But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:44–48 NKJV)
Our passage is a powerful revelation that the basis upon which God expresses love for all people is His own nature--not the behavior of the recipient. Verse 44 clearly shows that God loves (expressively) people who curse Him, hate Him, and spitefully use Him. The Greek word translated "spitefully use" can be translated revile, or falsely accuse. These are the type of things that God tolerates and yet continues to express love by providing the necessary elements for human life. On this basic level of expressing love God does not discriminate between people who are friendly with Him and others who hate Him. He provides sun and rain on the just and the unjust. This "perfect love" is an active and verifiable concern for all people everywhere, regardless of their relationship to Him.
Jesus then adds, And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? The word for greet literally signifies "to draw to oneself;" hence, "to greet, salute, welcome," as the ordinary meaning.(Vines) It could be translated embrace. In street language we would say that God is not snooty. He doesn't look down a long nose with contempt for people that are beneath Him. He is compassionate and desires to reconcile with all people.
Born of God
Jesus stated plainly, Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. This is a simple statement of fact. It is not necessarily a command. At the time it was a future reality. When the cross event was complete and the New Covenant instituted, people who believe, repent, and receive the Holy Spirit shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. If a person does not come into this "perfect love" then they are not born of God. This is the plain teaching of John in his first epistle. It sounds scathing to our sensitive ears, but he wrote plainly:
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20 KJV)
On the contrary, if we are born of God we have the nature of God. We will imitate God and demonstrate that we are His children (v. 45) by our actions. We will display a family likeness to God by our behavior. This is more than dead religion, it is a transformation of the person from a child of the Devil to a child of God. In the beginning God said, "let us make man in our image and likeness." This purpose has not changed; it is God's design: to bring many sons unto glory and to perfect them in such a way that Jesus would not be ashamed to call them brethren. (Hebrews 2:10-11) Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. "The Greek work teleios (“perfect”) means “having attained the end/purpose.” Since human beings were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), they are “perfect” when they demonstrate in their lives those characteristics that reflect the nature of God." (Robert H. Mounce, NIBC on Matthew 5:44-48) This is not done by trial and error; but by new birth.
Excuses and Imperfection
Our passage is one of a long list that labels standard fallen behaviors for what they are—characteristics of the wrong father. Jesus called the religious leaders "hypocrites" because he wanted them to know what they were. We have to come to reality and face it for what it is. He told the people that they were of their father the devil and the desires of their father they do. (John 8:44) This is the natural progression of life; things behave and exhibit characteristics after their own kind.
Sometimes people will excuse their rude, unloving, uncompassionate behavior on their ethnicity (I'm Irish, I'm German, Native American Indian, et al.), but this does not fly with God. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Jesus used tax-collectors as a reference because they were in reputation for being the lowest of the low—traitors of the Jewish People. They took hard-earned money from the Jews, kept some back, and gave the rest to the Romans. (Luke 3:12-13) Many Jews (especially the Zealots) would rather kill one as look at them. Nevertheless, even a tax-collector knows how to love people they want to love; but what good is that? If that's all we are doing we can rest assured that from God's perspective we are no better than the "lowest of the low" in our culture and society.
The solution is for the "Irish, German, Native American Indian, and every other ethnicity and cultural heritage on earth" to be born from above. In other words, no matter where on earth we are from we are born "of our father the Devil" and doing his hateful and uncompassionate deeds. That will not change in one trillion years until a person is born again of the Holy Spirit. God's will is that we all may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. This is the prime litmus test. Is a person born again? How do they love? Like a tax-collector or like Jesus? If we are the real deal, Jesus words mark the answer: you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. It will be our nature.
SI Moderator - Greg