of the ideas most commonly omitted from a study on the Sermon on the Mount is
that this is an example of Christ’s claim to authority – indeed, the authority
of God. Throughout the Old Testament the prophets proclaimed, “Thus saith the
Lord.” Christ comes, saying, “But I say…”
some this causes confusion. How is it that Christ can overrule the Law?
Simply put, He does not. He extends it. He takes it from the legal form
(“thus far and no further”) and extends it to right living. The One who
crafted the Law now reveals the Will behind it.
word and action
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT
COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say
to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the
court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty
before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the
fiery hell. "Therefore if you are
presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has
something against you, leave your offering there
before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and
present your offering. "Make friends
quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that
your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer,
and you be thrown into prison. "Truly I say
to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
(Mat 5:21-26 NASB)
power of thought, word and action
should be noted that “angry” is “angry without cause” in the King James. Most
modern scholars consider this a late addition.)
is one of the simplest of paradigms. You think; you open your mouth before
having thought well enough and soon actions to match your words are required.
This is often enough the source of sin in our lives – some words more than
others. Christ speaks here of “the court” then “the supreme court” and finally
prior years, until his death, my wife and I visited a convict in prison. He
was mentally ill, and the psychologists working with him would tell him he
needed to stop his “stinkin’ thinkin’.” That’s easy to say and hard to do, as
we shall see. But it points out that the root of the problem is in the mind.
If you can stop it there, it’s a lot easier to deal with. So how, then, do we
deal with this source of the problem?
do I do that?
put it this way:
destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge
of God, and we are taking every thought
captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all
disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
(2Co 10:5-6 NASB)
train our thoughts by bringing them to Christ. Indeed, James tells us
that we can’t tame the tongue by ourselves. So we should do what any sensible
Christian would do when in over your head: we ask Christ to do it for us. We
tame animals by our superior intelligence and will; God will do the same for
us, if we will but ask.
is a curious effect in this. Those who are “right-living” find that their
circumstances change imperceptibly. They no longer get the chance to foul
their mouths, because those around them expect that they won’t. If you hang
around Christ long enough, you begin to act like him.
modern author remarked upon the difference between the church of 1900 and the
church of 2000. He said that we go to church to get something out of it. They
went to church to give thanks for it. Perhaps this explains the weakness of
the church today. But think of it: why should God accept the worship of one
who nurses a grudge? Since Cain and Abel there has been a difference between
acceptable worship and non-acceptable worship.
an example of how powerful this is? Richard the Lionheart did not take
Communion for several years because he knew he would have to reconcile with
Phillip, King of France. Only when he knew he was about to die did the priest
get the call.
this restricted to our brothers? No indeed. It is clear that this also
applies to our enemies as well. Indeed, the mere fact that there is conflict
is sufficient to cause the Christian to seek reconciliation.
Marital and Otherwise
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT
ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust
for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and
throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your
body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and
throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your
body, than for your whole body to go into hell. "It
was said, 'WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF
DIVORCE'; but I say to you that everyone who
divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever
marries a divorced woman commits adultery. "Again,
you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT
SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' "But
I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of
God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of
His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot
make one hair white or black. "But let your
statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.
(Mat 5:27-37 NASB)
of the common reactions to teaching about divorce is, “You can’t be serious.”
That’s why Christ includes the verses about eye and hand. It is that serious.
The eye signifies contemplation; the hand, action. This life is the proving
ground for the next. It is His intent that His children will come home to Him
whole – but if you have to cut off the opportunity for sin, then cut it off.
You’d be better off without it.
is deadly serious here; there have been Christians who have actually done this.
be brief about it, here is the classical understanding of Christ’s teaching on
à la Jimmy Carter, is a sin. If you haven’t made a pact with your eyes on
this, it’s best you should.
is permitted only for the cause of adultery. (Separation is an option
with much wider possibilities.) That means what it says: no other reason
is so, even though the Old Testament appears to make divorce (by the man
at least) easy. (There was a rabbinical debate on this at the time, and
Christ didn’t straddle positions.) As He explains, that was given as a
better option from being able simply to pronounce her as divorced.
last one brings up a point we should clearly understand: any system of law is
inherently flawed. The law may forbid this and allow that – but the will of
God is still your goal, even if the law can’t express it that way.
not think this only for men:
If you permit yourself to gaze
often on fair countenances you will assuredly be taken, even though you may be
able to command your mind twice or thrice. For you are not exalted above nature
and the strength of humanity. She too who dresses and adorns herself for the
purpose of attracting men’s eyes to her, though her endeavor should fail, yet
shall she be punished hereafter; seeing she mixed the poison and offered the
cup, though none was found who would drink thereof. For what the Lord seems to
speak only to the man, is of equal application to the woman; inasmuch as when
He speaks to the head, the warning is meant for the whole body.
leave you with one last thought on this: adultery is essentially dishonesty of
the worst sort. When you marry, you take a wedding vow. If you commit
adultery, you have betrayed your spouse and crushed your sworn word.
oath at all
oath, then as now, was taken as a sort of guaranty that the man talking was
telling the truth. Men would swear by various holy objects (the Temple, for instance)that what they were telling others was indeed true. It did not take
long for the lawyers to come up with fine haired distinctions about which oaths
are binding. It was held that God would hold you to such an oath, as long as
the formula was followed correctly. You can see the difficulty in court.
ancient saint put it this way:
They who live in the simplicity
of the faith have not need to swear, with them ever, what is is, what is not is
not; by this their life and their conversation are ever preserved in truth.
exists no law which tells us what to do other than the law of love. All other
forms merely point out our sins.
"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A
TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but
whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him
have your coat also. "Whoever forces you to
go one mile, go with him two. "Give to him
who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE
YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I
say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for
He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you
love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax
collectors do the same? "If you greet only
your brothers, what more are you doing than
others? Do not even the Gentiles do the
same? "Therefore you are to be perfect, as
your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Mat 5:38-48 NASB)
passage is often interpreted to mean that it doesn’t mean what it says. But it
does. In this Christ tells His followers that they are to go beyond the Law –
as God does. God the merciful should inspire us the merciful. Indeed, the
usual object is that I needed that coat and why should I walk that mile? One
must ask: is your God so weak (or so untried) that you think He will not
provide? Or is it that you don’t trust Him to provide?
what he puts before us by command! In the things material we are to conform
our actions (including our wallets) to God’s way, not ours. The half-hearted
need not apply.
understand about loving those who love us – it’s polite, at least. But may we
take it step by step?
even our friends cross us, and we begin to treat them as enemies.
about competitors? In the modern capitalist realm of social Darwinism,
aren’t they to be crushed and destroyed?
enough, in the worry and fray of friends and competitors, we can’t even
name our enemies – we’re too busy making them.
matters, though, is that we deal with our enemies using the weapons of God, and
not those of Satan. It is no accident that anger is a sin; likewise envy.
then, we must pick up the weapons of God. Chief among the is the willingness
of the Christian to suffer for God’s sake. Go the extra mile? Think of how
this baffles people who do not know Christ!
sounds so strange, love your enemies. But it is exactly what God does. As
Christ points out, the weather isn’t different for the good and the evil.
Indeed, were God to make following Christ a sure path to riches in this world,
we would be overwhelmed with new Christians. Christ’s point is that now you
know what is right, you should follow God in doing it.
not natural. Indeed, we are called to do things that are supernatural, in that
sense. We are to turn our impulses to obedience, and be greater than the
animal nature in us.
commands us to the possible and the impossible. If we will but dare, He will
make all things possible.
away with these two things:
authority of Christ displayed here brings to His followers tasks possible
and impossible. But with the task comes His aid. Be obedient – and dare.
goal of the Christian is not simply to “pass,” but to be perfect.