Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:47 “And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than
others? Do not even the publicans so?”
To “salute” is to treat in a friendly way, to show customary outward signs of goodwill. Bless those who curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for our detractors. Also, greet our opponents when we see them. It is wrong to deliberately ignore or slight another human being. Each person, no matter what evil or unkindness he or she has committed, has worth due to being made in God’s image.
We believers are to have a higher standard of love than others hold. Excelling all others in forgiveness and gentleness, we should be noticed on the job because we are more considerate. We should be conspicuous in the halls at school because we are kind to everyone, not only to our clique. We should be noted in our community as more helpful and caring. If we love only as prechristians love, we shrivel before our Master’s painfully pointed question, “What do ye more than others?” Moffatt forthrightly translates the query as, “What is special about that?”
Be careful to note the question refers specifically to behavior, to real deeds, to actual actions. Jesus asked, what “do” ye more, not what do you believe more, think more, or claim to have more. This emphasis on deeds is appropriate to our culture. We live in an age of skepticism. People want proof of authenticity. Mere assertions will not suffice. Confirmation is in the doing.
The worst reproach against Christianity is substandard living by many of its adherents. We are often less honest, less caring, less giving, less everything, than others. “Less” needs to be ousted from our vocabulary and replaced with “more.”
Mediocre Christians try to do as little as they can in the Christian life. Successful saints reject “the minimum plan” (Allen). Accepting “Christ’s doctrine of the extra” (Hunter), they sacrifice more, serve more, and do more than is required.
Lloyd-Jones says great Christians are ever talking to themselves, reasoning, analyzing their own lives. In this ongoing inner argument, ever be asking self the hard questions. Have I become satisfied with moral mediocrity? Wherein do I excel, and do what is extraordinary? Are there traits in me unexplainable in ordinary terms? Is there something unique about me, something not found in prechristians?
It is only fitting and proper that more should be expected of Christians. We have received more, been taught more, been Holy-Spirit-empowered more. God Himself indwells us. Where more is given, more is rightly required, but finding the more in us can be difficult. Many prechristians are very moral, ethical, scrupulous, and upright. Their maxims include, honesty’s the best policy, my word is my bond, be kind, share, give to charity, don’t fight, pay taxes, keep your nose clean.
“What do ye more than others?” has brought back an intense memory for me. In high school, as I began seriously struggling with living the Christian life, our most circumspect student was a prechristian. A model citizen in every way, his outward life looked flawless. He had vowed never to do anything to hurt his beloved mother, a devout Christian. Thankfully, the son did as an adult become a believer, but even in his prechristian teen years, he was wonderful to know and associate with. He was my nemesis, my frustration. Though I was a born again Christian, I was having to struggle desperately to try to live a life as good as his.
Many believers have faced this quandary. We have prechristian family or friends who lead lives as decent as ours, and are thus hard to witness to. How can we “do more” than a circumspect, conscientious prechristian? Our text holds the key. Emphasize relationships. Outshine others in love. Love enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to all who hate us, pray for detractors, greet our opponents.
If more winsome, we’d win some. Many Christians lead decent lives, but are ineffective as witnesses because they live solely for self. Such lives are clean and decent, but not attractive or appealing. They are moral, but wrapped up totally in self. This perfectly describes Pharisaism, the very thing Jesus fought against.
Jesus never lived for Himself, and He expects there to be an “other-ness” about us. This is often our best hope of doing more than prechristians. To emphasize the importance of our pressing forward to better relationships, Jesus will now voice one of the most difficult and puzzling statements ever uttered.
Matt. 5:48a “Be ye therefore perfect,. . .”
The boldness of His command almost makes me gasp. Jesus had audacity! Daringly, He called the entire world system into question, and protested. More daringly, He actually expected people to change. The result was the formation of Western Culture as we know it. The West owes its personality, its distinctive features, to One who pointed the world toward a new, better way of viewing things.
The significance of Jesus’ words is hard to overstate. People of His day struggled with them; those of following centuries have fared no better. His words will forevermore create discomfort, forcing people out of their comfort zones.
To be sure we understand Jesus’ exact meaning in our text, we must apply an important rule of Biblical interpretation: when you see a “therefore,” see what it’s there for. The “therefore” in this verse ties Christ’s command here to His preceding emphasis on displaying love in all relationships. Jesus’ intent was obvious. In the matter of showing love toward others, He commanded us to be perfect.
By commanding us toward perfection in developing love-filled relationships, Jesus points us toward perfection in every area of life. In Christian living, love is heart and soul, center and circumference, of every other part. Love is not mutually exclusive of all else, but rather leads, saturates, and encompasses every area. By focusing, by attempting perfection in this one key area of life, the result will be not neglect of other areas, but greater holiness in every part of our lives.
The early believers, though staggered by the immensity of Jesus’ command here, never faltered in their resolve to obey it. Tertullian called it a “basic law” of the faith. The early believers accepted the command as given, and set out to practice it by the empowering of God. No snivelling, no whimpering, no bellyaching, no loopholes. They knew they could not be absolutely perfect, but rather than whine they ran to prayer, seeking the blessing promised to the poor in spirit. They begged of Jesus, took of Jesus, depended on Jesus, and the result was phenomenal.
Never mark a verse out of the Bible by saying, “It just can not be done.” Do not allow unbelief to quench or grieve the Holy Spirit. The command in our text is Jesus’ way of telling us never to stifle Omnipotent God within. Never give in to a habit, never give up on a Biblical goal, never say a particular height of devotion can never be reached. Never set a limit to the power of the Holy Spirit within us.