Open Matthew 5:43-48.
Did you notice that Jesus is using Father as his preferred word for God (5:16, 45, 48)? Father becomes the central core of his Sermon (6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32). No one talked about God like this in Jesus’ world. Why did he make this radical and innovative move?
Jesus was the eternal Son of the Father, but he wasn’t talking about his own unique relationship. Check out the verses above: he consistently spoke of your Father. Where did that come from?
You find the occasional metaphor for God as a father in the Old Testament. He is father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). He shows compassion like a father (Psalm 103:13). He brought the nation of Israel to birth, so he was “your father who created you” (Deuteronomy 32:6; Malachi 2:10). As the first nation birthed under his kingship, “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22) — firstborn because God’s plans include the rest of humanity as well.
A king spoke and acted as the nation, so in that sense a king could also be called God’s son (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 89:26-27; 2:7, 12). This is metonymy: the king stands for God’s son (the nation). We do something similar when we use Canberra to mean the Australian government.
We already saw Matthew using that metonym: Jesus, as Israel, was the son God called out of Egypt (2:15, quoting Hosea 11:1). We heard the heavenly king declaring Jesus to be what Israel was called to be: the chosen son to whom he was pleased to entrust his government (3:17). That’s why the enemy wanted to seduce him: if the son could be enslaved to evil, the whole nation was enslaved (4:3, 6).
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Son of the heavenly ruler calls his subjects to be what the Father of the nation called them to be: his children. When his subjects are peacemakers, they’ll be recognized as sons of God (5:9). Their deeds of kindness shine light on the glorious character of their Father (5:16). The way they treat each other reflects on their Father, for they are brothers (5:22-24).
Then comes Jesus’ unique twist. They’ve understood their Father to say they should love their neighbours within their nation. But to be sons of your Father (5:45), they must love their enemies, the people who destroyed their nation! That’s what their Father does: he provides for the whole human family, giving everyone each day of their lives (5:45).
It’s not rocket science: God is everyone’s Father in the sense that he brought them into being; he gave them their life. Consequently, if they only greet other Jews as brothers, they’ve misunderstood the family (5:47).
Their Father is the ultimate Father, the perfect Father, the Father of everyone (5:48). Their Father treats all humanity as his children — neighbours and enemies, evil and good, just and unjust. On that basis, King Jesus expects them to treat everyone as family, loving them as completely as the Father does.
We’re to treat everyone as valuable, even those who devalue themselves. Even those who devalue us. It’s extremely challenging to love people who intend us harm. That’s perfect love.
We’re so quick to make judgements about who’s in the family and who’s outside. What difference would it make if we stopped labelling some people as outsiders, non-Christians, unsaved, and other hurtful terms that exclude them from us? This is not universalism: God knows those who are his, but he has not asked us to help him judge that. He’s asked us to love our enemies, to recognize that they belong in the family, under the ultimate Father. Whether they are responsive to him is not our problem. We’re called to greet them as brothers, as valuable people in the human family of our Father.
John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved the rebellious world. Our Father’s love is indiscriminate: evil and good, just and unjust. Jesus calls us to love like that, like our perfect Father (5:48).
What others are saying
Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness: Revised and Updated a Unique Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008):
True Kingdom vision will always be people-centered. The priest and Levite [of the Good Samaritan story] were inwardly centered, caught up in the rules and activities of their religious system. They were in a hurry because they had programs to run. Their programs appeared altogether worthwhile, even biblical and obedient, but these two men were ultimately corrupt because they didn’t see people as being at the center of God’s kingdom.
Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 258–259:
At the heart of the message of Jesus was the announcing of the nearness of the divine reign. But Jesus called this God whose reign was near, and even dawning with his own coming, the (heavenly) Father. God shows himself to be Father by caring for his creatures (Matt. 6:26; cf. Luke 12:30). He causes his sun to shine and his rain to fall on the bad as well as the good (Matt. 5:45). He is a model of the love for enemies which Jesus taught (5:44–45).
Even in the non-Jewish world, the notion of a god as the life-giver (Father) was familiar. Acts 17:27–28 (NIV):
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
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