Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:45c “. . .and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Loving our enemies is not unreasonable or unnatural. It goes against our nature, but not against God’s nature (essence) nor against God’s nature (creation).
Be careful to notice how Jesus interpreted the operations of nature. They are administered not accidentally, but deliberately and directly by willful intent. God acts, using nature as His instrument to shine and shower on His enemies. We say the sun rises; Jesus said God possesses and controls, making the sun rise. We say it rains; Jesus said God sends rain. As a rain cloud approaches, it is “the Great Father blowing with His breath this traveling fountain of the sky” (Spurgeon).
Jesus believed in the immediate working presence of God. Sensing the Father everywhere at hand and working, Jesus practiced perceiving the presence of God. Are we mindful of God’s presence? The exact wording of a verse escapes me, but was something like, the world is all a bush aglow, some take their shoes off and worship before it, others sit round it and pick blackberries. The level of our sensitivity to God’s active presence around us measures our spirituality.
Regarding nature and nature’s God, Christians have to avoid two extremes: pantheism and deism. Pantheism, common in Eastern mystical religions, deems the whole universe as divine; nature is God, God is nature. This error spawns radical environmental thinking such as animals and plants being as valuable as people. Pantheism results in cows being untouched and worshipped while children starve to death. Christians do need to care for the environment, but Scripture tells us the only true and living God is holy, separate from His creation. God is above nature. He rules the creation, oversees it, and reveals Himself through it.
Deism presents God as totally disinterested in the world; He is in essence an almighty invisible absent Clockmaker who created the world, wound it up like a clock, and then walked away from it. Though the Bible does present God as being above nature, Scripture also shows Him being active in it and working through it.
Nature is God’s creation, plus His workshop and laboratory. Beware theories which seek to leave out God, to remove our Benefactor from His own world. The operations of nature are the activities of God. What science calls “laws” aptly describes the constancy of God. Nature’s laws would not be consistent without nature’s God behind them. Thus, nature’s impartiality to God’s enemies is due not to a mindless indifference or ignorance, but to God’s intentional goodness. Through nature He sustains human life. God loves His enemies. We must love ours, also.
Matt. 5:46a “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?”
There is “reward” in pleasing God. As believers, duty is not our only motivation. My dad grew up picking cotton, and then became a U.S. Marine before entering the ministry. I often hear him say, “Jesus is the best boss I ever served.”
The Christian life, though not easy, is the most joyful way to live. In the long run, godliness is our best hope for happiness. Jesus wants what is best for us. If we would allow ourselves to believe this, godliness would come easier for us.
Matt. 5:46b “Do not even the publicans do the same?”
Publicans (a Latin word) collect public revenue. Rome assigned each of its tax collectors a geographical area, levied a quota, and then allowed the publican to keep as his salary anything he could raise above the quota. This was a perfect prescription for graft, bribery, and corruption. Covetousness often made the publicans cruel oppressors. They were hated not only for their extortion, but also for fraternizing with the enemy. They were constant visible reminders of hated Rome.
Collecting taxes made a man wealthy, and a social outcast. The people deemed publicans as far down the moral ladder as one could go, even as low as heathens and harlots (MT 18:17; 21:31). These revenuers were eventually barred from serving as witnesses in a court of law, excommunicated from synagogues, and deemed beyond ever receiving forgiveness from God. Despised and obnoxious, publicans were hardly role models one would want to imitate in behavior, yet this is exactly what was being done by the pompously self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, and is being done by all who love only those who reciprocate their love.
These abhorred publicans became a classic example of Jesus’ ability to hate the sin while loving the sinner. He openly denounced their ways, yet loved them. They were extremely unpopular, but Jesus befriended them and thereby won for Himself the wrath of society. His enemies reproached and belittled Him as “a friend of publicans and sinners” (MT 11:19). As they scorned, He descended to the bottom of the moral ladder, and when He ascended back to the top, He brought many publicans up with Him. Where others saw only moral leprosy, Jesus saw a chance to heal. Where others saw no worth, Jesus invested Himself. Where no one else saw possibility, Jesus brought improvement. Jesus touched and changed lives. From these very dregs of society arose sterling examples for us to follow.
A publican taught us how to pray (LK 18:10ff). Humiliated by his sin, and browbeaten by others, the publican was unable to lift his head, but he prayed and went home justified. Following His example, we still bow our heads to pray.
A publican taught us how to pursue the Master (LK 19:1ff). Zaccheus would not be denied. He who had been rejected by everyone else in his home town of Jericho, climbed a tree, and found His Savior. He who had been financially rich and spiritually poor, gladly traded material treasures for spiritual wealth.
A publican taught us how to give up everything to follow the Master (MT 9:9ff). Jesus one day walked by a tax collector’s desk, and said, “Follow me.” Matthew immediately arose, followed, and soon hosted at his house a banquet where “many publicans and sinner” came to meet the new guest of honor in Matthew’s life, Jesus. Matthew eventually was selected to be among the twelve (MT 10:3), and was chosen by God to use his clerical skills to write this very Gospel.
Who was Jesus, this man at whom enemies sneered, “Is not this the carpenter?” (MK 6:3). A carpenter indeed, who worked on lives as well as on wood, who reclaimed and repaired even publicans. Who was Jesus? A man whose most amazing works were not the outward physical miracles He performed. It took a larger assumption of power to claim authority over principles and laws which govern people’s lives. To claim authority over people is greater than to claim authority over winds and waves. Jesus calmly assumed a prerogative which belongs to God alone. He claimed Lordship over our hearts–my heart, your heart. He commands all men everywhere–whether publican, scribe, pharisee, sadduccee, whatever the label–to repent, to pray, to pursue Him, and to follow Him with reckless abandon.
Even Jesus’ worst detractors admitted, “The world is gone after Him” (JN 12:19). This was their way of confessing “that when people came to know Him, they followed Him. The authorities killed Him, but the world is still going after Him” (Charles Allen). Come join “the parade to Calvary” (Hyman Appelman).