Perfect Love According to Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is remarkable? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? Therefore you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48, LEB)

The final law Jesus cites in this section is from Leviticus 19:18.

“You shall not seek vengeance, and you shall not harbor a grudge against your fellow citizens; and you shall love your neighbor like yourself; I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:18, LEB)

What words does Jesus remove and add? By doing so, He proposes a radical alternative: loving your enemies. Who would Jesus’ audience have considered an enemy?

What is the relationship between “your enemies” and “those who persecute you”?

We probably all have people we would consider enemies in some sense of the word. Do you show love to, and pray for, such people?

We must love our enemies if we are to behave like children of our “Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:45). Read Romans 5:6–10 and consider how God showed love for His enemies.

For while we were still helpless, yet at the proper time Christ died for the ungodly. For only rarely will someone die on behalf of a righteous person (for on behalf of a good person possibly someone might even dare to die), but God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, by much more, because we have been declared righteous now by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, by much more, having been reconciled, we will be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6–10, LEB)

Jesus later cites “love your neighbor as yourself” as the second greatest commandment.

“Teacher, which commandment is greatest in the law?” And he said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36–40, LEB)

And Paul claims that it fulfills the entire Old Testament law.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14, LEB)

Why is this commandment so important?

What does it mean to love others “as yourself”? How can you do this better?

Jesus concludes this section of the Sermon on the Mount by promoting an impossible standard: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Throughout this section (5:17–48) Jesus advocates a righteousness that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of it. How do these requirements show what it means to be perfect?

Read Matthew 19:16–26.

And behold, someone came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do so that I will have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why are you asking me about what is good? There is one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments!” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “Do not commit murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor—and you will have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.” But when the young man heard the statement, he went away sorrowful, because he was one who had many possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you that with difficulty a rich person will enter into the kingdom of heaven! And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person into the kingdom of God.” So when the disciples heard this, they were extremely amazed, saying, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:16–26, LEB)

What did Jesus say about what is impossible? How might this relate to His statement about being perfect in Matthew 5:48?

Understanding that perfection originates from God, how can you ensure you are working toward that goal?

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Adapted from Sermon on the Mount: Living for God’s Kingdom by Miles Custis and from the Lexham English Bible.