words, is this supreme level of life activity levied upon us because we actually can achieve it? Should we have the expectation that we can attain the perfection of Christ? We could say Jesus would not speak it unless we could actually do it. He is man, yes; but He is also God and knew Heaven intimately in a fashion about which we can only dream. This then is encouragement – that we can attain this level of perfection. And then back to discouragement – we will never be able to achieve the perfection of Jesus. Actually, some folks have attempted to say, we must bring these teachings down to more commonsensical understandings because no man can achieve them otherwise. From that comes the thought that this is all we have to do then. We become keepers of the so-called golden rules. Unfortunately that becomes a, “Well, at least I didn’t do that” tit for tat comparison. This is where the Pharisees and scribes failed.
Actually, this is the point. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are asked to be as perfect as God is perfect. As we study scripture – and, in our Sunday school, the topic of angelic beings – we find a need for dependence upon God in all aspects of life and living. When we read for instance James 2:19, we find that belief takes on this dependence – to turn away from self-reliance and depend upon God. I believe angels have to rely upon God to stay in Heaven just as much as we are to rely upon God to get us to Heaven. They have to believe (agree, affirm, and depend) on Jesus Christ as God, and for eternity, just as we do.
Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount is not some instruction of godly ethics that mere man can achieve. Making something so deep and life impacting out to be just a worldly guideline is akin to saying God cannot make the heavens and the earth in a day because man cannot figure out how He did it. The point is that man cannot figure it out because we are mere men, not God. Making the Sermon on the Mount so worldly abases it to the level the created and removes the Creator. This is the natural tendency of man because he is unable to meet the heavenly standard and knows it instinctively. The Sermon on the Mount is a book of living eternal life in our Lord. The reason it must stay at a level that is unreachable is the reason we have the Savior. Simply put, we have the Savior because we cannot attain God’s requirement for perfection. We are unable to give up on self and give in to God. We cannot love as God loves all. God loves everyone, even the most wretched, enough to give His Son’s life as an atonement for sin.
Where we as Christians get into trouble is when we portray ourselves as Christians for morality’s sake. That is not a Christian. Man himself can be moral and can compare himself to any other man and be better than another. The difference between a Christian and a moral man is that one will be in glory while the other will suffer eternal torment. Morality will achieve nothing in eternity except death.
Here in this passage we find this duality – the expectation of perfection and the impossibility to achieve it. We are encouraged to achieve this perfection, and discouraged to know we cannot do so. Here we sit with the duality in our face concerning our inability to be godly with out God; yet God is calling us to His perfection anyway. We can get discouraged, unless we look at some real facts dealing with what man has endeavored to do to inspire perfection, to require it, or to demand it. “We think that man has a point concerning societal and situational ethics, but which society and which ethics?” However, the fact is that “Man’s morals are morally corrupt, evil, and ungodly.”
Let us then look at our scriptures from the worldly perspective first. We will consider these scriptures from the standpoint of what we see in people who are wholly unworthy of love because of their anti-social behaviors. People are unworthy because they are unable to function. People are unworthy because they are unprofitable. We will look at the world’s assessment of worth, and worthiness in view of our scriptures.
I. Reciprocal love (Verse 46)
The challenge to the heart of man is presented in this verse and the next. The challenge is, if you love those who love you, that is not so difficult. Did you know that there is an “Ethic of reciprocity” that is based on the worldly distortion of these scriptures? It is also known as “The Golden Rule.” Wikipedia has the definition as:
“…an ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. Reciprocity is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, though it has its critics.”
This philosophy has two sides. One says we treat others in a positive manner to encourage positive treatment toward ourselves. Only the fool actually believes this to truly happen with secular societies. No person or people are under constraint to comply. The other side to the philosophy is that we have license to treat others the same way they treat us. This reciprocal love gives license, then, for others to treat you in the same fashion that you treat them. Is this the attitude we should have in our dealings – that as long as they do it to us, we could do it to them? We can say it another way – we do not have to truly love them if they do not truly love us. In addition – our definition of love is individualized. We treat others well if they treat us well. We also have permission to treat them badly if they treat us badly. By others treating us badly then we have additional freedom – we can be vengeful if we desire.
An old saying is, “One ‘aw shucks’ wipes out a whole bunch of ‘atta-boys’.” This says one mess-up, one misstep, one little mistake, eliminates much good work. Those who operate under the world’s definition of the “golden rule” can feel the pain of this situation. This is what man’s ethics teach in translating the word of God into some laws for the simpleton to follow. One has to wonder if this is the type of one-sided philosophy that led Enron, AIG, or other companies into catastrophic failure because of unethical and irresponsible business practices. Many politicians operate in a fashion where if they have been wronged once, they have had the door opened for their selective support or outright hostility and vehement decrying and degrading public attacks. I know that many people in government believe that all successful business people were successful only because they cheated, swindled, deceived, or somehow stole their success. Believers are to love these people.
In business, and especially in some foreign countries, it is expected that there will be a certain amount of espionage. Businesses will steal from other businesses; therefore some nations do not discourage this theft. There are, in fact, nation states that permit and participate in business espionage to help their industry produce. While working in computer security, when traveling to certain countries we made doubly sure our client’s computer laptops were encrypted to prevent exploitation. We do not do this in the United States: however, we should, as the countries treat us the way they expect to be treated. Believers are to love these people.
Does man’s idea of reciprocal ethics describe what God is teaching us here? The question for the believer is, is this the type of love being discussed here? The answer is plainly no. The believer operates on a different plain and is expected to be peculiar in his life. This does not mean being a pushover, or easy mark, or altogether foolishly gullible. It means that the Christian operates under a different set of guidelines and with a different set of principles – principles truly taught in this section of scripture. The Christian operates as Christ operated and as a kingdom dwelling believer living here upon this sin filled earth. The Christian does not expect love in return for love. In fact, they know that frequently they will receive just the opposite.
Understand that scriptural principles cannot be simplified to a man-generated and contemplated colloquialism. The principles in scripture are based in and taught throughout scripture. They are also very unforgiving and intolerant. God expects perfection, and He has every right to.
You ask, what is this salute thing all about? How then do we view this idea in verse 47? Is this a simple greeting?
II. Deceptive greetings (Verse 47)
In our government, politicians refer to one another as a friend only in word by saying, “My good friend from Wisconsin… (or North Carolina, Maryland, or California).” They normally mean nothing of the sort. We see people frequently shake hands in public and we shake hands with total strangers as we greet them. People in business are trained to be congenial to even the most belligerent of customers. If you go into a store, the individual behind the counter will treat you the same way when you buy a pack of gum, as they do the individual purchasing a fifth of whisky. To the world, there is nothing in verbal communication anymore; it carries no weight. The days of, “a man of his word,” are lost.
So, if the world greets one another with pleasantries and platitudes, then when we greet one another, should this take the same form? After all, it is nice, it is hospitable, and it is congenial. If we greet one another with a smile and a handshake, isn’t that good enough? Should we not extend our hand to a brother in Christ too? Yes, but there is more here than just a pleasant greeting for one another.
The world also does other things to greet one another. Their greetings normally contain a subliminal communication which says, “I have to, therefore I will be nice to you.” In the first example I gave of the House of Representatives or the Senate, it is a rule of gentility that these men greet one another in this fashion. Some of these men despise one another, but they still call their opponent “my friend the gentlemen (or gentle lady) from Texas (or whatever state).” There is nothing in their previous or following rhetoric or demeanor, that actually portrays friendship to their opponent. In fact most politicians will do whatever possible to destroy the opposition, and at any cost. They will, and often do lie, cheat, and steal to eliminate the competition from their dear “friend.”
We know these attempts at cordiality are completely superficial. If we do unto others as we would have done unto us, we are simply saying we can be superficial, or even sincere; but it is all focused upon ourselves and our desires. Superficiality feeds and satisfies one of man’s greatest sins – pride. We can put upon ourselves this face of deceit and not be lying outright. However, inwardly we are focused wholly upon our own person – and comparing ourselves to the individual we are extending these cordialities to. Christians are supposed to be different. Believers are to love these people.
People naturally grade themselves against one another, and I can guarantee your grade is always lower than the grader’s. Many of those who study behavior know that they have to look for the external signs of stress associated with dishonesty because everyone is dishonest. The superficial and deceptive externalism of man is quite amazing. With the Lord, you really got what you saw. He was specific when He called out the scribes and Pharisees as vipers. The reason was that they were superficial and deceptive. They claimed “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” so that they could feed the frustration in their hearts at Israel’s captivity. I have made the point before that the leadership was trying to work out Israel’s release from Roman rule by engineering purity and faith. They failed on both parts as those ordained to inspire (the scribes and Pharisees) were arrogant and unloving toward their charges. Further, they attempted to work out their purity instead of resting in God and seeking only Him for life and liberty. The first century Hebrew completely ignored the lessons of David, Nehemiah, and Daniel: praise God, worship Him as God whether in captivity or not, and regardless of even the threat of life. Instead of looking at their scriptures, as is so often the case today, we look at examples of others outside the scriptures, or we look at what we think we need to do in our own strength and distort the scriptures. In pop church circles today that is exactly what is happening.
Many have a nice existentialistic religion based upon morals. They look at themselves as, ”I’m good,” “I know right from wrong,” and ”I mostly do right therefore how can I go wrong.” This morality displays only works and will not get you into Heaven. Scripture teaches specifically that works are only for you to brag about, whereas true faith and salvation bears works for God not of your own accord or heart (Eph 2:8-9). Man’s moral character says:
- I extend my hand to everyone, whether I like it or not.
- I call everyone my friend whether or not they are actually my friends.
- I am kind to everyone, even if it is not my desire.
- I spend time being nice to everyone that comes across my path, even if I am busy and do not have the time.
- I help everyone as much as I can, even when I do not have the resources to do so.
- I provide my resources to anyone that I can, even when I know they have not completely appreciated me.
This is the kind of dualistic, self-centered, and braggadocious attitude that the scribes and Pharisees had for the “common folk” of Israel. They were there to encourage purity, to show the love of God to the people, and to teach the truths of heart felt change and a circumcision of the heart required by God for their freedom (Lev 26:41). Instead, like Pharisees and scribes, many today in ministry – and even many who might be called real Christians – would scoff at the decrepit. They would turn their noses up at taking a ministry that does not provide a minimum of $45,000 in annual income. They would look at little churches such as those in the west here as a place just biding its time until death. What happened to seeking God’s guidance in things instead of our own distorted wisdom of things? What happened to stepping out on faith as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, or Joseph, Paul, and Peter did. For some reason I do not see Paul making such a demand on the first century church. In fact, if my memory serves, he refused compensation and made tents to support himself. In the Christendom of our Lord, you do not demand of the church, you serve the church and it demands your gifts given by God for its furtherance.
Man’s idea of service, of greeting, of platitudes, of morals, or of any other visible placation for society is not God’s idea. God’s idea is shown to us by many documented throughout scripture that gave of themselves selflessly for the cause of Christ.
Are you smiling because it is nice to do so? Are you shaking hands with others because you are expected to? Are you tolerant of the lowly because you know you are supposed to be? Do you call people “friends” when you really want to distance yourself from them or defeat them in the most vicious way possible? Then you are not a Christian, you do not know what Christianity is, and you are simply a worldly unbeliever destined for eternal damnation. Being a Christian is in the heart and soul first, and in the active body second.
We have looked at those in the world, skewing love and even a simple greeting or verbal assent – being friendly. Now what does man hold out as the perfection of this effort? What is the perfectly moral person as far as man is concerned?
III. Man’s perfection (Verse 48)
If we look up “morality” or “ethics” in dictionaries and other reference materials what we find is a code of conduct or even in some cases a belief system that deals with how one is to operate in society, in their personal philosophy, or within their chosen religion. This actually plays upon the conscience of man to produce and do those things which are morally acceptable. The problem is defining this acceptability.
Generally, when we talk about moral people, we talk about an ideal code or conduct that one believes in and would teach others. This general morality then produces a base understanding of sanity. If an individual operates too far outside these norms, they are considered insane. We see this with sociopathic (truly evil or demon possessed) criminals who are pleased when they terrorize others, dominate through violence, or murder for pleasure. Moral people are not supposed to enjoy these despicable activities. Normal moral people would not do these things; normal ethical people would not do these things.
Unfortunately, these things are all very relative. If we look at civilization in our country, many things here considered normal are abhorrent to other civilizations. If we look at other civilizations, many things considered normal to them are abhorrent to us. Take the Waodani people in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. They began as a group of tribes, but as their individual desires built and tribal conflict arose, they separated and fought viciously. It became normal for them to destroy anyone who came into their territory that might pollute their environment. This became a way of survival. Tribes warred and suffered much inter-clan murdering. Life to them was not important outside their tribe. They became so intolerant of others that they were known as the most violent of cultures ever documented. Their way and culture would not be “moral” to our culture, but they were a man made culture born on values, morals, and ethics developed by their leadership here on earth. This tribe murdered Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian. They greeted them originally with a welcome, but perfectly adhering to their code required the lives of these missionaries. Believers are to love these people.
Consider the ethics and morals of the tribes on the island of Erromango. They regularly ate their dead, killed crews and passengers of passing ships for food, and ate the bodies of their vanquished victims on the battlefield. This was normal, ethical, and moral to this tribe led by men, and organized by men. The people of this island killed and ate John Williams and another missionary, James Harris, in November 1839. Williams, a missionary with the London Missionary Society was one of the most successful missionaries in the Tahiti Islands area. They greeted them nicely; but as soon as they were in the jungle out of sight of the ship, the natives destroyed their lives – perfectly deceptive. Believers are to love these people.
What about Jim Jones and his people’s temple idea of the perfect society? He enjoyed all he wanted morally with everyone subservient to him physically and mentally. His idea of perfection was to demand mass suicide by his 900 followers, and the murder of nine others at the airport to delay or even quite any dissent. Believers are to love these people.
So – what are man’s morals? They are subjective, dependent upon the environment, and culture into which you are born, and the ideas of the leadership that is accepted or imposed. In many foreign cultures in the tropical west, people are scantily clad and wear other garments that display their anatomy. Once again, morals and ethics mean an over exaggeration of certain things in order to draw attention to ones self.
The point to all this is that man develops morals based on his dead soul which is inherently wicked and desires only the things of Satan. Ethics born from those morals then are oriented toward the desires of man’s reprobate heart. Man always seeks to serve himself first in survival at any price for others, and then in grandiose fashion in an effort to bring attention to himself and his own sense of self-importance and ego. Man’s morals will always be man’s morals and feed man’s ethics. Man’s ethics are always self-serving.
Perfect morals and ethics are, therefore, relative to the situation, environment, and culture for man. Perfect morals for America are not perfect for France, even though they are two “civilized” nations. America’s ethics are not France’s ethics either, even though they are two “moral” nations. Morals and ethics are relative to the unregenerate man, and unregenerate man can exist in any culture that they are brought up in on this earth. This is where we get “situational ethics” and “relativism.” Truly, the philosophy of situational ethics is rightly blamed on Christians – an Episcopal priest invented it in the 1960’s. It focused upon “love” as the central theme of the scriptures to the point of error. This unbiblical and uneducated philosophy taught that love was the ultimate law and morals therefore must be compromised in the name of love. It was an answer to the ‘legalistic’ religious philosophies of the day and it touted itself as the true representation of ‘agape’ love which Jesus taught in Matthew 5:43 (sermon on this text here). What a travesty to distort the scriptures so. Relativism is the secular answer to situational ethics. Relativism essentially teaches that some issues with experience and culture are relative to or dependent upon other elements. This comes from ”beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or ”what’s good for you may not be what is good for me.”
What does the scripture say though? What morals and ethics do we operate under as Christians? Believers are to love these people.
Christian, look to the only perfectly moral and ethical individual that ever walked the face of the earth – Christ Jesus our Lord. He is God. He is perfect. He wants us to be perfect as He is perfect. The perfection of God displays the complete dearth of man. It is based not in self-indulgence, self-reliance, or self-promotion, but in faith in that which we are incapable of comprehending – an all-powerful God of pure love that gave His Son for us. If any of the cannibalistic tribes, or Waodani tribes had followed their original beliefs from the tower of Babel, they would not be seeking survival of the fittest, but they would be fit for survival in Heaven. Then they would have welcomed Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian. If the tribes on Erromango humbled themselves after being scattered from the Tower of Babel, they would have welcomed John Williams and James Harris. However, man’s morals are morally evil and imperfect.
Do you seek life in Heaven, or life on earth? Are you seeking the love, friendship, and perfection of God, or do you still look to the world for your instruction and sustenance? Only one choice is acceptable – and it is not the world.
Moreover folks, you have to love these people. Christian, you have to love every one of those individuals who perpetrated these evils no matter how despicable they may be. Can you? Can you love perfectly? Can you always greet someone authentically and perfectly? Can you always be perfect? With the groundwork laid for the view of man in these areas, we will endeavor to see what God says love is, how God says we should endeavor to greet one another, and God’s idea of perfection.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, One-volume edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 275