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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

You Have Heard It Said...

Matthew 5:21-48

In this lesson Christ lays out for us the basics of conduct between Christians and between Christians and other human beings. There are three principles I would have you remember throughout this lesson:

·         Each and every human being was originally designed to become a child of God, to enjoy fellowship with Him forever. Each of is therefore precious to Him -- and potentially someone of great power.

·         You are not just an animal; you are a spirit housed in an animal body. The two are not to be separated -- and will be rejoined at the Resurrection. Therefore, it is not just your actions that matter -- it is your heart.

·         The third is best expressed in Christ’s own words:

(Mat 5:20 NIV) 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.

The righteousness of the Pharisees was in legalism -- straining the Scriptures into a set of laws. “But I tell you....”

Murder and Anger

(Mat 5:21-26 NIV) "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' {22} But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. {23} "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. {25} "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. {26} I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Let’s look at this from a different point of view: God’s. How does God see our brother? I submit He sees him as His child. That has some interesting implications:

·         Do you go around insulting the children of powerful people? Is that really wise?

·         If you hit one of my kids, what do you think my reaction would be? Why do you suspect God of being inert on the subject?

·         Like any parent, God wants harmony between his children!

So much does God want this reconciliation between his children that He tells us that reconciliation between ourselves is more important than bringing Him an offering. We as parents can see this. If your children are fighting, how willing are you to have one of them stop and give you a hug (and then go back to fighting)? Wouldn’t you stop that hug and tell the child to make up with his brother? The principle is this: reconciliation to our brother comes before reconciliation to God -- for our harmony together is required to obtain his reconciliation.

There is one other principle here: Do not rely on your own strength. We are often humble and meek when we have no choice. But if it’s the little brother....God says no; we are to treat all His children alike and be reconciled to all.

Adultery

(Mat 5:27-32 NIV) "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' {28} But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. {29} If your right eye causes you to sin, 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. {30} And if your right hand causes you to sin, 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. {31} "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' {32} But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

I told you that you are a spirit in a body (roughly speaking; it’s more complicated than that, but never mind). Therefore the heart matters -- and adultery is first and foremost a matter of the heart.

The spirit is connected to the body. What the body does influences the spirit, and vice versa. My eyes are a part of my body. I have male eyeballs; I can tell everything I want to know about a woman in 2.9 nanoseconds -- unless I sneeze in the process. The issue is not whether or not I will look at a woman. The issue is what I, in my heart, propose to do about it.

There is a great principle in here: all or nothing. There is no such thing as getting half way to heaven. So whatever it takes to get to heaven, do that. If that means getting rid of some part of your body, call a surgeon. The statement is hyperbole, of course (though some saints didn’t take it that way, like Origen). But the principle is sound. Recognize that you are a spirit in the body, and that what your body does and your heart purposes interact. Make sure they interact in God’s way.

Christ’s teaching on adultery seems strict to us. What’s wrong with divorce, after all? Aren’t there such things as “irreconcilable differences?” Christ gives us only one exception, that being adultery itself. But look at it from God’s perspective:

·         Marriage was instituted by Him; in it He places your sister in Christ in your hands, o husband. If you are to be reconciled with the brother, how much more the sister who is your wife? Is she not also a child of God, born to be in fellowship with Him forever?

·         Such a marriage is an exchange of promises -- promises in which you invoke the institution of marriage by God, declaring it holy, and accepting that burden willingly. You have vowed; you have promised; you have called God as your witness to it, at His command. Having so called Him, do you really wish to anger Him?

Which of course brings us to the issue of “telling the truth in love.”

Honesty

(Mat 5:33-37 NIV) "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' {34} But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; {35} or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. {36} And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. {37} Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

It is extremely presumptuous of anyone to call God as his witness, except as God commands it (as in marriage). God is not a tame lion to jump through your flaming hoop. Indeed, as we have seen in marriage, it is positively dangerous to make vows involving God -- He will certainly hold you to them, or the consequences thereof. (“It was really a friendly divorce. We never really fought.”)

A bit of background: The people of this time used God’s name (more commonly, some substitute for it) to make their promises sound utterly binding -- and hoped that some rabbi would tell their opponent in court that it really wasn’t. They all accepted this state of affairs rather nicely; indeed, they thought it rather clever.

We have a similar situation today: “If it’s legal, it’s moral.” “If you can’t prove it in court, it didn’t happen.” We are currently awaiting (at this writing) the decision on who will have custody of O. J. Simpson’s children. It’s a tidy little problem: he wasn’t convicted, after all. But I suspect there might be some outrage at the thought that the children might have to live with their mother’s murderer. Unfortunately, not nearly enough outrage. How many people do you know who rather admire O. J. for getting away with it?

God is eternal, unchanging. We are to be His children. He cannot lie; it is not in His character to be able to do so. The self-existent one cannot be his own contradiction. We are His children; neither should we lie. In word or deed. The call is to total honesty -- in love.[1]

Retaliation

(Mat 5:38-42 NIV) "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' {39} But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. {40} And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. {41} If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. {42} Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

If ever our righteousness exceeds the Pharisees, here is clearly where. The Pharisees were quite clear. There are Jews and Gentiles. The Jews are God’s chosen people, favored by Him. The Gentiles are despicable scum, fit only to be fodder for the fires of hell. “Love thy neighbor” is in fact a quotation from the Old Testament[2], but the Pharisees were sure that “neighbor” meant “Jew and friend.” Not so, says Jesus. We are to exceed this standard -- and love our enemies. Why?

First, vengeance belongs to God -- and if you take it, you are stealing from God.

·         Are you really a just judge? Can you truly allow mercy to triumph over justice and yet be just?

·         Is anything taken from us really “ours?” The emphasis in this passage is on material possessions and physical life. If we have indeed surrendered all to Jesus, is it really ours to get upset about?

·         If you are really the child of God, you are His imitator. And how does He treat His enemies -- if not to try to make them His children too?

More than that, to retaliate is to use the weapons of the world in a war of the spirit. You do not win the spiritual battle with physical weapons. You do not overcome evil with evil; you overcome evil with good.[3]

·         First, is it really all that big a deal? You are eternal; this stuff is temporary. If you live only in this life, it’s important. If you live forever in fellowship with God, isn’t this stuff rather trivial?

·         How does God treat us? Is it not so that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us? What a small point of imitation![4]

Love your neighbor...

(Mat 5:43-48 NIV) "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, {45} that you may be sons 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. {46} If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? {47} And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? {48} Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Now we come to the rub of the matter: love your neighbor as yourself. From this starting point came the parable of the Good Samaritan. Let me take a different point: Love your neighbor as yourself. But how do I love myself?

Well, I’m rather forgiving of myself. As a matter of fact, I not only forgive myself, I treat myself rather well -- I do everything I can to secure blessings on myself (I knew there was a reason I went to work each day). Indeed, I go so far as to go before the Almighty God, the Ruler of heaven and of earth, the “holy, awesome, sovereign God” and ask Him to bless me to, to heal me and rescue me.

All He’s telling me to do is to do likewise -- for my enemy. Forgive my enemy; bless him; indeed, pray for him too. Consider well:

·         The natural man -- the physical only --- is willing to do this for his friends. It’s to his benefit. The spiritual son of God is willing to do it for all, especially his enemies -- as God wishes to overcome evil with good.

·         Note that the phrase is not “everybody” but “your enemies.” There is a pointed barb in that. God understands quite well that He is correcting us.

·         Not just love -- but ask your Father in heaven to do likewise. Why should you pray for your enemies? Perhaps because it puts you in right relation with your Father.

The last verse is particularly telling. Be perfect, as your Father is perfect.

·         We are designed to be His children, living forever as He does. We must therefore act as He acts.

·         We are spirits; the heart counts. We must therefore not only forego retaliation in the physical realm but beseech the Father for our oppressors in the spiritual realm.

·         Must our righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees? Indeed, to the point of perfection as God is perfect. Only in Christ can we have that.


[1] Ephesians 4:15

[2] Leviticus 19:18

[3] Romans 12:21

[4] Romans 5:8

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