Are you “emboldened?” A current new item involves a U.S. Senator who protested during a U.S. Supreme Court hearing. I am not following the online threads of reactions to the event, and it is not my intention to distract you with politics. But I was surprised that one news report coined such intense emotional reactions as being “emboldened,” and a characteristic of our current culture. Being “emboldened” has always had a good connotation in my mind, so I thought I had better check myself. Seeing that my definition seems to be a non-biblical one, I thought I should check its use in Scripture. (1) Will I be emboldened by culture or Scripture? That is the real question. Do we take our direction from culture, and adopt the attitudes of those most prominently reported, or from our friends and family? Of course, we should look to Scripture for our guidance in relating to others.
The Bible never fails to address the problems in our societies and cultures. Over two thousand years ago, the Jew leaders were emboldened to see non-Jews as the “uncircumcised,” and therefore enemies, at least to some extent. The unbelieving Jews viewed Jesus as their enemy, as well as Rome. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus taught them a different way to see people and life. Today we will study Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:43-48, as we continue to examine and revise our understanding of love as the fruit of the Spirit and our salvation. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Unlike the Pharisees, with their many Talmudic traditions, Jesus calls on his disciples to follow and adhere to biblical truth, not human interpretations of it. No matter how our culture interprets the idea of debate or argument, we are called to speak and act in love.
If we follow Jesus rather than our culture, we will love all people through Christ’s love in us, not just those who agree with us or think like us. But, let’s face it, most of us do not love people who are different, especially those who disagree with our beliefs, viewpoints, and opinions. The Pharisees latched onto some Old Testament ideas about evil, distorting them to serve their purposes. But, “…in his ‘you have heard’ statements ([Matthew 5] vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43), Jesus is correcting not the OT itself but only misinterpretations of the OT. God’s hatred of evil was a central theme in the OT (e.g., Ps. 5:4–5). Consequently, those who embodied evil were understood to be God’s enemies, and it was natural to hate them (cf. Ps. 26:4–5; 139:21–22), but such hatred is never commanded by God. The OT never says that anyone should hate his or her enemy…[In Psalm 139] David only means that he did not want to be with those who were openly marked by evil or were hatching evil actions.” (2) The words “and hate your enemies” are found nowhere in the Bible. In Boice’s commentary on Leviticus 19:18, he writes, “Jesus teaches that the citizens of the kingdom are to love their enemies as well as their friends because that is the way the heavenly King treats them. It is only as they display kindness to those who are evil as well as to those who are good that they will be able to demonstrate that they are the true sons and daughters of God.” (3)
Christians follow Jesus, not human traditions that resemble Scripture. “God helps those who help themselves” appears nowhere in the Bible. Nor does “actions speak louder than words.” So we, following Jesus’s example, must discern what is biblical and what is cultural or traditional. Let no one think this is easy, comfortable, or friendly. After all, most of our relationships are based on traditions and memories. I have found myself on the outside at work and in my communities when I chose not to honor certain traditions that I felt were unbiblical (though not sinful). I won’t attend a Jewish Passover celebration, even with my family, because I don’t want to encourage Jewish faith, exclusive of Jesus Christ and all the imagery of our Savior in that beautiful Messianic event and remembrance. Christ spoke to the Jewish misinterpretation of God’s commands saying, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus continues to speak to the leaders and his disciples if only we will listen. I am grateful to read in “By Faith” that my church denominational leaders have recognized a problem. “‘There is a native distrust that is given greater energy by our cultural moment. Because we are so scared of being taken in, we are always looking through people’…The antidote is relationship. If church leaders pursue those with whom they disagree and forge relationships with them, the rhetoric cools down.” (4)
God loves all people and creatures with his common grace. Christians who enjoy both God’s common grace and Christ’s love can love everyone, as God does, “…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.” (v. 45) Jesus bridges the special grace of God in Christ, that lives in us, to God’s common grace for everyone. We who are his children should extend both to others, as God does. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vs. 46-47) Again we must be honest with ourselves if we are to grow spiritually. Of course, we love those who love us, and we acknowledge those who care for us; this is the natural state of human behavior for all of God’s creatures. It doesn’t take any special grace to do it. However, Christ is ready to reward us with the spiritual blessing of sharing the gospel if we will engage with those who are “outside” the Christian body.
We have been transformed by gospel love by intimate fellowship with our Redeemer, who purifies our hearts and souls. We are being made perfect. We acknowledge that we are nowhere near perfect now, but we know a perfect God, through Christ and the Spirit, who supplies his holiness for and within us. So when we read, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” in Matthew 5:48, we understand that we are “pursuing the very perfection of God. This verse provides the conclusion and summary to the antithesis section (vv. 21–48), showing that all of the Law and the Prophets find their perfect…fulfillment in the perfection of the Father, which is what all Jesus’ disciples are called to pursue.” (5) John Gill comments, “…not that men may, or can, or ought to be as perfect in love, as to the degree of it, as God is; that is impossible: the ‘as’ here, is not a note of equality, but of likeness: such who profess God to be their Father, ought to imitate him, particularly in their love to men, which ought to be extended to the same objects, as the divine goodness is; that, as he shows regard in a providential way to all men, good and bad, just and unjust, and his tender mercies are over all his works; so ought they to love all men with a natural affection, and hate no man, no, not their enemies: for he that loves only his friends, and not his enemies, loves imperfectly.” (6)
I think our culture has perfected imperfect love, being emboldened to express opinions as if they are precious truths that are actually the foolishness of the sinful human mind. We must be vigilant to discourage this practice and pray for everyone, since we have been transformed by Christ’s love. Which individuals or group of people are you tempted to call your enemies? Will you pray for them and ask God to change your attitude? How much do you enjoy God’s common grace in nature, ethics, and even the morals of those who don’t have Christ? Will you help people appreciate and see God as the first cause? How can your standard greetings with people and acquaintances be more meaningful? And, finally, here’s the question I continually ask myself: Will I stop attempting perfection by legalism and instead be emboldened with the love of Christ, displaying his character and attributes, with the gospel ready on my lips? “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)
(1) Online definitions of embolden: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/embolden and https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/embolden?q=emboldened
Scripture’s use of “embolden:” The NIV has two references, one in Psalms 138:3, “When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me”. The other reference is 1 Corinthians 8:10, “For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?” The RSV uses “strength of soul” in Psalm 138 and “encouraged” in 1 Cor. 8.
(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:43-48, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(3) Boice, Ibid.
(4) Fowler, Megan, “Relationships Are the Antidote to Animosity,” page 26, “By Faith,” no. 64, (a quarterly magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America).
(5) Boice, Ibid.
(6) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Matthew 5:44, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html.
March 6, 2020