46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, NKJV)
The devil is delighted when Christians do not love one another. He also takes delight when Christians do not love their enemies. Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 5:44). God is “perfect” in verse 48 because He does precisely that – He loves His enemies. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The word “perfect” in today’s passage (verse 48) conveys completeness, being of full age or maturity. Our love is not complete if we do not love our enemies. We love our enemies by showing them active goodwill, even though they are actively showing ill will toward us (see Matthew 5:44). Loving only those who love us is the world’s model of love. Loving your enemies is what God does toward the whole world. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven model themselves after God’s love, not the world’s incomplete, immature love.
13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:13–14, NKJV)
The sacrificial quality of love is unsurpassed. It is this love that prompted the death of Jesus and provided the world our only means of redemption (Romans 5:8-10; 1 John 4:8-10). The question for us to ponder is whether we have the love it takes to be a friend of Jesus. We hear much about needing Jesus as our friend. True, and He has shown the measure of His loving friendship by His death. Now, do we show the measure of our friendship to Him? We are not His friends when we disobey Him. It is quite ironic that many who speak loud and long about being friends with Jesus refuse His clear commands. For example, many reject His command to believe and be baptized to be saved in Mark 16:16, and yet claim friendship with Him. How can that be? Indeed, they say any necessary obedience nullifies God’s grace. If true, then we cannot be a friend to Jesus without denying His word and His grace! Our plea is to return to the simple harmony of gospel of salvation by grace, through faith. Salvation is an unearned, yet conditional gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). God receives sinners when we fear God and work righteousness; the gift is thus received (Acts 10:34-35). Are you a friend to Jesus? That is answered “yes” when you obey Him in faith.
1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3, NKJV)
The next subject about which the Corinthians questioned the apostle was “things offered to idols” (that is, eating things that had been offered to idols, 1 Cor. 8:4, 10). Paul will explain that while we all know an idol is nothing and that there is but one true God, the consciences of some Christians were weak, informing them that the idol was still somehow consequential (1 Cor. 8:7). Rather than arrogantly dismissed them, their weak consciences were to be considered when deciding whether to use one’s personal liberty and eat things that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:7-13). You see, knowledge, standing alone, invites arrogance (v. 1). Knowledge tends to inflate one’s opinion of himself. Humility, not pride, must inform and animate our knowledge (v. 2). We have not yet acquired the knowledge we ought to have if we view ourselves sufficient and superior in knowledge to others. Our goal is to be known by God, not to flaunt and force what we know upon others (v. 3). These principles inform our use of personal liberties. Paul’s call to combine knowledge with humility is needed whenever we are tempted to elevate ourselves above others (Romans 13:8-10).
11 Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord; Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. 12 For innumerable evils have surrounded me; My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; They are more than the hairs of my head; Therefore my heart fails me. (Psalm 40:11–12, NKJV)
While pleading for God’s mercy to abide with him, David acknowledged God’s merciful protection comes from His steadfast love and truth. When evil surrounds us and our own sins overwhelm us, God’s mercy secures our souls. He supplies abundant mercy when sinful forces from without and within test our hearts and try our faith. God’s mercy flows from His eternal love. His every purpose and act is founded in His abiding love for us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-10). Simultaneously, it is His truth that safely protects us against evil and its forces. His word (which is truth, John 17:17) explains how mercy and truth meet to give us relief from our sins (Psalm 85:10). We do not mandate the mercy of God; His word of truth does that. It explains how and upon whom the Lord shows mercy (Romans 9:14-18). Truth teaches us that we cannot expect to receive God’s mercy if we are practicing sin. Sin brings wrath (Romans 1:18). Mercy comes when we repent and obey God’s truth (Ephesians 2:4-10; Hebrews 5:8-9; Titus 3:4-5). God’s mercy proceeds from love and is revealed by truth. All who put their trust in Him and do His will shall be preserved by His mercy (Psalm 40:1-8).
23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24, NKJV)
Jesus did not pronounce this stinging condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees because they were careful to tithe herbs (this was commanded in God’s law to Israel, Leviticus 27:30). He pronounced woe upon them for abandoning the principles and motives that characterize acceptable obedience to God. They strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel with their minute correctness while failing to obey God out of justice, mercy and faith. They “passed by justice and the love of God” in their zeal to keep the law (Luke 11:42). Unfortunately, this passage is frequently used as an “either, or” proposition to justify disobedience in the name of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God. Jesus did not say that. He taught that careful obedience is useless unless it genuinely expresses faith, mercy and justice. Obeying God does not contradict justice, mercy, and faith. While being faithful to obey God, be just and merciful to others. Do not “pass by the love of God” lest you fall into condemnation (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8, NKJV)
Without strength. Ungodly. Sinners. Such was our spiritual condition when Christ died for us. We are impotent to save ourselves from our sins. Ungodliness is powerless to cleanse the ungodly. Sinners are incapable of freeing themselves from the bondage of sin. We were neither righteous nor good when Christ died for us. That Christ died for us cannot be attributed to our own righteousness or goodness. It can only be ascribed to the great and matchless love of God. The defining trait of God’s love is that He sent His Son to die for us when we were His unloving, unlovable enemies (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). The depth of God’s love for us compels us to love one another, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Love is not merely stated, it is demonstrated. God has shown us true love. Now, let us go and love as He has loved us.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37, NKJV)
Jesus demands our first allegiance. The closest relationships we have are not to be given greater importance and priority than our faithfulness to Jesus Christ. In this matter, Jesus does not ask of us what He did not also do. Jesus did the Father’s will, even when His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Jesus gave preference to those who follow the will of God instead of His own mother and brothers by saying, “whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50). We cannot choose family over God’s truth, because truth sanctifies us, not family (John 17:17). Jesus was very clear about what discipleship requires. It requires loving Him more than we love our parents, our children, our siblings and everyone else. Otherwise, we are not worthy of Him and cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:26). The general religious community does not know this Jesus. The world certainly does not know this Jesus. Not a few Christians have trouble knowing this Jesus, too. But this is the true Jesus! Family does not define faithfulness and fellowship with God in the Lord’s church – the word of Christ does (1 John 1:5-7; 2 John 9-11). When you choose to follow Jesus, you are choosing to love Him more than your earthly family.