Every Christian reading this would agree that the teachings of Jesus are difficult to understand. His wisdom, being the God of Creation, is far beyond our own understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). In this blog series, we will unpack some of the most difficult teachings from Jesus, which come from Matthew 5-7 in the illustrious Sermon on the Mount. Each blog will touch on a different teaching from Jesus within His most famous sermon in an effort to help you apply His teachings to your life as a Christian working in the sport industry.
In our fourth blog of the Sermon on the Mount series, we’ll help you better understand and apply Jesus’ teachings on Old Testament law, specifically murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths (Matthew 5:21-37).
You Shall Not Murder
In Exodus 20:13, this command is given by God to His people, Israel, “You shall not murder.” Seems simple, right? Just don’t kill anyone. However, the true intention of God’s command to not murder had been lost. The typical approach to this law in Jesus’ day, and if we’re honest, even in our day, was to avoid the physical act of murder. If we don’t actually kill someone, then we’re good to go! However, Jesus Himself clarifies that the law goes beyond just the physical act in Matthew 5:21-26.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary might hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
It is important to understand why Jesus elaborates on a seemingly simple law. The common emphasis, as mentioned above, on practicing this law was to avoid the physical act of murder. But, the more important matter to Jesus is the condition of our hearts, and it is possible to commit murder in our hearts without doing it physically.
There are three main things that Jesus emphasizes on the command to not commit murder. The first is that murder itself can occur in the heart when we choose to harbor anger against another person. This can show itself in the form of internal emotion, attacking someone’s intelligence (Raca is an Aramaic term that is roughly translated as nitwit or blockhead), or attacking someone’s character (calling someone a fool shows contempt for their character).
The second point of emphasis that Jesus makes in these verses is that it is more important to reconcile a broken relationship and forgive than to perform a religious duty. We cannot think that our service to God erases or justifies our unwillingness to forgive a brother or sister.
Finally, Jesus commands that we should strive to settle matters with our adversaries as quickly as possible. The apostle Paul states something very similar in Ephesians 4:26-27, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” If we let our anger or unforgiveness simmer for too long, we may imprison ourselves with those feelings, as the Scripture states.
It is important also to note that Jesus does not skip the fine print in this passage. In verses 22 and 26, He mentions the result of committing the sin of murder in our hearts: eternal suffering and separation from God, which is the just punishment for our sin. This is a harsh reminder that sin cannot be taken lightly in any form.
You Shall Not Commit Adultery
Similar to His previous teaching on murder, Jesus brings to light the true meaning of the command from God found in Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery.” The physical act of adultery is an obviously immoral practice, and this law obviously commands that it should not be practiced. However, in Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus reveals that adultery is more than just a physical act.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Jesus raises the bar on what defines the sin of adultery. In verse 28, He states that even looking with your eyes at a man or woman lustfully is considered committing adultery with him or her in your heart. It isn’t just the act of adultery that is sinful; it is sinful to even consider in your thoughts committing adultery or lusting after someone. In a world that is filled with many temptations to lust, this command from Jesus pushes us to seek Him for mercy and forgiveness, as well as a desire to obey.
In verses 29-30, Jesus gives quite an alarming command: if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out, and if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If Jesus is being literal, then each and every one of us would be blind and maimed. However, rather than being a literal command, these words from Jesus give the reader powerful imagery of how seriously we should take the sin in our lives. If we find ourselves sinning, we need to be willing to make sacrifices to lessen the temptation or eliminate the possibility of committing the sin entirely.
Finally, it is crucial to highlight Jesus’ emphasis on hell once again in verses 29-30. Why is He making it a point to say that the punishment for these sins is hell? Anyone who genuinely loves you is prepared to warn you of the consequences. Jesus, in His love, makes the consequences of sin very clear throughout His ministry, and especially in these verses.
Once more, Jesus provides the true meaning behind the law of divorce. In Deuteronomy 24:1, the Mosaic law allows for divorce to happen on the grounds of a man finding something displeasing or indecent about his wife. This law was abused to the point that some rabbis taught that a man could divorce his wife if she burnt his breakfast. Jesus, knowing the hearts of man, teaches how God intended for divorce to be handled in Matthew 5:31-32.
“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 sexual immorality, makes her a victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
According to an article in Forbes, Evangelical Protestants have the highest divorce rate of any religious group, at nearly 14% of the 55% of the married population within the group. This is an alarming statistic, especially among a group that claims to know and follow Jesus. In this teaching, Jesus reminds us that the only viable grounds for divorce are when a partner commits sexual immorality. Otherwise, divorce results in the sin of adultery for the woman who remarries and for the man who marries the divorced woman, or vice versa.
In Exodus 20:7, God commands His people to not misuse His name. This command would include not using God’s name as something to swear an oath by. However, similar to the previous commands, the teachers of the day often taught that as long as an oath was not made in the name of God, it was acceptable. Jesus once again clarifies the meaning of this command in Matthew 5:33-37.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath 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. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
First, it is important to understand that Jesus is not condemning all oaths. This would be a misguided interpretation because oaths are permissible under certain circumstances as long as they are not used as a cover-up for deception or false testimony. This is corroborated by Scripture, as even God makes oaths in various parts of the Bible (Hebrews 6:13 and Luke 1:73).
In verse 34, Jesus makes the statement that not only should people not make an oath in God’s name, but they should not make an oath in the name of anything. The reason for this is simple: no matter what we swear by, we are held accountable to honor our oaths.
Therefore, Jesus commands us in verse 36 to simply say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ because our words should carry such a weight of honesty and truthfulness that oaths are not required.
Jesus has two primary purposes in His teachings on murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths.
The first is to reveal the unethical and inaccurate interpretations of God’s law and shed light on how God intended His commands to be followed.
Secondly, these teachings from Jesus reveal the depth of the sinfulness of man and the impossibility of keeping the commandments to the standard God has set (Romans 3:23). In that, we should find encouragement that God’s grace is sufficient in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and provides us with the strength to live out His commands as disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.
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