Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others?] do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.Matt. 5:43-48
As a recommended approach to studying this passage of scripture on being children of the Father, it is best to view it in its full context first and then study each verse individually for better meaning. Readers may have noticed already that this teaching from Jesus continues along Old Testament commandments as seen from recent studies such as thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery and an eye for an eye. As with those passages from scripture, this one also brings with it more of a contemplative perspective for seekers of faith.
In this Bible study, readers will learn about who their neighbor really is in contrast to their enemies. They will also learn what it means to be called a child of God. Finally, readers and seekers of faith will learn what it truly means to be therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect! With this quick preamble noted, let us now delve into this incredible message from the Lord to see how it applies to a life of faith for believers in Christ.
But I Say Unto You
By taking a more contrarian approach, Jesus is flipping the traditional way of thinking about loving your neighbour over to loving your enemies. But, just how does this work when our natural inclination is to do the very opposite? Is it not easier just to love our neighbors and despise our enemies? Perhaps we should review scripture as it pertains to our neighbours first before learning about how we should treat our enemies. We may just be quite surprised to learn who our neighbour is according to scripture.
The Lord God provided comprehensive guidance on relations with neighbors that are noted within the same context as the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s.” [Ex. 20:16-17] In short, this teaching is based on being truthful, honest, respectful and not desiring, or taking, that which belongs to your neighbor. This message is also reiterated in the New Testament by Paul as found in Rom. 13:9-10.
Who is my Neighbour
In the New Testament, Jesus also presents a most compelling story pertaining to who our neighbor really is in life. It went like this as a certain lawyer questioned Jesus on how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by saying to the man, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” [Luke 10:27] But the lawyer wanted to justify himself further so he asked Jesus just who is my neighbour? We will now learn of the parable as shared by Jesus.
“And Jesus answering said, A certain [man] went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded [him,] and departed, leaving [him] half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked [on him,] and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion [on him, ] And went to [him,] and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave [them] to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”[Luke 10:30-37]
Here we can see in this parable just who was the true neighbor. The man that attended to the injured person exhibited compassion, mercy, kindness and generosity toward a complete stranger without asking for anything in return. With this noted, let us now explore what it really means to be an enemy.
Love your Enemies
There are many other noteworthy phrases used by Jesus in this week’s study and one of them is love your enemies. The reason to highlight this is because through our own sin nature, we were once ourselves enemies of God. Paul writes about this in his letters by saying, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” [Rom. 5:10] Paul continues along the same message in another letter as he states, “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.” [Col. 1:21] This may come as a surprise to many in that we were once enemies of God.
The apostle John also wrote about our reconciliation through Christ in that it is illustrative of God’s incredible love for us while we were still in our sinful state, or while still enemies of God, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10] The point in this week’s scripture reading is that Jesus is now asking us to emulate the love God showed toward us now to our fellow man in all walks of life; even if they are considered our enemies. By having such compassion, kindness and charity among people this reflects the true characteristic of being children of the Father.
Children of the Father
Now let us briefly explore the key phrase in this week’s scripture reading on being children of the Father. In most cases, children in the context of scripture is an endearing term used by Jesus for his followers, typically meaning in a figurative sense an immature believer. Jesus also used this term to describe children of the kingdom versus children of the wicked one [Matt. 13:38], children of the bridechamber, with himself as the bridegroom, [Luke 5:34], children of God and children of the resurrection [Luke 20:36], and children of the light [John 12:36], to name just a few examples from scripture. Similarly, the disciples of Jesus used this phrase such as Paul calling believers little children [Gal. 4:19] and by John no less than eleven times in 1 John. Like Jesus, John also distinguished between children of God and children of the devil [1 John 3:10]. In general, the word children in this context was one of endearment as a child of the heavenly Father.
Be Therefore Perfect
The last phrase to be explored from this week’s scripture reading is, be ye therefore perfect. This passage has likely perplexed many readers of scripture, thinking they must be perfect in all of their ways. After all, God instructed Abram to, “Be thou perfect before me.” [Gen. 17:1] The Lord God even made it a commandment to the Israelites when he said, “Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.” [Deut. 18:3] This is indeed a tall order for fallen humanity since God’s very nature as a comparative is reflected in the scriptures, “[As for] God, his way [is] perfect.” [2 Sam. 22:31]
This side of heaven however, people should view perfection perhaps as a work in progress. For believers in Christ, there is a new spirit dwelling inside them as described by the apostle John when he said, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” [1 John 3:9] This is indeed spiritual perfection as believers are given the imputed righteousness of Christ.
John though also helps to clarify the reality of believers still dwelling in the physical flesh with all of its propensity for sin as he noted by saying that, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10]
Being perfect before God is also expressed most eloquently by Paul as a reflection of how we should conduct ourselves every day of our life as he wrote to believers by saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” [Rom. 12:1-2] Clearly, an entire Bible study could be written on such a wonderful passage of scripture; one that is indeed worth memorizing for believers in Christ.
Perfection in the Spirit
Paul wrote extensively in his letters to believers on the notion of being perfect before a holy God. He was also quick to clarify that such perfection does not come from the desires of the physical nature or human will, but it is rather derived from the new spirit, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” [Gal. 3:3] His comments in another letter also indicate the work in progress among believers towards godly perfection, “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” [Col. 1:28]
Paul also expressed this desire during his written prayers for believers, “…Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? ” [1 Thess. 3:10] Consider also how Paul indicated the importance of scripture in a believer’s life as part of this pursuit of godly perfection, “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” [2 Tim. 3:17]
Created unto good works
To close off this Bible Study on children of the Father, readers should have picked up on some of Pauls’ comments that being perfect in God’s sight also consists of doing his will in your life. The importance of this needs to be underscored. There is a passage of scripture for believers that helps to bring the collective teaching together from this week’s study as he writes, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.” [Heb. 13:20-21]
Let us end with this passage on children of the Father. Christ himself is our righteous and as believers we are imputed with his righteousness [Eph. 4:24b]. Paul summarizes not only the gospel of saving grace but also doing the will of God which should follow thereafter, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” [Eph. 2:8-10] In conclusion, it is therefore in Christ where our good works are manifested by truly loving not only our neighbours but also our enemies, by doing good to those who hate us and by praying for those who despitefully use us and persecute us!
Bible Study Questions
- In this study called Children of the Father, why does Jesus tell us to love our enemies?
- As Christians we are instructed to love our neighbours. True or false?
- In the parable of the good Samaritan, what would have been your reaction if you walked by this person?
- In the section Love your Enemies, it says we were once enemies of God, true or false?
- What does the word children mean or imply in the section Children of the Father?
- Fill in the blanks – Are ye so foolish? having begun in the _________, are ye now made perfect by the ________. Gal. 3:3.
- While it may be difficult, is there someone who you have considered an enemy whom you should pray for today?
WORD GUIDE – * (publican – a tax collector) * (brethren – brothers) * (covet – to desire wrongfully) * (ass – donkey) * (Samaritan – people that were despised by Jews) * (raiment – clothing) * (Levite – someone who typically assists in the temple) * (morrow – next day) * (pence – sum of money) * (propitiation – appease, conciliation)