The Ethics of Jesus

David Bast

Read: Matthew 5:38-48

Love your enemies. (v. 44)

Do you wish Jesus hadn’t said all this? Turning the other cheek, going the second mile, loving our enemies—does he actually expect us to do that? Well, yes.

This behavior directly contradicts the way the world operates. It goes against every ordinary human instinct. Our natural rule is “tit for tat,” an eye for an eye. Give what you get. Don’t get mad, get even. But Jesus tells us to do good to others, even when they deserve the opposite, and to help people even when they won’t help us back. Those are the ethics of Jesus.

Jesus gives two reasons for living this way. One is that Christians should behave better than people of the world. “Look,” he says, in effect, “even Nazis can be good to their friends and kind to their children. What’s so great about that? I expect much more from you.” If we know Jesus it ought to make our actions so different that unbelievers sit up and take notice. When a prominent Turkish Christian journalist was assassinated by anti-Christian extremists, his widow said on television, “I forgive them.” The secular reporter interviewing her blurted out, “That was Jesus Christ speaking.” Exactly.

Second, we must act this way because this is how God behaves. We need to repay hostility with love and show mercy to the undeserving because this is exactly what our heavenly Father does. If we really are God’s children, shouldn’t we bear a family resemblance? —David Bast

Prayer: “O God, command what you will, and give what you command” (St. Augustine).