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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 5

 

 

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Verses 1-48

From every direction He attracted followers, Galilee mentioned first, but also Decapolis beyond the sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Judea, and east of Jordan. No doubt their motives for following Him were various, some good, others selfish, but they heard the word of God, which challenges men's motives as veil as their actions, as is plainly seen in Chapter 5. Because of the crowds He took a position on a mountain from which to speak. His disciples came to Him, so that they were in close proximity to Him, though the crowd was evidently present also. Chapters 5, 6 & 7 deal with the moral and spiritual principles of the kingdom of heaven. Israel was looking for the kingdom to be manifested in power and glory as it will be in the millennial age, but from the beginning of this discourse it is clear that the Lord does not promise such blessing, though He speaks of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples must learn that the kingdom is to be first presented in a mystery form, in the midst of a condition of things totally contrary to the established peace and blessing of the age to come, the millennium. The King Him self has come, but is not recognized by His own people. Still, He has a kingdom, not in public display, but composed of those who in spite of His rejection, acknowledge His rightful authority.

First, it is "the poor in spirit" who are called "blessed." They possess the kingdom of heaven. These are those who realize the poverty of Israel's barren condition, and do not seek great things for themselves: they stand In contrast to "those who went to get rich" (1 Timothy 6:9). In a vital, spiritual way the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

The millennial kingdom will have no place for mourners: all will rejoice then; but those who mourn now, feeling the ruin of outward conditions, will be blessed in the sweetness of being comforted of God.

Meekness too is proven In adverse circumstances: In this there is no forcing of one's convictions, no insistence on one's rights, but the faith that depends upon the promise of God, and can wait for the time of inheriting the earth. Israel will eventually inherit the land God has promised her, but only the meek will be so blessed, that is, the godly remnant who will be brought through the tribulation. Yet the heavenly saints, in overcoming, will inherit all things (Revelation 21:7). This involves the earth, though earth will not be their dwelling place: they will reign over it with Christ.

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness Is another blessed character Unrighteousness is notoriously prospering today, which moves the believer to desire more ardently the righteous reign of the Lord of glory.

If the heart is filled in hungering and thirsting after righteousness, then the showing of mercy will be a normal result. This is another character most important when conditions of Misery and confusion prevail. Certainly only when we show mercy can we expect to obtain it. The governing hand of God will order it so.

To show mercy, however, one does not have to sacrifice purity of heart. Such purity means a true moral separation from evil. In this we truly represent God (Jeremiah 15:19), and those who rightly represent Him will see Him, to know in experience the approval of His countenance. David made the Mistake of allowing Absalom to see him when In a morally corrupted state, and the consequences were dreadful (2 Samuel 14:33; 2 Samuel 15:1-37; 2 Samuel 16:1-23; 2 Samuel 17:1-29; 2 Samuel 18:1-33). God makes no such Mistakes.

Peacemakers are blessed in their being called sons of God, for in this they are following the example of God, who knows how to make peace without compromising righteousness. They are therefore sons of God In practical character.

Notice that in the first four beatitudes a concern for righteousness is emphasized, while the second three emphasize the activity of the grace of God in the heart. Verse 10 then connects with the first four, and verse 11 with the second three. Persecution for righteousness sake has to do with one simply doing right. He may refuse to lie for an employer, or to engage with others in shady practices, because he is subject to God's King. The kingdom of heaven is therefore his in a vital way.

Suffering for Christ's sake is of a different character. The blind man whom the Lord healed was reviled by the Pharisees when he firmly stood for the Lord and invited them also to be His disciples (John 9:22-29). Peter and John were imprisoned and beaten for preaching in the name of Jesus, and rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:16; Acts 5:40-41). This brings deeper rejoicing then does suffering for righteousness sake. If we a re privileged to bear such persecution we are told to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for the reward in heaven is great. This also gives us the honour of being identified with prophets of old who prophesied of Christ and suffered for it.

Verse 13 connects with verse 10, and verse 14 with verses 11 & 12. Salt is a preservative. It crystallizes at right angles, which makes it a fit symbol of righteousness. As believers maintain this character they are the salt of the earth, that which preserves the world from sinking into a total state of corruption. If righteousness is not a vital part of our lives (not merely of our doctrine), we become virtually good for nothing.

On the other hand, as the light of the world we are the reflection of Christ (John 8:12). Our testimony to Him is not to be hid. As a city set on a hill, the disciples formed a company above the common level of the world, and as such will necessarily draw the attention of the world. A lamp too is not to be put under a bushel measure, that is, obscured by that which speaks of man's work. Let us not allow our work to get in the way of the light of Christ, who is the only source of light for darkened men. The lamp set in its proper place will give light to all who are in its Vicinity.

In verse 16 the light is distinct from good works, but both are closely connected. The light speaks of moral and spiritual testimony to Christ. The good works are works that back up this testimony as being real. Apparent good works by themselves would draw attention to the person who does them, that he might be honoured; but if the light of testimony for Christ accompanies the good works, this influences others to recognize that God our Father is the source of the works and therefore to glorify Him in heaven, the place of highest authority.

While Christ has certainly introduced a new dispensation of God, He is emphatic in declaring that He in no way destroys the truth of the Old Testament, the law and the prophets. Rather, He fulfils or completes the truth of these in no uncertain way. Not one jot, the smallest letter in the Hebrew language; nor one tittle, the tiniest point that would distinguish one letter from another, will fail. The original Scriptures therefore, as God gave them in the Hebrew language, are absolute perfection. We may say the same of the new Testament in the Greek language.

Notice however that Christ did not merely say He came to keep the law, but to complete it. This required His accepting the law's sentence of death on behalf of others. All had broken the law; and this true King of Israel had come to save His people from their sins (Ch.1:21). In order to fulfil the law's claims against them, He Himself must bear the sentence of their guilt, as indeed we know He did by His great sacrifice at Calvary, the redeeming every believer from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).

Therefore, He will allow not the least relaxing of the law's claims. A Jew who would break even the least of the commandments and would teach that this was permissible, would be least in the kingdom of heaven, while one who would do and teach them would be great in the kingdom. This very attitude would of course lead one to recognize his own need of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, for he would realize that he comes short when measured by the rule of law.

The righteous need of the scribes and Pharisees was mere self-righteousness, an attempted cover-up of their true character. We must have a righteousness that exceeds this. This is not explained for us here, but Romans 4:5 makes this far more clear: "To him that works not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Without faith no-one could enter the kingdom of heaven in any vital way.

The remainder of the chapter shows that God accepts from man no righteousness apart from faith; for it will be seen that the Lord strikes not only at wrong actions, but at wrong motives. The law of Moses had said, "Thou shalt not kill." But Christ's authority is higher than that of Moses, and He affirms that causeless anger against one's brother puts him in the same danger of judgment as does murder. He judges men's inner thoughts; but if one expressed such thoughts despisingly toward another, branding him as "Raca" (vain or empty), he was in danger of being rightly called before the Jewish council to answer to this serious charge. Worse still, he might express those thoughts hatefully, calling one a fool: if so he was in danger of hell fire. A basically hateful character has no faith: "whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer both eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).

If a Jew therefore were to bring an offering to the altar, then remembers that his brother has something against him, he is told not to offer his gift before he has made an honest effort to be reconciled to his brother. On his part, he is to allow no hard feeling to remain if his gift to the Lord is to be acceptable. It is clear that faith must be at work if one is to act on this, faith in fact that works by love.

To apply this to ourselves, we cannot expect to be in a proper condition to worship God if we allow bad feeling to remain between ourselves and others. It has been questioned if this means that if one now comes to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread, and remembers that another has something against him, should he not break bread until the matter is settled? Scripture does not put it this way; but rather "let a man examine (or judge) himself, and so let him eat of that breed, and drink of that cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28).

The principle of desire for reconciliation is continued in verse 25. The Jew might not like to admit it, but Moses (the lawgiver) was his adversary. Israel had greatly offended by breaking the law. Would they admit it or not? Would they agree that the law was right and they had been wrong? While they had opportunity was the time to do so; for the law of Moses had power to deliver one up to God as a righteous Judge, who would deliver to the officer, the executor of God's judgment (Cf.Mt.13:41-42). In this case prison would be the lake of fire, from which there is no release, for who can fully pay the debt of his own sins? This emphasizes the unbending, inflexible justice of the law. If one does not face God concerning his sins and have them forgiven by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ before he is summoned to God's judgment bar, he can expect no mercy then.

The question of inner thoughts is again solemnly pressed in verses 27 to 29. Though the act of adultery may not be outwardly perpetrated, yet a lusting heart is guilty Of this. This is of course a question of God's judgment, not men's, for men's public government con only judge when evil becomes manifest through action. The Lord is here seeking to reach individual consciences, that men may judge themselves. The right eye is ideally the eye of faith, typically speaking, as the left eye is that of reason. If faith fails in any way, let us judge this unsparingly, for what one sees can easily do damage to his faith if he does not honestly judge it. In fact, One who never judges himself does not have faith at all (Mark 9:43-46), in Which Case he can expect only the fire of hell.

In Mark however the hand, the foot and the eye are mentioned in that order, for there the matter is considered from the viewpoint of service, what one does, where he goes, and last, what he sees. In Matthew 5:1-48 the Lord is emphasizing what is behind the action, and therefore it is the right eye and the right hand mentioned, but not the foot. The right speaks of what is positive, the left negative, therefore positive works of faith are rightly involved in the right hand. If one's conscience is smitten by the abuse of this, then let him cut off his hand, that is, judge the action unsparingly. Again, refusal to judge oneself in any way will lead him to the judgment of hell. The believer will judge himself, in whatever measure: let him be concerned to do so thoroughly.

In verse 31 the Lord refers to Deuteronomy 24:1. Under law one who put away his wife was required to give her a letter of divorcement, in order that she might be free to marry another man. But the Lord's words go further then law, to give marriage its proper place. If a man puts away his wife he virtually makes her to commit adultery (unless she has first been guilty of fornication, in which case it is her guilt, not his--ch.19:9). If the women has not been guilty of fornication, and the man marries another before his wife remarries, then it is he who is committing adultery. If the woman remarried first, however, she would be committing adultery, and so would the man who married her. Marriage is a most serious matter, and must not be regarded lightly.

Deuteronomy 23:21-23 plainly warned Israel that once a vow was made it was binding. They were not required to make such oaths, but If they did, no excuse could be allowed for failure to fulfil it. But the Lord Jesus forbids the making of oaths. Swearing an oath involved a vow to do a certain thing in the future. Often God's name Was invoked in these oaths (1 Samuel 30:15; 1 Kings 17:1); but reticence as to using God's name had led to the use of heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and even one's head; and this in turn led to swearing in vain with no intention of keeping a promise.

Christianity has no place for oaths, whether sworn seriously or in vain. Israel's law had proven man in the flesh to be untrustworthy: they had vowed to keep the law, but had consistently broken it; therefore we must not dare to emphasize the dependability of our word: rather we should depend utterly on the truth of the word of God. This is the effect of grace.

The simplicity of speaking facts - "yea" or "nay" - without the emphasis of oaths of any kind is only normal for those who have been delivered from the bondage of law and saved by pure grace. More than this comes from the evil of man's natural pride.

In verse 38 the Lord quotes from Exodus 21:24. "An eye for an eye" is fully righteous recompense, expressing the firm inflexibility of the law. Of course the sentence must be passed by a judge, not by the offended party. If one takes the law into his own hands, he will practically in every case inflict worse treatment than he received.

But in verse 39 it is no question of how a judge should settle a case, but of how one should handle his own case. Only faith can respond to this. What unbeliever would meekly turn the left cheek after his right cheek had been struck? But when a believer thinks of the Lord Jesus bearing the cruel, shameful treatment of men "as a lamb led to the slaughter and a sheep dumb before her shearers," it is not so difficult for him to meekly accept insult and injury.

The same principle applies if one deliberately determines to sue a believer in a court of justice. Let him settle out of court by allowing the complainant to take what he wants. A coat is rather necessary clothing at certain times, and the loss of a cloak would cause further discomfort, but faith in a living God can willingly suffer what little inconvenience this may cause, for the Lord's sake, and will be the happier for it.

Going the extra mile has a wide application. One may be most inconsiderate of our welfare or feelings: how good if we can respond by being specially considerate of him! This is grace, in contrast to legality. In this we rightly represent the character of our blessed Lord.

The same generous attitude is seen in verse 42. Of course, indiscriminate giving is not scriptural: the verse must be modified by other scriptures. When the Jews wanted the Lord to give them the loaves and fishes the second time, He did not accede (John 6:26-35), though He offered them the true bread from heaven. But if one is in need we are responsible to help him (1 John 3:17).

Loving one's neighbour applied to Israelites in Leviticus 19:18, but as regards enemies in the land of Canaan Israel was commended to destroy them. Ammonites and Moabites were refused acceptance into Israel to the tenth generation; and Jews were told, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever" (Leviticus 23:3-6). But the authority of the Lord Jesus is above that of law; and in introducing a new dispensation He says, "Love your enemies." This is contrary to our corrupted human nature, but it is a character perfectly seen in Him personally, who has while on earth blessed His enemies, has done good to them, and prayed for them (Matthew 26:47-50; Luke 22:50-51; Luke 23:34) and has died to reconcile His enemies to Himself (Romans 5:10). In showing such kindness we shall be, in practical character, Sons of our Father who is in heaven. Believers are to be an exception to the common rule of loving those who love them. Love, respect, consideration of unbelievers as well as believers is the normal fruit of being partakers of the divine nature. The perfection of verse 48 implies maturity with no element lacking. In our Father this standard is fully seen: we are certainly allowed no lower standard.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 5:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-5.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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