Text: Matthew 5:43-48
In the 1600s, Baptists (especially the English Baptists in the late seventeenth century) is known for their dissenting spirit (not just for the sake of “to dissent”). Baptists fought for religious freedom amid denominational control and State religion. Baptists advanced the biblical baptism even the entire Christian world sought pedobaptism (or infant baptism).
Where did the Baptist get this thought of dissenting? Knowing that Baptists later became known as the “people of the book (Bible)”, we mainly based our faith and practices on the authority of the Word of God. If the culture says this, we check and analyze if the Bible says so too or not. If not in the Bible, is it regulative or normative? Will this conflict with our goal to become more like Christ? If not, then we explore and make sure that everything we do ought to glorify God.
There are many things in this world that we need to critically study when it comes to cultural trends. But, as Christians, we are not called to expose or explore the deeper meaning or reasons behind it. Let us leave that to the scholars and academic institutions. Instead, we are called to dig deeper in the Word of God, and from there we apply it in our lives as Christian lenses for our individual perspective. To this thought of having the same perspective in Christ, we become one as the body of Christ.
In verse 43 of Matthew 5, you will see the idea of a contrasting perspective as early as our first verse. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said.” The following statement is a heavy claim that the world teaches “to hate your enemy.” None in the Bible teaches to hate your enemy. Hate is strong word and Christians were never told to hate anyone or anything unless sin.
Verse 44, Dissenting from the previous cultural ideology, Christ calls for a kind of attitude that is not prominent in this world. This love—known as the agape love—is unconditional and knows no ifs or buts. Indeed, as stated also in verse 46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” It is easy to love those who meet our expectations or those who love us back or those who benefited us. But as Christ rhetorically asked, “what’s the distinction of being a Christian if we are just doing what others have been doing?”
There is a greater love than how the world teaches us to love. The pop culture, the Netflix culture, the anime, the social media world teach us a cultural trend kind of life. But as Christians, our love towards others must not be tainted by any prejudice, discrimination. Our love even towards our enemies is not optional nor selective.
The following statement in verse 44, going back, “pray for those who persecute you.” Ohhhhh it is already difficult to love our enemies, now this? Pray for those people who persecute me? Pray for them? Why would I?
Again, praying for those who offended us is not easy, but is a-must thing to do for a Christian. Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In this manner, we can exemplify grace and show our Christian love because God told us so and God set it so.
Ultimately, in verse 47, “Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Why would other people desire our Christian living if they can only see the same as how the world live their lives? What makes it different being a Christian, if I can also drink as much as I want, do vices, watch pornography, lust others, satisfy my fleshly desires, and prioritize money, successes, and fame?
This is the problem. If the world does not see churches, Christians as the salt and light of the world, then no one will ever desire to be a Christian. Brothers and sisters, exemplify Christ in your lives. Manifest grace, mercy, compassion, and love; pray for those people whom you do not see worthy of praying.
The imperative statement, in verse 48, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The term perfect there in Greek is teleios [τελείως], this means complete, whole, same as shalom [or peace] in Hebrew.
Our completeness or having a fulfilled or maginhawang buhay is not achieved by the worldly definition, examples, nor lifestyle. But rather, we can achieve this if we focus our eyes on Christ, live like Christ, and obey His words.
We dissent from worldly ideas not just for the sake of dissenting but for the sake of glorifying God in Christ through the Spirit’s divine wisdom.
Ptr. John Paul Arceno
UCBC New Jersey
August 1, 2021
*This section is an excerpt only; download the full manuscript here.