Perfected Disciples

Mercy and love are defining characteristics of Christ’s disciples and reflect the true nature of his Father. In his 'Sermon on the Mount', Jesus exhorted his disciples to become “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But how can anyone emulate the perfect righteousness of God? His explanation was clear - by performing acts of mercy, ESPECIALLY to one’s persecutors and enemies. Self-sacrificial love goes to the heart of the Nazarene’s message and mission. After all, he is the one who submitted to an unjust death for others even when they were still the “enemies of God.”

Crucifix - Photo by Dejan Livančić on Unsplash
[Photo by Dejan Livančić on Unsplash]

Showing mercy and doing acts of kindness to others is how the disciple of Jesus “
fulfills the Law and the Prophets,” thereby achieving a level of righteousness that “exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” For the would-be follower of Jesus, mercy shown to one’s opponents is NOT optional.

  • (Matthew 5:43-48) – “You have heard that it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for them who are persecuting you that you may become sons of your Father who is in the heavens because He makes his sun rise on evil and good and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward have you? Are not even the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you salute your brethren only, what more than common are you doing? Are not even the Gentiles doing the same thing? You, therefore, shall become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In the preceding passage, the conjunction rendered “therefore” connects this exhortation to what preceded it (“therefore, become perfect”), namely, the summons to love one’s enemy. By doing this, the disciple of Jesus becomes “perfect like his heavenly Father.”

Moreover, the paragraph concludes the larger literary unit that began with his declaration that he came to FULFILL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS. What was germinal under the Law of Moses comes to fruition in the life and teachings of the Nazarene.

What is required to be a disciple of Jesus exceeds the requirements of the Torah, the Mosaic Law. In the era ushered in by the Messiah unless the disciple’s “righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees” he will not enter the Kingdom of God - (Matthew 5:17-20).

His declaration concerning the “Law and Prophets” is followed by six examples of how the disciple’s “righteousness” ought to surpass that of the “Scribes and Pharisees.” In each case, Jesus does not simply reaffirm a statute of the Law, he pierces through to its true intent. This comes to the surface, especially in how a disciple treats others, especially his or her “enemy.”

For example, Jesus extrapolates from the prohibition against murder to the principle that one should not even harbor anger toward another man. Hatred leads to bitterness, and bitterness to murder. Instead of simply refusing to kill an opponent, HIS disciple must seek reconciliation with the person who has offended him. Evil is overcome by taking positive action - (Matthew 5:21-26).

Likewise, HIS disciple must do more than simply abstain from adultery, theft or murder, the minimal requirement of the Torah. Life in HIS Kingdom demands something more than following the letter of the regulations handed down by Moses.

Jesus turned the law of an “eye for an eye” into the moral principle of “turning the other cheek.” He repudiated the then-popular interpretation that added the clause “and hates his enemy” to the original love commandment found in Leviticus. Since it explicitly commands love to fellow Israelites but omits any mention of the Gentiles, so the legalistic logic went, hatred of enemies was permissible, or at least if they were Gentiles - (Leviticus 19:18).


Jesus rejected that wrongheaded interpretation. Since the commandment prohibited any act of vengeance, the Law did not allow HIS disciple to hate anyone, whether Jew, Gentile, friend, or foe.

The man with a mind conditioned to think as the world thinks takes vengeance against someone who acts against his interests. In contrast, HIS disciple is summoned to love his enemy, pray for anyone who abuses him, and do him or her “good.”

Does God not send His rain on the just and the unjust? This statement is derived from the final clause of Leviticus 19:18. After commanding Israel not to take vengeance, God stressed His identity - “I am Yahweh.” Showing mercy to the deserving and the undeserving is fundamental to His nature. His is “Yahweh,” the one “who is” and who keeps His covenant promises.

If the disciple limits his love to friends and family, how is he any different from the tax collector or Gentile, let alone the Scribes and Pharisees? All of us naturally love those who do good for us. However, loving our mortal enemy is something altogether different and foreign to our impenitent natures.

L0ve is much more than an emotion or an abstract idea. It is demonstrated in concrete acts of mercy. As Paul writes to the Romans, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him to drink.” Likewise, John declares, “Let us not love in word, BUT IN DEEDS!

Jesus engaged in the ultimate act of mercy when he “gave his life as a ransom for many.” Included in the term “many” are both his friends and “enemies.”:

For if BEING ENEMIES we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” – (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:10, 12:20, 1 John 3:18).

Righteousness is not demonstrated by restraining ourselves from committing sin. Instead, it is manifested by the good we do for others, especially for our opponents and persecutors. The simple command of Jesus to love our enemies demonstrates eloquently and decisively that in his Kingdom there is no place for hatred, violence, or retaliation.




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