May 3 – Jesus on God’s Love: That We Exceed Others’ Actions

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?—Matt. 5:46–47

These words of Jesus were perhaps the most devastating and offensive ones the religious leaders had ever heard. The Lord bluntly stripped away their hypocrisy to reveal that their love was nothing more than the ordinary self-centered love common among the despised tax collectors and Gentiles. Tax collectors were dishonest, traitorous extortioners; Gentiles were considered unfit to be people of God.

Yet the type of love displayed by the scribes and Pharisees, according to Jesus’ infallible assessment, was no better than the persons’ whom they so looked down upon. In essence, our Lord declared that their righteousness was no better than that of the worst and lowest of other classes and groups.

Christ urges believers to have a much higher standard of righteousness than the world’s low standard. The world should notice Christians as being more honest employees and more helpful and caring neighbors. The culture should always notice that saints love as God loves: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). J. Oswald Sanders once wrote, “The Master expects from His disciples such conduct as can be explained only in terms of the supernatural.”

Yes, we can become so comfortable in our culture and so indoctrinated in its ways that we are nearly indistinguishable in our likes, our schedules, and our matters of importance. Ask yourself what makes you appear different from the unsaved world around you. Is it just by what you don’t do, or by Jesus’ active brand of love and righteousness?[1]

Exceed Your Fellow Men

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (5:46–47)

If the scribes and Pharisees were certain of any one thing it was that they were far better than everyone else. But Jesus again cuts through their blind hypocrisy and shows that their type of love is nothing more than the ordinary self-centered love that was common even to tax-gatherers and Gentiles-to whom the scribes and Pharisees thought they were most undeniably superior.

Those were probably the most devastating and insulting words these religious leaders had ever heard, and they must have been enraged. Tax-gatherers were traitorous extortioners, and almost by definition were dishonest, heartless, and irreligious. In the eyes of most Jews, Gentiles were outside the pale of God’s concern and mercy, fit only for destruction as His enemies and the enemies of those who thought they were His people.

But the love of the scribes and Pharisees,Jesus said, was no better than the love of those whom they despised above all other people. You love those who love you, and that is the same type of love that even the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles exhibit. “Your righteousness,” He charged, “is therefore no better than theirs.”

The citizens of God’s kingdom are to have a much higher standard of love, and of every other aspect of righteousness, than does the rest of the world. Christians should be noticed on the job because they are more honest and more considerate. Christians should be noticed in their communities because they are more helpful and caring. Christians should be noticed anywhere in society they happen to be because the love they exhibit is a divine love. “Let your light shine before men,” Jesus had already said, “in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). As J. Oswald Sanders comments, “The Master expects from His disciples such conduct as can be explained only in terms of the supernatural.”[2]

There is no reward if we love those who love us; Jesus says that even unconverted tax collectors do that! That type of love requires no divine power. Neither is there any virtue in greeting our brethren7 only, i.e., our relatives and friends. The unsaved can do that; there is nothing distinctively Christian about it. If our standards are no higher than the world’s, it is certain that we will never make an impact on the world.

Jesus said that His followers should return good for evil so that they might be sons of their Father in heaven. He was not saying that this was the way to become sons of God; rather, it is how we show that we are God’s children. Since God shows no partiality to either the evil or the good (in that both benefit from sun and rain), so we should deal graciously and fairly with all.[3]

46 Luke 6:32 uses charis (“grace,” GK 5921; NIV, “credit”) rather than misthos (“reward,” GK 3635), a distinction that has fostered various complex theories concerning the relationship between the two passages. But in the same context, Luke also speaks of misthos (“reward,” 6:35), and his use of charis means no more than thanks or gratitude: “What thanks have you?” (cf. BDAG, 1080; hence “credit” in the NIV). The two passages are therefore very close, and neither construes “reward” in purely meritorious categories (see comments at v. 12). But the Scriptures do appeal to the hopes and fears of men (e.g., Heb 11:2, 26; cf. Mt 5:12; 6:1) and to greater and lesser felicity in heaven and punishment in hell (Lk 12:47–48; cf. 1 Co 9:16–18). The verb echete (“you have”; NIV, “you get”) may be a literal present; but more likely it is future along the line of 6:19–21: i.e., a man “stores up” and therefore “has” various treasure awaiting him in heaven.

The tax collectors (telōnēs) in the Synoptics are not the senior holders of the tax-farming contracts (Lat. publicani), usually foreigners, but local subordinate collectors (Lat. portitores) working under them (BDAG, 999). The latter were despised, not only because the tax-farming scheme encouraged corruption on a massive scale, but also because strict Jews would perceive them as both traitorous (raising taxes for the enslaving power) and potentially unclean (owing to possible contamination from association with Gentiles—a danger for at least the senior ranks of portitores, who necessarily had dealings with their Gentile overlords). They are often associated with harlots and other public sinners (see Notes). But even these people love those who love them—at least their mothers and other tax collectors!

47 Proper salutation was a mark of courtesy and respect; but if Jesus’ disciples tender such greeting only to their “brothers”—i.e., other like-minded disciples (see comments at vv. 23–24)—they do not rise above the standards of ethnikoi (strictly speaking, “Gentiles,” but since most Gentiles were pagans, the word came to have more than racial overtones). “In loving his friends a man may in a certain sense be loving only himself—a kind of expanded selfishness” (Broadus). Jesus will not condone this. “The life of the old (fallen) humanity is based on rough justice, avenging injuries and returning favors. The life of the new (redeemed) humanity is based on divine love, refusing to take revenge but overcoming evil with good” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 123).[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 132). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 349). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 193). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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