“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NKJV).
Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, which included preaching the gospel of the kingdom (of which His sermon on the mount is typical, Matt. 5:17-19; 4:23; 5:1). In Matthew 5:20-48, He contrasted the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus did far more than just teaching Jews how to be faithful Jews. He taught Jews (and subsequently, Gentiles, Matt. 28:18-20) how to be “perfect” (complete) as citizens of the kingdom, His church. Today’s verse speaks explicitly to the nature of our love toward others, whether friend and foe (Matt. 5:43-47). In the Scriptures, the word “perfect” (teleios) means “complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.)” (G5046). The Father is complete in every respect, including His love (Matt. 5:45). He is the ultimate example for His children’s character and conduct. Would you please notice we must choose to “be perfect” like the Father? Jesus calls us to willingly choose to be like the Father in word and deed toward (1) Our brother (Matt. 5:21-26), (2) Lust (Matt. 5:27-30), (3) One’s spouse (Matt. 5:31-32), (4) Our integrity (Matt. 5:33-37), (5) Retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42), and (6) Our love of others (Matt. 5:43-47). May we devote ourselves daily to this worthy endeavor.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 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 (Matthew 5:43–44, NKJV).”
The Law of Moses did not say, “Hate your enemy.” The scribes and Pharisees omitted “as yourself” when teaching its command to “love your neighbor.” (They also had trouble identifying their neighbor, Luke 10:29-37). Jesus had already warned against hate and its judgment in this sermon (Matt. 5:21-26). Now, He corrects the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” by teaching the very essence of love. Love shows goodwill toward its enemies as well as toward those with whom it agrees (Matt. 5:46-47). This comprehensive and selfless trait of love is the embodiment of God’s love for all humanity (Matt. 5:45). We cannot claim to be a child of God and hate our enemy. Love is “unconquerable benevolence, undefeatable goodwill” (Wm. Barclay). We must not allow the world to define love for us. God is love, and in love, He gave His Son for us when we were His enemies in our sin (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8, 10). Love does not overlook sin, truth, and justice. At the same time, love refuses to be driven by hateful motives and vengeful conduct toward its abusers (Matt. 5:38-42). The perfecting of our character “as your Father in heaven is perfect” includes loving everyone like God (Matt. 5:48; 1 John 4:20).
1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1–2, NKJV).
Wicked kings had ruled the northern kingdom of Israel since its inception at the revolt against king Rehoboam (1 Kings 12). God used the kingdom of Assyria as the rod of His anger to punish Israel and her wicked rulers (Isa. 10:5-11). A remnant of Israel returned to the land from captivity, foreshadowing a second and more incredible remnant, gathered by the gospel (“a remnant according to the election of grace,” Isa. 10:20-22; 11:10-16; Rom. 11:5). Isaiah predicted and described God’s righteous king who rules over God’s kingdom (“My holy mountain,” Isa. 11:9) in today’s passage. Springing forth from the roots of Jesse, this Rod and Branch would reign and execute righteous judgment on the evil and the good (Isa. 11:3-5; Jer. 23:5; Heb. 1:8-9). He is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the son of David, the Son of God (Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:30-35; Rom. 1:3-4). God’s Spirit would abide with Him, signifying heaven’s fellowship and approval (Matt. 3:16-17). His character would be stellar, marked by divine wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord (v. 2). As God’s Servant, the Messiah brought “justice to the nations” as He preached the gospel of the kingdom, proclaiming freedom from sin’s bondage and God’s vengeance against evil (Isa. 42:1-4; 61:1-3; Luke 4:16-21). God’s king, Jesus Christ, has come, received His kingdom, and reigns at God’s right hand (Psa. 110:1-2; Dan. 7:13-14; Acts 2:32-36; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 1:3, 13). All hail the King (Matt. 21:4-11).
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:17–18, NKJV).
It is comforting to know the Lord hears the cries of the righteous in their time of trouble. Through the psalmist David, the Holy Spirit explains who the righteous are that God hears and saves. It is “those who have a broken heart…such as have a contrite spirit.” God’s deliverance from sin’s crushing weight is available to all of us (1 Tim. 2:4; Rom. 1:16). But God’s salvation from sin’s trouble is received by the person who approaches Him with a heart burst into pieces because of sin. Crushed and crumbling in spirit, this is the picture of godly sorrow that produces “repentance leading to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). The broken heart, the contrite spirit, no longer sees sin as desirable, alluring, exciting, and fulfilling. Convicted by its shameful disgrace against the Almighty, sin’s abhorrence and destruction are acknowledged (Ps. 51:3). We must come to ourselves like the prodigal son and realize the end of our sin is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Today is the moment not to harden our hearts toward God and our sins against Him (Heb. 3:7-13). The Lord is near, wanting, willing, and waiting to save souls troubled by sin. Come to God with convicted hearts of faith, crushed in humble sorrow by sin, and obey Him. God will hear and save you (Acts 2:37-41).
3 The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. 4 Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!” 5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is merciful. 6 The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me. 7 Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:3–7, NKJV).
Hebrew tradition ascribes Psalm 116 to Hezekiah upon his deliverance from death by Yahweh (Isa. 38). Others view it as a psalm of thanksgiving on the occasion of some other imminent peril (Spence, Pulpit Commentary, Psalms III, 70). Three attributes are ascribed to the Lord in thankful praise of His salvation from the “trouble and sorrow” of death and despair (v. 3). (1) God is gracious (v. 5). His “throne of grace” is ever accessible to our pleas for help in times of need (Heb. 4:15-16). (2) God is righteous (v. 5). He has promised to hear and answer our prayers (1 John 3:22; 5:14-15). He is upright to keep His word. (3) God is merciful (v. 5). His compassion compels Him to protect and secure us in our time of danger and doubt (Matt. 11:28-30; Heb. 13:5-6). Christians learn to cast our anxious cares upon the Lord because we know He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:6-7). God still hears us and delivers our souls from the sorrow, despair, and terror of sin and death. Our souls rest in God’s character. He will deliver us from every evil work (Phil. 4:6-7; 2 Tim. 4:17-18). “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). Let us rest in God and praise Him, for He has dealt bountifully with us in Christ Jesus (Ps. 116:7).
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all” (John 18:38, NKJV).
The life and words of Jesus bore witness to the truth. He came into the world to be a king and everyone who is “of the truth” hears His voice (John 18:37). Truth did not matter to Pilate. He did not hold truth in high esteem. To Pilate, like so many others, truth was pliable, relative, able to be shaped by the moment’s expediencies (Matt. 27:15-26). While cynicism drips from his question, “What is truth?” deserves a credible answer. Scripture gives us the answer. (1) God’s word is truth (John 17:17; 8:31-32). Truth comes from God (John 8:40). (2) Truth is knowable. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). (3) Truth is impartial. It is consistent and does not show favoritism (Rom. 2:1-2; Acts 10:34). (4) Truth is righteous. The word of truth, the inspired Scriptures, equips us for righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). (5) Truth is incorruptible (1 Pet. 1:23). Truth is not relative, a shape-shifting entity without constancy and continuity. We do not shape truth into what we wish it to be. We obey truth to be purified in heart and life (1 Pet. 1:22). (6) Truth is eternal (1 Pet. 1:23-25). Truth “lives and abides forever.” Untarnished by the passing of time, truth inhabits eternity. It is no wonder, then, that we ought to acquire truth and never let it go, “Buy the truth, and do not sell it. Also wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Prov. 23:23).
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, NKJV)
Faith is the victory that defeats the world of evil. A good brother reminded me that the righteous die victoriously (Sword Tips #2226), as assured in Revelation 2-3. Let us briefly note those assurances to “him who overcomes.” 1) Access to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7). Eternal life, forever sustained by God’s provisions. 2) Protection from the second death (Rev. 2:11). The faithful have no part in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8). 3) Identification as God’s chosen (Rev. 2:17). This one is known and kept by God forever (Rev. 14:1; 22:4). 4) Share in the glory of Messiah’s victory over every evil enemy (Rev. 2:26-28). The faithful one will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). 5) Confessed before the Father (Rev. 3:5). The pure life that unashamedly lived for Christ is written forever in the Book of Life (Mk. 8:38; Rev. 20:12). 6) Secure citizenship with God in His eternal kingdom (Rev. 3:12). Forever dwelling with God, serving Him in full fellowship is the reward of those who hold fast (Rev. 3:11; 21:2, 22). 7) Reign with Christ over sin and death (Rev. 3:21). To forever share in His great victory over every enemy of God will be the indescribable reward of the righteous (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 22:5). These are our hopes and expectations in Christ. He will keep His word to us. Let us keep our word to Him and be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).
Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his! (Numbers 23:10, NKJV)
When all is said and done, and they lay our cold, dead body in the grave, will it be said that we died the death of the righteous? Death comes “to the righteous and the wicked,” it is true, but their deaths are different in eternally significant ways. 1) The righteous die in faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). Only when we walk by faith will we die in faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Being faithful to the Lord in life affects how we die (Lk. 12:19-21; 16:19-25). 2) The righteous leave a legacy of good deeds. A display of her charitable kindness attended Dorcas’s death (Acts 9:36-39). “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (1 Tim. 5:24-25). 3) The righteous die after a life of spiritual service despite adversity. “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Rev. 14:13). Come what may in life, our paramount goal is to die in the Lord. 4) The righteous die with God’s blessing. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psa. 116:15). Death is an appointment we will all keep (Heb. 9:27). We choose whether ours will be the death of the righteous by the choices we make in life.
9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9–11, NKJV)
The souls of martyred saints cried out to the Lord for righteous judgment against those who drew their blood and took their lives because of their faith. His promise to execute His vengeance against evil would prevail (cf. Rom. 12:17-19). But other Christians would face distress and death before God judged and removed the persecutors. With elaborate imagery, The Revelation tells of Rome’s defeat and the victory of the faithful (cf. Rev. 17:14). We must patiently endure and remain faithful to Christ when we face pressure and persecutions “for the word of God and for the testimony” we hold (Heb. 10:32-39). God will reward our patience (1 Pet. 4:12-13; Rev. 14:12-13). The Lord will defeat evil, just as He did in the days of Rome (which was “Babylon, the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth,” Rev. 14:6-11; 17:5-6, 14, 18; 19:1-6, 11-21). When our faith is tested, let us be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3, NKJV)
The foundations of our society are cracked. Decades of denying the existence of God and His truth, of sanctioning the killing innocent, unborn life, of oppression of our neighbors to get ahead, and of rejecting the fundamental truths of morality and marriage – all these and more can tempt us to despair of hope and remedy. Through David, God gives us answers that look above the moment and beyond the horizon of hurt and horror. When the foundations are destroyed, the righteous can 1) Keep their trust in the Lord God (Psa. 11:1-2). Corrective truth comes from God, not humans (Jer. 10:23). He protects us from an eternal perspective that we must foster that grounds us in times of trouble. 2) Remember God has not moved (Psa. 11:4). He remains enthroned in heaven; His sovereignty secures our faith and assures us His purposes prevail. 3) Know God sees and investigates every person and judges between the good and the evil (Psa. 11:4-6). The wicked do not escape His gaze and cannot hide from His justice (Rev. 6:12-17). 4) Know God is righteous, and He loves righteousness (Psa. 11:7). He beholds and rewards those who seek peace and pursue righteousness (Matt. 6:33). The righteous remain steadfast when foundations are shaken because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. God is a consuming fire upon evil and the sustaining hope of all who serve Him “acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:27-29). These are the things the righteous can do.