This is now the SIXTH example that Jesus cited concerning how the Scribes and Rabbis had perverted God’s Laws.  “Love your neighbor” was a command from Leviticus 19:18.  The “hate your enemies” had NO basis in any Scripture.  In fact, just the OPPOSITE was true.

In Proverbs 25:21-22 it said “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  For in doing so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

And even THAT wasn’t meant to cause your enemy to feel SHAME or HUMILIATION.  Instead it was to be an attempt to allow your KINDNESS to him, cause his ANIMOSITY toward YOU, to SOFTEN and MELT!

The typical Jew was taught from childhood that there were only two classes of people, the Jew, and everyone else.  So they understood that “my neighbor” could only be another Jew.

Jesus later enlarged on this teaching, in Luke 10, where the lawyer had stood up as Jesus was teaching, and asked Him, in verse 25…”Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and Jesus had answered him with a question of His own, asking “What does the Scriptures say”?

The lawyer then answered accurately, by quoting Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind…”  And then he had added from Deuteronomy 6:5…”and your neighbor as yourself”.

Jesus told the man he had answered correctly, and IF he should DO that, then he surely would “live”.  Whether or not Jesus had in mind the certainty that NO ONE could keep the Law, He simply told the man what he had wanted to hear.  But, that wasn’t enough for this lawyer, since his intention was to DISCREDIT Jesus…so he asked “And, WHO is my neighbor”?

See, the lawyer thought he knew the answer to THAT one, already.  “My NEIGHBOR, is any other Jew exactly like ME!”  He not only eliminated every GENTILE, he also eliminated MOST other JEWS.  Only those he considered his EQUAL, in terms social status, finances, etc.; would he also consider to be ”my neighbor”.

So Jesus had then told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and asked the lawyer which of the three men involved WITH the wounded man, had then TREATED that wounded man “as his neighbor”?  And the lawyer had no choice but to give the OBVIOUS answer, saying “He who showed mercy”.  To which Jesus then instructed the lawyer that he should do the same thing, and show mercy to those who NEEDED mercy.

So in Matthew 5:44, Jesus used the same application, saying that we should also love our ENEMIES, as WELL as our NEIGHBORS…that we were to BLESS those that CURSE you, and do GOOD for those that HATE you.

But the UNIVERSALITY of the love that Jesus was commanding, had NO parallel, in Jewish Scripture OR teachings.  In fact, since the Jews REVERED the LAND of Israel, and probably recalled the commands from God when they first ENTERED the Promised Land; that they were to EXTERMINATE the inhabitants…that they were to DESTROY them UTTERLY from the land.

In truth, they FAILED to DO this, but they REMEMBERED the COMMAND, and from it, they determined that they were to HATE their ENEMIES.  But Jesus said “No, you are to LOVE them!”, and then cites the UNIVERSAL LOVE that GOD has, for ALL mankind…those that love HIM, and those who do NOT.  Verse 45 is what is referred to as “COMMON GRACE”!  It is the NATURE and the CHARACTER of Jehovah God, to dispense His NATURAL BLESSINGS on EVERYONE.  But that is NOT a reason to believe in UNIVERSAL SALVATION!

The Scriptures are very clear in teaching that SOME will be SAVED, and SOME will be LOST!  But God STILL pours out His GOODNESS, on EVERYONE, Saved OR lost.  A gentle spring rain, a warm summer day, a spectacular sunset…all those blessings fall on ALL people!

But verses 46 and 47 put these latest TEACHINGS into PRACTICE.  Jesus says “IF YOU only love those who love YOU BACK…if you only GREET, or spend your TIME with those who are exactly like YOURSELF, how have you PRACTICED these latest teachings?  What WAS it that allowed you to be SLAPPED like that, to suffer that personal INSULT, without striking back…that allowed you to give your COAT to the one who sued you for your SHIRT…and that allowed you to walk a SECOND mile with the one who commanded you to carry their load that FIRST mile?

Those were all ENEMIES, but you were commanded NOT to HATE them, but instead to LOVE them.  Being “sons of your Father”…”CHILDREN of your Father”, means that you share His NATURE, which is “To love all people”.  He gives the example of the “tax collectors”…the “PUBLICANS”…those were JEWISH citizens, who had been HIRED by ROMAN officials, to collect TAXES, from their fellow Jews.

They were considered TRAITORS, because they were allowed to CHEAT the ones they collected taxes from.  In fact, that was how they earned their LIVINGS.  They were allowed to collect as much OVER and ABOVE what ROME would charge, as much as they COULD, and they got to KEEP the difference, as wages.

EVERYONE KNEW that, and HATED the disloyal tax collectors, because there was NOTHING they could DO about it.  They HAD to PAY, whatever the PUBLICAN CHARGED.  That was the BASIS for their hatred for the Tax collectors.

So the tax collectors naturally gravitated to one ANOTHER, for acceptance.  Socially, they ONLY had one another, so they saved their GREETINGS for those who were LIKE them.

And we should remember that Matthew, the man who was writing this Gospel, was once one OF these ‘tax collectors’, so Jesus not only GAVE these commands, He LIVED them TOO.

In verse 47, He said “lf you ONLY greet your “BRETHERN”, wouldn’t that make you JUST LIKE those who SNUB and DISCRIMINATE others who aren’t just like themselves…that was the MORAL of that “Good Samaritan” parable…and again He referenced the “tax collectors” as a MARGINALIZED group that was hated by all, so that they were forced to form close-knit groups of OTHER tax collectors.

By using the word “brethren” here, it was understood that He meant what the JEWS considered the “IN-CROWD”…the “A-LIST” people, which was OTHER JEWS LIKE THEMSELVES.

There were a LOT of different groups that were marginalized and discriminated against, but Jesus reached OUT to EACH of them…that would be the TAX collectors, like Zacchaeus or Matthew…or SAMARITANS, like the ‘woman by the well’…or LEPERS, many of whom Jesus actually TOUCHED, and healed.  And of course, there were the WOMEN, who in terms of Jewish society, were considered as “2nd class”, or even as ‘PROPERTY’.  But Jesus reached out to ALL of them, and He expected His disciples to do the same thing.

Then in verse 48, Jesus sets up what sounds like an IMPOSSIBLE standard…”Therefore you shall be PERFECT…” so first of all, the word, “YOU”, is EMPHATIC…meaning “while OTHERS may be like this, don’t “YOU” be that way”.

As a CHRISTIAN, you receive a LOT of BLESSINGS from God the Father…the FORGIVENESS of your SINS, your INCLUSION into the FAMILY of God, the PROMISE of ETERNITY WITH God…among other things.

So with this seemingly IMPOSSIBLE task, Jesus is presenting the principle that the CHRISTIAN is to be an ESPECIALLY UNIQUE type of person…not swept along with the whims of the majority, but holding fast to the commands of The Father, “NOT” the interpretations of the Rabbis.

If you were to try to come up with a TWO WORD definition of WHAT a Christian is…you might settle of “He’s DIFFERENT”, or “She’s different”.  We are called to be IN THE WORLD, while not being PART OF THE WORLD, and at the same time, reaching out TO all those who ARE “in the world’, with the love of God.

INSTEAD of ‘following the crowd’…instead of trying to be like OTHER MEN, no matter WHO those OTHER MEN might be, the CHRISTIAN is called to try to be like GOD HIMSELF!  An impossible task, for sure, but still the task we’re called to strive for.

“That you may be children of your FATHER”.  As your HUMAN children seek to follow the example that you have set…so the CHRISTIAN should strive to follow the example of OUR Father, in Heaven.  We can strive to be like HIM, Who we have NOT SEEN, by following the KNOWN pattern of Jesus Christ, the SON of God.  And HIS example has been preserved in the pages of this Book, for all to see.

And beloved, the world today DESPERATELY needs to see that example being lived out.  ANYbody should be able to look at the world around them and realize that God is trying to get our attention.  Here in America, where God has been KICKED out of just about every ASPECT of life, have you EVER seen so many TORNADOS, in so many DIVERSE places?…so many storm-caused FLOODINGS.

Or around the world, the outbreak of PURE EVIL, in the form of so-called “religious extremists”, attacking and killing INNOCENTS, and bragging like they have done something GREAT!  Or KIDNAPPING young GIRLS and forcing them to function as SEX-SLAVES.

We could list example after example of the EVIL that is erupting all around the world, but what I really want you to see is the need for the CHRISTIANS…those who have been SAVED from the wrath to come by the Blood of Calvary…for THEM to stand UP and demonstrate RIGHTEOUSNESS instead.

It’s true that while this EVIL is making HEADLINES, all the GOOD that YOU might do would never be NOTICED, outside of your immediate sphere of influence.  And that is NO reason to NOT DO those good things.  Actually that is reason to RE-DOUBLE your efforts to display the Love of God to this darkening world.

As we move into chapter 6, the Lord is going to introduce THREE EXAMPLES of how the GOOD that believers were called to do, and been PERVERTED by the highly ‘religious’ Pharisees and others.  The examples He will cite are “ALMS-GIVING”…”PRAYER”, and “FASTING”.

Each of these were to be areas of PURE WORSHIP, rendered unto God.  But instead they were being used to ATTRACT ATTENTION to the one DOING them.  And the self-righteous people performing these things, where taking attention AWAY from GOD, and placing it ON the one PRAYING, or FASTING, or giving ALMS.

In chapter 5:20, Jesus had told the disciples that “unless their righteousness EXCEEDED that of the scribes and Pharisees, they would not see the Kingdom of God.”  And those that heard that were distressed, because they considered that those Pharisees were the HEIGHT of ‘righteousness’.  Jesus will now give them examples of the real HYPOCRISY of those so-called ‘leaders’.

In verses 1 and 2, He brings up the current way the Pharisees try to impress others with their ‘godliness’, by making large donations to the Temple treasury.  But in DOING so, they wanted to make sure that everybody KNEW they were doing that.  So they would actually send a SERVANT ahead of them, beating on a DRUM, or BLOWING a HORN, to attract ATTENTION to the fact that they were MAKING this donation.

And when a sufficient crowd had gathered, the man would slowly POUR his silver coins into the treasury box, so all could SEE how MUCH he was giving.  And obviously, you already KNOW how impressed JESUS was by this.  You’ll recall the time He had sat and watched as several of them had come to make large offerings…but He only had RESPECT, for the poor WIDOW, who put her two NEARLY WORTHLESS coins into the box.

The OTHERS had given out of their RICHES, by offering some of their SURPLUS…but that WIDOW put in ALL that she HAD, as a LOVE-OFFERING to God.  Let me draw a parallel here between the Pharisees making their donations to the Temple treasury, and the way we in the CHURCH now conduct the weekly OFFERING.  BOTH of those things had the SAME result.

The gifts made to the Treasury were used to finance the working OF the Treasury, the UPKEEP needed for the PRIESTS, as WELL as all those priests who had RETIRED, when they reached the age of 50.  YOUR gifts go to the upkeep of the church, its bills and obligations, which also include my salary.

That is the one part of my Job I’d like to avoid.  One of the biggest gripes people have about the church is “They’re always asking for money”.  And it’s true, we NEED your offerings to continue functioning as a church.  But we NEVER make it a matter of “You HAVE to give to the church”.  It is always a matter of “if you can give, and give gladly, then God bless you.  But if you CAN’T give, then God bless you even BETTER, so your finances can increase.

But we don’t want ANYone to feel that they HAVE to give to the church.  I’ll love you just as much, whether you can or can’t.  And I’ll NEVER check into anyone’s tithing record.

And for this reason, many churches no longer even RECEIVE a weekly offering.  Instead they use a “DONATION BOX”, where people can drop their offerings, usually OUT IN A HALLWAY, instead of inside the Sanctuary…and personally, I don’t like that.  I think that bringing your tithes and other offerings should be something that we do WORSHIPFULLY, not as an AFTER-thought.

But I also know that there are churches where the offering is MANDATORY.  One particular church back in the Chicago area, for instance, DEMANDS that all MEMBERS are to tithe TWENTY PERCENT of their income…and if you just want to ATTEND, that church, WITHOUT joining, then you’re required to bring a TEN PERCENT tithe, just to ATTEND!

Of course, this is a church that has a LOT of PAID PERSONEL, and one that provided the SENIOR pastor with a NEW CAR every year!  They have a SANCTUARY that is almost exactly the same size as our PARKING lot…and a SWIMMING pool in the SUB-basement…so there are a lot of expenses.  And rather than trust the LORD to meet those expenses, like we do, they DEMAND that those expenses all be met.

Here is where Jesus introduces the word “HYPOCRITES”, in referencing those who use their GIVING only as a way to PROMOTE THEMSELVES.  The word is used here for the first time in the New Testament, and I’m pretty sure you know what it means.  The word has its origins in the Greek theater, where it refers to an ACTOR, wearing a MASK, to pretend to be something he is NOT.

That’s what the Pharisees were doing.  They weren’t concerned that the treasury has enough cash to meet expenses, they only wanted the PRAISE of those who watched as the silver coins tumbled into the treasury box.  It was that PRAISE they WANTED, and Jesus said that PRAISE was the ONLY reward their alleged generosity would get them.

One of the things we looked at last week, was the inescapable fact that God is ALWAYS with us!  We have He the Holy Spirit, INDWELT within us.  And He SEES everything that we DO…and He KNOWS everything that we THINK!  And He RECORDS everything we do!

If we could only LIVE that truth, then we’d KNOW that all the PRETENSE and SHAM that has grown up around “religion” is just useless GLITTER.  I’d even say just “PUFFERY”, since some of you really LIKED that word last week.

So Jesus said we are to GIVE…to the church, which needs your offerings to function, keep the doors open and the A/C running…but you can ALSO donate to any NUMBER of worthy causes that ALSO need your offerings…like The Red Cross.  Every time there’s a disaster in America, The Red Cross is there with help, or the Salvation Army, or St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, or the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital.

But when you give TO those worthy causes, let it be just between THEM, and YOU, and the LORD…and THEN, the “Father, Who sees in secret, will Himself REWARD you OPENLY.”

And THAT means, on that day when you have to stand before The Lord, to answer for what you did with His Son…then God the Father will give BACK to YOU, a THOUSAND, thousand times what YOU have given, in secret.

But NEVER are you to GIVE ANYTHING, with the THOUGHT that you’ll be rewarded for it.  Just know that Jesus has promised this, so go and be a SECRET BLESSING to SOMEONE, this week.  It will WARM your HEART, and make your SAVIOR SMILE!

And, Lord willing, next week we’ll look at PRAYERS and FASTING…but for now, we have to have a time of invitation, and ask if there is anyone who needs to come TO the Lord, maybe for the FIRST time?  Maybe you’ve never TRUSTED Him to take ALL your sins away, and CLEAN UP your life.  Then, here is your opportunity to do that.

Or, maybe some of the Lord’s Words here have struck a chord in your life, maybe something you need to make RIGHT with Him.  Let your heart be broken!