What does Matthew 5:43 mean?
ESV: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
NIV: You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
NASB: You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’
CSB: "You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
NLT: You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.
KJV: Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
This statement is subtly different from Jesus' prior comments about teachings from the scribes and Pharisees. Up to now, statements such as "you shall not murder" (Matthew 5:21) and "you shall not commit adultery" (Matthew 5:27) were legitimate commands given by God in the Old Testament. Jesus' intent in using "but I say…" in response was not to reject those teachings; it's to move them beyond shallow, legalistic, unloving interpretations (Matthew 5:22, 28). Here, however, the teaching Jesus presents includes a detail God never gave the people of Israel.
God never commands hate for other people. Leviticus 19:18 commands love for one's neighbor, but there's no Scripture where Jesus' listeners would have been told to hate their enemies. It's possible that Israel's religious leaders seized on the "neighbor" concept, claiming that those who were not their "neighbors" were not to be loved. Religious leaders might have taught, since God hates evil, that hatred toward the wicked enemies of God was not only justified, but required.
In Jesus' earthly ministry, He clarified that loving one's neighbor was the second-greatest of all God's commandments (Matthew 22:36–39). He also expanded the definition of one's "neighbor" (Luke 10:29) well beyond the cultural norm through the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 22:36–37). That doesn't mean this is easy; It's hard to love other people. Jesus, though, will show that loving one's enemies can truly be powerful when done as a representative of God.
Once again, Jesus flips the common understanding of righteousness on its head. Jesus' original audience probably wondered how any person could possibly be righteous, if a person must love His enemies. That, of course, is part of the point Jesus intends to make (Matthew 5:48). While we ought to strive to meet God's standards, only salvation by grace through faith can bring us into heaven (Titus 3:5).
Matthew 5:43–48 continues Jesus' teaching on love and humility, a part of the Sermon on the Mount. After commanding believers not to seek revenge in the face of insults, Jesus expands the idea of love to include one's enemies. Human beings naturally struggle with the idea of passively accepting persecution. We naturally recoil at the idea of expressing active love—in our deeds, not necessarily in our emotions—for those who hate and attack us. However, loving those who love you is easy; God's standards are higher.
The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus' most challenging teaching. It begins with the unlikely blessings of the Beatitudes. Jesus' disciples must do good works in order to be a powerful influence: as the salt of the earth and light of the world. The superficial righteousness of the Pharisees is not good enough to earn heaven. Sins of the heart, such as angry insults and intentional lust, are worthy of hell just as much as adultery and murder. Easy divorce and deceptive oaths are forbidden. Believers should not seek revenge. Instead, God intends us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. In short, we should strive to be perfect, as God is perfect.
Matthew 5 follows Matthew's description of the enormous crowds that were following Jesus (Matthew 4:25). One day, Jesus sits down on a hill to teach them, in an address we now call the Sermon on the Mount. He describes as blessed those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, and who are persecuted. Christ also explains how God's standards of righteousness go far beyond behaviors and speech; they also include our thoughts and attitudes. Meeting God's standards means perfection. Chapter 6 continues this sermon, with more examples of Jesus clarifying God's intent for godly living.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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