The Sermon on the Mount Part 9

by Mike Ratliff

18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18 NASB)

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22 For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21,22 NASB) 

I listened to part of a presentation today via podcast from AOMIN.ORG’s “The Dividing Line” broadcast from May 3, 2012 by a young man claiming to be a “Christian Gay.” The definition of terms this young man used for “love,” for instance, was not Biblical, but was based in the same self-focused, narcissistic bent that all have who have not first become regenerate, that is, saved by grace through faith according to the mercy of God, and then learned to deny self under the sanctifying hand of God. His version of love was self-centered and all about self-fulfillment. That is not Christian love nor is it how any who are truly in Christ will operate in this world on a consistent basis. How did our Lord define it? 

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and you shall hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for the ones persecuting you 45 so that you may become sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise upon evil and good and rains to come upon the just and unjust. 46 For if you love the ones loving you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only what extraordinary thing are you doing? Do not even the gentiles to the same? 48 Therefore, you will be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1) 

In our Lord’s statement in v43, the first half is found in Leviticus 19:18, which I placed at the top of this post. However, the second part, “and you shall hate your enemy” was found in how the scribes and Pharisees explained and applied the Old Testament command. Our Lord’s application, however, was exactly the opposite. What was the result? The truly Biblical standard is much higher. The standard of love that is required of God’s people, that includes all of us in Christ, is a love for one’s neighbor that should extend even to those who are enemies (v44). That’s a tough one. I have neighbors that I would really like it if they would move somewhere else. How about you? However, as you see from Proverbs 25:21,22 (above) this was not a new teaching by our Lord at all. Even in the Old Testament we see that God’s people were taught to do good to their enemies.

In v44,45 we are taught to love our enemies and pray for them even if they are persecuting us. Why? This is Christlike behavior plus God is extending his common grace as blessings to all indiscriminately. This is not the same thing as the everlasting love God has for the elect (Jeremiah 31:3), but it is a sincere good will and we should treat everyone the way our Lord would.

In vv47, 48 we have our Lord setting the bar impossibly high. Is this then an imperative that we are commanded to attempt even though our Lord knew it was impossible? The only one capable of this is our Lord himself. He kept the Law perfectly, which is Christ’s active obedience. This is part of what is imputed to Christians when they are justified. J. Gresham Machen said in a telegram to John Murray shortly before his death, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”  You can read about that and the doctrine of double imputation here.

You see, Christ fulfilled the law so the elect, who are incapable of doing so, do not have to. The atonement at the cross of Christ purchased a people unto eternal life. These elect before the foundation of the world are effectually called by God in his timing. They believe the gospel and are then saved by grace through faith. This belief is that turning to Christ as Lord and Saviour and is done according to God’s grace through faith as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9).

At each believer’s justification, Christ’s perfect righteousness and his active obedience are both imputed to them just as their unrighteousness was imputed to him on the cross. This is why believers, even though we are all mired in huge fiery trials of sanctification are seen by God the Father as perfect as our “heavenly Father is perfect.” We are seen by him as possessing the same perfect righteousness and perfect obedience to the law as Jesus Christ himself.

Soli Deo Gloria!