Matthew 5:43-48 Reading

Matthew 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A few thoughts for meditation:

In the next section on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted a final misinterpretation of the Old Testament about the boundary between love and hate, building on his teaching against revenge just before this. They were taught to love their neighbors but hate their enemies. The command to “love your neighbor” was given in Leviticus 19:18. There was no command to “hate your enemy”. David did pray “I hate those who hate you” (Ps 139:21-22), but he also refused to get personal revenge against his enemies. In his prayers he trusted the Lord to get vengeance in his own way and time. How the idea of hating your enemy crept into the popular mindset in Jesus day is not clear, but the historical circumstances perhaps had something to do with it. The people of Israel had been oppressed by foreign powers like the Romans for centuries. Some deliberately attacked their religion and way of life, trying to impose paganism or outlaw Judaism. This fueled much of the militant Zealots at the time. Another time, a scribe asked Jesus who a “neighbor” was (Lk 10:29), prompting the parable of the good Samaritan.

Into these debates about defining a neighbor or enemy, and how to treat each, Jesus again provided the correct teaching of the law and applied it to the heart. You love not only who you consider to be a neighbor, but your enemy as well. Even more personal, Jesus called his disciples to pray for those who persecute them. One scholar remarked, “Praying for an enemy and loving him are mutually reinforcing. The more you love, the more prayer; the more prayer, the more love.” By showing this attitude toward your enemies, you show yourself to be a true child of God. Jesus then pointed them to gracious character of God as their example. He sends sun and rain upon both good and evil, just and unjust. Even though many deserve judgment for opposing and despising God, God shows mercy for a time. True disciples then must follow that divine example of mercy.

Jesus then applied this in a more practical way. It’s easy to love those who love you or who are easy for you to love. It’s easy to love those who are more like you. It provides a great mutual benefit. And even unbelievers (i.e. “Gentiles”) do that among themselves. But a higher form of love is to love those who will not love you back, or who are much harder to love because they are so different from you, and to love without any expectation of personal gain. This love is more costly. That is the example God himself provides, loving those who will never love him back. That is a mark of his perfect character which his children must follow. We see the ultimately expression of that love through Christ himself, dying for his enemies (Rom 5:8-10).

It’s important to note: Jesus did not stop calling people “enemies” when they oppose or persecute you. Loving them does not mean you naively ignore their evil intentions and actions toward you. They are still “enemies” because they have a hostile relationship toward you. But that hostility should only be one-sided, coming from them alone. The issue here is how you personally think about and treat your enemy. A true disciple will not seek revenge against his enemy, but try to win his enemy back to God through his conduct and prayers. His hope is to change an enemy into a brother, viewing his enemies with some compassion knowing they are in bondage to sin and death and in need of salvation, just as you were. That is the kind of mercy God has shown you in his providence and through the work of Christ. These are lofty standards and humanly impossible for us to attain on our own. So, when you find yourself falling short, call upon your perfect Father to change you into a child like him.

Matthew 5:38-42 Reading

Matthew 5:38-42

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

A few thoughts for meditation:

In this next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted another popular misinterpretation of the Old Testament, the misuse of the “lex talionis”, or law of retribution. And example of this is Exodus 21:23-25, “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Here, the point of this law was to restrain personal revenge. You could only punish an offender in a manner that fit the crime. Capital punishment for murder, lesser punishments for equivalent injuries, etc. but all this carried out by the civil authorities after a trial. Personal revenge was strictly forbidden (Lev 19:18). But in Jesus’ day, the “eye for an eye” principle was twisted into a justification for personal revenge, even for personal insults or slights.

Jesus again applied the principles straight to the heart. A disciple does not seek revenge beyond the limits of the law, but seeks to make peace beyond the normal standards of social obligations. Disciples are not to resist “one who is evil”. The list of four examples makes this principle more clear about what kind of “evil” should be tolerated by disciples. These are situations that may be personally insulting or demeaning but not life-threatening (thus the lex-talionis doesn’t apply). If it were life threatening, the obligations of the sixth commandment would call you to defend yourself and stop someone from committing murder. Jesus is addressing personal retaliation not the obligations of governing authorities (i.e. Romans 13).

The first example is the “slap” on the cheek. Most likely, this referred to a slap intended as an insult, not the strike of the fist which marked an assault with harmful or murderous intent. When insulted, the disciple turns the other cheek and is willing to stand tall and bear another insult without revenge. The second example is the confiscation of a “tunic” through a lawsuit. The tunic was in inner shirt. Normally, men would wear a loincloth, tunic, cloak, girdle, head covering, and sandals. In this situation the tunic (inner garment) is taken. The disciple offers to give his cloak (outer garment) as well. The law forbid ever confiscating a cloak. But in this case, the disciple is willing to go beyond his obligations and give his more valuable cloak in order to make peace. The third example is the situation of forced service under the Roman Empire. By law, a Roman soldier could order a civilian to carry his gear for one mile. This was demeaning to the individual, but Jesus called his disciples to be helpful far beyond what is asked, rather than vengeful. If called to carry stuff for one mile, then carry the stuff for two. The final example is a call to generosity, not seeking to profit from your neighbor’s affliction. Give to those who ask. Help the needy as far as you can.

These four pictures together form a shocking picture of a righteousness greater then the Pharisees. Jesus is not here providing a policy for civil legislation. But he is showing the heart of a true disciple, one which is more concerned with the needs of others rather than asserting or defending one’s own dignity or rights. We do not live in an ancient Jewish or Roman society like the people Jesus spoke to here, but the principle still applies to our own day. We can still insulted and demeaned by others. We may be asked to do things which are not pleasant but not sin either. We still have needy people around us. The heart of a disciple is willing to serve above and beyond the call of social expectations out of genuine love for God and neighbor, serving like Jesus served, as he went to the Cross for our sins.

Matthew 5:33-37 Reading

Matthew 5:33-37

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

A few thoughts for meditation:

The Old Testament forbid a casual use of God’s name in making vows or oaths, and forbid breaking your vows or oaths at all, so long as they were not sinful. If you made a promise or a deal you kept it because it was part of your religious devotion and obedience to God. But in Jesus’ day, a new scheme had evolved which made vows more or less binding depending upon how seriously or closely you invoked God’s name when you made the vow. The idea was that so long as you did no invoke God’s name, you could break your oath without taking God’s name in vain. For example, swearing by heaven and earth was not binding. But swearing toward Jerusalem was, because that was God’s throne. Jesus gave more examples above (and in Mt 23:16-22) of these technicalities created by the religious leaders to avoid keeping your vows. We have the same kind of additions to oaths today whenever someone wants to emphasize their sincerity, like “I swear upon my mother’s grave” or “I swear upon a stack of Bibles”.

So once again Jesus applied the principle of oath-making to the heart. What does it really mean to keep your vows? For starters, you should not make an oath you do not intend to keep. In essence, you are lying. You also should not make an oath if you haven’t counted the cost of keeping it. Because when you make an oath, you have bound yourself to do it before God. Christians should be of such a character that no rhetorical additions need to be added to their oaths or vows. There “yes” is “yes” and there “no” is “no”. This does not mean that swearing by God’s name or making oaths is wrong in itself. There is nothing wrong with saying verbally what you intend to keep from the heart. A true disciple always lives consciously before the face of God, so when they says “yes” or “no” it is a vow from the heart to God, not just empty words. And he should have such a character and reputation for oath-keeping that such additions are not necessary. Its a mark of “evil” when you are looking for an escape clause in your vow the moment you make it.

This issue might seem like a remote ancient problem, but in fact, it’s very much a modern problem too. How many people feel their marriage vows may be thrown aside whenever their “heart” changes? How many people dismiss church membership vows as only a mere formality? How many leaders fail to keep their promises to their constituents once they are elected? How many promise to borrow things but never return them? How many sign contracts for loans or work knowing they don’t intend to keep them? Too often, the cultural rejection of authority applies it’s destructive edge to the authority of our own past vows. We won’t be bound by those in authority, the biological authority of our own genes, much less the authority of our past commitments over our current selves. There’s a reason why many institutions require you to read and sign so many forms detailing what happens when you miss a payment, default on your loans, or violate some standard of company conduct. It’s partly because too many have been burned by those who refuse to keep their word. A simple handshake doesn’t mean what it used to. Our vows should be an expression of who we are before an eternal unchanging God, not an expression of our emotions in the moment. Our obligations to our vows do not change just because our desires have. In the current culture, the popular notion is that we are what we feel to be in the moment. But in the ancient world, you are what you vowed to be. Vows keep you consistent, reliable, and accountable. And as believers, since our vows are always made in obedience to God, our vows are an expression of worship and communion with God. In God’s kingdom, Christ is changing us into honest people, and our vow-keeping must reflect that change.

Weekly Devotional Guide (June 1-5)

Memory Verse for the Week:

Ephesians 4:25, Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Daily Scripture Readings

  • Day 1 Matthew 5:33-37
  • Day 2 Matthew 5:38-42
  • Day 3 Matthew 5:43-48
  • Day 4 Matthew 6:1-8
  • Day 5 Matthew 6:9-15

Hymns of the Week

  • Hymn 679 ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

1 ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, and to take him at his word;
just to rest upon his promise, and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust him more!

2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus, just to trust his cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me ‘neath the healing, cleansing flood! [Refrain]

3 Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus, just from sin and self to cease;
just from Jesus simply taking life and rest, and joy and peace. [Refrain]

4 I’m so glad I learned to trust thee, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;

And I know that thou art with me, wilt be with me to the end. [Refrain]

  • Hymn 441 Jesus Shall Reign

1 Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.

2 To him shall endless prayer be made, and praises throng to crown his head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise with every morning sacrifice.

3 People and realms of every tongue dwell on his love with sweetest song,
and infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on his name.

4 Blessings abound where’er he reigns: the prisoners leap to lose their chains,
the weary find eternal rest, and all who suffer want are blest.

5 Let every creature rise and bring the highest honors to our King,
angels descend with songs again, and earth repeat the loud amen.

Matthew 5:27-32 Reading

Matthew 5:27-32

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

A few thoughts for meditation:

In this next application of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved to the next commandment, “you shall not commit adultery.” What does true obedience look like to this commandment? The common misunderstanding at the time was that so long as you don’t commit physical adultery, you have kept the commandment. But Jesus explained the command applies to the secret desires of the heart as well. To look at someone beside your spouse “with lustful intent” was already committing adultery in his heart, and therefore guilty before God and worthy of judgment in “hell”. Jesus said earlier in the sermon, only the “pure in heart” will see God. The marriage bond applies to your thoughts and affections as well as your bodies. Your sexual, romantic, and intimate desires are to be focused and fulfilled only with your own spouse. This was God’s design when he created marriage in the beginning, binding sexual passion and energy within the security of marriage, to promote human flourishing and provide a stable loving home within which to raise children. Lust creates a crack in that marriage commitment and if nurtured or pursued it will deteriorate into a failed marriage and a broken family.

Since great dangers are rooted in lust, you must combat against it vigilantly. Jesus used graphic language to describe this spiritual struggle, plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand, to gain heaven maimed rather than going to hell intact. Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically. Otherwise he would have contradicted what he just said, that the true danger was lust in the heart. But that mentality of mortal combat against lust is the mindset required by the commandment, “you shall not commit adultery.” Lust is not a “little harmless sin” but one that leads to self-destruction. At the very least, it means aggressively turning your eyes from that other person and refusing to “look” at them in a lustful way. The “hand” likely conveyed the idea that lust and adultery are also acts of theft, taking what does not belong to you, and so you must mentally (and physically) keep your hands off. That aggressive mindset is difficult to grasp when immersed in a culture where lust is promoted in almost every commercial or show. We can get desensitized to how sinful it is. Jesus’ words here still shock people even today, and they should. Our lives are to be lived before the face of God. He sees all our thoughts and desires and how we respond to them. He gave us the gift of the imagination and we must use it to glorify him just as much as our bodies. Imagine how much marriages would improve if each partner invested their imagination to think of ways to nurture their marriages rather than wasting time lusting after others?

Finally, Jesus applied the seventh commandment to the problem of divorce. Even though the Pharisees of that day loudly denounced adultery, at the same time they made divorce extremely easy, at least for men. If husbands were displeased with their wives, they could give them a certificate of divorce and send them away, and then were free to marry another. It’s fairly easier to see how easy lust would flourish under such a scheme. This low view of divorce was based on a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There, Moses commanded that if a man was displeased with his wife for a reason other than adultery he must make a public certificate of divorce if he sends her away. If she marries another he may never marry her again. The intent was to restrain a hardhearted husband and protect the dignity of the wife. It was common in the ancient pagan world for husbands to mistreat their wives by throwing them out as a means of manipulation or even to swap wives with others temporarily. Moses basically said “you won’t treat your wife that way anymore. If you throw her out then she is free of you forever.” But the Pharisees had twisted this passage around and used it to satisfy their adulterous desires by making divorce and remarriage easy, so that they were not “technically” committing adultery. Jesus explained this more fully in Matthew 19. But here, Jesus confronted that popular misunderstanding by explaining that divorce was only permissible in the case of actual “sexual immorality”, a broader term referring to any sexual act with another person outside of the bounds of marriage. Paul would later add desertion as a ground for divorce too (1 Cor 7:15).

But the point of Jesus was clear, true obedience to this commandment applies to the heart not just to the body. Any desire for lust or divorce (apart from Christ’s exception here) is committing adultery in the heart. And no technical loopholes you create in the public laws to make lust or divorce easier will make it any less sinful in the eyes of God. True obedience to God here means our hearts as well as our bodies are committed to the flourishing of our marriages. As with all these commands, Jesus explained this so that we will see our sin and our need for his redemption. He came to save sinners and change them into people who keep the law from the heart again. If you find yourself falling short, then go to him for forgiveness and grace to change.