It has been said that few passages of scripture summarize Christian ethics more succinctly than today’s passage. It could also be said that few passages are more misunderstood. There are several recognizable phrases in this passage: “Turn the other cheek”; “Go the second mile”; “Love your enemies.” People who have never set foot inside a church are familiar with these sayings. But the question is: What do they mean and how do they apply to our lives today–almost 2000 years after they were spoken?
Jesus said, (v. 48) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect. This sounds impossible, but it’s not. Jesus would never command us to do something that we aren’t capable of doing. He didn’t command us to be all powerful, or to be all knowing — these things are beyond our grasp. The Greek word for perfect is teleios. It means to reach an intended end or completion. In other places in the Bible, it is translated mature. In other words, a person is teleios if he or she fulfills the purpose for which they were created.
In the context of this passage, Jesus is saying you can be perfect…you can fulfill your purpose in life…you can demonstrate your maturity, by loving your enemies. We are never more like God than when we love those who don’t love us. (Romans 5:8),(1 John 4:19)
Being perfect, in the context that Jesus mentions it here, isn’t attained through sinless perfection, because that isn’t possible. The kind of perfection Jesus is referring to here is being perfect in love–loving your enemies. Today we’re going to talk about how to do that–how to love your enemies. Here are four things you can do to show love to your enemies. First of all…
Jesus’ point is not that we should let people physically abuse us, his point is that we should refrain from trying to get even when someone insults us. For virtually all of us, the latter happens much more often than the former. With the exception of a couple playground disagreements in elementary school, I have never been hit on the face by another person. But I have been insulted more times than I care to remember. And more times than I care to admit, I have gone out of my way to return the insult.
Solomon said, A prudent man overlooks an insult. (Proverbs 12:16), (1 Peter 3:9) When you’re insulted, you can waste your energy thinking of ways to get even, or you can choose the alternative to revenge–you can be perfect instead. You can be like your heavenly father. You can love your enemies.
A man would pledge his tunic as a security on a debt, and then pay the debt when it came due, and the lien on his tunic would be released. But Jesus says, “If you mess up that process and someone has to sue to get what they have coming to them, then you go out of your way to make it right–do more than is required of you.” In order to do this, you have to be willing to admit that you are wrong, and you have to be willing to make restitution. (Luke 19:8)
In your situation, think of those who may have something against you. It may not be about money; it may be about something you said, or something you did. Maybe you took credit for something at work that you didn’t deserve to take credit for. Maybe you imposed on someone’s time and took advantage of their kindness. Maybe you spread gossip about someone and tried to ruin their reputation. If you have wronged anyone, Jesus is challenging you to make full restitution, and then some. Do more than is required of you.
Your boss may be a bully, and the company you work for may be oppressive and insensitive, and at times it may seem that they exist only to oppress you. When it happens, go the extra mile. Go out of your way to treat them with kindness. If they demand an extra hour, try giving them two.
But there’s a trick to it. In order to get the full effect, you need to do it magnanimously. You need to do it cheerfully, enthusiastically. When you treat a mistreater with kindness, it may not change them, but it will change you. It will make you perfect. It will make you like your heavenly father.
You may find, at times, that you have the opportunity to help someone who isn’t part of your clique. Help them anyway. You may have the chance to help someone who has been unfriendly to you in the past. Help them anyway. Don’t withhold your generosity from those who need it. Help them when you can.
Remember, Jesus isn’t commanding us to be irresponsible with our resources; he’s commanding us not to be stingy, not to hold back when it is within our power to help.
Jesus is telling us to be generous even to those who may not fully appreciate our generosity. In doing so, we become perfect; we become like our heavenly father.
(v. 43-44) “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 sons of your Father in heaven.”
We are never more like our father than when we love those who don’t love us…when we refuse to retaliate, even if the other person is wrong…when we seek to make restitution for our own wrongs…when we respond to mistreatment with kindness…when we extend our generosity to all who need it…that’s how we show his love. That’s how we become perfect, like our heavenly father is perfect.
It has been said that few passages of scripture summarize Christian ethics more succi