Lesson for Nov. 13, 2011: Loving Unconditionally (Matthew 5:38-48)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for November 13) is written by Ron Mobley, senior minister with Northwest Christian Church in Acworth, Georgia.


Loving Unconditionally (Matthew 5:38-48)

By Ron Mobley

The classic song from the stage play Carnival begins, “Love makes the world go round.” If you have paid attention to world news in recent months you realize that if “love makes the world go round,” our planet has nearly come to a screeching halt! If someone asks, “Can you feel the love,” the answer for many in our world must be “NO!”


It’s Personal

Jesus starts this section of his Sermon on the Mount by saying, You have heard that it was said . . .” (Matthew 5:38). Indeed, many in our culture have heard about love, but have people seen it in action?

Jesus says, “If anyone slaps you . . . and if anyone wants to sue you . . . if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (5:39-41, author emphasis). While there are at least a couple of interpretations commonly applied to these verses, it seems evident Jesus wants his followers to see—and do—something different than what they might have expected. Jesus spends much time establishing and affirming the perspective of God the Father because he wants God’s main idea of loving unconditionally to be more than what the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and “teachers of the law” are presenting and demonstrating to the people of Israel.

Most of us have been offended or put down in some way. How do you respond to mistreatment? Do you respond in-kind? If so, have you come to regret such a reaction? Perhaps you prayed about it, or a brother or sister in Christ helped you see the potential for a better response. On what would you base a different response, if not on God’s idea of loving others?

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Even Christians can miss the wording in verse 39, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person” (author emphasis). At this point, maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Now I know he’s talking about some other guy, not about me. I’m not evil.” Maybe you’re even saying, “I turn the other cheek all the time, but what about those who don’t turn theirs to me?” Hmmm.


A Mixed Message?

There is something else we may have overlooked. Consider the hypothetical questions Jesus asks throughout Matthew 5, and you’ll notice they are not hypothetical at all. He addresses elements of poor Scripture interpretation, Jewish law, and everyday life for his hearers. He mentions someone who “forces you to go one mile,” and says, “go with them two miles” (v. 41). That reminds us of a saying in our culture, “going the extra mile.” This usually is understood to mean to give someone some extra time, or some slack, or to be patient with that person for a while longer.

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To the Jew of Jesus’ day, it meant much more. Recall that Roman legions occupied Israel. Roman law permitted a soldier to force any person to take up the soldier’s pack and other possessions and carry them a Roman mile, which was only slightly shorter than our mile. It was a grievous insult for a Jew to be compelled to serve such a hated enemy in this way. The Romans were the enemies of every Jew. That’s also why tax collectors were hated. Jews who collected taxes for Rome were considered turncoats. Yet Jesus identifies these two specific groups as people who must be shown unconditional love. That’s worse than telling the Jews they should treat Samaritans as their neighbors!


Kingdom Principles

Most of us understand that the “kingdom principles” Jesus lays down, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, are impossible to keep—apart from becoming a born-again Christian. But God’s Word and the Holy Spirit make the impossible possible! Under the new covenant in Christ’s blood, the two greatest commands—to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40, et al.)—can be lived out by those who wear the name of Christ and permit the Spirit of Christ to live in their hearts and lives. Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) becomes a get to, not a got to, for those who “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). It becomes possible to remove old biases and prejudices, and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (5:44, 45). Isn’t that what it means to Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48)?


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

November 7: Matthew 22:34-40
November 8: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
November 9: Leviticus 19:13-18
November 10: Leviticus 19:33-37
November 11: Ephesian 5:25-33
November 12: Titus 2:1-5
November 13: Matthew 5:38-48



Ron Mobley serves as senior minister with Northwest Christian Church in Acworth, Georgia. A graduate of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University, he and his wife, Dee, have four children and four grandchildren.

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