The Sermon On The Mount Part 1


Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was delivered near the beginning of His ministry and it is the longest of Jesus’ sermons recorded in the New Testament. It begins with a section commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, meaning ‘perfect joy.’

Most of the beatitudes are irrational and contrary to the world’s view. The word ‘blessed’ is used throughout this passage, and it can be accurately replaced with the word ‘joyful.’ Another synonym that could be utilised is the word ‘happy,’ as long as we understand this bliss is not due to good luck or chance.

Introduction To The Sermon On The Mount

‘Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.’ Matthew 5:1-2

Jesus was travelling near the Sea of Galilee and decided to speak to His disciples about what it means to follow Him. He went up on a mountainside and gathered His disciples around Him.

The rest of the crowd appear to have found places along the side of the hill and at the level place near the bottom in order to hear what Jesus taught His closest followers. It was very common practice for teachers to sit down to teach, Luke 4:20 / Matthew 13:2 / Matthew 23:2 / Matthew 24:3.

Please note this is not the same event we have recorded in Luke, on that occasion, Jesus spoke on ‘a level place’, Luke 6:17.

The exact location where Jesus preached this sermon is unknown, although tradition names the location as a large hill known as Karn Hattin, located near Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. There is a church nearby to this day called the church of the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:3

The word ‘blessed’, simply means happy, 1 Timothy 1:11.

Spurgeon, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The blessing is in every case in the present tense, a happiness to be now enjoyed and delighted in. It is not ‘Blessed shall be,’ but ‘Blessed are.’

To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to feel a deep sense of spiritual poverty. It is to empty ourselves and understand our insignificance in comparison to our Almighty God, Philippians 2:3-4.

To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to have a state of mind that is lowly and reverent before Him. It is to be full of humility, not pride, Luke 18:9-14.

It is impossible to be ‘poor in spirit’ until we realise our spiritual needs. As long as a person delights in sin, they won’t be ‘poor in spirit,’ and they won’t seek the Saviour since they don’t feel a necessity for Him, Matthew 9:12.

To be ‘poor in spirit’ is a joyful condition because when we become aware of our sinfulness and hopelessness without God, we will seek the ‘kingdom of heaven’ and find hope therein.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ Matthew 5:4

In the Greek language, the strongest word for ‘mourn’ is used here. This term indicates a type of mourning that cannot be hidden. The mourning can be physical mourning over a loss, Genesis 37:34.

However, the main thrust here is that of spiritual mourning. The blessing here is not upon all who mourn, those with worldly sorrow would be excluded, 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Those who mourn because of sin and consequently repent are the ones who will be blessed, James 4:8-10. Such a person mourns over sin from a tender conscience and broken heart, realising that it’s their own sin which separates them from God spiritually, Isaiah 59:1-2.

After we realise our sinfulness, we can be ‘comforted’ by the discovery and acceptance of God’s pardon, made possible by obedience to the saving Gospel, Romans 1:16 / Romans 6:17.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ Matthew 5:5

Those listening to Jesus speak were full of the hope that He, as the Messiah, would lead them to conquest in a physical kingdom that would dominate by force, Proverbs 16:32. However, Jesus taught true joy is found in meekness.

The primary meaning of this word is ‘mild’ or ‘gentle.’ Meekness is not another word for weakness, as some mistakenly believe, for genuine meekness is strength under control.

The word ‘meek’ has its origin in the taming or domestication of animals. A wild animal is strong but destructive and of little value when out of control.

However, when a horse, for example, is tamed, it loses none of its power, but its strength is brought under the control of its trainer. It is now a useful animal and can be employed for much good.

The same is true of man. A person who is strong, physically or spiritually, is of little use to the Lord until they submit to Him and allows their strength to be controlled by God’s desires.

A meek person is totally given to the divine will. Such a person does get angry when circumstances warrant it, but they do so in a controlled manner i.e., without sinning, Ephesians 4:26.

Moses is a good example of meekness, Numbers 12:3 /  Exodus 32:19-35, and Jesus Himself is also a good example of meekness, so is Jesus. Matthew 11:28-30 / John 2:14-22.

The Christian Courier Website notes the following concerning inheriting the earth.

1. God is the owner of this earth, Psalm 24:1.

2. Those who obey Christ become children of God, Galatians 3:27 / Hebrews 5:9, and ‘joint-heirs’ with the Lord, Romans 8:17.

3. The Father supplies all our needs, Philippians 4:19, we therefore enjoy this earth and its blessings more than all others.

4. Mainly, however, our inheritance is spiritual, Acts 20:32, we are heirs in the kingdom of Christ, Ephesians 5:5, and citizenship in that kingdom is available now on this earth, John 3:3-5 / Colossians 1:13.

Finally, we also look for an inheritance that is reserved for us in heaven, 1 Peter 1:4, because we are aware that the earth will be destroyed when Christ returns, 2 Peter 3:10.

Spurgeon, in his commentary, says the following.

‘It looks as if they would be pushed out of the world but they shall not be, ‘for they shall inherit the earth.’ The wolves devour the sheep, yet there are more sheep in the world than there are wolves, and the sheep, continue to multiply, and to feed in green pastures.’

In other words, the meek shall inherit the earth in the sense that they shall enjoy it more fully while living upon it, Psalm 37:1 / John 10:10 / Philippians 4:10-13.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ Matthew 5:6

Jesus declared that those who feel an intense desire for righteousness, that which is right or just, shall obtain it, John 4:13-14.

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is an attitude, a frame of mind, which realises God’s Word, is ‘righteousness’, Psalm 119:172. It is the spiritual food that is needed to grow stronger, Matthew 4:4 / Hebrews 5:13-14 / 1 Peter 2:2.

What type of person doesn’t get hungry or thirsty physically? The person who is either sick or dead! The same is true spiritually, Psalm 143:6.

If a person doesn’t have a strong desire to grow spiritually and feed on God’s Word daily, then they are either spiritually sick or dead, 1 Corinthians 11:30. May those who desire righteousness do so like a deer pants for water, Psalm 42:1-2.

If we yearn to be ‘filled’ and to find true, lasting joy, we must put the kingdom of God first and seek His righteousness, Matthew 6:33.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.’ Matthew 5:7

To be merciful is to withhold justified punishment; it is to relieve the misery of one who deserves to suffer. The merciful show pity to others and much joy is found therein, Acts 20:35.

Humans typically have little difficulty showing mercy toward themselves but may find it challenging to be lenient toward others. However, disciples of the Lord must learn to love their neighbours as they love themselves, even when it comes to granting mercy, Matthew 22:39 / Luke 10:25-37.

If we fail to develop this attribute, God will not bestow mercy upon us, Matthew 6:14-15. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant also clearly communicates this thought, Matthew 18:21-35.

Being merciful is a natural outward expression of an inner hungering after righteousness, Matthew 7:12. And such will generally ensure that our personal quest for righteousness will not turn into self-righteousness, Luke 18:9-14.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’ Matthew 5:8

The ‘heart’ is the centre of our thinking processes; it is the mind, Biblically speaking, Proverbs 23:7. The ‘pure in heart’ are those who are free from evil desires and purposes, their thoughts and speech are pure, Matthew 12:24. This is because they meditate on those things in which there is a virtue, Philippians 4:8.

Such people experience great joy in seeing God. They will enjoy a closer relationship with God. Of course, they do not see Him physically since He is a Spirit being, John 4:24, but they do see Him through faith in Christ, John 14:8-9.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning seeing God.

‘This is true in two ways: 1. The pure in heart shall see God by faith, just as Moses endured, ‘as seeing him who is invisible’, Hebrews 11:27. 2. They shall see God and Christ Jesus in the eternal world, Revelation 22:4 / 1 John 3:2.’

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following, concerning seeing God.

‘This is a Hebraism, which signifies, possess God, enjoy his felicity: as seeing a thing, was used among the Hebrews for possessing it, Psalms 16:10.’

It should be noted that some might appear to be pure by their actions, though their heart is far from such, Matthew 23:25-28. Most of the Jews, having their hearts defiled with carnal hopes or self-righteous pride, Mark 7:1-23, failed to see God as He revealed Himself in the person of His Son, John 14:6-9 / Matthew 13:14-17.

Not only do the ‘pure in heart’ see God, but they shall also see Him ‘as He is’ hereafter, 1 John 3:2.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ Matthew 5:9

Peace is generally thought of as the absence of conflict or war, but to the follower of Christ, it is much more. It includes an internal component of contentment, even amid trials, conflict, and persecution, Romans 5:1-3. This is the peace from God that surpasses human understanding, Philippians 4:7.

Christ is the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6 and we are rightly considered a ‘peacemaker’ when we seek reconciliation and strive to live peaceably with all, both men and God, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.

Followers of Christ are called sons of God because they are most like God in their efforts to reconcile man unto himself. Christians are children of God through faith in Christ, Galatians 3:26-29.

A true peacemaker is a person who shares the Gospel of peace with others in hope of fostering spiritual reconciliation, Ephesians 6:15.

Christians should always seek external peace to the best of their ability, Romans 12:18. But it shouldn’t be acquired at any cost. If peace can be achieved without compromising our convictions, purity of heart, and earnest desire for righteousness, then it must be pursued.

The humble and wise ‘peacemakers’ will be joyful; however, the selfish and foolish ‘peacemakers’, that are lovers of conflict and division within the body of Christ will be miserable.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:10

To be ‘persecuted for righteousness’ sake’ is to suffer at the hands of others for doing right. This is much different than being punished for wrongdoing, 1 Peter 4:12-16.

It should be realised that in order to maintain peace, we must sometimes suffer persecution. If we are faithful to the Lord, we should expect persecution, 2 Timothy 3:12 / John 15:18-20.

We should react to persecution as Christ did. He didn’t retaliate but denied Himself, 1 Peter 2:22-23. He didn’t develop grudges but had a spirit of forgiveness. He didn’t become depressed but grew stronger and closer to His Father.

Those who suffer because of their loyalty to the kingdom of heaven are blessed by being bound more closely to the kingdom for which they suffer just as the poor in spirit, Matthew 5:3.

The joy in being persecuted is found when we realise, that we are suffering for the Name of Christ, Acts 5:41 / Acts 16:22-25. All who suffer as faithful servants of the Lord should ‘leap for joy’, Luke 6:23.

‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ Matthew 5:11-12

Back in Matthew 5:10, Jesus told us that people are persecuted for righteousness’ sake but here in Matthew 5:11, He tells us that people are persecuted for the sake of Him.

Jesus is telling us that He expects His followers to follow His example of righteous living regardless of the persecuting we may face, 1 Peter 2:21.

Though Christians should live joyfully here on Earth, their ultimate reward will be ‘in heaven’, Matthew 19:29 / Matthew 25:46. Let it always be remembered that the suffering experienced here is nothing in comparison to the bliss God has in store for His faithful children, Romans 8:18.

Also, Christians should find comfort and strength in the example of the prophets and the Christ, 1 Peter 2:21-24. Understanding that persecution for righteousness’ sake is not a sign of God’s disfavour, Hebrews 11:32-38.

Persecution should be embraced, not resisted, as a way to further develop our character through suffering, James 1:2-4 / Romans 5:3-5.

It is worthwhile to note there seems to be a logical progression to the beatitudes. After we come to realise our sinfulness, we must empty ourselves of pride and self-sufficiency, i.e., become ‘poor in spirit’, Matthew 5:3, and we must ‘mourn,’ Matthew 5:4.

This will make it easier for us to submit to God completely and be strong under His control, i.e., ‘meek’, Matthew 5:5. Such a person will naturally ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ for they realise without God and His spiritual nourishment, they are destitute, Matthew 5:6.

To strongly desire to do what is right should lead us to be ‘merciful’ as God was to us, Matthew 5:7, and it will also help in the effort to be ‘pure in heart’, Matthew 5:8. Anyone who is full of mercy and devoted to purity is highly qualified to be a ‘peacemaker’, Matthew 5:9.

However, a person who possesses these attributes of true joy will be hated by the world and will suffer as one ‘persecuted for righteousness’ sake’, Matthew 5:10-12.

The Salt Of The Earth

‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ Matthew 5:13

Jesus taught His disciples where true joy is found. The Lord then continued His address to the people, speaking on the subjects of influence and duties.

Jesus metaphorically referred to His followers as ‘the salt of the earth’. What exactly does this mean? To fully comprehend the Messiah’s statement, we must be aware of some qualities that salt possesses.

1. Salt is a flavouring agent.

This is perhaps the most commonly recognised use of salt. Who hasn’t used salt to improve the taste of food that is otherwise bland?

2. Salt is a preserving agent.

Salt that is added to fresh meat will act as a preservative; it will help delay the decay process. The practice of salting meats has been used for years.

3. Salt increases thirst.

Many people like Chinese food, however, after consuming a lot of Chinese food, our bodies will crave fluids for the rest of the evening! The salt contained in Chinese food cheese noticeably increases our thirst.

4. Salt melts ice.

During the winter months, many people use various mixtures of salt to melt ice on roads, driveways, and sidewalks.

5. Salt irritates.

Have you ever been working outside under the hot sun and had sweat running into your eyes? It stings, doesn’t it? The salt contained in sweat is an irritant.

6. Salt has destructive power.

We know that certain portions of our roads, due to concrete damage, have been severely damaged by heavy salting over many winters.

Salt is certainly powerful stuff. Using a little bit will melt the ice, but using a lot can ruin an entire road! Too much salt will also harm or kill living things, such as grass, slugs, etc.

Admittedly, although we understand these attributes and usages of salt today, it is likely that the major thrust of Jesus’ point pertained to salt as a flavouring agent, note His use of the word ‘seasoned’ in the verse, Leviticus 2:13.

Anyone who is striving to follow Jesus will make the world a better place in much the same way that salt helps certain foods taste better. For instance, in Acts 2:47 the disciples were described as ‘praising God and having favour with all the people.’ Without a doubt, they added something good to society.

It is possible for salt to lose its flavour. Normally this should not happen, but it will if the salt becomes contaminated with impurities, e.g., dirt.

Jesus is issuing a warning here. A disciple can lose the qualities that make them valuable before God as ‘salt’ if they aren’t careful to remain separate from harmful impurities like sin, 2 Corinthians 6:17.

If a Christian becomes contaminated with impurity, then they are ‘good for nothing’ in service to the Lord, at least not until they come back to Him and seek forgiveness on God’s terms, 1 John 1:9. A Christian ought to be pure and kind in thoughts, deeds, and speech, Colossians 4:6.

Such a person will have a preserving effect on righteousness and godliness, as salt preserves food and helps prevent spoiling. They will endeavour, like salt, to remove, or melt, any hindrances that could cause others who are searching for Christ to stumble, Matthew 18:6.

However, in the process, they, like salt, may irritate some people. Though this isn’t their purpose, when we live for God and stand up for His cause, some will undoubtedly be rubbed up the wrong way.

It is also true that followers of the Lord, like salt, have the potential to cause destruction if they come in contact with the wrong things, namely, sin.

Christians should endeavour to destroy sin from their lives, Hebrews 12:1-2 / 1 Corinthians 10:13. They should be a force against evil, Ephesians 6:10-18 / James 4:7.

Finally, a faithful disciple should also cause others to thirst for righteousness, Matthew 5:6, as salt itself causes physical thirst.

The Light Of The World

‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Matthew 5:14-16

In addition to being ‘salt,’ Jesus’ disciples are also ‘light’, namely, ‘the light of the world.’ The purpose of light is to enable people to see. Light provides 1. illumination, 2. guidance, and 3. warning.

Physical lights shine to dispel darkness, and in so doing serve as guides and warnings, e.g., headlights and lighthouses.

Spiritual lights should function in the same manner, Psalm 119:105 / Proverbs 4:18-19. God wants the world to see the truth, and our lights, our lives should reveal His truth, John 8:12 / John 9:5 / Philippians 2:15. His truth should be clearly seen in our lives just as a city set on a hill is seen from all directions.

Think of the foolishness of lighting a lamp and then hiding its light. The purpose of lighting a lamp is to provide light for people to see. A major purpose in following Christ is to provide spiritual light for others to see.

We mustn’t hide under a ‘basket’ for any reason, whether it is fear, indifference, love of the world, misplaced priorities, etc. Truly, we cannot be a secret disciples of Christ, either the secrecy will destroy the disciple or the disciple will destroy the secrecy.

If we light a lamp and put it under a basket, either the basket will smother the flame and the light will go out, Matthew 13:22, or the lamp will ignite the basket, burning it away for the light to be seen by all, Jeremiah 20:9. We must let out lights shine.

For whom should we let our lights shine? The world! Why? That they might take notice of us and exalt us? No! That they might observe our good deeds and give glory and honour to the heavenly Father? Yes!

I’m sure you are aware that this is the first time the word ‘Father’ is used in the New Testament. Note also that He is ‘your Father’, He is our Father, He is my Father.

While God is known to the patriarchs as ‘God Almighty’, Genesis 17:1, and to the Jews as ‘Yahweh’, Exodus 3:13-15, we know him primarily as ‘Our Father’, Luke 11:2.

Jesus called God, ‘Abba’  which in Aramaic means Father, Mark 14:36, the Holy Spirit calls God, Abba, Father, Galatians 4:6, and Christians can call God Abba, Father, Romans 8:15.

Christians should desire that others see their good works in order that others will be drawn to God. The good works we do shouldn’t all be secrets, otherwise, we are hiding under a basket and not fulfilling our purpose as ‘light’ for God.

I believe there is a big difference between ‘shining your light’ and ‘letting your light shine.’ The glory for good works is to go to the heavenly Father, not the individual!

Yes, it is pleasing to God for people to see our good works, but only if we aren’t performing them to receive personal glory, Matthew 6:1-18.

In the same way, salt isn’t to draw attention to itself but emphasise the natural flavour of the food. Salt shouldn’t cover up or overpower the taste of food and neither should a light draw attention and honour to itself.

After all, people don’t praise the streetlights that protect them from thieves and assault, but they do praise the city administration which furnishes the lights! God is the giver of light and every perfect gift, James 1:17.

We are nothing, except His servants. May we remember that and continually seek to direct praise to Him and not ourselves. To do such shows a thankful, humble spirit on our part. Such an attitude pleases God.

How can we be the light of the world, when Jesus is the light of the world? John 8:12 / John 9:5. An illustration may be useful to answer this question.

The moon which shines in the night sky, actually doesn’t give off any light, it only reflects the light from the sun. In the same manner, we are to reflect the light of Christ in the world, as we walk in the light of God, 1 John 1:5-7.

The primary idea of Matthew 5:13-16 is that Jesus’ disciples should have a great positive influence on those they come in contact with. This influence will never materialise if Christians are content to hide in saltshakers or under baskets. You cannot be a secret disciple!

Not To Destroy But To Fulfil

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.’ Matthew 5:17

After finishing up His comments on the beatitudes and the importance of His disciples using their influence for good, Jesus begins a lengthy section of discourse on the principles of righteousness. This general theme spans from Matthew 5:17-7:12.

This verse is a preface for the rest of the chapter. It was intended to prevent a misunderstanding of the things Jesus was about to say. Our Lord plainly affirmed that His purpose in coming to Earth was not to destroy ‘but to fulfil’, Romans 8:4.

Spurgeon, in his commentary, says the following.

‘To show that he never meant to abrogate the law, our Lord Jesus has embodied all its commands in his own life. In his own person there was a nature which was perfectly conformed to the law of God; and as was his nature such was his life.’

To destroy the law would have been to tear it down or demolish it, Jesus didn’t come to do that. He came to fulfil the Old Testament prophetically and typically, Romans 10:4 / Galatians 3:23-25 / Luke 24:44.

A major purpose of the law was to bring the Hebrew people to Jesus, that is, to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah, Galatians 3:24-25. That purpose would not be accomplished if Jesus destroyed the law.

‘For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’ Matthew 5:18

Jesus basically says, it would be easier for the universe to disappear than for the love of God not to complete it’s mission. Jesus’ meaning is this, the law of Moses will be in force and nothing will be removed from it, 1. until all is fulfilled or 2. until the world ends.

Jesus refers to the ‘smallest letter’, which corresponds to the English letter ‘i,’ and the least stroke of a pen’, which is the smallest marking to distinguish letters, e.g., the difference between the letters ‘c’ and ‘e’.

For Jesus to say that not even the smallest detail of the law would be removed until all is fulfilled is to indicate His belief in word-for-word inspiration.

It is to say that every letter contained in the Old Testament was there because God wanted it there. Nothing was written that didn’t belong, and none of it would be taken away until all was fulfilled, Deuteronomy 4:2 / John 5:39-40.

‘Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:19

It would be a mistake to understand Jesus to be implying that we may deliberately disregard any of God’s commandments and still enter into the kingdom of heaven, as one of the ‘least’.

It is important to observe that Jesus was referring to the Old Testament when He mentioned ‘the least of these commandments’.

The Lord certainly had the Pharisees in mind when He made this comment, Matthew 23:3 / Acts 23:6 / Acts 26:5 / Philippians 3:5. They were guilty of dividing the commandments of God into ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ ones, and they taught that the ‘lesser’ ones were trivial or insignificant and could thereby be disregarded without danger, Matthew 22:36 / Matthew 23:23.

Essentially, they would ‘lose’ or ‘break’ what they considered to be the lesser requirements of the law, that is, they would not teach such as being an obligation, Matthew 15:3-6. In so doing, the Pharisees were the ones ‘destroying’ the law, not Jesus.

This disposition to distinguish the importance of the various laws of God was a dangerous one. Those who practised it under the Law of Moses would be inclined to carry the same attitude into the kingdom of Christ when it was established.

Even when such a person obeyed the Gospel to enter the kingdom, their attitude toward God’s Word would render them ‘least’ in the kingdom, Matthew 5:3.

For us today, Jesus is saying that those who attempt to rank the commandments of God under the New Covenant by order of importance are treading on dangerous ground.

It’s not our place to attempt to categorise the Biblical topics that are ‘salvation matters’ and the ones that aren’t, on the basis of our own opinions, Romans 14:1-6.

This isn’t to say that we should ignore the distinctions that the Scriptures describe regarding certain matters of importance, Matthew 22:37-40 / Matthew 23:23 / Mark 16:16, but we shouldn’t go beyond the clear declarations of God’s Word, attempting to classify the relative importance of miscellaneous commands, 1 Corinthians 4:6.

True Righteousness That Exceeds

‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:20

We noted that the disposition that attempts to distinguish the importance of the various laws of God was a dangerous one. Those with this mentality under the Law of Moses would be inclined to carry the same attitude into the kingdom of Christ when it was established.

Even when such a person obeyed the Gospel to enter the kingdom, their improper attitude toward God’s Word would render them ‘least’ in the kingdom, Matthew 5:19.

On the other hand, those who highly regarded God’s law under the early dispensation would carry over the same respect for His Word into the Christian age.

Those who faithfully ‘do’ and ‘teach’ the commands of God, even the ‘least’ of them, will thus be regarded as ‘great’ in the kingdom, Acts 20:27. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is measured by devotion to all matters of God’s law, both the great and seemingly lesser obligations.

I believe this is the key verse for the Sermon on the Mount. It contains the central idea, or view, for the entire sermon. A large portion of the sermon, especially from this point on, is a development of what true righteousness is in the kingdom of heaven, as opposed to righteousness under the Law of Moses and the Pharisees’ interpretation thereof.

The primary difference that will be seen in the following verses is that the Law of Moses regulated civil conduct and dealt with obvious actions of an individual, while the laws of the kingdom of Christ are given to the individual to regulate their inner spiritual condition and motives of conduct.

Jesus declared that a person’s righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees if they hope to go to heaven, Matthew 3:7 / Luke 18:9-14.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The religion of the Pharisees, hence their righteousness, consisted of externals, ceremonials, rituals, liturgies, and formalities of many kinds, with little or no attention being paid to the condition of the heart. Christ flatly denounced such a concept and indicated that no one could be saved in such a state as that of the typical Pharisee of his day.’

The righteousness of the religious leaders was outward only, Isaiah 64:6 / Matthew 23:13-33, but Jesus’ disciples must have spiritual righteousness that grows out of love for God and for man.

It must not be self-righteousness or ceremonial righteousness but true moral righteousness, a righteousness that is genuine both privately and publicly.

Murder Begins In The Heart

‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.’ Matthew 5:21-22

After our Lord stressed the importance of His followers being truly righteous, He continued His Sermon on the Mount, addressing a variety of subjects that His audience was well acquainted with.

Jesus’ use of the phrase, ‘you have heard’, is accurate since the common people generally didn’t have access to a copy of the Old Testament for personal reading, they heard the law read and interpreted by the religious leaders.

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly says, ‘you have heard’, indicating that what the people were being taught and the way these Old Testament verses were being interpreted by their teachers, were not accurate.

The way they were being interpreted often led to confusion and in more cases than not, division between the rabbis and the people as a whole.

It should be noted that Jesus doesn’t take away anything from the Old Testament while addressing the topics in this chapter, Matthew 5:18, but He does add His own teaching to it.

Jesus quotes from the Old Testaments Scriptures, Exodus 20:13 / Deuteronomy 5:17 which said, ‘you shall not murder’.

In the Old Testament murder was punishable by death, Exodus 21:12, but by the time Jesus came on the scene, the leaders had messed with this law to such an extent that if anyone committed murder, they wouldn’t be punished with death but simply be brought to judgement and be spared the death penalty.

However, He supplemented that teaching by declaring mental murder, i.e., unwarranted anger, to also be wrong and cause for judgment.

He puts anger at the same level of sin as murder, anyone who has murderous thoughts in their heart against their fellow brother or sister is considered in the eyes of Jesus to be a murderer.

Jesus used the phrase, ‘but I say to you’, to create a strong contrast between what they had heard of old and His authoritative declarations, Matthew 7:28-29.

The Lord isn’t doing anything inappropriate here by presenting laws that go beyond explicit Old Testament revelation. Moses announced that the new Lawgiver would speak the words of God and that His words must be heard and obeyed, Deuteronomy 18:15-20 / Acts 3:22-23.

Jesus is doing such on this occasion and preparing His disciples for the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. Even though Jesus’ teachings here go beyond the Old Testament revelation, such did not become binding until His death, i.e., when the Old Law was fulfilled, Colossians 2:14 / Hebrews 9:16-18.

Also, nothing that Jesus spoke about in this chapter, or anywhere else, contradicted the Old Law in any way. Thus, even if a Jew immediately started living by the principles Jesus taught, i.e., before they were binding, he wouldn’t be violating the Old Testament.

In this text, Jesus separates the sin of anger without cause into three categories. Anger that is unwarranted and not righteous.

1. Silent anger, a person who is angry with their brother but keeps quiet or his anger to himself.

Barclay, in his commentary, says the following.

‘So Jesus forbids for ever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.’

2. Harsh speech, a person whose anger finds expression in labelling someone with harsh words such as ‘Raca’, meaning ‘empty head’ or ‘good for nothing’, 2 Samuel 6:20.

Barclay, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Raca is an almost untranslatable word, because it describes a tone of voice more than anything else. Its whole accent is the accent of contempt. It is the word of one who despises another with an arrogant contempt.’

3. Bitter rebuke, a person whose anger finds expression by rebuking someone with bitter words such as ‘fool’. Calling someone a fool is an attack against their character.

Admittedly, in our culture, this may not seem as bad as calling someone a ‘good for nothing,’ but some translators believe that the word used here for ‘fool’ expresses strong feelings of contempt, like wishing the worst upon someone or condemning them verbally.

Jesus plainly teaches that to be angry without cause makes us guilty. He shows the seriousness of the sin by showing the three respective methods of judgment.

First, punishment by the regular Hebrew court, then condemnation by the ‘council’, i.e., the Sanhedrin or highest Hebrew court, and finally the divine punishment of ‘hell fire’, Matthew 5:29-30 / Matthew 18:9 / Mark 9:43-47 / Matthew 23:15 / Matthew 23:33.

Here we see Jesus explaining the consequences of anger, the anger grows into hatred which then grows into the action of murder. And notice that Jesus says if ‘anyone of angry with their brother or sister will be subject to judgment.’

Sin has its stages, and God takes note of it from its inception in the heart. Our soul is in danger long before our feelings bear the fruits of violence and murder, Genesis 4:5-8.

True righteousness originates from the inside, and Jesus’ teachings go beyond the external actions and into the heart, Leviticus 19:18. Most murderers won’t murder without a motive, and the spirit that excludes hatred and unrighteous anger will make committing the act of murder impossible.

Getting angry is not inherently sinful, Psalm 7:11 / Ephesians 4:26, nor is the use of the word ‘fool’, Matthew 23:17-19. Anger, appropriately expressed in response to rebelliousness against God’s will, is righteous indignation, Mark 3:5 / Mark 11:15-17.

But, anger in response to personal mistreatment is entirely different and dangerous, James 1:19-20. We must make sure our words are always carefully chosen from a heart filled with love that seeks the best interests of others, Ephesians 4:15.

If words flow from our mouth that are abusive and injurious, beware, for the fire of hell approaches, James 3:3-12.

We all need to be all so careful of the words we use, especially towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we truly understood the consequences of Jesus’ words here I believe we all would be a little more careful in what we say, James 3:9.

The way Christians speak to each other is embarrassing at times, especially if they don’t agree with some Bible Scripture, it’s amazing when someone receives ‘a letter’ condemning a person to hell and it’s usually signed, ‘in Christian love.’

I mean when people receive this kind of correspondence, you can almost feel the anger and hatred in the words of the one who sent it, these people need to listen to Jesus’ words here and be careful.

Pursuing Reconciliation

‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.’ Matthew 5:23-24

Our Lord, after forbidding anger without just cause, proceeds to set forth a proper course for reconciliation. The Israelites considered offering a gift on the altar to be the highest act of worship.

Although Christians don’t offer gifts to God on a physical altar today, don’t think for a moment that this passage is irrelevant to us.

Jesus gave instructions that if someone is offering a gift to God and remembers that they have offended their brother, they should stop and come back to make their offering later. As important as worship is, Jesus the Christ teaches that pursuing reconciliation with our brother should take priority.

Carefully note the wording the Lord uses here, ‘your brother has something against you.’ Clearly, we are the offending party! Either we have sinned against our brother in some way or they believe that you have. We have the responsibility to go to them if we believe that they are angry with us about something.

It doesn’t matter if their reasoning is valid or if they are justified in being upset with us. What matters is that they are offended and both parties involved should work toward immediate reconciliation, Romans 12:18. Of course, they too have a responsibility to come to you if they are offended, Matthew 18:15.

I’ve often heard Christians say that they have a problem with a brother or sister so they will refuse to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

However, this is a misconception because they fail to realise that worship is more just participating in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus demands that people sort their differences out before they come to worship.

Angry feelings must be attended to quickly since they can easily lead to sin, in words and deeds. Thus, we must lay aside our anger the same day to prevent Satan from taking advantage of the opportunity, Ephesians 4:26-27. This anger must be set aside in a genuine attempt at reconciliation.

Truly, offering a gift to God is very important, but reconciliation takes precedence over it and all other duties and acts of worship. The greatest gift offered to God will not be accepted if it is made by someone who isn’t willing to try to be reconciled to their brother. A proper relationship with our fellow man is more important than worship itself.

We cannot love God and hold a grudge against our brother simultaneously, 1 John 4:20-21. This is the case because we are made in the image of God, Genesis 1:26-27, and we cannot hate someone made in God’s image and still love God.

‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’ Matthew 5:25-26

The implication here is that we have done something wrong, our adversary has a case against us. In such circumstances, we should try to make friends quickly and defuse the situation by agreeing with them; we should try to be reconciled. Otherwise, we are likely to end up in prison!

The word, ‘adversary’ is a word used by the accuser in a lawsuit and implies in the context that it’s better to settle any disputes as quickly as you can before it ends up going to court where the judge will get involved and exercise the law against one of them by that time it’s usually too late for reconciliation, because either party may find themselves in prison.

A ‘penny’ was a small, insignificant copper coin. After the debtor was put into prison he was held there until the debt was paid, but if he couldn’t pay the debt, he would stay in prison until he died.

Jesus’ warning against lawsuits is clear, but we could easily avoid all these problems if we simply went and settled matters between ourselves first.

Jesus’ meaning here is simple: if we wrong someone and don’t do everything, we can to reconcile with them, we will be judged and punished, perhaps by civil government, but definitely by God, ultimately, Matthew 18:34.

We must love our fellow man! We must seek to ‘live peaceably with all men’ to the best of our ability, Romans 12:18. We must pursue reconciliation. If not, we will get what we deserve!

Adultery Begins In The Heart

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Matthew 5:27-28

Our Lord began by referring to the seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14. The Old Law punished the physical act of sin but didn’t reach any further. Jesus again goes to the root of the problem, the heart, Job 31:1, as He did with the prior subject pertaining to anger and murder.

For a person to lust after someone else is to commit sin. Let it be understood that lust isn’t just desire, but unlawful or illicit desire. Thus, it’s impossible for someone to lust after his or her spouse since there is nothing sinful about those desires. Sexual desire isn’t intrinsically wrong.

Sexual desire is God-given and natural, Genesis 1:28. However, it must be fulfilled in the only authorised relationship for such, marriage, Hebrews 13:4.

For our eyes to see an attractive person doesn’t automatically mean that we’ve lusted. However, to focus our thoughts on that individual and have illicit thoughts or fantasies is to be guilty of committing adultery in our hearts.

Someone once said, ‘you can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you certainly can prevent them from nesting in your hair’, how true!

In like manner, there’s nothing we can do to prevent some temptations, but we can always keep them from having a resting place in your heart! It should also be noted that there is a difference between a look of lust and a look of admiration or affection.

For instance, there is nothing wrong with fathers gazing admiringly upon their daughters who have grown to maturity, but they should not desire them sexually. It is possible to recognise physical beauty without lusting in our hearts.

Jesus’ teaching in this passage is difficult for many, especially men. Even if a person doesn’t physically commit adultery, they still stand guilty before God if they merely have the desire to commit the act. If they stare and wish they could gratify their lust, they have sinned.

Truly, it is impossible for one to actively commit physical adultery without first committing the sin in his heart. Hence, the physical act includes the mental and can be shown to be a more serious transgression, Matthew 19:9.

Bruce, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Jesus, though tempted in all ways, Hebrews 4:15, endured such temptations but did not yield to such sin. He was able to see women as other than objects for His gratification. “He was tempted in all points as we are, but desire was expelled by the mighty power of a pure love to which every woman was a daughter, a sister, or a betrothed: a sacred object of tender respect.’

Our Lord’s teaching here clearly shows that we can commit a sin within the confines of our minds. God has always expected His followers to physically abstain from adultery, but to be truly righteous is to develop a mindset that doesn’t even desire those things that are unlawful.

If we are able to remove lustful thoughts from our hearts, the physical act of adultery will no longer be a problem. King David would not have committed adultery with Bathsheba if he hadn’t seen her and lusted after her, 2 Samuel 11.

If he hadn’t committed adultery, then he wouldn’t have murdered Uriah, 2 Samuel 11:14-16. Much evil could have been prevented had David simply turned away after spotting Bathsheba for the first time!

It’s easy to see how idleness and immodesty led to David’s lust and unrighteous actions. If we keep busy doing what is right and dressing ourselves modestly, such will go a long way toward preventing lustful thoughts from harbouring in our minds or the minds of others!

May we endeavour to develop hearts that are pure, Matthew 5:8. May we meditate upon those things that are noble, pure, and virtuous, Philippians 4:8. May we be distinct from the world and not possess ‘eyes full of adultery’, 2 Peter 2:14.

May we, like Job, make a covenant with our eyes, and decide not to look intently upon others lustfully, Job 31:1. If we can keep adulterous thoughts out of our hearts, physical infidelity will never be a problem.

Pluck It Out Or Cut It Off

‘If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.’ Matthew 5:29-30

The words of our Lord are certainly challenging in this passage, though He never intended for them to be interpreted and implemented literally.

Self-mutilation is not advocated by these verses. This truth is easily confirmed by showing that God wants us to care for our bodies to the best of our ability, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

To mutilate our body doesn’t bring glory to the Almighty. Additionally, to literally pluck out an eye, or two, will not cure our struggle with sin.

The problem ultimately resides in the heart, the mind, not in the organ of sight. We can be guilty of lust whether we have two, one, or no functional eyes!

Bruce, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Mutilation will not serve the purpose; it may prevent the outward act, but it will not extinguish desire.’

Jesus’ point is in emphasising the far greater worth of our spirit over our physical body. He exhorts us to do whatever it takes to keep from sinning. No physical sacrifice is too great! Truly, it is better to give up even the dearest and most precious things in this life, than to lose our soul in hell.

In a sense, as faithful disciples, we must blind ourselves by choosing not to look with lustful eyes, Matthew 5:28, we must put to death the lust of the flesh, Colossians 3:5 / 1 John 2:15-17.

The thought expressed by Jesus in Matthew 5:30 is similar to that of the previous verse. The only difference is that here He refers to cutting off a hand, as opposed to plucking out an eye.

Again, the problem doesn’t lie in the physical hand itself. The hand takes orders from the head. If we use our hands in sinful ways, to steal, for instance, having one less hand will not resolve the problem.

Only a fool would refuse to sacrifice a hobby, a job, a dream, a relationship, or anything else that would cause their eternal home in heaven to be lost. Don’t be a fool! Although many things on this Earth have value, none can compare to your priceless soul.

Sending Away And Remarriage

‘It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’ Matthew 5:31-32

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He briefly mentioned the subject of divorce and remarriage. However, He had much more to say about this important topic in Matthew 19:3-12 / Mark 10:9-12, which we will deal with when we get to that chapter. For now, we are strictly going to look at Jesus’ comments on this subject as found in Matthew 5.

A few translations have led to a total misunderstanding of what Jesus means in these verses, hence why its important to note the Greek word for ‘divorce’, which is ‘apoluo’ which means ‘send away’ and the Greek word for ‘certificate of divorce’, which is ‘apostasion’.

The Hebrew word for ‘put away’ is ‘shalach’ which means to send away, or out. And the Hebrew word for ‘certificate or bill or decree of divorce’ is ‘kriythuwth’ which means a cutting, of the matrimonial bond, i.e. divorce.

Clearly, there are two separate words used to describe two separate actions. Just as there is a legal way to get married, there is also a legal way to get a divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 / Jeremiah 3:8.

There is a huge difference between sending away and divorce, they are not the same action but two separate actions, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 / Jeremiah 3:8.

Notice how this text should read.

‘It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces ‘apoluo’ his wife must give her a certificate of divorce ‘apostasion.’’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces ‘apoluo’ his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced ‘apoluo’ woman commits adultery.’

Jesus said when the man who marries the woman who was ‘put away’ and the woman who is ‘put away’ remarries, they commit adultery, why? because they aren’t in a legal, official situation where they are free to contract new relationships, they are still legally married.

The Jews thought they could just go ahead and ‘put away’ their wives for any old reason, but Jesus says, if they’re going to ‘put away’ their wives, they better make it legal, they better give her a ‘certificate of divorce,’ Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Otherwise, whenever any of them marry again, they will be committing adultery and they know what the penalty is, stoning to death, Leviticus 20:10 / Deuteronomy 22:22-25. Hence a certificate of divorce isn’t required when someone’s partner is dead, 1 Corinthians 7:39.

If a man ever gave his wife the ‘certificate of divorce’, then he had some obligations to their wife, he had to return the dowry, he had to provide for his wife if they ‘sent them away’, Genesis 29:18-27 / Genesis 34:11-12 / Exodus 21:10-11 / Exodus 22:16-17 / 1 Samuel 18:25 / 1 Kings 9:16 / Hosea 3:2.

This was the Jews’ loophole, they ‘put them away’ without the official ‘divorce’. This is what shocked the disciples later, Matthew 19:10.

If there is a legal divorce, then the husband would be required to return the dowry. Whatever price he received from the father for the girl that he married would have to be returned. It shocked them in a society where women had no rights because they didn’t have to think of that, Exodus 21:10.

They could just send their wives away for any old cause as far as they were concerned. Now Jesus says, no, they can’t do that, they have to respect their wives. They have taken her into their home, they have married her and they can’t just dismiss her.

When we read the original Greek word and we replace the word ‘divorce,’ in these verses, with the proper word which should be used, ‘apoluo’ that is ‘send away’ we discover that Jesus wasn’t emphasising divorce as we understand it today.

He was emphasising the way the Jews were just sending their wives away, without making it legal, without giving them the ‘certificate of divorce’, the ‘apostasion’, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, because without this certificate of divorce the women couldn’t get married again.

Being People Of Our Word

‘Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.’ Matthew 5:33-37

After finishing His thoughts on the subject of divorce and remarriage, our Lord stressed the importance of being people of our word. Jesus begins these comments by referencing Leviticus 19:12 and Deuteronomy 23:21-23.

In this passage, to ‘swear’ is to utter an oath, it is to appeal to a higher being or thing in order to attest to the truthfulness of our words. Under the Old Law, making oaths was acceptable, though swearing falsely was never viewed favourably.

Over the centuries, the Jewish people had developed the idea that an oath wasn’t binding unless the name of God appeared in it. They would therefore use various oaths to suit their purpose of adding weight to their statements or promises, but they wouldn’t feel obligated to keep such an oath if they had not explicitly sworn to God, Exodus 20:7.

The Jews had other strange rules regarding which oaths were binding and which ones weren’t, Matthew 23:16-22.

When Jesus said in ‘do not swear at all’, His meaning was this: do not swear at all in the manner I am about to illustrate. Do not make oaths that you don’t intend to keep, Numbers 30:2.

Do not think that we can word a promise in a special way and in so doing make it void or meaningless. A false oath is always false, whether it is explicitly made in the name of Deity or not.

To swear by ‘heaven’ or ‘the earth’ or by ‘Jerusalem’, in an effort to make an oath that didn’t have to be kept was wrong since all of the statements ultimately refer back to God anyway.

Heaven is ‘God’s throne’, Isaiah 66:1-2, the earth is ‘His footstool’, Acts 7:49, and Jerusalem is ‘the city of the great King’, Psalm 48:2.

It didn’t really matter if God’s Name was explicitly mentioned! A person’s word was to be their bond! Those who thought they could speak oaths in a certain way and not be required to fulfil them were only fooling themselves, much like some today who make an agreement but later deny the validity of such because they had their ‘fingers crossed’, or some other such childish nonsense.

Jesus’ example in Matthew 5:36 is distinct from the previous illustrations He has offered. ‘And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.’

We can indeed change our hair colour today, but this isn’t our Lord’s point. He seems to be declaring that it isn’t wise to swear by our own life since we have no inherent control over such, James 5:12.

Jesus’ concluding point is a powerful one. Instead of making oaths, we would be better off simply living in such a way that whatever we state will be accepted as the truth.

Our character and life should confirm the truthfulness of our words so that no oath is necessary. A righteous person should be content making a sincere affirmation or denial of any statement, and others should be satisfied to take such a statement at face value.

Many who study this passage naturally reflect upon certain oaths that are commonly made today, and they wonder, is it wrong to affirm a judicial oath, for example, or exchange marital vows? I believe the answer is ‘no’. Allow me to explain why.

It is common in wedding ceremonies for couples to pledge their love and faithfulness to each other, but these vows simply explain the extent of the ‘yes, I will be your husband or wife’ affirmation. Marriage vows are promises that don’t require us to swear or make an oath upon a higher being or thing.

In a judicial setting, however, there are times when one is required to swear or make an oath. Although such should not be necessary for a Christian, it appears that complying with such isn’t wrong. Jesus, Himself answered under oath before the Sanhedrin, Matthew 26:63-64.

Were His words any more truthful under oath? Of course not, but Jesus didn’t resist the authority of the high priest in this regard. Thus, it would be difficult to conclude that we should resist the authority of our government in judicial proceedings.

Paul also made oaths on certain occasions. They seem to centre around the notion that God was a witness to the truthfulness of the apostle’s statements, Romans 1:9 / 2 Corinthians 1:23. Therefore, it would seem to be acceptable for one to use such language today for emphasis.

The examples of Jesus and Paul strongly indicate that the words of the Lord in Matthew 5:33-37 should not be interpreted in an absolute sense. The thrust of the teaching is to correct the abuses of oaths common among men, Matthew 23:16-22, not to forbid every type of oath.

Ultimately, God wants us to be a person of our word. Our word should be our bond. We shouldn’t feel a need to voluntarily make an oath. We shouldn’t feel a need to say, ‘I promise’. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ ought to be sufficient, James 5:12.

When we affirm that we will do something, do it! Stick by our word regardless of the cost to ourselves, Psalm 15:4. The only exception to this would be if our words would end up forcing us to commit sin. In that case, we should break our word and seek forgiveness for making such a foolish promise, to begin with.

Furthermore, when we don’t want to do something, or simply cannot then declare such. Don’t say ‘maybe’  when we know the answer is ‘no’.

Don’t say ‘yes’ when we don’t mean it. When we give our word, regardless of the situation, people are listening and watch to see if we mean what we say.

It is difficult to trust a person when their words don’t harmonise with their actions. It is better to say nothing than to lie, Matthew 12:36-37, but the best course of action by far is to speak the truth plainly and be a man or woman of our word.

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ Matthew 5:38

This law was just because the punishment fit the crime, Exodus 21:24. It is likely this law was to be applied judicially and not personally by the one wronged, lest it be perceived as an act of vengeance, Leviticus 19:18. Although the Old Law’s teaching on this subject was clear, Jesus had a new revelation to share.

The Jews twisted the teaching of the Old Testament law on this matter, they basically took these principles and applied them to their everyday relationships.

The ‘eye for an eye’ was a civil law of the Old Testament where the people had the authority to punish offenders, but the punishment must fit the crime, Exodus 21:23-24.

The retaliation law that was given to Israel was more compassionate than the law that existed previous to the giving of the law to Israel. In reference to this law, Jesus stated that love should succeed over the will to retaliate against our neighbour, Leviticus 24:19-20.

The principle of the law would be that the death penalty would be given to those who voluntarily murdered another person. If someone voluntarily took the life of another, he had his right to life taken from him, Deuteronomy 19:21.

This law made accusers think twice before slanderously accusing one of a deed for which he had no evidence. We have to remember that the law of the land before God gave his instructions were really bad.

If you kill my child, I will kill all your children, your wife, your brothers, your whole generation! If you knock out my tooth or eye, I will knock out all of yours and kill you also.

Here in Matthew, Jesus is teaching against the concept of retaliation. What Jesus was condemning was the Pharisees’ misapplication of the principle of this law. They were using the principle as a justification for personal revenge. They misunderstood the principle of the law.

That principle is that there is a punishment for the violation of law, and the punishment must match the crime. In other words, the death penalty wouldn’t be given to one who told a lie.

Going The Second Mile

‘But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’ Matthew 5:39-41

First, Jesus shares an example of non-resistance to personal insults. Rather than resist an insult, such as a facial slap, 2 Corinthians 11:20, we should meekly endure it and suffer another rather than resisting evil with evil, Proverbs 15:1.

Second, we see an example of non-resistance to judicial injustice, Exodus 22:26 / Deuteronomy 24:13. Disciples need to remember that physical things such as clothing are replaceable and truly insignificant in the big picture. Wasting precious time fighting over matters such as these isn’t helpful for the follower of Christ; rather, it is a hindrance.

Third, Jesus gives an example of non-resistance to government oppression, Romans 13:1. On that day, the Roman soldiers had the authority to require a person to carry their baggage or armour one mile, Luke 23:26.

The Jews had mile markers along the roadsides, and they would typically drop the baggage after the first mile. Jesus commands a willingness to go two miles! Imagine the soldier’s surprise! The individual is obviously not thinking about their ‘rights’.

They aren’t harbouring hateful thoughts toward the soldier for ‘making’ them carry the soldier’s load. They are willing to cheerfully comply and serve.

The meaning for us is that we should perform beyond the call of duty; we should do more than what is expected. Truly, love begins where duty ends.

‘Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.’ Matthew 5:42

If someone is in need and asks for help, we should not refuse to give what we can, Luke 6:29-30 / Romans 12:21. Jesus’ words in this section are perhaps best understood as general principles of non-resistance and not as absolute commands to always be applied literally, just as Matthew 5:29-30 are not to be applied literally.

After all, did the Lord really intend that evildoers be free to slap or insult us over and over again? Are we always to give to those who ask of us, turning no one away? The answer is no, John 18:20-23 / 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

Jesus’ point is that small injuries or offences are to be gracefully passed over. If someone slaps us, we’ve been insulted, but it’s not an assault on our life. We shouldn’t feel humiliated but should rejoice in the opportunity to return good for evil, assuming that we didn’t deserve the slap.

To let someone, have your coat or other possession or to go with them two miles is to show in attitude, word, and deed that you are not filled with covetousness or hatred but with a spirit of love.

This is the type of righteousness Christ expects of His disciples, Romans 12:17-21. This type of response will have the best chance of touching the hearts of others for the Lord.

To insist on every individual right or to retaliate against every personal injury is to dispute continually with all men. Such actions describe one filled with selfish pride, not humility, Matthew 5:3-5.

This type of response glorifies Satan, not God! However, be careful not to misapply this passage. Jesus never said not to restrain the murderer’s hand. He never said not to oppose the wicked tyrant. And, He never intended for our behaviour to encourage greed or laziness in others.

Love Your Enemies

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’ Matthew 5:43-45

The law commanding love for our neighbour is found in Leviticus 19:18, but the law to hate our enemies is not found explicitly in God’s Word.

However, the Hebrews were forbidden to make peace with the people of Canaan, Exodus 34:11-16 / Deuteronomy 7:1-6, and the bloody wars which were waged by God’s own command inevitably taught them to hate their enemies. This was even the feeling of their most pious men, 2 Kings 13:19.

In contrast, Jesus desires His disciples to practice love rather than revenge. He wants us to have a selfless concern for the ultimate good of others, Luke 7:27-36 / Luke 10:25-37.

He wants us to love our enemies, not in an emotional sense which would be impossible, but in the sense that we seek what is in their best interest.

It’s in this manner that we can and must love our enemies. Jesus’ life perfectly illustrated this principle of righteousness, Luke 10:25-37 / Acts 7:60 / 1 Samuel 24:13.

We love our enemies when we bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. These things are not possible if hatred resides in our hearts. Even if these activities don’t change them, they will help us develop love like God’s.

Truly, this is how we should properly respond to persecution. This should deepen our sense of awe concerning divine love. God bestows blessings abundantly upon all, both the good and evil. He makes His sun rise and He sends rain.

Does it not seem incredible that a Being would be so generous, even to those who hate Him or deny His existence? It sounds unbelievable from man’s perspective, but that is the depth of God’s love, John 3:16 / Romans 5:8. Let us imitate His type of benevolence, Luke 6:35.

‘If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Matthew 5:46-48

If we only love those who return our love, how are we any better than the tax collectors? Tax collectors were not highly regarded in Jesus’ day for several reasons.

1. The Jews, being a subjugated people, paid taxes to the Romans, and this made the taxes especially distasteful, Luke 18:9-14.

2. The Jews who worked as tax collectors for the Romans were considered by their brethren to be traitors, Matthew 9:9-17.

3. The men who would work in such a position were often guilty of fraud or extortion, Luke 19:7-8.

Jesus’ point is that our religion is worth little if it doesn’t lead us to a higher love than that which is shown by worldly men, Proverbs 24:17.

Our love should not be restricted simply to those who are like us. We should greet everyone in a kind manner, seeking opportunities to do good for all, Galatians 6:10.

Be Perfect

Not surprisingly, Matthew 5:48 has prompted a wide range of interpretations and explanations. At one extreme there is the ‘idealistic’ explanation of those who tell us, ‘it is not to be taken seriously’, whilst, at the other extreme, there is the view of those who teach that believers are required to attain a state of ‘sinless perfection’, in which they don’t and even can’t commit sin.

I’m sure most of us have met people who have claimed that they have reached a stage in their spiritual growth when they never sin. And, of course, the notion is utterly ridiculous!

It is summarily dismissed by the apostle John in 1 John 1:8, which reads, ‘If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’

And 1 John 1:10, ‘If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us’. You will, however, find that the response, that the ‘sinless perfectionists’ make to this argument is erroneously based on 1 John 3:9, ‘No-one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin.’

But, when they use this verse, they fail to recognise that the words ‘cannot sin’, in the Greek text, represent the ‘aorist tense’, which is the tense that describes something that is ‘ongoing, continuing, or incomplete’.

The N.I.V. renders this verse a bit better, ‘No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.’ For this reason, some translations read, like the N.I.V. ‘he cannot keep on sinning’.

In other words, the child of God doesn’t habitually sin. Whilst he may be exposed to temptation and may even fall, he doesn’t continue to commit the same sin over and over again. Sin isn’t his normal way of life. He doesn’t practice sin. He doesn’t live in sin.

And, what is more, when he realises that he has been ‘caught in a sin’, to use Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1, he knows that, because he is sincerely repentant, he may seek the forgiveness that is always available, 1 John 1:9.


Look carefully at what the Lord says. He doesn’t say, ‘You must be sinless as God in heaven is sinless’, because, at that time, He wasn’t discussing either sin or sinlessness.

There are two words in the verse that are supremely important, the words ‘Father’ and ‘perfect’, and we need to look at them in that order.


This is the more important of the two because ‘Father’ is the word which immediately speaks to us of relationship. What Jesus tells us in this verse, Matthew 5:48, rests on the principle that every new relationship brings new responsibility.

Test this statement! Examine it from whatever angle you please. Consider it in connection with any human relationship into which we may possibly enter, and you will find that the principle remains true and unshakeable.

In the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, from where our text is taken, Jesus has been speaking to His disciples about their relationship to the heavenly Father. He has said, in effect, ‘God is your Father, and because this is so it follows that you bear the responsibility of children, to be like your Father’.

Notice, that He says, ‘as your heavenly Father’, or ‘like your heavenly Father’. He presents the Father as our model, our example. Now, this is the essence of true worship.

It has been said that ‘the sum of true religion is to imitate the God whom we worship’. This is why Paul wrote, ‘Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children’. Ephesians 5:1.


There are four New Testament words which have been translated by this word, and, unfortunately, we often make the mistake of failing to understand its true, biblical meaning. How often have you heard it said, ‘There is nothing perfect in this world!’

Such expressions have become almost proverbial, and we are inclined to accept them as though they express an infallible truth, which they do not!

There are things in this world which are ‘perfect’ in the sense that they can’t be improved upon. And there are certain matters in which we may become perfect if we have the desire.

Think about the meaning of that word. We all know the meaning that we attach to it today. The modern definition of ‘perfect’ means, ‘without flaws or faults’. But, when the New Testament was written, the word had a quite different meaning.

In Matthew 5:48, ‘perfect’ is the translation of the Greek word ‘teleios’, and means, ‘full-grown, mature, or complete.’ Sometimes it means ‘an end’.

a. Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking about eternal life?

Matthew 19:16-22. He had done so very much and was admirable in so many ways, but he was conscious of a lack in his life. Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect…’ Matthew 16:21. In other words, ‘If you wish to be complete…’

Referring to teachers and teaching, James 3:2 uses the same word when it reads, ‘We all make mistakes, but if anyone makes no mistakes in what he says, he is a perfect man’. This means being fully mature in this respect.

b. 1 Corinthians 2:6 reads, ‘yet among the mature (Greek- ‘perfect’) we do impart wisdom.’

Other passages to look at are Hebrews 5:9 ‘once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him’, and 1 Corinthians 14:20, ‘Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults’, and, especially, 1 Corinthians 13:10 ‘But when the perfect comes…’

The word, again, is ‘teleios’, ‘the complete’. Incidentally, ask yourself if this verse can possibly refer to the Lord Jesus Himself, as some people suppose!

In all of these passages the word ‘perfect’ doesn’t mean, ‘perfect’ in the sense of ‘sinless’, but means ‘fully-grown, mature, or complete’, so, with this in mind, let’s return to Matthew 5:48 and look at it in its original context.

You will notice that Jesus speaks these words as He deals with the Christian law of forgiveness. He is speaking about love, and we must, once again, pay special attention to the name He uses for God.

It’s the name ‘Father’. He is saying that, as a Father, God is our example, our model in the exercise of love, and. as His children, we must be complete, full-grown, and mature, in this aspect of our own character.

He is saying, in effect, ‘It is easy for you to love those who love you! But for you who call God ‘Father’, the standard is much higher. I say that, because of the Love of your Father, and with His help, you must not only love your friends but those, also, who even hate you.’

‘And when you have reached the point where you can love those who are unkind to you, or speak evil about you or treat you badly, you will, in this aspect of your character, be like your heavenly Father. ‘You will have become spiritually mature. Perfect!’

You see, then, that the principle presented by the Lord Jesus in this verse, applies to every possible aspect of human life. But, here it is expressed in connection with the great law of love. To love only those who love us is to be imperfect in love. But to love those who do not love us in return is to be perfect in love.

In conclusion, then, we need to remember that, when we read such words of the Lord Jesus, we mustn’t turn away from them as though they have no message for our time, or as though they demand that we attempt the impossible.

It’s fatal at any time, to read His words and then say, ‘this is demanding perfection from me and perfection is impossible’.

We should read the New Testament scriptures with this fact fixed in our minds, the Lord, Jesus, always means what He says! And He never demands the impossible!

Go To Matthew 6