The Pharisees and Personal Enemies

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48)

The question that pervades the Sermon on the Mount is "Who Is True To God's Law?" Is Jesus destroying the Law or upholding it? On the flip side of the coin is the teaching and influence of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). Are they destroying the Law or upholding it? The contrast is not between the New Law of Christ and the Old Law of Moses. The contrast is between the righteousness of the Law and the lesser standard of righteousness employed and taught by the scribes and Pharisees.

Important Question

Did the Law of Moses say, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy"? The answer is "no!" This is not what the Law of Moses said to the individual. Did the Law teach what Jesus is teaching here? Yes! Exodus 23:4-5 says, "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it"  Does that sound like "hate your enemy?" Not at all. The Pharisees said "hate your enemy", but that is not what the Law of Moses said.

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles;  Lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, And He turn away His wrath from him" (Proverbs 24:17-18).

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you" (Proverbs 25:21-22).

"You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:18).

This is what the Law of Moses AND Jesus taught.

What the Pharisees Did

Instead of respecting the Law of Moses in regard to loving your neighbor and your enemy, the Pharisees simply re-defined "neighbor" and misused other passages to come up with the "hate your enemy" part. It was not a quote from the Old Testament, but a quote from the Pharisees.  Your neighbor and your enemy were whoever you decided to make in either category. That was the Pharisee way, but not the way of God's Law.  Leviticus 19:18 says, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."

See Luke 10:29f where the question was asked "Who is my neighbor?" The answer was that a Samaritan had a better concept than many of the lawyers and Pharisees, and it was to whomever you have an opportunity to show compassion.  Leviticus 19:33-34 said, "And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."

The Pharisees added "and hate your enemy." They misused passages for personal justification, passages that have to do with God's minister, the State, in judgment against evil, not passages addressed to individual righteousness.  Acting as an agent of the State is different, inasmuch as agents of the state are individuals acting in regard to the national interest and the interests of local justice. The common standard of righteousness that keeps the need for local justice to a minimum is when the individual is respectful of his fellow humans. On that level, there should be no personal enemies.

Personal behavior is under higher, Divine Law.  "Love Your Enemy" is not about admiring your enemy. It is not about feeling good about their spiritual condition or feeling good about their sins.  It is about having "goodwill," wanting them to have time to realize their error, wanting them to find forgiveness with God for they know not what they do, and wanting them to be saved from the wrath to come. Love is not a feeling but a determination of the will to desire the good of all men including our enemies.

Who was strict? The Pharisees were "destroying" the Law in attitude and practice while Jesus was teaching and practicing so as to "fulfill" the Law. Paul taught that we should "fulfill the Law" too. Thus, Paul agreed with Jesus and the Law of Moses (Romans 13:8-10). We must do better than the scribes and Pharisees in our practice of righteousness (Matthew 5:20). Our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and fulfill the righteousness of the Law (Romans 8:4).

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