Love & Hatred vv.43-48
The love of enemies is the ethical bottomline of the Sermon on The Mount. It seems impossible – as does being “perfect” in v. 48. Mind you, to love your enemy is possible, in that love is essentially volitional. On the other hand, to like your enemy is virtually impossible because “like” is solely emotional. To love is to do. To like is to feel. Love is unconditional. Like has conditions.
Jesus calls on us to “pray for” our enemies. This is hard to do. Indeed an ancient preacher named Chrystotom called prayer for our enemies, “the very highest summit of self-control”. But it can be done. To love is a choice, and we can choose to add value by prayer and/or deeds directed to the betterment even of those “evil” ones who “persecute” us. The embattled Coptic Christians of Egypt have modeled this in the early twenty-first century in their response to violent persecution by so-called Islamic State terrorists. In their case love is expressed via forgiveness. What spiritual maturity!
This is what “perfect” in v. 48 refers to – maturity. The Greek word used is “teleios” which means “functional” or “mature”, no loose ends. A man is “teleios” if he fulfills the purpose for which he was created. We can never attain to the moral or spiritual perfection of our Creator, but we can, like him, fully function as He intended us to do from the beginning. Any “perfection” assigned to us of the moral and spiritual kind will be solely “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” But, just as Christ died for us “while we were yet enemies” so too we can “die” for our neighbour, be he friend or enemy. This is “teleios”.