So I thought I'd create one today on Matthew 5:43-48 with the possible title of "Love the Whole Way." It isn't exactly a three point suggestion, so I hope it passes muster with Lenny Luchetti. :-)
1. You might start with a story about someone who did pretty well with something but did not finish or did not go the whole way and thus failed in some key way. It could be an example from sports or history or the Bible. It could be a personal story. It could even be a hypothetical, like a product that was mostly finished but missing some crucial final component.
2. Explain the context of Matthew 5:17-48. See The Wisdom of Jesus, Week 2, and Jesus: Portraits from the Gospels, chapter 4.
1. Jesus calls us to love everybody.
- You don't have to like someone to love them. Love is a choice in this context. When you are faced with Choice A and Choice B, love does the Jesus thing, not the unloving thing. This dynamic is especially important in the special case of the person who has wronged you in a significant way. Forgiveness and love, in this context, are not about feelings. They are about how you act toward others.
- Illustration. Again, you can use a personal story, a story from the newspaper, history, sports, or the Bible. For example, a nice cross reference here is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus picked the "wrong person" to be the good guy in this story. Who is the person you most do not want to "love." That is the person you should picture in this parable.
- Hatred: The first example Jesus gives has to do with murder and hatred. It's not enough just not to kill anyone. Going the loving way, going the whole way, means not acting hatefully, not only in our actions, but in the choices of our minds. See supporting material for more details.
- Sexual Faithfulness: Again, it is not simply enough not to commit adultery. (What is adultery, see supporting materials) Do you commit adultery with your mind? Some would divorce in order to try to commit adultery legally.
- Keeping your word: Going the loving way in truthfulness is not simply telling the truths when you swear by God. It is being a truthful person, someone who is dependable in what they say. This is not a matter of legalism but a matter of being loving with your words. An important example is the person who is unloving while telling the truth--this person also violates the spirit of Jesus here.
- Mercy over justice: It is common to think of these instructions as "making things even harder," but that is not exactly what Jesus is doing. Jesus is not being a legalist with Scripture (see supporting materials). In going the loving way, some of the Old Testament instruction gets shuffled (such as the "eye for an eye" instruction). "Fulfilling the Law and Prophets" (Matt. 5:17) sometimes means making exceptions to the rule. It involves the right priorities, with love as the chief priority.
- "Perfect" here is not about mistakes or absolute perfection. It is not about performance. It is about an attitude. It is about acting in a "complete" way. (See supporting materials)
- Illustration: Give a story that captures this principle, especially an example where someone is very "imperfect" at being "perfect."
Virtue is not simply about making the right choices. Give an example of someone who finds something easy. I know people who are thin, but they do not have to exert any effort to be thin. They could overeat every day and be thin.
Virtue is when it takes effort to make the right choices. "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (5:46). As Christians, we do not believe we either have to do it alone or even can do it alone. But we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do the right thing, the loving thing (1 Cor. 10:13).
End with a call to commitment and a challenge to live accordingly this week.