Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5-7, it’s here, that He delivered this message 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.
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.
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.
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.
In the Greek language, the strongest word for ‘mourn’ is used here. This term indicates a type of mourning that cannot be hidden. 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.
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 meek shall inherit the earth in the sense that they shall enjoy it more fully while living upon it, Philippians 4:10-13.
Jesus declared that those who feel an intense desire for righteousness, that which is right or just, shall obtain it. 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, 1 Peter 2:2 / Matthew 4:4.
What type of person doesn’t get hungry or thirsty physically? The person who is either sick or dead! The same is true spiritually. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. Most of the Jews, having their hearts defiled with carnal hopes or self-righteous pride, 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 here, but they shall also see Him ‘as He is’ hereafter, 1 John 3:2. 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.
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 in the midst of trials, conflict, and persecution. This is the peace from God that surpasses human understanding, Philippians 4:7.
We are rightly considered ‘peacemakers’ when we seek reconciliation and strive to live peaceably with all, both men and God. A true peacemaker is a person who shares the Gospel of peace in hope of fostering spiritual reconciliation.
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 is lovers of conflict and division within the body of Christ will be miserable.
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. 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.
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.
Though Christians should live joyfully here on Earth, their ultimate reward will be ‘in heaven’. 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. 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’, and we must ‘mourn.’
This will make it easier for us to submit to God completely and be strong under His control, i.e., ‘meek’. Such a person will naturally ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ for they realise without God and His spiritual nourishment, they are destitute.
To strongly desire to do what is right should lead us to be ‘merciful’ as God was to us, and it will also help in the effort to be ‘pure in heart’. Anyone full of mercy and devoted to purity is highly qualified to be a ‘peacemaker’. 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’.
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? In order 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.
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. 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.
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. They should be a force against evil.
Finally, a faithful disciple should also cause others to thirst for righteousness, Matthew 5:6, as salt itself causes physical thirst.
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 / 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 disciple of Christ, either the secrecy will destroy the discipleship or the discipleship 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! Christians should desire that others see their good works in order to be drawn to God as a result. 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.
Now please don’t misunderstand. 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 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.
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!
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 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.’ 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, 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.
Jesus’ meaning here 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.
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. 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.
Essentially, they would ‘loose’ or ‘break’ what they considered to be the lesser requirements of the law; that is, they would not teach such as being an obligation. In so doing, the Pharisees were the ones ‘destroying’ the law, not Jesus.
This disposition to distinguish the importance between 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. 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. This isn’t to say that we should ignore the distinctions that the Scriptures delineate 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 is attempting to classify the relative importance of miscellaneous commands.
We noted that the disposition that attempts to distinguish the importance between 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.
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. Clearly, 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.
The righteousness of the religious leaders was outward only, 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.
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.
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.
For instance, Jesus doesn’t deny the truth that physical murder or premeditated killing is wrong, Exodus 20:13, and that there would be judgment for such, Deuteronomy 16:18. However, He supplemented that teaching by declaring mental murder, i.e., unwarranted anger, to also be wrong and cause for judgment.
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.
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 exists as:
1. Silent anger, a person who is angry with their brother but keeps quiet or to himself;
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’;
3. Bitter rebuke, a person whose anger finds expression by rebuking someone with bitter words such as ‘fool’.
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’.
Clearly, 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. 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, 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. But, anger in response to personal mistreatment is entirely different and dangerous.
Make sure our words are always carefully chosen from a heart filled with love that seeks the best interests of others. If words flow from your mouth that is abusive and injurious, beware, for the fire of hell approaches, James 3:5-6.
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 of us should work toward immediate reconciliation. Of course, they too have a responsibility to come to you if they are offended, Matthew 18:15.
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.
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!
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!
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, 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. It 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.
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. 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.
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!
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 verse 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.
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. We are not going to look into that but 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 I’ve written the Greek word for ‘send away’, which is ‘apoluo’ and the Greek word for ‘certificate of divorce’, that is ‘apostasion’.
There is a huge difference between sending away and divorce. 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.
They 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 for that, 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, and he had to provide for his wife if they ‘sent them away’. This was the Jew’s loophole, they ‘put them away’ without the official ‘divorce’.
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.
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.
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. 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 we don’t intend to keep. 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’, the earth is ‘His footstool’, and Jerusalem is ‘the city of the great King’.
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 verse 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.’
It is true that we can 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, 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.
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 plainly. 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.
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.
First, Jesus shares an example of non-resistance to personal insults. Rather than resist an insult, such as a facial slap, 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. 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. In 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.
If someone is in need and asks for help, we should not refuse to give what we can. 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.
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. 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 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 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,
2. The Jews who worked as tax collectors for the Romans were considered by their brethren to be traitors, and,
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.
In context, to be perfect like the heavenly Father refers to having a perfect love like God’s, a generous, merciful love, Luke 6:36. Although we are to be perfect, we will never be sinless, 1 John 1:8-10. To be perfect is to be complete, whole, mature, or full-grown.
Our goal is to become full-grown in the attribute of love as God is. He is our standard, not men. We will find completeness when we love everyone, return good for evil, pray for all, and do more than is required of us.