In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus focused on love and maturity — the two things that are inseparable if either has any meaning and impact in this life.
Jesus presented a radical new command regarding love in Matthew 5:43-47. The Jews had become accustomed to being taught that they should love their neighbors and hate their enemies. The rabbis even debated who was someone’s neighbor. Usually the answer was a fellow Jew, and anyone who was not regarded as a neighbor was looked upon as an enemy. “Love your neighbor” comes from Leviticus 19:18, but “hate your neighbor” is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. It was an erroneous teaching that was common during the life of Jesus.
When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” He was emphasizing what real love is like. God loves His enemies. Jesus loves His enemies. God’s people have God’s Spirit in them, so they can love like God loves. God’s love is evidenced in the common grace He provides for all people (v. 45). On the cross, Jesus cried out from the depths of His pain, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He, not the prejudiced teaching of man, is our example of love. Born-again people are able to love because God lives in us. First John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.”
Loving those we like or those who are like us is easy and common. Jesus used the example of tax collectors to aid us in seeing how we are to love. A tax collector got his job by appointment from Rome. Rome set the amount of tax to be collected from a certain region, and the tax collector was responsible for that amount. However, he kept whatever he collected beyond that amount. To assist him in collecting the taxes, he would contract with others and divide the region up even further. He then set the amount each of his helpers had to collect. But whatever they collected beyond that amount they could keep. It was a corrupt system at every level. Tax collectors had almost no friends — except other tax collectors. But these tax collectors cared for each other. They loved the people who were like them. Are God’s people better than tax collectors? Do we love better than they? Only when we love like God loves.
In verse 47, the subject changes to greetings. The implication is more than just saying hello to someone. It suggests a heartfelt concern for another person’s welfare. Again, the way we greet people is compared to the way we love others. Anyone can greet those like us (brothers), but can we show care and concern for the stranger, the person in need, or even an enemy? We can if we love like God loves.
Finally, in verse 48, the call to maturity is issued. The idea of perfect here is more like mature or whole. In Leviticus 19:2 (quoted also in 1 Peter 1:16), God’s people are called to be holy as God is holy. Our spiritual maturity should be the same type of maturity as our Heavenly Father.
No one is ever fully mature. We are all maturing. It is like the doctrine of sanctification, where we are growing in holiness. Sinless perfection is not the idea. Godliness is. It is not a state we achieve, but a process we experience. Our calling is not to become like a godless culture we may live in, but to show Christ to that culture. We are lights who are called to shine in the darkness. That often invites trouble, pressure, and even persecution. But it also is a source of our spiritual growth.
God’s people should love like God loves and grow in spiritual maturity, because the God we serve is a mature God.