free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
The section of Matthew's Gospel included in chapters 5-7 is one of the most beautiful and impressive in the entire New Testament. In the simplest language, but with singular force and pertinency Jesus here gave a summary of His moral teaching, the doctrine "of the fruits and good works of a Christian," as Luther writes. For the Sermon on the Mount is not the proclamation of the Gospel but preaching of the Law. To awaken and promote the realization and the sense, not only of comparative weakness and insufficiency in spiritual matters, but of a total and utter inability to think and speak and act in conformity with the holy will of God; to bring about the humiliating, but incidentally the most blessed conviction as to one's being wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked in spiritual things, Revelation 3:17; and to teach the regenerated that without Him we can do nothing, and thus lead them on the way of true sanctification: that was the object of Christ in delivering this wonderful sermon.
The time and place for this great lesson were chosen by Jesus with particular care. He had spent the night in prayer on a mountain and had then separated twelve of His disciples to be apostles, Luke 6:12-Nehemiah :. He was now on His way to the valley:
v. 1. And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain.
The people were crowding to Him in increasing numbers. They came to hear Him, they insisted upon touching Him, to be healed of various diseases, Luke 6:17-Psalms :. To get away from the crowds below, whose eagerness threatened to overwhelm Him, Jesus ascended the mountain once more. Its name and location would be interesting for sentimental reasons only. On the higher slopes of the hill the people had no chance to throng Him:
v. 1. And when He was set, His disciples came unto Him.
Not only the apostles, though they were surely in the front ranks, but His disciples in general, now become a considerable band, gathered about Him. To them His discourse was chiefly addressed, though the others were by no means excluded. Here was an ideal location to give instruction without distraction, far from the din of the jostling crowd, above the bustle and the sultry heat of the region below.
A solemn and dramatic description of the beginning of a weighty discourse:
v. 2. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying.
It was a confidential, awe-inspiring communication of the great Teacher which the evangelist records, Job 3:1; Daniel 10:16; Psalms 78:2. A well-prepared, carefully outlined discourse is given, in which reference to existing deplorable conditions was made with utter fearlessness. "That also, as stated above, belongs to a preacher that he does not keep his mouth closed, and not only publicly performs his office that everyone must keep silence and permit him to come forth as one that has divine right and command, but also opens his mouth cheerfully and confidently, that is, to preach the truth and what is committed to him; not keep silence or speak indistinctly, but without dread and terror confess and speak plainly, without regarding or sparing any one's person, let it strike whom or what it will. " Jesus taught them, not only His disciples, but all whom His voice would reach. It was teaching that He gave them, not preaching; Jesus is here the Master and Teacher, not the Evangelist and Prophet.
His first words strike the key-note of the entire discourse:
v. 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The reference of Jesus here is not primarily to temporal poverty, to earthly misery, as in other passages of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 1:26-Hosea :; James 2:5. He is speaking of the poor and miserable "in spirit," those that shrink and cower with fear and dread, that are tremblingly alive to the wants and needs of their soul, that feel in their own heart, so far as spiritual riches are concerned, nothing but a great void, a despair of their own abilities, Matthew 11:5-Hosea :; Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 62:2; Psalms 70:5. Such as these, who are conscious, painfully aware, of their moral deficiencies, the Lord calls blessed, happy. If they were still under the mistaken impression that they were spiritually rich and wanted nothing, they might deceive themselves into a false security which would prevent their gaining the true riches, the only abiding happiness. But as conditions are, no false pride will keep them from accepting the unsearchable riches of the kingdom of heaven, which are theirs by grace. For the kingdom of heaven is the sum total of all the gifts of God in Christ Jesus as they are enjoyed here on earth in the Christian Church and finally above, in the kingdom of glory. This being true, and the riches of the kingdom being even now in their possession, the disciples should strive all the more diligently to cultivate the poverty which the Lord here praises, and to exercise themselves in it daily.
Closely connected with this thought is the next:
v. 4. Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
The disciples are subject to conditions and circumstances which cause, which bring about, mourning, Luke 6:21-Lamentations :; John 16:20; Acts 14:22. But the chief reason for their lamenting lies in the fact that they feel their spiritual poverty, grieving over the barrenness of their carnal nature, that separates them from the fountain of blessedness. This grief on account of the absence, because of the loss of spiritual possessions, is a deep and burdensome sorrow. It realizes, in keen repentance, sin and its results, both in him who grieves and in others. Its evil effects, however, shall be prevented lest they lead into despair. "As also Christ places just these words, and promises the consolation that they do not despair in their grief, nor let their heart's joy be taken entirely and extinguished, but mingle such mourning with the comfort and refreshment; otherwise, if they never had any comfort or joy, they would have to become faint and withered. " And therefore they will be comforted. Their bitter sorrow will be converted into ultimate, abounding consolation and gladness, Romans 14:17. The very Messianic kingdom with its message of hope is called the comfort of Israel, Luke 2:25.
These two conditions form the prerequisite for the third beatitude:
v. 5. Blessed are the meek, for they. shall inherit the earth.
Their heart is not filled with self-righteousness, pride, and conceit. They are bowed down with grief, and therefore are ready and willing to endure with a meek spirit, Psalms 37:11. To suffer and to bear uncomplainingly is their characteristic; there is no obstinate arrogance in their behavior. "For it will not fail to be forthcoming: thy neighbor will sometimes maltreat thee or otherwise overstep the bounds, either inadvertently or deliberately. If it be inadvertently, thou on thy part wilt not make it good by thy refusal or inability to bear it. But if it be malice, thou wilt but make him worse by hostile pawing and stamping; while he laughs and satisfies his desire to provoke thee to anger and do thee harm, in order that thou mayest have no peace nor enjoy what is thine with quietness. " The disciples of Christ, however, with meek and tender hearts, will be blessed and happy, since they have the promise of the earth as their inheritance. This statement, in its paradoxical form, is most startling. The expression, as the Lord uses it, cannot be referred to spiritual gifts only, though these doubtless are included. Jesus emphasizes the fact that meekness, by God's will, is a "world-conquering principle. " As rightful lords of creation those whom the promise of Christ here concerns shall use God's temporal gifts with a good conscience, 1 Corinthians 3:22, and be sure that God's bounty will provide. "The expression 'inherit the earth' here means to possess all manner of goods here on earth. Not that each one should occupy a whole country, otherwise God would have to create more worlds, but the goods which God confers upon every one, that He gives him wife, children, cattle, house, home, and what belongs thereto, that he may remain definitely in the land where he lives and be master of his possessions, as Scripture commonly says."
Having named a few negative virtues, the Lord next mentions some positive qualifications which should characterize His disciples:
v. 6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.
This righteousness is not that of Christ, imputed by faith, in which case this one sentence of Gospel would be out of place in the admonitions concerning the life and behavior of His followers. It is the external righteousness before the world, the piety of life which He here urges. "Therefore understand here the external righteousness before the world, as we comport ourselves one toward another. That this, briefly and simply, is the meaning of these words: That is a truly blessed person that always continues and with all his might strives after this, that all things everywhere be in proper order and every person do right, and helps to hold and further such a condition with words and deeds, with counsel and action. " The disciples of Christ should hunger and thirst, be extremely eager for the possession of such piety, in order to receive the blessing of a full and complete satisfaction. This is God's reward of mercy for virtue, not only the happy, conviction of things well done, but, according to His will, also temporal recompense. Psalms 37:25; Isaiah 3:10; Proverbs 11:18-Psalms :; Proverbs 14:34, and finally an acknowledgment of the virtue in heaven, Psalms 36:9; Revelation 7:16; Psalms 17:15.
One of the chief proofs of the Christian's piety is mercy:
v. 7. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
A heart filled with deep sympathy and sincere compassion for the temporal and spiritual need of the neighbor, that is deeply concerned for, and earnestly endeavors to do good to, all men, especially such as are of the household of faith, is well-pleasing to the Lord. And all the efforts thus made, insignificant as they may seem even in the Christian's own estimation, will receive, as a reward of mercy, the compassion of God Himself.
But hypocritical behavior will not stand the test of His scrutiny:
v. 8. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
A mere outward purity in keeping the ceremonial injunctions of the Law is not sufficient in the economy of God. He desires such hearts as keep themselves pure, unsullied with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Isaiah 1:16; James 4:8; 2 Corinthians 6:17 But this purity finds its expression also in single-mindedness of purpose which throws off every restraining, distracting thought and seeks the Lord and His kingdom with undivided heart, Php_2:12 . Happy, blessed are they that are found practicing such purity, for their reward again outstrips their fondest hopes. Even in this life they shall see God with the eyes of the spirit, lifting them up, in joyful confidence, to the God of their salvation, Isaiah 17:7; Micah 7:7; Psalms 25:15. But the very essence of heavenly bliss will be the seeing of God face to face in the life to come, Psalms 17:15; Psalms 42:3; Job 19:27.
A third positive Christian virtue, reflecting the perfection of Christ Himself:
v. 9. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.
The disciples of Jesus are children of peace: they not merely have peace in their own souls through purity, they are not merely peace-loving, but they are active, strenuous promoters of peace in the midst of a world torn asunder by hatred, party interest, and every form of alienation, Romans 12:18; Psalms 34:15; Mark 9:50; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:14, In using their best offices in the interest of assuaging passions, of settling sectional strife, they prove themselves true children of God, who has only thoughts of peace toward all men. This is their reward of grace: God is their Father, Christ is their Brother, heaven is their heritage, their home, 1 Peter 3:10-1 Kings :; Isaiah 57:2.
It is inevitable that the reproach of Christ will strike the disciples in their endeavor to follow these rules, and so Jesus adds:
v. 10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In living these principles of Jesus and thus confessing Christ before men, the righteousness of the Christians' lives tends to make them conspicuous before men, to make them seem different from, morally cleaner than, the others. And therefore the children of the world will resent this aloofness, construing their attitude as a criticism of their own behavior. The hatred of the world because of this belief results in persecution, John 15:19. The consolation of the followers of Christ, in that case, is that the various evidences of hatred which they must endure will be more than outweighed by their heritage, the kingdom heaven.
Jesus applies this to His immediate disciples:
v. 11. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My name's sake.
These are a few of the forms in which the hatred of the enemies will be likely to manifest itself. It is a persistent, continuous persecution by word and deed, especially hard to bear because of malicious lies which implied, and accused the disciples of, all manner of evil. There are two facts that serve to console them. The statements thus made are deliberate lies due entirely to violent prejudice. And the hatred of men strikes them for His name's sake. It is a distinction, an honor, to suffer in His interest, because they bear His name.
In spite of the persecutions, then:
v. 12. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Joy, gladness in the highest measure is possible, an irrepressible exhibition of exultation is expected of Christ's followers. For all the hatred that can be poured out by the enemies cannot be measured against, cannot come into consideration in comparison with, the reward of grace in heaven. They will be more than amply repaid for all the disagreeable show of hatred which they were compelled to endure here, Romans 8:17-Job :; 2 Corinthians 4:17. Another comfort which upholds them in their trial: they thereby become, in that respect at least, the equals of the prophets. It cannot be a source of lasting sorrow to endure for a time, knowing that the prophets of old were martyred in the same way, and yet endured the afflictions gladly for His name's sake, 2 Chronicles 36:16; Hebrews 11:33-Matthew :. Therefore, take up the work and endure the suffering of those that were before you, knowing that their reward will be yours also.
The Chief Functions of the Disciples in the World.
The Lord continues to address His disciples directly:
v. 13. Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.
Having experienced the sanctifying power of the Word and Spirit of Jesus, the disciples are a salt. Note the four main qualities of salt: It is white and pure, it prevents rapid decay, it preserves nutriment and flavor, it renders the food palatable and healthy. The Christians are the salt of the earth; their business is to prevent its decay and putrefaction, to use every effort that the moral rottenness of the children of the world does not become excessive and render every class and age of society putrid by its infection, 1 Corinthians 15:33. This is not an easy task. But "our defiance, when things go badly, and when the world and the devil give us evil looks, and are as angry as they wish, is this, that He says to us: Ye are the salt of the earth. Where this word shines into the heart that it puts its trust in that and glories without doubting that we are God's salt, then let everyone be thoroughly angry that will not laugh. I can and may put more defiance and boasting upon a single word of His than they upon their might, swords, and guns. " If this salt now loses its flavor, it becomes insipid. This is true only of salt that undergoes a chemical process, either by being exposed to rain or by being stored for some length of time, as travelers from the Holy Land report. The figure of Christ is thus particularly apt. Insipid, saltless salt is really a contradiction in itself, and Christians that have lost their distinctive properties have ceased to influence their surroundings for good, have also lost their discipleship. As savorless salt has no value whatever and is treated as refuse; as a certain species of bituminous salt found in Judea which very rapidly became flat and tasteless was spread out in a court of the Temple to prevent slipping in wet weather, so the Christians that have ceased to apply themselves to their business of acting as a moral power in the world, will partake of the judgment of the world. Luther probably is right in saying: "Therefore I have always admonished, as Christ also does here, that salt remain salt and not become insipid, that is, that the chief article of faith be urged. For if that ceases, then not one piece can remain, and everything is lost; there is neither faith nor understanding, and no one can teach or counsel properly anymore."
The same admonition under a different figure:
v. 14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
v. 15. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Christ is, strictly speaking, the only true light of the world, John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:35. But His disciples partake of His nature; they are a light in and through Him; they receive their illumination as well as their power to give light to others from Him, 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Php_2:15 ; Ephesians 5:8. Their illumination, like His, is therefore not confined to their immediate neighborhood, but is supposed to extend to the ends of the world. So self-evident is this thought that Christ merely refers to a fact well known to His hearers. Many cities of the Holy Land, probably some of the smaller ones visible from the hill where they were assembled, were located on prominent elevations, and all Jews were familiar with Mount Zion. Cities thus situated could not be hid, they were the most conspicuous objects in the entire landscape. The Christians, by virtue of their discipleship, are like such a light, like such a city. Their very difference makes them marked people. That is as it should be, that agrees with the nature and with the object of their calling. To light a candle or a light, one of the small lamps used in Palestine, and then to place it under an overturned measure, a modius , an earthenware grain measure holding a little more than a peck, might be done occasionally for special reasons. But the purpose of such kindling was evidently another. The lamp should be placed on a stand, a small projecting stone in the wall in the cottages of the poor, or a lamp-stand in the form of a tripod, which could easily be moved about in the house. Then only can a lamp serve its purpose, namely, to illumine the house.
Jesus Himself applies the parable:
v. 16. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
The policy of obscuration, of hiding beliefs and convictions, is often urged by lukewarm Christians, so-called "reasons of prudence and wisdom: gradual accustoming of men to new ideas; deference to the prejudices of good men; avoidance of rupture by premature outspokenness; but generally the true reason is fear of unpleasant consequences to oneself. " To think and act thus is deliberate disloyalty to Christ. Your light, given to you from above, not to be used according to expediency, but to shine; your light, not you, the object being not to make your person prominent, but your Christianity. The Christians, individually and collectively, should perform this task as their steady work. For the light which shall be thrown out from them in every direction, before all men, consists in their good works, the fruits of their regeneration, the proof of their being illuminated by Jesus. These should be seen by the people for a definite reason. All men that come in contact with their works shall be forced to draw conclusions as to the power that inspires them. And so the glory, the honor will be placed where it properly and exclusively belongs, will be given to the Father in heaven. This fact renders the admonition urgent by giving to it its real basis. Faith is the lamp; love is the light; the good works are the illumination. As little as the lamp can pride itself upon its light, so little can the Christians glory in their good works; all glory must be God's.
Christ Confirms and Expounds the Law of Moses.
Good works Jesus has just urged. He now proceeds to give a definition of good works from the Law. He makes clear His position with regard to the Law:
v. 17. Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
The teaching of the Kingdom, the Gospel which He came to proclaim, is a doctrine radically different from the teaching of Moses. But it does not invalidate the demands of the moral law as taught by Moses, it does not substitute a new moral law. Jesus rather emphasizes its proper understanding, and for that reason takes great pains to explain its spiritual content. He wants to fulfill, to bring out fully, the real import, to counteract the influence of the shallow, superficial explanation then in common use; and then to render a perfect obedience to the Law. He who might abrogate all its demands, who has power to modify any of its injunctions, places Himself under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and, by fulfilling its every letter, cancels the law of the letter. And He fulfills the prophets. Whatever, in the revelation of the Old Testament, is type and prophecy, finds its completion, its realization in Christ the Redeemer, Colossians 2:17.
Note the emphasis of His assertion:
v. 18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and. earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled.
With a solemn oath Christ here affirms that the Law shall be retained also in the Church of the New Testament in the unabridged exercise of its strength. The whole Old Testament is a divine revelation, and so its minutest precept has religious significance which should find recognition and proper understanding in the New. So long as the earth shall stand, the sacredness of the Scripture of olden times shall remain so absolutely unimpaired that not even an iota, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, nor a tittle, the slight projecting point on some of its letters, shall fall to the ground. There is here a gleam of Gospel glory in the midst of the proclamation of the Law, implying a fulfillment which was to be made, and was in fact made, in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
In the meantime all men should know:
v. 19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Here is a conclusion. Since the above is Christ's view, He is bound to take His stand with reference to the transgressors of that rule. He that dissolves, abrogates, sets aside even those commandments that seem small and of little import, he that disregards as much as one of the little horns or hooks, whose presence or absence may, indeed, change the meaning of an entire passage, falls under Christ's sentence of condemnation, he is declared to be the least in the kingdom of heaven. The sincerity of his convictions will not be accepted as an excuse, and his fault will only be made greater by his extending the false opinion he holds by means of teaching. He shall be called the least, he shall be rejected in this kingdom, he shall be excluded from its glories. On the other hand, he that teaches in entire conformity with the Old Testament, that preaches not only the Gospel, but the Law in its great purpose of preparing the hearts, that keeps silence with regard to nothing, that does not add thereto nor take therefrom, he shall have a great name in the kingdom of heaven, he shall receive the reward of faithfulness. For this teaching is essential in educating men as to the true righteousness of life, in holding up before the Christians a proper rule of conduct.
How strongly this feature is brought out by the contrast:
v. 20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Not in the teachers of the people as they were then acknowledged, but only in Himself there would be the perfect realization of teaching and doing. The scribes were the accepted teachers of the Law, and many of them were members of the sect, or party, of the Pharisees. The chief accusation which Christ brought against these people is recorded in many passages of the Gospels; See Matthew 23:1-Malachi :. The feature of their doctrine and life was this, that they set aside the great for the little, the divine for the sake of the traditional. The result was a slavish observing of externals, which gave them a great show of piety before the people, an impression which they were very careful to nourish. So far as the great majority of these sectarians was concerned, their hearts were far from true piety and righteousness of the heart, which seeks, in true love of one's neighbor, to do the will of God in word and deed. Whenever such is the case, there is no faith, and therefore no idea of entering into the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord now proceeds to prove His condemning statement by expounding a few of the commandments of the Law according to their full spiritual significance:
v. 21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill: and, Whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment.
They were accustomed to hear this in the regular synagogue services, where the reading of the Law was never omitted. It was said both to them of old time, Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; Genesis 9:5-Joshua :, and by them of old time, in the precepts delivered by tradition from father to son as well as by the teachers of the people, 2 Chronicles 17:7-1 Samuel :, but the addition, fixing the penalty, was made in the interpretation of the rabbis. But by this explanation the meaning of "kill" was restricted to actual murder, and the commandment of God became a mere external legal enactment. The end of the transgression was penalized, but the beginning, in desires, in thoughts, in words, was not restrained. "Behold, that is the beautiful holiness of the Pharisees, which can cleanse itself, and remain pious, so long as it does not kill with the hand, though the heart be filled with anger, hatred, and envy, the tongue also with cursing and blaspheming."
Christ's exposition is not so narrow:
v. 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.
The statement of the Lord is very general: Every one, none excepted; it is a universal prohibition of angry passion. He that gives way to such wrath is guilty of judgment, of condemnation. Anger against a brother, any member of the human family, is a deadly sin. It should properly come under the jurisdiction of the council or court, Deuteronomy 16:18; 2 Chronicles 19:5. This is speaking relatively. The person that gives way to anger is as great an offender in God's sight as the one that slays his brother in cold blood, Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:8; James 1:19-Proverbs :. The same condemnation, but with greater emphasis, falls upon him that cannot control his anger, permitting it to burst forth in maledictions. Raca is an Aramaic word meaning an empty head, a stupid. The one using angry epithets of this nature is guilty of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews that tried the worst offenses and inflicted the severest penalties. Anger that is not quickly controlled will become hatred combined with contempt, and freely indulge in railing, 1 Peter 3:9. A still greater insult lies in the epithet, "Thou fool," which was used to denote a good-for-nothing, hopeless, helpless, morally worthless fool, and expressed contempt for a man's heart and character. This expression of utter disregard of the fellow-man's position in the eyes of God is an offense equal to that of murder, it is a damnable sin, 1 John 3:15; Revelation 21:8. It is punishable by the fire of Hinnom, the valley where the refuse of Jerusalem was burned a figure often used by Jesus in speaking of the punishment of hell-fire.
Jesus presents the positive side of His exposition:
v. 23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee,
v. 24. leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
The forgiving attitude is pictured from a happening which was very frequent among the Jews, with which they were thoroughly familiar. A Jew might bring his Corban, his gift, used of every kind of bloody and unbloody sacrifice which was brought to the Temple, Matthew 8:4; Matthew 15:5; Matthew 23:8. But in the very act of handing it to the officiating priest at the altar there comes the remembrance. It suddenly flashes into his mind that he has been guilty of an act or a word which might have provoked a brother. The natural way of dealing with the situation might seem to be to keep on with the worship, get through as quickly as possible, and then hurry to make peace with the offended. But Christ tells us to interrupt our worship and go on the errand of seeking forgiveness first, though it may seem profane to do so. It is more important that the heart be free from anxiety for a brother's peace of mind than that an external rite be performed: mercy before sacrifice. There will be plenty of time for sacrificing afterward. See Isaiah 58:4-Judges :.
The same truth in a different parable:
v. 25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou. art in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
v. 26. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shall by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
The picture is that of a debtor on the way to court with his creditor, Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 25:1, who is his adversary, but probably might be found willing to come to terms outside of court. The advice is that the debtor be in a very conciliatory mood, ready and eager to straighten out the difficulty without litigation. In case a settlement would not be effected in this manner, the danger would be that the adversary, losing all patience, would deliver and even forcibly drag the debtor before the judge, secure a favorable decision, have this carried out by the officer of the court, and have the satisfaction of seeing him taken to prison. All hopes of obtaining mercy would then be shattered. For even the last quadrans , the fourth part of a Roman assarin, which was worth not quite two cents, would be demanded of him. Payment would be exacted to the last fraction of a penny. A very earnest admonition not to wait or hesitate about coming to terms with our adversary, with any one whom we owe reconciliation. The brief period of life is soon behind us, and the implacable that refused to agree will find in the Lord an equally implacable Judge.
A lesson from the Sixth Commandment:
v. 27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery.
v. 28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
The Sixth Commandment had indeed been given to "them of old time," Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18. But it was understood by the Jewish teachers of the sin in deed only, of the deliberate unfaithfulness of those joined in wedlock, or the carnal intercourse of the unmarried. Many rabbis expressly stated that the evil thought should not be regarded on a level with the sinful act. Christ's explanation opens the deeper meaning of the commandment. He finds the beginning of adultery in the deliberate nourishing of the awakening lust of the heart. A woman may be seen, come within the range of vision of a man, and there is no wrong in the act. Ordinary human intercourse would be impossible without it. But when the look turned upon any woman, married or unmarried, is deliberate and intentional, conscious and persistent, as on a person of the opposite sex, and this is followed by an impure desire of coveting her for immoral purposes, then adultery has in fact been committed, although the sin is hidden deeply in the heart.
Christ's advice to the tempted:
v. 29. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
v. 30. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
The right eye and the right hand are named as prominent members in the actual committing of sin, through which the evil desire of the heart finds its expression. They are represented as the organs of temptation. According to popular view, they are the members that offend, that incite to the actual commission of sin. Therefore, symbolically speaking, these members and all the members of the body must be controlled, if necessary, by an absolute and painful renunciation. Better to be without individual organs and members of the body than have the whole body condemned. Christ speaks figuratively, and His words must be understood in the spiritual sense; for mutilation evidently may prevent the outward act, but will not kill the desire. Every member of the body shall be so controlled and governed by the sanctified will that it will not yield to sin, thus bringing the whole body into condemnation. Jesus again uses the figure of the perpetual fires of the valley of Hinnom, where the waste and refuse of the city of Jerusalem was burned, for the punishment of hell. "This, then, is the meaning: If you feel that you look upon a woman with evil lust, then pluck that eye or vision out as being contrary to God's commandment, not of the body, but of the heart from which the burning and desire proceeds, then have you torn it out rightly. For when the evil lust is out of the heart, then the eye will also not sin nor offend you, and you will look upon the same woman with the same eyes of your body, but without desire, and it will be as though you had not seen her. For no longer is that eye there which was there before, which is called an eye of burning or desire, although the eye of the body remains uninjured. "
A further illustration;
v. 31. It hath been said,. Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.
v. 32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery.
The form in which Jesus here speaks indicates that He disapproves of their literal interpretation of the permission granted by Moses, Deuteronomy 24:1. The Mosaic law was given in the interest of the woman, to give her at least some show of right. But the Jewish doctors, concerned only about the outward form and about getting the bill of separation into due legal shape, permitted a license which was soon carried to scandalous and criminal excesses. Pouncing upon the phrase: "She find no favor in his eyes," they permitted divorces when a man found a handsomer woman, when he was displeased with his wife's cooking, when he did not find her manners agreeable. Only the bill or letter of separation must be made out, that formality was insisted upon. But such a deliberate breaking of the marriage-tie, though it be sanctioned by the civil courts, has no validity before God. The Lord recognizes only one reason for divorce, when there is a plain case of unfaithfulness, of adultery, of any unlawful intercourse of a married person with any other person but the lawful spouse. In this case a divorce may be secured, but is not commanded. "We neither command nor hinder such divorce, but leave it to the government to act... But to give advice to such as want to be Christians, it would be far better to admonish and urge both parties to stay together, and that the innocent spouse be reconciled to the guilty one (if this one were humble and willing to amend) and forgive in Christian love. " If any other reason is alleged and the divorce brought about, adultery is committed, both by the complainant, in severing the marriage-tie, and by the accused that permits the frivolous dissolution. In the same way he that marries a woman divorced from her lawful husband, to whom she still belongs before God, is an adulterer in the eyes of the Lord.
An illustration from the Second Commandment:
v. 33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.
v. 34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;
v. 35. nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.
v. 36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
v. 37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Jesus introduces the subject as before, referring to the customary reading of the Law and the accompanying teaching. The implication of Christ is that the people were really kept under a false impression, by being permitted to draw the conclusion that they were listening to the exact words of Moses. The words as stated are indeed found in the Law, Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:22. But the interpretation left much to be desired. It placed no emphasis upon the inner truthfulness of the heart. If that is missing, what object have all oaths? All the careful distinctions as to degrees of oaths, and therefore of perjury, were a yoke on the necks of the Jews that did not affect their hearts. And it was a matter of mere sophistical quibbling that permitted all manner of affirmations in which the divine name was not mentioned directly, Deuteronomy 6:13, and thus evaded the obligation of the oath. There is not the slightest difference between an oath in the name of God and such asseverations as substitute the names of holy things, heaven, or such over which God alone has control: His city, Jerusalem, the earth, His footstool, a man's head or life. All these oaths involve a reference to God. And all of them, as He distinctly specifies them, one after the other, are superfluous where the heart is pure and truthful. The Lord distinctly condemns the incessant, frivolous calling upon the Deity in all kinds of garbled forms. He does not imply that oaths, under circumstances, are not altogether lawful and right. "In civil life the most truthful man has to take an oath because of the untruth and consequent distrust prevailing in the world, and in so doing he does not sin against Christ's teaching. Christ Himself took an oath before the high priest. " His demand is absolute truthfulness and straightforwardness in the dealing of people with one another. There the affirmation shall have the full value and force of the Yea, and the denial the simple power of the Nay, that there may be an unhesitating dependence upon all statements, without the support of an oath. Anything that goes beyond this simple definition is of evil, even savors of the influence of the evil one, the devil, the father of lies. Jesus expressed Himself mildly with a purpose, and did not deny the necessity of oaths in, a world full of falsehood. "I know, He means to say, that in certain circumstances something beyond yea and nay will be required of you. But it comes of evil, the evil of untruthfulness. See that the evil be not in you."
The Law of Love toward the Enemy.
v. 38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Jesus here refers to the law of retribution, or compensation, as contained in the Levitical ordinances, Exodus 21:24. This is said to the government, and is a sound principle for the instruction of the judge; Fair compensation should be granted for injuries received. But the scribes and Pharisees applied the statement to the relation of every person toward his neighbor. They taught and declared that everyone had the right to take revenge and to exact compensation for himself. Christ goes on record as differing from this explanation:
v. 39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil,
either by trying to prevent injury or by demanding revenge for it, by repelling one outrage with another. He had excellent authority for His explanation, Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 24:29. Christian love must be willing to bear and to forbear, though a defense of right is permitted, John 18:23; Acts 23:3; Acts 22:25. If this were not true, it would follow that all outrages would go unchallenged, and a Christian would lose house and home, wife and children, as Luther says. But a disciple of Christ should be willing and patient in suffering, even wrongfully, and not seek revenge nor return evil for evil.
Christ brings out this fact by a few examples:
v. 39. But whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
v. 40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
v. 41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
There is a climax in the examples chosen by Christ; injury goes from bad to worse. There will be times and circumstances when love will be ready patiently to suffer the repetition of the same injury: the disgrace of being struck with the palm of the open hand, the humiliation of giving up the more costly mantle or toga together with the tunic or undergarment, the demand and even the compulsion, coming probably from a soldier, to accompany him for some distance and assist him with his baggage. A Christian will, so far as his person alone is concerned, render such exacted service cheerfully and do more than is asked, rather than submit to the inevitable in a sullen manner. On the other hand, of course, such passive behavior must cease as soon as it comes into conflict with the law of love. A disciple of Christ has duties toward his family, his community, his country, which will sometimes compel him to protect and defend them against injustice and insult. But for the individual it is true: he that magnanimously bears, overcomes. Rather than harbor evil, vengeful thoughts and desires, the Christian will be ready to render assistance whenever this is needed:
v. 42. Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
To give and to lend are two duties of charity which Christ puts on a level, both guided by prudence and the interest of the neighbor, 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 20:4. Stewards of God's bounty will have to give an account at the last day, and their sentence may depend largely upon the manner in which they appreciated the trust of God. All such assistance rendered to the needy neighbor should be given cheerfully, without a thought of reward.
Final illustration, from the general law of love:
v. 43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
The first injunction is found in the Law, Leviticus 19:18. The second part of the sentence is an addition made by the rabbis. They understood the word "neighbor" of the members of their own nation only, arguing from the many passages of the Law in which God had commanded the children of Israel to destroy the heathen nations. But in all those instances the children of Israel were merely carrying out God's penal justice. Their argument would therefore not stand, especially in view of Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 10:18-Psalms :; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19. Jesus insists that all hatred is contrary to humaneness, opposed to the spirit which He was striving to foster. His is a different law:
v. 44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.
The injunction receives its application at all times and in all places. The impressiveness of the passage is heightened by the contrast presented in each member of the saying. Cursing is met with blessing; hatred, which leads to injuries, with well-doing; and abuse of all kinds, culminating in persecution arising from religious hatred, with prayer and intercession. Whatever meanness the enemies may devise, love's ingenuity will find a way of overwhelming them with goodness. For its object is always to find ways and
means of winning the adversary, and, above all, of gaining him for the Lord.
Such behavior is in agreement with the true nature of Christians:
v. 45. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust
to become and to be indeed the children of God, to possess and exhibit the likeness of the heavenly Father. Because His heart is filled with goodness toward all His creatures, because He makes no distinction between righteous and unrighteous, between good and evil in His providence, they shall partake of their Father's nature. For with absolute impartiality, and with no reference to individual character, whether niggardliness or generousness is more in evidence, He causes His sun to rise and sends His rain. Just so there should be neither indifference nor ignorance, but earnest concern and kind benevolence in the hearts of those who are striving sincerely to resemble the great Friend and Benefactor above.
And there is also the moral distinction;
v. 46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
v. 47. And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?
That is the usual, the customary way of dealing in the world: Kind deeds are rewarded with kind deeds, friendly words are given in return for friendly words. That is the height of human morality. The word "salute" may be taken in its literal sense, as a mere greeting, for even so much the Jews denied the Gentiles. Or it may imply friendly relations and a readiness to serve, as became those that were united in the same confession. Outside of that they knew nothing, more they refused to do, John 4:9 b. Such a low moral level is not for the disciples of Christ. He expects them to distinguish themselves above the average morality, to carry out the ambition to excel, actually to be superior to a spirit characterized by smallness and meanness. The latter spirit might be expected in the publicans, the tax-collectors of Palestine, who were heartily disliked as being the representatives of the Roman power, and for their cheating and exactions. It is not a Pharisaic pride and arrogance that the Lord wishes to awaken, but the earnest desire to be elevated above a mere customary etiquette, which may become the most refined form of cruelty. A significant fact: Jesus finds something good even in the social outcasts!
A summary of this section:
v. 48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Since all these arguments must be accepted, and since love is the fulfillment of the Law, the Lord draws His conclusion. Ye who wish to be counted as My disciples shall stand out in contrast with those whose idea of altruism is modeled after conventional standards. Nothing short of the great ideal shall satisfy you. With a single-mindedness of purpose that forgets all else they shall strive after perfection in accordance with their great model, their Father in heaven. God is perfect, the fullness, the consummation, of all good. And the perfection of the Christians consists in striving after those ideals which God has set before them in His holy will. Thus they are daily and continually renewed in knowledge, and in holiness and righteousness, after the image of Him that made and redeemed them, until the day of their final perfection will dawn in heaven.
Summary. Christ opens the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes, gives a short outline of the call of the disciples in the world, shows the spiritual understanding of the Law by a number of examples, and teaches love toward one's enemy and true altruism.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29