We have here (Matthew 5:38-48) our Lord Jesus Christ’s rules for our conduct towards one another. If you want to know how you ought to feel and act towards other people, you should often study these verses. They deserve to be written in letters of gold. They have called forth 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 tell you, Do not resist an evil person” (verse 39). A readiness to resent injuries, a quickness in taking offense, a quarrelsome and contentious disposition, a keenness in asserting our rights—all are contrary to the mind of Christ. The world may see no harm in these habits of mind, but they do not suit the character of the Christian. Our Master says, “Do not resist an evil person.”
2. Universal Love
The Lord Jesus enjoins on us a spirit of universal love and charity. “I tell you: Love your enemies” (verse 44). 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 anyone “forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (verse 41). We are to put up with much and bear much, rather than hurt another, or give offense. 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 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.
1. Children of God
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 in heaven” do? He is kind to all: he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike; he causes “his sun” to shine on all without distinction (verse 45). 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 have no love? It is altogether lacking. We must yet be “born again” (John 3:7).
2. Of the World
For another thing, if we do not aim at the spirit here recommended, we are obviously still of the world. “What are you doing more than others?” is our Lord’s solemn question (verse 47). Even those who have no religion can love those who love them (verse 46). 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 is the case we may be sure we have yet to be converted. As yet we have not “received … the Spirit who is from 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 Christians as they ought to be. We cannot look at it without painful feelings: we must all admit that it differs widely from Christians as they are. Let us carry away from it two general lessons.
1. Recommending Christianity
First, if the spirit of these ten verses were more continually remembered by true believers, they would recommend Christianity to the world far more than they do. We must not allow ourselves to suppose that the least words in this passage are trifling and of small moment: they are not so. Attention to the spirit of this passage makes our religion beautiful. Neglect of the things which it contains deforms our religion. Unfailing courtesy, kindness, tenderness and consideration for others are some of the greatest ornaments to the character of a child of God. The world can understand these things if it cannot understand doctrine. There is no religion in rudeness, roughness, bluntness, and incivility. The perfection of practical Christianity consists in attending to the little duties of holiness as well as to the great.
2. A Happier World
Second, if the spirit of these ten verses had more dominion and power in the world, how much happier the world would be than it is. Quarreling, strife, selfishness and unkindness cause half the miseries by which mankind is visited! Who can fail to see that nothing would tend to increase happiness so much as the spread of the Christian love here recommended by our Lord? Let us remember this. Those who fancy that true religion has any tendency to make people unhappy are greatly mistaken. It is the absence of it that does this, not its presence. True religion has exactly the opposite effect. It tends to promote peace, charity, kindness and goodwill among people. The more people are brought under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the more they will love one another, and the more happy they will be.