This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
Sermon on the Mount 5 – A Christian’s Righteousness Part 2: The Spirit of the Law – Daily Wisdomhamberlain, and we are on Day: /:
Sermon on the Mount – A Christian’s Righteousness Part 2: The Spirit of the Law
We are continuing this week on the subject of right living, or a Christian’s righteousness. If you remember, this is part of Matthew 5-7, commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is considered the closest to a manifesto in all Christ’s teachings. As citizens in God’s kingdom, our proclamation is to build that kingdom. If we were in the army, this would be our marching orders. That is an excellent analogy for these teachings because ‘We Are in the Lord’s Army’ as the old children's song goes. But, instead of violence, our weapons are the character traits in the beatitudes and are applied through us being salt and light.
Not to beat a dead horse, although I understand that it is safer to do so than a live horse, let us not forget what we learned in previous weeks. Christ came to establish a Christian counter-culture, which turns our modern culture upside down. Or better to say, it turns an upside-down world, right-side up! (Flip the globe right-side up)
So far, Jesus has spoken of a Christian’s character in the beatitudes and how if we take on those character traits, we can influence modern culture as we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This salt and light are manifested through right living, which is ‘good deeds.’
Last week we covered Matthew 5:17-30, the first three of seven teachings covering the remainder of chapter 5. This week our focus will be on Matthew 5:31-48. The entire passage is broken down into seven lessons to learn. Those seven lessons once again are:
Teaching about the Law
Teaching about Anger
Teaching about Adultery (Lust)
Teaching about Divorce
Teaching about Promises
Teaching about Revenge
Teaching about Love for Enemies
If you missed last week, please go to putnamchurch.org, where you can watch the message. It is also on the church’s FaceBook page.
With that said, let’s move on to our fourth teaching, which is:
Teaching About Divorce (Matthew 5:31–32)
31 “You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’[m] 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.
The fourth lesson about divorce follows the previous lesson about adultery/lust as a natural sequence. So often, failing to learn lesson three results in needing to know lesson four. Under certain conditions, Jesus now says, remarriage by or to a divorced person is equivalent to adultery. We should not lose focus that Jesus’s primary emphasis in both passages is a call to fidelity in marriage.
I confess a reluctance to attempt an explanation of these verses. First, I understand that it is only by the grace of God that He provided me with an excellent and understanding wife. I believe Paula is of the same perspective, at least most of the time. Divorce is a controversial and complex subject because it is a subject that touches people’s emotions at a deep level. There is almost no unhappiness so distressing as an unhappy marriage. My heart aches for those who have had to endure it. Although I believe that God’s ideal plan in most cases is not divorce, in no way am I making a judgment on anyone that has gone through a divorce. I know that each situation is different and very personal.
We understand from this passage that the Pharisees and religious teachers sought excuses to justify their actions. They were throwing the letter of the law in Jesus’s face when they said... ‘Well, Moses said…’ We can rationalize anything we choose to do and then find Scripture verses to back up our decisions. This is not how we want to approach decisions in life.
Our Lord’s reply to their question was in three parts. It is revealing to consider these separately and in the order in which he spoke them. In each, he disagreed with the Pharisee’s focus and justification.
The Pharisees were preoccupied with the justification of divorce. Jesus was focused on the institution of marriage and its original purpose.
Their question was so framed as to draw Jesus out on what he considered legitimate grounds for divorce. Instead, Jesus focused on the original command in the garden of Eden. From the beginning of creation, marriage is a divine institution by which God makes permanent two people who ‘become one flesh.’
The Pharisees called Moses’ provision for divorce a command; Jesus called it a concession due to the hardness of human hearts
The Pharisees’ garbled version of the Mosaic provision was typical of the Pharisees’ disregard for what Scripture said and implied. They emphasized giving a divorce certificate as if this were essential to the Mosaic provision.
A passage that was not part of the Sermon on the Mount, but later in Matthew 19:8, Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.
How, then, did Jesus respond to the Pharisees’ question about the regulation of Moses? He attributed it to the hardness of people’s hearts. In so doing, Jesus did not deny that the law was from God. He implied, however, that it was not a divine instruction, but only a divine concession to human weakness. Jesus told the Pharisees that it was for this reason that Moses allowed them to divorce. But then he immediately referred again to God’s original purpose, saying: But from the beginning, it was not so. Thus even the divine concession was, in principle, inconsistent with the divine intent of the institution of marriage.
The Pharisees regarded divorce lightly; Jesus took it so seriously that, with only one exception, he called all remarriage after divorce adultery.
I realize that there are other situations in addition to unfaithfulness with one or both persons within a marriage that may justify separating. Still, Jesus’s desire was to squash the excuses of the Pharisees, whose intent was to divorce so that they could marry someone else. If that is their intent, it ties directly to the previous teaching section. The Pharisees desired something that was not theirs to have. The Spirit of the Law is to take marriage seriously, for it is a sacred promise between a man and a woman and God. The promise dovetails into the following teaching.
Teaching about Promises (Matthew 5:33-37)
33 “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’[n] 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
If the rabbis tended to be permissive about adultery and divorce, they were even more permissive in their teaching about keeping promises. They had rituals for vows or promises they would make. They made a big deal if they swore their pledges on God’s throne (heaven), God’s footstool (earth), or by the holy city of Jerusalem, where the Messiah would come. Jesus said, Stop it. Don't make promises if you are so foolish that your promises don’t mean anything unless you attach them to something considered holy. Even in our recent history, you will hear people say things like, I swear by my mama’s grave or on a stack of Bibles. Today, we have legal contracts that are purposely hard to read and understand so that people can find loopholes to get out of their promises. I could go on and on about keeping your promises, but for brevity, Jesus said, do not make promises unless you are confident you can keep them. Do not use legal loopholes to hide behind. I realize that in today’s culture, we need to protect ourselves, but as citizens of God’s kingdom, your word should be your bond, and your handshake your signature. In other words, verse 37 says: Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
Jesus’s half-brother James must have learned from his older brother when he wrote: James 5:12
But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.
It is so neat how these teachings about our good deeds continue to flow from one to another. For example, when someone does not keep a promise to us, we desire payback and revenge, leading to our following teaching.
Teaching about Revenge (Matthew 5:38–42)
38 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[o] 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile,[p] carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
The two final teachings bring us to a high point of the Sermon on the Mount. This is where the rubber meets the road. These two teachings are most admired and most resented, namely the attitude of unconditional love which Christ calls us to show towards one who treats us unkindly and loving our enemies. Nowhere is the challenge of the Sermon as difficult. Nowhere is the distinctness of the Christian counter-culture more obvious. Nowhere is our need for the power of the Holy Spirit (whose first fruit is love) more compelling. Remember what fruit is produced when the Holy Spirit controls us. Galatians 5:22-23
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Did you catch that last phrase? As we discussed last week, Jesus’s purpose was completed in His fulfillment of the law when he ushered in God’s earthly kingdom. So instead of being preoccupied with rules for our lives, we should determine if our lives produce this fruit.
This lesson teaches us not to seek personal revenge. Jesus was not prohibiting the administration of justice, but rather forbidding us to take the law into our own hands. ‘An eye for an eye’ is a principle of justice belonging to courts of law. We must eliminate all retaliation in word and deed and all animosity of spirit in our personal life. We can and must commit our cause to the good and righteous judge, as Jesus himself did, but it is not for us to seek or desire any personal revenge. We must not repay injury but endure it and overcome evil with good.
Jesus demands of us, as citizens of God’s kingdom, a different personal attitude toward evildoers. Our attitude must be prompted by mercy, not justice, which rejects retaliation so entirely as to risk further costly suffering. Our character should never be governed by the desire to cause others harm, but always by determining to serve their highest good. If it is a severe offense, it should be handled in law courts, not our desire for revenge. The fact is, we will not get along with everyone, and others may hurt us. Jesus has a solution for that, our seventh and final teaching in Matthew 5.
Teaching about Love for Enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[q] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![r] Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[s] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
The Israelites were very sectarian. After all, they were God’s chosen people. They assumed then that they only had to love their fellow Israelites. Their minds gave them the right to hate all the other nations, including the Samaritans, a mixed Jewish ethnic group. Yet, we even see this form of nationalism in many countries today, including the USA. This thinking was turned upside down as Christ fulfilled the law and came to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Now God’s kingdom was open to all nations. All who chose believing loyalty to God were now God’s chosen people. As disciples of Christ, we are to love everyone, including those who do not accept Christ. Jesus indicates that our love for our enemies will express itself in deeds, words, and prayers. Jesus declares that only then will we prove whose children we are, for we will exhibit a love like the love of our heavenly Fathers. God has provided common grace to all. Verse 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. God’s common grace covers all humans. God’s divine love is indiscriminate, shown equally to a good person and a bad.
All human love, even the highest, the noblest, and the best, is contaminated to some degree by the impurities of self-interest. Every decision we make has at least a measure of self-interest. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are specifically called to love our enemies, which is impossible without God’s supernatural grace. While we will never show this love perfectly, we can take heart that, with God’s supernatural grace, we can take comfort in Verse 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Perfection in this verse speaks of a gradual process, but it begins with our Christian Character described in the Beatitudes. Applying those character traits to our lives allows our Christian Influence to show through being salt and light. This influence will be manifested through right living, or as it is called, Christian Righteousness.
As we conclude for today, let our right living be reflected in the proper understanding that Christ fulfilled the law, His purpose. Our vocation and purpose as salt and light are to live right by learning the lessons about anger, lust, divorce, promises, revenge, and loving our enemies.
Join us next week as we begin Matthew 6, where our focus will be on a Christian’s Religion – are you real or a hypocrite?
Thank you so much for allowing me to be your guide, mentor, and, most importantly, your friend as I serve you through this Wisdom-Trek podcast and journal.
As we take this trek together, let us always:
Live Abundantly (Fully)
Lend to others Generously
Lead with Integrity
Leave a Living Legacy Each Day
I am Guthrie Chamberlain….reminding you to ’Keep Moving Forward,’ ‘Enjoy your Journey,’ and ‘Create a Great Day…Everyday’! See you next time for more wisdom from God’s Word!