Matthew 5:38-48 (ESV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus continued to contrast what the religious leaders of the day thought and practiced with what God actually desires. In verse 38, Jesus quotes the Old Testament, which declares “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth.” This principle, if properly enforced, would protect victims and ensure that punishments did not exceed actual offenses. Jesus taught that those who want to do things God’s way don’t have to take revenge. He didn’t mean that sin should run rampant in a community. If someone robs our home, we should call the police. But Jesus pointed out that God doesn’t approve of his people seeking private revenge. In addition, the righteous person is not only willing to overlook an offense, but “goes the extra mile” (v. 41) and relinquishes her rights for the sake of others. Again, Jesus wasn’t throwing right and wrong out the window, but teaching his followers to put others’ interests before their own. Christians should be marked by kindness, generosity, and a trust in God to make things right. In verse 48, Jesus ends his teaching about loving our enemies with an interesting statement: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” What in the world did Jesus mean? This statement puts us all in a place of tremendous need because we have all failed to meet God’s holy standards. And so, we are all doomed without the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ credited to our accounts.
At the same time, Jesus exhorted his followers to keep their standards high. In fact, our standards should be as high as possible. They should be the standards of God. This too serves to level the playing field, since we can all improve our character. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, or how much you’ve matured in your spiritual life, there’s always room to grow. Rather than seeing spiritual development or sanctification as a chore, we should see it as a joy and a promise. Those who love God will become more like him. It’s a guarantee. Let’s be encouraged as Christians today, maintaining an attitude of anticipation, expecting God to get involved in our lives and to help us to become more like him. What area of your life right now isn’t meeting God’s holy standard? Confess it, ask him for help, and be confident, knowing that he’s not done with you yet. He will continue to work in his children. How exciting is that?