[This is the last time the Lectionary will take us to the Lake and to the Sermon on the Mount for a while. Next week will be the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. It will be marked by the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.]
READ: Matthew 5:38-48
Introduction: You’ll recall the last few weeks we’ve realized Jesus wasn’t doing away with the Law, but fulfilling it and simplifying it – and making it harder to maintain. Jesus has led us through the deconstruction of a humanistic buildup on the framework given through Moses and left us with a need for foundation repair. It begins with humbling ourselves; grieving our sin and letting our ego die even as we trust that we will be comforted during the surrender and fear. We must earnestly seek rightness with God by asking God for mercy and then open ourselves to a total transformation so we can be true daughters and sons of God who would rather suffer than reject God in any way. Let that be a sign for the World to see. Today, Jesus ratchets up the tension even more. He is asking us to do something that would clearly demonstrate our soul’s transformation.
Retaliation (vv. 38-42; Lev. 24:19-22). The original law was just in that it kept people from imposing a larger price than the offense deserved. It also removed the justification for revenge. Nevertheless, Jesus replaced the law with a new attitude. He said to suffer the loss rather than cause another to suffer.
To “turn the other cheek,” one must withstand the insult which requires faith and love. It also means there will be pain. The Sermon on the Mount is about a soul-shift. The mercy we’ve received is supposed to be reflected in others. Loving like our Lord makes one vulnerable, but she/he will be comforted. One is also strengthened because the Spirit builds up the Christian’s character (sanctification). Violence, whatever form it takes, whether physical, psychological, social, etc. is born of weakness, not strength. Bitter frustration causes fits of rage. It takes great inner strength to love, forgive, and suffer hurt. Spiritual weakness leads to self-centeredness and an urgent need to protect oneself from any kind of pain.
Love of enemies (vv. 43-48; Lev. 19:17-18). The old Law does not teach hatred toward enemies. Read Exodus 23:4-5 for a good example. Jesus identified enemies as those who curse us, hate us, and exploit us selfishly. Christian love is a decision more that it is a feeling. It is an act of obedience to love our enemies. The Lord loved us when we were enemies [cursing God, hating God, and exploiting God selfishly] (Rom. 5:10). Besides, it’s easier to love those who curse you when you’ve been praying for them.
Jesus said this love is a mark of maturity, proving that we are sons and daughters God, and not little children. Matthew 5:45 suggests that love creates a climate of blessings so that our enemies may become our friends. Love is like the sunshine and rain that the Father sends so graciously. It speaks volumes to observers. The Lord desires for us to live in such a way that they will see the good that we do and give glory to God.
“Turn the other cheek” always? It is true that Jesus said to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-42. However, many scholars do not believe pacifism (or nonresistance) is the essential point of His teaching in this passage. These scholars do not believe Jesus was teaching to “turn the other cheek” in virtually all circumstances. Even Christ did not literally turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (see John 18:22-23).
The backdrop to this teaching is that the Jews considered it an insult to be hit in the face, much in the same way that we would interpret someone spitting in our face. Bible scholar R. C. Sproul comments: “What’s interesting about the expression is that Jesus specifically mentions the right side of the face [Matthew 5:39]…If I hit you on your right cheek, the most normal way would be if I did it with the back of my right hand…To the best of our knowledge of the Hebrew language, that expression is a Jewish idiom that describes an insult, similar to the way challenges to duels in the days of King Arthur were made by a backhand slap to the right cheek of your opponent.”
The principle taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-42 would thus seem to be that Christians should not retaliate when insulted or slandered (see also Romans 12:17-21). Such insults do not threaten a Christian’s personal safety. The question of rendering insult for insult, however, is a far cry from defending oneself against a mugger or a rapist. The Complete Book of Bible Answers, by Ron Rhodes
The word perfect in Matthew 5:48 does not imply sinlessly perfect, for that is impossible in this life (though it is a good goal to strive for). It suggests completeness, maturity, as the sons of God. The Father loves His enemies and seeks to make them His children, and we should assist Him!
Wesleyan “Perfect Love.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline (para. 62), includes the following statement:
Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Through faith in Jesus Christ, this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously and should be sought earnestly by every child of God.
John Wesley believed that Christ’s death on the cross made it possible not only for sinners to be saved by grace but, indeed, for them to be saved to the uttermost. Entire sanctification was restoration to the image of God, being made perfect in love toward God and neighbor.
It is thus that we wait for entire sanctification; for a full salvation from all our sins, from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief; or, as the Apostle expresses it, “go on unto perfection.” But what is perfection? The word has various senses: Here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul. It is love “rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, in everything giving thanks.” [Sermon 43–The Scripture Way of Salvation]
“Well, but what more than this can be implied in entire sanctification?” It does not imply any new kind of holiness: Let no man imagine this. From the moment we are justified, till we give up our spirits to God, love is the fulfilling of the law; of the whole evangelical law, which took the place of the Adamic law when the first promise of “the seed of the woman” was made. Love is the sum of Christian sanctification; it is the one kind of holiness, which is found, only in various degrees, in the believers who are distinguished by St. John into “little children, young men, and fathers.” The difference between one and the other properly lies in the degree of love. And herein there is as great difference in the spiritual, as in the natural sense, between fathers, young men, and babes. [Sermon 83–On Patience]
Entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, is neither more nor less than pure love; love expelling sin, and governing both the heart and life of a child of God. The Refiner’s fire purges out all that are contrary to love, and that many times by a pleasing smart. Leave all this to Him that does all things well, and that loves you better than you do yourself. [Letters to Mr. Walter Churchey, of Brecon]
Every one that believes is sanctified, whatever else he has or has not. In other words, no man is sanctified till he believes: Every man when he believes is sanctified. [Sermon 43]