Summary: 1) The Misinterpretation, 2) The Mandate , & 3) The Motive.
In His sixth, and last, illustration contrasting the false righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the true righteousness of God, Jesus contrasts their kind of love with God’s. Nowhere does humanistic, self-centered system of religion differ more from God’s divine standards than in the matter of love. Nowhere is God’s standard so corrupted as in the way the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees viewed themselves in relation to others. Nowhere was it more evident that they lacked the humility, mourning gerberaover their own sin, meekness, yearning for true righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking spirit that are to belong to God’s kingdom citizens.
How we regard those who are hostile to us is the ultimate test of our spiritual health. We can intellectually agree with the concept of love and even profess it, but when confronted with hostility, how do we react? Can we look back this month, or week and truly say that we have shown the love of Christ even to those who were most hostile to us?
We must take care that we neither profess false expectations that everyone will be our friends or that we will not experience hostility. Often when we do the right things we experience such conflict. Jesus certainly did. When we focus on what our actions and what our attitudes must be, and not making excuses based on what someone else has done, then we show ourselves to belong to God’s kingdom.
1) The Misinterpretation: Matthew 5:43
Matthew 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (ESV)
That phrase is the only part of the tradition that was adapted from the Old Testament.
Leviticus 19:18 requires that:
Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (ESV)
This command was often repeated in the New Testament (Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). Love for others, shown in sympathetic concern and actual care for them, had always been God’s standard for human relations.
As in all the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking here about personal standards of righteousness, not civil law. In the fullest sense an Israelite’s neighbor was anyone in need whom he might come across in his daily living. (See our Lord’s answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10:30–37.)
As in each of the five preceding illustrations, Jesus repeats the essence of the contemporary traditional teaching, in this case the teaching about love. Love, said the ancients, was to be reserved for those you get along with. Enemies were to be hated.
Satan’s perversions of God’s revelation almost always touch on the truth at some point. A little truth makes deception more believable and acceptable. The rabbis and scribes had kept a part of God’s truth about love. In spite of such clear revelation, rabbinic tradition had perverted Old Testament teaching both by what was omitted and by what was added.
A) PERVERSION BY OMISSION
Omitted in the tradition was the phrase “as yourself,” which was a key part of the Leviticus text but could not possibly fit into their scheme of proud self-righteousness. It simply was inconceivable that they should care for any other person as much as they cared for themselves.
Along with that significant omission, tradition had narrowed the meaning of neighbor to include only those people they preferred and approved of-which amounted basically to their own kind. Such obviously profane people as tax-gatherers and ordinary sinners were despised as outcasts and as not being worthy even to be considered Jews.
But even that restriction of neighbor was not narrow enough. The scribes and Pharisees also despised and looked down on the common people. They dismissed those who believed in Jesus by saying:
John 7:48-49 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed." (ESV)
• Ironically, the proud and arrogant religious leaders who knew, but perverted, the law disdained as “accursed” the common people who they felt did not know it.
• The common kind things we tell children to practice are often the simplest things that we ourselves must remember. If we think of those who we spend time with, is it those who we feel socially comfortable with, or do we reach out to the newcomer, the socially awkward or those who are just not like us?
o Our concept of neighbor must not be restricted to those who are geographically right beside us.