How can my righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? In Week 5, we continued to answer that question as we studied what righteousness looks like in a follower of Christ in the areas of divorce, oaths, retaliation, and loving one’s neighbor. These specific areas focus on our horizontal relationships with others and how we reflect God in those relationships. Jesus clarified for his followers the true interpretation of these laws. Through his teaching, we can better understand how to live a life characterized by right actions and right motives.
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 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.” Matthew 5:31,32
Last week, we studied how desire and anger can take root in a heart unchecked. And when these issues are left to fester, they can lead to murder and adultery. Jesus, continuing in his flow of thought, moved to the problem of divorce. In our lesson on Day 2, we read a passage from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) and a further teaching by Jesus on the topic of marriage and remarriage (Matthew 19:3-9). We learned from these verses that the peoples’ hearts had hardened so God instructed Moses to permit a certificate of divorce to be given to the husband. I shared in last week’s post that divorce had become quite common during the time of Jesus and young women were refusing to marry. The interpretation of the law on divorce had grown to include frivolous reasons such as over-seasoning a meal. Women held no legal rights. They were under the authority of their father, brother, or husband. The Rabbinic law stated that “a woman may be divorced with or without her will; but a man only with his will.”
In these verses from Matthew 5, Jesus stressed the importance of the marital vow. He later answered a question posed by the Pharisees (Matthew 19:4-6) by stating that from the beginning, marriage was sanctified by God (Genesis 2:18-25). Paul explains in the New Testament that marriage serves as a reflection of Christ and his Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Ms. Wilkin reminded us on the video to view these verses within the context of the passage. When viewed through the lens of godly obedience and seeking to live rightly before God, she challenged us to consider how we view marriage. Do we have a high view or a low view? Jesus, in Matthew 5, displayed a high regard for marriage and in doing so, he indirectly challenged his followers to regard women as people of value and worthy of protection. To hold marriage in low regard, according to Ms. Wilkin, is to display contempt for God. Personally affected by divorce, Ms. Wilkin felt that partners in a marriage needed to do everything possible to provide for reconciliation to take place. She also stressed that those who have found themselves in an abusive situation should seek safety. She stated that marriage can be held in high regard without remaining in danger and encouraged the seeking of counseling.
“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.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37
Jesus seamlessly moved from teaching on divorce and the preservation of the marital vow to oaths in general. We learned in our lesson that vows and oaths were to be fulfilled without delay and those making them were to honor them. However, the upholding of oaths and vows of various types had become lax. Jesus, therefore, instructed the people to let their word be their bond. He challenged them to be people of integrity and to hold a high view of the oaths that they swear. They were to be careful of profaning the name of God. Since all things belong to God, they were, consequently, not to swear by His created things such as heaven, the earth, or Jerusalem. We also should be people who live our lives with integrity and are careful with the vows we utter. When considering the simplicity of saying only ‘yes’ or ‘no’, I couldn’t help but think of Proverbs 10:19; “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
A principle called Lex Talionis, the law of retaliation, was a known law among the nations. This law mandated that the punishment should correspond to the injury: an eye for an eye. In our workbook, we were instructed to read a passage from the book of Leviticus. The Hebrew law’s intent was to limit vengeance and show mercy. The law was only to be used by the judge who served as the mediator in the dispute. If the courts functioned as God had intended, security and peace would have been the norm of society. A financial settlement was also usually given rather than the law carried out literally. Ms. Wilkin taught that the teachers were using this law to enact personal justice even though the law had been put in place to protect the weak from the strong. Jesus addresses this law of the land by calling for an end to retaliation. He calls for the seeking of kindness beyond the requirement and for revenge not to be sought.
To strike someone on the right cheek was to retaliate with a backhand. This act according to Jewish Rabbinic law was doubly insulting. Therefore, to turn the other cheek doesn’t mean to be wounded a second time but to seek no retaliation for an insult. A man’s tunic was the inner garment while the cloak served as the outer robe and blanket. To offer a tunic was a common legal practice but a man’s cloak could not be taken permanently from him. By offering a person their cloak, displayed abundant undeserved kindness. Lastly, any person during the time of Jesus could be conscripted by Roman law to perform a service. Jesus was calling for the conscripted person to do more than the requirement. Ms. Wilkin stated that Jesus was teaching that they should do more because they weren’t citizens of earth but citizens of heaven. By going the extra mile, offering an extra garment, and not retaliating for an offense, the person glorified God and displayed the righteous character of a citizen of heaven. All giving was giving to God so the act was a privilege and an obligation. Ms. Wilkin states that Jesus wants more from us than halfhearted minimal action only so we can check off the box for good behavior. We should question our motivation and ask ourselves, “Am I only trying to do the bare minimum?”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus contradicted and challenged what the people had heard. He blew their minds when he told them that they were to love their enemies. He issued a challenge to them; love those who don’t return your love and warm greetings. Loving our enemies requires not a feeling of the heart but an act of the mind and will. Those actions will show the glory of God working in you. Jesus concluded this portion of scripture by exhorting them and us to be perfect. The Greek word for perfect is teleios and can be translated as mature and complete. William Barclay states that “[t]he Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed and made.” The verb also indicates that the state of perfection can be attained. We can seek to live a life of right motives and right action and fully realize our purpose for God and walk righteously before Him.
We are over halfway in our study. Keep pressing in and learning! This week begin Week 6. Don’t forget to plan a little extra time for your first lesson so that you will be able to complete the reading assignment of the entire Sermon on the Mount.
If you’d like to start from the beginning, you can find all of the past lessons by clicking here.