by J. C. Ryle
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. — Matthew 5:43-48
We have here our Lord Jesus Christ’s rules for our conduct one towards another. He that would know how he ought to feel and act towards his fellow men, should often study these verses. They deserve to be written in letters of gold. They have extorted praise even from the enemies of Christianity. Let us mark well what they contain.
The Lord Jesus forbids everything like an unforgiving and revengeful spirit. “I say unto you, that ye resist not evil.” A readiness to resent injuries, a quickness in taking offense, a quarrelsome and contentious disposition, a keenness in asserting our rights—all all are contrary to the mind of Christ. The world may see no harm in these habits of mind, but they do not become the character of the Christian. Our Master says, “Resist not evil.”
The Lord Jesus enjoins on us a spirit of universal love and charity. “I say unto you: Love your enemies.” We ought to put away all malice: we ought to return good for evil, and blessing for cursing. Moreover we are not to love in word only, but in deed; we are to deny ourselves, and take trouble, in order to be kind and courteous: “if any man compel thee to go a mile go with him twain.” We are to put up with much and bear much, rather than hurt another, or give offence. In all things we are to be unselfish. Our thought must never be, “How do others behave to me?” but “What would Christ have me to do?”
A standard of conduct like this may seem, at first sight, extravagantly high. But we must never content ourselves with aiming at one lower. We must observe the two weighty arguments which our Lord uses to back up this part of his instruction. They deserve serious attention.
For one thing, if we do not aim at the spirit and temper which are here recommended, we are not yet children of God. What does our “Father which is in heaven” do? He is kind to all: he sends rain on good and on evil alike; he causes “his sun” to shine on all without distinction. A child should be like his father: but where is our likeness to our Father in heaven if we cannot show mercy and kindness to everybody? Where is the evidence that we are new creatures if we lack love? It is altogether wanting. We must yet be “born again” (John 3:7).
For another thing, if we do not aim at the spirit and temper here recommended, we are manifestly of the world. “What do ye more than others?” is our Lord’s solemn question. Even those who have no religion can love those who love them. They can do good and show kindness when affection or interest moves them. But a Christian ought to be influenced by higher principles than these. Do we flinch from the test? Do we find it impossible to do good to our enemies? If that be the case we may be sure we have yet to be converted. As yet we have not “received ˆ the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)
There is much in all this which calls loudly for solemn reflection. There are few passages of Scripture so calculated to raise in our minds humbling thoughts. We have here a lovely picture of the Christian as he ought to be.
– J.C. Ryle
From: Expository Thoughts on The Gospels, Matthew.