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10. The Light of the World (Matthew 5:14-16)

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You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NET)

What should the church’s relationship with the world be like? After teaching the Beatitudes, which are character traits of those who are truly part of God’s kingdom, Christ teaches about the relationship his followers will have with the world. They are to be salt and light.

Is there a difference between the two metaphors? If so, it is only slight. MacArthur shares:

Whereas salt is hidden, light is obvious. Salt works secretly, while light works openly. Salt works from within, light from without. Salt is more the indirect influence of the gospel, while light is more its direct communication. Salt works primarily through our living, while light works primarily through what we teach and preach. Salt is largely negative. It can retard corruption, but it cannot change corruption into incorruption. Light is more positive. It not only reveals what is wrong and false but helps produce what is righteous and true.1

The metaphor of light being used to describe the disciples would have seemed strange if not ludicrous to the original audience. Spurgeon adds:

“This title had been given by the Jews to certain of their eminent Rabbis. With great pomposity they spoke of Rabbi Judah, or Rabbi Jochanan, as the lamps of the universe, the lights of the world. It must have sounded strangely in the ears of the Scribes and Pharisees to hear that same title, in all soberness, applied to a few bronzed-faced and horny-handed peasants and fishermen, who had become disciples of Jesus.”2

Yet, this metaphor was not just applied to the disciples but to all believers. We are the light of the world. With that said, believers are light only because Christ is light. In John 8:12, Christ declared, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”3 Christ is the Light; therefore, we reflect the light he gives us. We are like the moon—only a big ball of dust, not of much value by itself. But in the right place, at the right time, when the sunlight of Christ shines on us—magical things happen. People fall in love with Christ, marriages are restored, people turn from a life of destruction to a life of purpose. As the light of Christ reflects off believers, they light the world. But this light is something more than a reflection since Christ actually indwells us—changing us into his image. We are no longer darkness but are actually lights ourselves (cf. Eph 5:8).

In this study, we’ll consider the believers’ relationship with the world by considering the metaphor of light. In what ways are we light? How can we shine brighter?

Big Question: What does it mean for believers to be the light of the world? What applications can we take from this metaphor?

The Light of the World

Interpretation Question: What does the metaphor of light represent biblically?

John MacArthur’s comments are enlightening:

In Scripture the figurative use of light has two aspects, the intellectual and the moral. Intellectually it represents truth, whereas morally it represents holiness … The figure of darkness has the same two aspects. Intellectually it represents ignorance and falsehood, whereas morally it connotes evil.4

We see this in many places. Psalms 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path.” Here light refers to intellectual truth as seen in God’s Word. In Romans 13:12-14, it refers to moral deeds, and darkness refers to immoral deeds. It says,

The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.

Isaiah 5:20 refers to both the intellectual and the moral. It says, “Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.”

Believers are light because they have been changed intellectually and morally. These changes are significant—making believers like a town on a hill, which illumines the sky for hundreds of miles. The light from believers cannot be hidden.

Interpretation Question: In what ways are believers light and the world darkness?

1. Believers are light because they know God, and the world is dark because they reject the true God.

Romans 1:21-23 describes the world as intellectually darkened in reference to knowing God, the Creator. It says,

For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

The world has a darkened mind. They profess to be wise when they are really fools. They deny the living God by worshiping false gods or themselves or denying God’s existence all together. Psalm 14:1 says the fool says in his heart there is no God. The world is dark because they do not know or acknowledge God. But believers are light because they know the Light—they know God. Christ said this is eternal life, that they may know God (John 17:3).

2. Believers are light because they know the gospel and Scripture in general, and the world is darkness because they reject revelation.

Second Corinthians 4:4 says, “among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.” The world is blinded to the light of the gospel. First Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To the believer, the gospel is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Believers are light.

Not only are unbelievers blinded to the gospel but Scripture in general. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” While the world rejects Scripture and cannot understand it, it is the believers’ daily bread (Job 23:12), constant meditation (Psalm 1:2), and joy (Psalm 119:24).

3. Believers are light because they practice righteousness, and the world is darkness because it doesn’t.

Again, Romans 13:12-14 says,

The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.

Believers are called to put aside the deeds of darkness and to clothe themselves with Christ.

Similarly, 1 John 3:10 says, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.” Children of God are identified by obeying God, and unbelievers are identified by disobedience.

Essentially, to be in darkness is to be ignorant of God and his Word and to rebel against both. The world is darkness, but believers are light. They know the truth about creation, the gospel, and God, and they live in view of these realities. But the world rejects these things.

Ephesians 5:8 says, “for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light.” We used to be darkness, but now, we are light and commanded to live in accordance with that reality.

Application Question: The implication of believers being light is that the world is in darkness. In what further ways is the world in darkness? In what ways have you experienced deliverance from former darkness, and how are you still experiencing it?

The Function of Light

Application Question: What are typical functions of light and how do these apply to believers in this world?

1. As light, believers expose darkness.

While Christ was on the earth, he exposed the false teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. He exposed the corruption taking place in the temple. It should be the same with believers. They shine light on dishonest practices, gossip, corruption amongst leaders, racism, etc. This often angers people. They are the ethical lights within a friendship, a family, a business, an education system, or a government.

Are you willing to expose the darkness? We expose darkness indirectly simply by living a moral life, but we also expose it directly by calling sin as it is. Kent Hughes put it this way:

We need to be ethical light when we are in the office, in the classroom, in the shop, and in the Church. We must be willing to risk being called “negative,” “narrow,” “judgmental,” “puritanical,” or “bigoted.” If God’s Spirit is calling us to stand up against wrong, it is up to us to be faithful.5

2. As light, believers give off light.

Ephesians 5:13 (NIV) says: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” “When light touches something, it becomes light. It is lit up; and, to some degree, the object gives off light itself. It is converted and changed.”6

In the same way, the light of a believer’s life often changes a work environment, as sin is exposed and righteousness replaces it. It changes people’s lives, as they repent and give their lives to Christ. Light by nature is more powerful than darkness. It transforms environments.

In 1 Peter 2:12, Peter said this to believers: “and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.” Though persecuted and mocked by the world, believers, through their conduct, often change those around them, even if only slowly. When Christ comes, many will glorify God for the chaste lives of a Christian co-worker, friend, or family member who led them to Christ.

Light makes other things light—it gives off itself. We’ll consider several other functions of light which, in one sense, arise from how light gives off light. However, they are worth noting for emphasis.

3. As light, believers help others grow.

Plants can grow in a dark cave as long as light is present. In addition, research tells us that broken bones heal faster when they are soaking up sunlight.7 This all should be true of Christians in a dark world. As they shine their lights, friends, family, and co-workers grow.

Are the people around you growing—getting to know God more, changing their language, attitudes, and actions?

4. As light, believers wake people out of slumber.

When it’s spring time, people tend to wake up earlier because of the gradual increase of sunlight into their bedrooms. It’s also true that if you immediately turn on the lights while somebody is sleeping, it will often quickly wake the person up. In the same way, the ethical light of believers who are on fire for Christ will often awaken those who are spiritually lethargic or spiritually sleeping. They stir spiritual zeal in those who are spiritually lazy and help awaken those who are spiritually dead. As light, believers wake people out of slumber.

5. As light, believers warm those who are cold.

Light not only illuminates, it warms. When people are cold from standing in a shadow, they move to a place with more sunlight to get warm. When in a home that is cold, people go by the fireplace. Heat is emitted from light. Therefore, when believers are light, they warm people’s hearts—provoking them to love God and others. The impact of their warmth helps others repent of bitterness and anger and instead show acts of kindness. By loving, believers warm up homes, workplaces, and communities. Often people run to them to find fellowship, comfort, and encouragement.

Application Question: What are some other functions of light which believers represent in this world? What makes exposing the darkness in a company, church, or relationship difficult? How can we do this wisely? Share a time when God called you to expose darkness. How did it turn out?

Growth as Light

People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:15-16

Application Question: How can we grow as light? How can we be most effective?

1. To grow as light, we must stay near Christ, who is the Light.

Kent Hughes gave this illustration when considering how believers can shine even brighter:

A man returning from a journey brought his wife a matchbox that would glow in the dark. After he gave it to her, she turned out the light, but it could not be seen. Both thought they had been cheated. Then the wife noticed some French words on the box and asked a friend to translate them. The inscription said: “If you want me to shine in the night, keep me in the light.” So it is with us! We must expose ourselves to Jesus, delight in his Word, and spend time in prayer soaking up his rays.8

Second Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” As we walk with our Lord and Savior, we are daily transformed into his image and glory. If we’re going to grow as light, we must spend time with the Light!

2. To grow as light, we must continually congregate with other godly believers.

When you place many burning coals together, the light becomes more intense, hotter, and burns longer. In fact, the “you” of “you are the light of the world” is plural referring not just to Christians individually but corporately. We are more effective as lights together. We strengthen our individual light by being around other godly believers who are on fire. We also increase our light by listening to messages and reading books by great lights in our community. As we do this, our light increases. Similarly, if we continually put ourselves around people who are not walking for Christ, our light and effectiveness will diminish. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who associates with the wise grows wise but the companion of fools suffers harm.”

3. To grow as light, we must fight against tendencies to hide our light.

Matthew 5:15 is partially repeated in the parallel text of Mark 4:21. In Mark 4:21, Christ says, “‘A lamp isn’t brought to be put under a basket or under a bed, is it? Isn’t it to be placed on a lampstand?” Many commentators believe the basket and the bed represent common reasons that people hide their lights. The basket Christ referred to was probably a bushel for collecting grain. This perhaps demonstrates how many hide their light because of work. Many believers get so busy at work that they hide the light of Christ, or they hide it in fear of it hindering career progression. Our light is not to be hid under the bushel of work. But secondly, Christians tend to hide their light simply because of laziness, as symbolized by a bed. They are too lazy to go to church, read their Bible, serve on missions, or share the gospel. No wise person puts a lamp under a basket or a bed, and neither should believers, as our light is more important than any lamp in a house.

4. To grow as light, we must put ourselves in the most strategic positions.

In Matthew 5:15, Christ talked about putting a lamp on a stand. When placing a lamp in a house, people put it in the most advantageous position. We must consider this when deciding what we will do for work, where we will live and go to church, etc. How can we most effectively spread our light to others?

Also, we must remove anything that might dim our light or make it ineffective. There are certain environments that could hinder the effectiveness of our light either by not using it or threatening to blow it out by temptation. Believers must live as light by putting their lights on stands for all to see.

5. To grow as light, we must be balanced.

Charles Spurgeon gives this great insight:

“The text says that the candle gives light to all that are in the house. Some professors give light only to a part of the house. I have known women very good to all but their husbands, and these they nag from night to night, so that they give no light to them. I have known husbands so often out at meetings that they neglect home, and thus their wives miss the light.”9

Sadly, this is true for many Christians. We give our best at work and neglect home or give our best at home but neglect being lights at work. Some of us work really hard at a hobby or something we really enjoy but aren’t very faithful at church—nobody at our church is blessed by our light. If we’re going to grow as lights, we must be balanced—displaying God’s light wherever the Lord places us.

6. To grow as light, we must practice good deeds.

In Matthew 5:16, Christ said, “let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” This is actually a command, not a suggestion. The word “good” can also be translated “beautiful.” It focuses not only on the quality of the works but the attractiveness of them as well. Their beauty draws others to God. Since light refers to truth and moral deeds, we must give ourselves to these works. Like Christ, we must teach God’s Word and share the gospel with others. We also must be given to mercy ministries—caring for the poor, infirmed, and oppressed. We must give ourselves to beautiful works which draw people to God.

Are you letting your light shine by doing good works to the glory of God?

7. To grow as light, we must have the right motive.

Again, Matthew 5:16 says, “let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” We must notice the motive for shining our light. It is not so that people can glorify us, but so that they can glorify God. Most people are living to make a name for themselves instead of God (cf. Gen 11, the tower of Babel). Without the right motive, our lights will grow dim and ineffective. People often can discern the reasons that we do certain works. Are we doing good works for our benefit—to be seen and praised by others, to make money, to be promoted, etc.? If so, our lights will become dim and actually turn people away from God.

Sadly, this is very common among the religious. Christ warns about these dark motives throughout the Sermon on the Mount. He challenges his disciples and those listening to not be like the Pharisees and scribes who did their righteous works to be seen by others. He said they had their reward but would not be rewarded by the Father (Matt 6:1-8). He also said we should be consumed with storing up riches in heaven instead of on earth (Matt 6:19-21).

Psalm 115:1 sums up the attitude we should have in our daily activities perfectly. It says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us! But to your name bring honor, for the sake of your loyal love and faithfulness.” Lord, let this be true of our hearts. Amen!

Application Question: How is God calling you to grow as a light? In what ways are you tempted to hide your light? In what ways do you believe God is calling you to place your light in the most effective position? How can we protect ourselves from wrong heart motives—like money and fame?

Conclusion

MacArthur shares stories about two godly saints which serve as a fitting conclusion to our study of being lights of the world:

It is said of Robert Murray McCheyne, a godly Scottish minister of the last century, that his face carried such a hallowed expression that people were known to fall on their knees and accept Jesus Christ as Savior when they looked at him. Others were so attracted by the self-giving beauty and holiness of his life that they found his Master irresistible.

It was also said of the French pietist Francois Fenelon that his communion with God was such that his face shined with divine radiance. A religious skeptic who was compelled to spend the night in an inn with Fenelon, hurried away the next morning, saying, “If I spend another night with that man I’ll be a Christian in spite of myself.”

That is the kind of salt and light God wants His kingdom people to be.10

Are you being a light in the world—drawing all to God by your words and actions? Lord, help this be true of us in Jesus’ name.

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 244). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 5:14–16). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

3 The New International Version. (2011). (Jn 8:12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 205–206). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 167). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Ephesians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

7 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 86). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

8 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 85–86). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

9 Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 5:14–16). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

10 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 247). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

11. A Proper View Of Scripture (Matthew 5:17-20)

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“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NET)

How should believers view Scripture?

Many believers have different views about Scripture. Some believe it is just good suggestions that we should consider for our lives. Some believe that Scripture is trustworthy when it comes to the gospel, but that its ethics no longer directly apply to our rapidly changing culture. Some believe it is fully God’s Word; while others believe it’s only partially God’s Word. Some believe it is full of errors and lacks authority; while others believe it is fully accurate and thus authoritative. What did Christ believe about Scripture?

When Christ said that he did not come to abolish “the law or the prophets,” this was a common way to refer to the whole Old Testament. Luke 16:16 uses the phrase “law and prophets” this way: “The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it.” As Christ taught about those who are truly part of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 5:3-16, some would have questioned if he was contradicting Scripture. Jewish teachers taught that people entered heaven by following the Mosaic law. Was Christ teaching a new way to be right with God and enter heaven? Was he getting rid of the Mosaic law and what the prophets taught? Christ discerns their questions and answers them; that is why he begins with, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.” Christ corrects their thinking about his views on the Old Testament. In studying his view of the OT, we can discern a proper view of Scripture in general.

In addition, as we study these verses, it must be said these are considered some of the most difficult verses in Scripture to interpret.1 What does Christ mean by proclaiming that he did not come to abolish the law and prophets but fulfill them? What is the believer’s relationship to the law? In addition, is there rank in heaven? In what ways are some called greatest and least in God’s kingdom? Finally, in what way must our righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and experts in the law to enter the kingdom of heaven? This passage is filled with difficult questions.

In fact, godly believers have taken different sides on some of the topics that arise from this passage. However, as we study them, we must remember that God wants us to understand Scripture. It is our guide to obeying and following him. In addition, God has given us not only his Word but his Holy Spirit to help us in the process of interpretation. He has also given us other godly believers who have wrestled with the text before us.

As we study this text, we will consider Christ’s view of Scripture, so it can inform ours.

Big Question: What was Christ’s view of the Old Testament? How should this affect the believers’ view of Scripture in general?

Believers Should Recognize Christ as the Fulfillment of Scripture

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.

Matthew 5:17

Interpretation Question: In what ways did Christ fulfill the law or the prophets?

First, it is helpful to define some terms. For Jews, the term “Law” commonly referred to the 613 commands given to Israel in Exodus 20-31, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.2 They detailed the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws of Israel. However, “Law” was sometimes used of only the Pentateuch—the first five books of the OT. At times, it was even used of the whole Old Testament (cf. John 10:34, 12:34). Also, the phrase “the Law or the Prophets,” as mentioned, was another way of referring to the entire Old Testament (cf. Matt 22:40, Lk 16:16). In addition, sometimes Jews would call the whole OT the “law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms” (cf. Lk 24:44).3

Christ said he did not come to abolish the law or prophets but to fulfill them. This is difficult because there is, obviously, some way in which he did abolish them. Believers are no longer under food laws, ceremonies, sabbath days, etc. (cf. Mk 7:19, Col 2:16-17). What did he mean by this controversial saying? It helps to understand that the word “fulfill” has the idea of completion, filling up, or accomplishing.4 Someone compared Christ’s relationship to the law to the destruction of an acorn. One can destroy an acorn in one of two ways: He can destroy the acorn by smashing it with a hammer, or by planting it in the ground so that it grows into an oak tree.5 Christ destroyed the law by the second way. He removed the acorn of the law by totally fulfilling it. In fact, he did this in such a way that believers are no longer under the Old Testament law. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 6:14 says we are no longer under law but under grace.

In what ways did Christ fulfill the law and the prophets—the entire OT? There are many ways:

1. Christ fulfilled the OT by fulfilling its messianic predictions.

Beginning in Genesis 3:15, Scripture prophesies about the coming messiah. There was going to be a seed from the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. Many have seen this as the first prophecy of the virgin birth—there has only been one seed of a woman, everyone else has come from the seed of the man. A man born of a virgin would be bitten by Satan on the heel—a veiled prediction of Christ’s death on the cross—and the man would crush Satan’s head—which ultimately refers to Christ’s victory through his death and resurrection. From there prophecies continue: He would come through Abraham, through Jacob, through Judah, through David, and through Solomon. He would be born in Bethlehem, etc. The Gospels detail how Christ fulfilled these messianic predictions. There are around sixty major prophecies—twenty-nine of them fulfilled on the day of his death.

2. Christ fulfilled the OT by fulfilling its types and shadows.

Colossians 2:16-17 says: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days—these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!” The food laws, religious festivals, and sabbath days were all shadows fulfilled in Christ. As shadows, aspects of Christ could be discerned from them which helped prepare people for the coming messiah. The Sabbath represented how Christ would be our rest. The Day of Atonement demonstrated how a perfect lamb would be a substitute for the people. When John saw Christ, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The atonement lamb never removed people’s sins, that is why every year it had to be offered again. But after Christ, there is no longer a need to practice the Day of Atonement. Christ completed it. He perfectly fulfilled it (Matt 5:17).

In addition, Christ fulfilled many other types in the Old Testament, as seen in numerous narratives. In the same way God sent manna from heaven for Israel to eat, Christ said he was manna from heaven (John 6:32-35). When the Israelites were dying from snake bites, Moses called for them to look at a raised bronze snake and live. That was a picture of Christ on the cross and how those who believed in him would be saved (John 3:14-15). Christ is the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45). The first Adam willfully followed his wife into sin, but the last Adam died for his wife—the people of God—so that she might be saved. Christ fulfills not only the law, but the prophecies and the stories of the Old Testament. He is seen everywhere. In John 5:39, Jesus said, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me.”

3. Christ fulfilled the OT by perfectly obeying God’s law.

Galatians 4:4 says that Christ was born under the law. In Matthew 3:15, at Christ’s baptism, he declared how he must fulfill all righteousness. Christ obeyed the 613 commands in the Mosaic law perfectly. Since he was perfect, he can offer us his righteousness and take our sins (2 Cor 5:21). When going through the Gospels, it is important to understand that it was the misinterpretations of the law by the scribes and Pharisees that he didn’t obey—not the law itself.

4. Christ fulfilled the OT by paying the righteous demands of the law.

The penalty for disobeying God’s laws was death. Christ, though perfect, died for the sins of the world. Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because of Christ’s death, we can accept his sacrifice for sins, follow him as Lord and Savior, and be saved eternally (cf. John 3:16, Romans 10:9-13).

5. Christ fulfilled the OT by giving believers power to keep the righteous requirements of the law through the Spirit.

Romans 8:4 says, “so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This was prophesied in the Old Testament; God would write his laws on our hearts and give us power through his Spirit to fulfill them. Ezekiel 36:27 says, “I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations.”

Interpretation Question: If believers are not under the law anymore, in what way do we fulfill the righteous requirements of the law through the Spirit?

Romans 13:8-10 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Similarly, Galatians 5:14 and 18 say, “For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself’… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

Though not called to practice food laws, sabbath days, etc., the Spirit, which Christ sent us, produces righteousness in our lives. The Spirit helps us put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom 8:13) and helps us love God and others more (Gal 5:22-23). Christ fulfills the law by his Spirit working in us.

Finally, it should be added that Christ not only fulfills the OT but also the NT. He is the emphasis of the Gospels, as they reveal his life and teaching. The book of Acts describes his works through his apostles. The Epistles share his teaching through his apostles, and the book of Revelation describes his wrath, second coming, and ultimate rule on the earth. Christ is the fulfillment and focus of the entire Scripture. We should recognize him as we study God’s Word and help reveal him as we teach Scripture to others. We must have an entirely Christocentric view of Scripture.

Application Question: Why is it important to have a Christocentric view in studying and teaching Scripture—especially the OT? What symbol or shadow of Christ stands out most to you in the OT?

Believers Should Recognize the Perseverance and Authority of Scripture

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Matthew 5:18

Interpretation Question: What does the smallest letter or stroke of a letter refer to?

When Christ referred to the smallest letter or stroke of a letter, he was referring to specific aspects of the Hebrew letter system. The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the “jot” or “yod.” The stroke of a letter refers to a “tittle,” which is a small mark that serves to distinguish one letter from another. It is similar to the way the bottom stroke of a capital E distinguishes it from a capital F.6 Jesus said the law would not pass away until heaven and earth pass away and everything is accomplished that was taught in the OT.

Interpretation Question: What does Christ’s comments about law in Matthew 5:18 teach about Christ’s view of Scripture?

1. Christ believed in the endurance of Scripture.

Sometimes people make arguments that Scripture has been tampered with, specific books lost, and that the copies that we have are not correct. However, Christ taught that God would preserve Scripture even down to the tiniest letter and the least stroke of a pen. Peter said that “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

This is made clear by all the attempts throughout history to stomp out God’s Word. It has endured constant criticism from both the science and history communities. It has endured manipulation from cults and false prophets. It has been burned and banned by nations. And yet, it still endures today. It is the most copied, printed, translated, and sold book every year. In addition, from a historical reliability standpoint (i.e. the number of copies and the time interval from the originals), it is the most accurate ancient manuscript. In fact, it has more historical evidence than any ten ancient manuscripts combined. There is no book like it. God has preserved his Word. Christ prophesied this, the evidence supports it, and believers trust it.

2. Christ believed in the authority of Scripture.

In addition, Christ’s comments demonstrate that he believed in the literal inspiration of Scripture—that the exact words of Scripture, and even the letters, were chosen by God and not just the ideas. This is important since some liberal theologians would argue against this today. They would say that you can’t trust what the Bible says about science or history—it’s the ideas that matter, not the details. However, Christ did not take that view. Every word of Scripture, even down to letter and least stroke of a pen, was important.

In fact, we see this in Christ’s discussion with the Sadducees in Matthew 22:30–32. The Sadducees were the liberal believers in Christ’s day. They did not believe in miracles, the resurrection, or even an afterlife. One day, they tested Christ on his belief of the resurrection. They concocted a scenario where a woman’s husband dies and then she marries his brother. The brother dies, and she marries another brother. He dies, she marries another, and so on, until the seventh died. Then she eventually died. The Sadducees asked Christ, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” On this, commentator William MacDonald says, “Basically, they argued that the idea of resurrection posed insuperable difficulties, hence it was not reasonable, therefore it was not true.”7 Look at how Christ responded in Matthew 22:30–32:

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Now as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living!

Here, Christ’s argument rests on the tense of the word “am.” Essentially, Christ says, “Didn’t you notice that ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ was written in the present tense?” Christ was saying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all still alive, and therefore, would one day be resurrected. This confronted their lack of belief in the afterlife and the resurrection. It also challenged their liberal view of Scripture. Every word of Scripture has been chosen by God, even down to the tense.

We can trust Scripture. It is authoritative even down to the tense and letters of words. Therefore, we can trust what Scripture says about science, history, life, death, and everything else. Scripture teaches its own inerrancy. Psalm 19:7-8 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced. The Lord’s precepts are fair and make one joyful.” Scripture is perfect, reliable, and fair. Christ believed in the perseverance and authority of Scripture, and so must we.

Do you believe in everything Scripture teaches? It is trustworthy in what it teaches about God, creation, marriage, parenting, male and female roles, sin, righteousness, eternity, and itself.

Application Question: Why is the endurance and authority of Scripture so important to the Christian faith? In what ways have many forsaken belief in the endurance and authority of Scripture?

Believers Should Recognize that Eternal Reward Is Based on Our Response to Scripture

So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19

Observation Question: According to Matthew 5:19, what is the basis for reward and greatness in the kingdom of heaven?

In Matthew 5:19, Christ teaches something that is often very confusing to believers. He says that those who break one of the least of these commands and teach others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. And, those who practice God’s Word and teach others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

What is Christ referring to? It should be made clear—that this is not a salvation issue. Believers are not saved by teaching and obeying Scripture. It’s also not a loss of salvation issue (if that were possible); even the “least in the kingdom” are still part of the kingdom.

One of the things that Christ constantly teaches in the Sermon on the Mount is the reality of rewards in heaven. In Matthew 6, he teaches the disciples to not be like the Pharisees and scribes who did their righteous deeds to be seen by people. Their reward was being seen by others, but they would not be rewarded by the Father. Furthermore, in Matthew 6:19, he challenges the disciples to store up riches in heaven and not on earth. Reward seems to refer to both rulership and opportunities to serve in heaven. In the Parable of the Minas, the faithful servants are rewarded with cities to rule over (Lk 19:16-19). Those who are great in heaven will have more opportunities to rule with Christ and serve others.

Though salvation is not based on works, reward or loss of reward is. Second John 8 says, “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward.” These works specifically have to do with our teaching and obeying of God’s Word. This is important to hear because often Christians think that only pastors are called to teach God’s Word. This is not true. In the Great Commission, God calls all believers to make disciples of all nations—teaching them everything that Christ commanded (Matt 28:19-20). All believers are called to teach God’s Word to others. We should share the gospel with the lost. We should teach other believers how to grow in Christ. Parents should teach their children (Eph 6:4); older women should teach younger women (Titus 2:3-4); husbands are called to teach their wives (Eph 5:25-26). We are all called to study and teach God’s Word.

Since it is possible for us to teach others to disobey God’s Word, interpretation is very important. If we misinterpret Scripture, we can lead others astray. Second Timothy 2:15 says, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” Who will God approve? Those who work hard at studying Scripture in order to correctly teach truth. Laziness and bad interpretation will lead to lack of approval and lack of reward. There will be many in heaven with good intentions but harmful hermeneutics—the study of interpreting Scripture—who led others astray.

But it is not just our teaching that matters; our obedience matters as well. Paul said this to Timothy, “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim 4:16). If we have correct doctrine, but don’t practice it, we will harm not only ourselves but those who watch and listen to us. Reward in heaven will be based on what we do with God’s Word. John MacArthur’s comments are helpful:

Greatness is not determined by gifts, success, popularity, reputation, or size of ministry but by a believer’s view of Scripture as revealed in his life and teaching.

Jesus’ promise is not simply to great teachers such as Paul or Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, or Spurgeon. His promise applies to every believer who teaches others to obey God’s Word by faithfully, carefully, and lovingly living by and speaking of that Word. Every believer does not have the gift of teaching the deep doctrines of Scripture, but every believer is called and is able to teach the right attitude toward it.8

Are you faithfully studying and teaching God’s Word to others? Sadly, many believers simply don’t care what it says. They think as long as they know the gospel and love God and others, that’s all that matters. Some might even declare that doctrine is dangerous because it divides. However, God has called us to study his Word and teach it to all, as we make disciples. Unfaithful Christians neglect studying God’s Word, and that reality will be displayed in their lack of reward from God in heaven. First Corinthians 3:15 talks about some Christians getting into heaven as escaping the fire—there will be no rewards for them.

Are you teaching and obeying God’s Word? Those who are faithful, God will reward. Those who aren’t will experience loss of reward.

Application Question: What makes the doctrine of reward in heaven so controversial, as some really struggle with this doctrine? Why is it important? Are you motivated by reward? Why or why not?

Believers Should Recognize that to Enter Heaven, Our Righteousness Must Conform to Scripture

For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

Interpretation Question: In what way must a believer’s righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees and the experts of the law to get into heaven?

This comment would have been startling to the Jews listening. Pharisees and teachers of the law (or scribes) were considered the most righteous people in Israel. “The Jews had a saying, ‘If only two people go to heaven, one will be a scribe and the other a Pharisee.’”9 The Jews would have thought, “If they can’t get into heaven, how can we?”

What did Christ mean by needing a greater righteousness to enter heaven?

1. Christ meant to show that man’s righteousness can never earn salvation and that imputed righteousness is needed.

The Jews believed that studying the law and practicing its righteousness led to being accepted by God and entering heaven. However, the law was never meant to save. It was meant to show how people were sinful and in need of the Savior. Romans 3:20 says, “For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” According to the law, the consequence of one sin is death—separation from God eternally (Rom 6:23). Even the Pharisees and scribes were not righteous enough to get into heaven—they had fallen short of God’s glory and were under God’s judgment just like everybody else. Therefore, how can people secure a greater righteousness and be saved?

Romans 3:21-22 (ESV) says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…” Christ lived the perfect life that people could never live. Though he never sinned, he died on the cross for our sins. When he died on the cross, he took our sin and gave us perfect righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). This was the righteousness that Christ was calling the Jews to accept. It is only applied to those who believe in and follow Christ—they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for our sins, was buried, and resurrected.

Have you believed in Christ and therefore been made right for heaven?

2. Christ meant to show that only those who practice true righteousness, as fostered by the Spirit, are really saved.

The Pharisees and scribes loosened the demands of God’s law by only teaching the need to practice outward righteousness. They taught if one had not murdered or committed adultery, he had kept the law. These were called the traditions of the elders. But Christ corrects this laxing of the law. He said that anyone who has been angry or lusted had broken the laws of murder and adultery in his or her heart. The Pharisees had never been given God’s Spirit, so they could not practice true righteousness which was both internal and external. Christ called them whitewashed tombs—pretty on the outside but full of dead bones on the inside (Matt 23:27).

In addition, the Pharisees and scribes also changed many of God’s commands. In Matthew 5:43, Christ said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’” Love your neighbor came from Leviticus, but hate your enemy was an addition—something that Scripture never taught. The Pharisees and scribes again loosened the demands of God’s law by saying that people did not need to love their enemy. However, Christ taught what the law truly demanded—to even love one’s enemies and to in fact bless them.

When Christ taught that those who belong to the kingdom of heaven are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers (Matt 5:3-9), he was outlining the supernatural changes in the life of true believers. In the New Covenant, God gives believers new hearts. He writes his laws on them and gives them the Holy Spirit in order to obey these laws (cf. Jer 31:33, Ez 36:27). This is what the Pharisees did not have, which proved that they were not truly born again. True believers have a greater righteousness because it is both internal and external.

This is important to emphasize. Though we are saved by faith alone (cf. Eph 2:8-9), true faith is never alone. It always produces righteousness (cf. James 2, Eph 2:10). It will be a greater righteousness than that of Pharisees and scribes because it comes from a right heart that obeys God’s Word.

This will be a predominant theme throughout the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Christ will continue to describe the character and righteousness of those in his kingdom. Are you part of his kingdom? We must have Christ’s imputed righteousness which comes through faith. But we also must have righteousness that conforms to God’s Word—proving our faith.

Application Question: What is the difference, theologically speaking, between works being the root of salvation and works being the fruit of it? Why is righteousness so important as a proof of true salvation (cf. James 2)? In what ways have you experienced the fruit of salvation—a changing life?

Conclusion

How should believers view Scripture? This is important because our view of Scripture has eternal consequences—affecting salvation and reward in heaven.

  1. Believers Should Recognize Christ as the Fulfillment of Scripture
  2. Believers Should Recognize the Perseverance and Authority of Scripture
  3. Believers Should Recognize that Eternal Reward Is Based on Our Faithfulness to Scripture
  4. Believers Should Recognize that to Enter Heaven, Our Righteousness Must Conform to Scripture

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 36). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

2 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1218). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

3 Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 5:17–18). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 263). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 22). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

6 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1218). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

7 MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1287.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 272). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 277). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

12. Maintaining Peaceful Relationships (Matthew 5:21-26)

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“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

Matthew 5:21-26 (NET)

How can we maintain peaceful relationships with others?

After the fall in Genesis 3, God prophesied the discord that would occur in human relationships. The wife would desire to control her husband and the husband would try to dominate her (Gen 3:16). This fracture in marriage would spill over into all relationships. In fact, in Genesis 4, we see the first murder, as Cain killed his brother Abel. Paul taught that hatred, discord, fits of rage, dissensions, and factions are part of the sinful nature (Gal 5:20-21). Therefore, we are all prone to discord. Sadly, this discord is often greatest within families, including our church families.

In Matthew 5:21-26, Christ teaches the importance of maintaining peaceful relationships. God is watching and will judge those who live in discord. Christ begins by considering the ultimate fracture of a relationship—murder; then moves to the motive and acts which precede it. As we study Matthew 5:21-26, we’ll learn principles about how to maintain peaceful relationships.

Big Question: What does Matthew 5:21-26 teach about maintaining peaceful relationships?

To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Guard Our Hearts from Evil Thoughts—Including Anger

“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment…

Matthew 5:21-22

Interpretation Question: What does Christ mean by the phrase, “You have heard that it was said”?

When Christ says, “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’” he is not referring specifically to the sixth commandment. He is referring to the common misinterpretation by the Jews of the sixth commandment. This is the first of six misinterpretations that Christ will consider in the Sermon on the Mount. By explaining these, Christ teaches the Jews how their righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20).

When interpreting the sixth commandment, the Pharisees and scribes taught that if one had simply not murdered, he had obeyed the law and therefore was right with God. This made people feel holy and prideful, since they had “perfectly” kept God’s law. However, the OT law, properly interpreted, did not only focus on outward observances. All the OT laws can be summarized in two commands—love God and love your neighbor (Matt 22:36-40). They did not just prohibit or command certain actions, they also prohibited and commanded certain heart motives. Essentially, we could ask the question, “If a person plans to murder someone, but at the last moment doesn’t because of fear of consequences or cowardice, is that person still just before God?” The answer is, “No!” God wants righteousness on the inside and not just the outside.

Christ taught that the absence of committing physical murder did not by itself protect a person from God’s judgment. He said, if a person was angry, he would be subject to judgment (v. 21). Though the same word for “judgment” is used in verses 21 and 22, it is not referring to the same judgment. In ancient Israel, if a person committed murder, he would be tried by a human court. The judgment for manslaughter was capital punishment. However, the second “judgment” Christ referred to was God’s. This is clear since no human court can condemn a person for evil motives without the corresponding act. God sees our heart, and he will judge us for anger. Though anger does not have the same consequence as murder, God sees it as murder since it’s the seed of murder. First John 3:15 says, “Everyone who hates his fellow Christian is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”

Therefore, we have our first principle about how to maintain peaceful relationships. We must guard our hearts from poisonous thoughts and attitudes. In Genesis 4, God counseled Cain to master the sin in his heart, so that he wouldn’t murder his brother, and we must master our sinful hearts as well. Pastor Campbell Morgan rightly said, “The supervision of the Kingdom does not begin by arresting a criminal with blood-red hands; it arrests the man in whom the murder spirit is just born.”1 To maintain right relationships, we must battle our sin on the heart-level.

Application Question: How can we keep ourselves from anger and other evil attitudes?

1. To keep ourselves from anger, we must test if it is a righteous anger.

When Christ says, “anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment,” some versions add, “anyone who is angry ‘without cause.’” Many ancient manuscripts include this phrase; however, the best and oldest manuscripts do not.2 This means some scribe thought to himself, “Christ can’t be excluding all anger since some anger is just.” Though the addition was wrong, the interpretation of the scribe was correct. Scripture does teach that there is a righteous anger. Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a just judge; he is angry throughout the day.” Christ flipped tables and used a whip in the temple when people were being cheated and God dishonored (John 2). He called the Pharisees serpents, hypocrites, and whitewashed tombs because of their false teaching and evil hearts (Matt 23).

Interpretation Question: What is the difference between righteous anger and selfish anger?

Righteous anger is concerned with injustice done towards others and dishonor towards God. Unrighteous anger is concerned only with personal injustice—when people hurt or offend us. When sin came into the world, the natural tendency towards anger in man’s heart, which is part of being made in the image of God, became corrupt. It became consumed with defending self instead of God and others.

Only Christ perfectly demonstrated God’s righteous anger. When others were mistreated, Christ was angry like a lion. When he was mistreated, he was gentle like a lamb. Peter said this about how Christ responded to personal offense: “When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). We must do the same.

Therefore, in order to maintain peaceful relationships, we must test our anger. “Am I angry because others are being hurt and God is being dishonored? Or is this anger just about me being personally offended?” On the cross, Christ prayed for his enemies—asking for God to forgive them—and he died for them. We must bless those who hurt us as well.

2. To keep ourselves from anger, we must recognize that unrighteous anger and thoughts will be judged by God.

Christ taught that judgment would not just happen because of murder, but also because of being angry. God hates the sin in our hearts so much that he will discipline us because of it. Therefore, we must recognize it as a grievous sin. Sadly, we are often just like the Pharisees and scribes. We think as long as we haven’t cursed or slapped somebody then we are OK. No, God hates anger, jealousy, pride, and all wrong attitudes that lead up to discord and ultimately murder. Therefore, we must recognize these wrong attitudes as murderous sins before God.

Are we angry with a friend, relative, or co-worker? We must recognize it as a grievous sin against God—their Creator.

3. To keep ourselves from anger, we must view things from God’s perspective.

When Joseph was approached by his brothers, who originally sold him into slavery, he said, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day” (Gen 50:20). He viewed God as in control of evil and using it for good. It was the same with Job, as he declared, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” (Job 1:21). They both saw God in control of all circumstances including the evil of men and demons. In addition, Christ, when he prayed for those who murdered him, said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He realized that sin and Satan had blinded them. It didn’t make them less responsible, but it did negatively affect them. Similarly, we must see our circumstances from God’s perspective to keep ourselves free from anger. We must recognize God’s sovereignty and the bondage of Satan and sin on this world.

Do you see God as in control of all events, even bad things that happen to you? You can be sure he is using it for your good (Rom 8:28).

4. To keep ourselves from anger, we must constantly repent of it.

Heart sins are more difficult to stop than outward sins. We forgive somebody, but when we see them, all those bad emotions come back. When they talk, sometimes judgmental thoughts flood our hearts: “They are so hypocritical—so insincere! I can’t believe them!” First Corinthians 13:5 (NIV) says love holds “no record of wrongs” or it can be translated love does “not entertain evil thoughts” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Therefore, we must constantly repent of sins, and as we do that, God changes our hearts. At times, our ungodly heart motives may be so ingrained in us that we need to confess them to others and seek accountability and prayer, so that we can be free of them (James 5:16).

5. To keep ourselves from anger, we must resist the devil and his accusations.

The title “devil” means “accuser” or “slanderer,” and that is often what Satan does to our hearts. He shoots arrows of suspicion, bitterness, jealousy, and anger at us. In response, we repeat the bad experiences and evil words over and over again in our minds. Therefore, we must not only repent, but we must also resist the devil through prayer and God’s Word (James 4:7). When Satan accuses, we must quote Scripture’s command to “entertain no evil thoughts,” “to hold no record of wrongs,” and “to bless and not curse.” When he tries to stir us to commit evil acts towards them, we must quote Scripture’s command to feed our enemy when they are hungry and give them drink when they are thirsty (Rom 12:20). We must resist the devil by God’s Word and through submitting to God in prayer.

6. To keep ourselves from anger, we must overcome it with acts of love.

Romans 12:21 says: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Not only do we overcome the evil in others by doing good, but also the evil in us. As we act in love, often our emotions follow. Most people simply follow their emotions instead of leading their emotions. As we pray for people and serve them, our hard hearts often become soft hearts.

If we are going to maintain peaceful relationships, we must fight anger and sinful thoughts on the heart-level.

Application Question: Why is it so difficult to guard our hearts from anger and other wrong attitudes? How do you overcome anger? In what ways have you experienced the spiritual warfare of demonic accusations seeking to foster suspicion and bitterness in your heart?

To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Guard Our Tongues from Evil Speech—Including Slander

But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.

Matthew 5:22b

Christ says that not only will wrong heart motives be judged by God, but also wrong speech. Anger is not only the seed of murder, but also the seed of slander and cursing. Typically, slander and cursing come before a murderous act. Two people are angry at one another—leading to verbal accusations and slander, and then physical abuse. Christ says even this second stage will be judged by God.

“Insult” can literally be translated “raca,” which is an Aramaic word meaning “empty.”3 It was like calling somebody a dummy, block-head, or a nobody. “Fool” means “stupid” or “dull.” We get the word “moron” from this Greek word.4 To the ancients, this word had moral and religious overtones. Psalm 14:1 says, “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’ They sin and commit evil deeds; none of them does what is right.” Because these people reject God, they live ungodly lives. They were vile people. “Raca” was primarily an attack on a person’s intellect and “fool” was an attack on a person’s character.

Christ said that to call somebody “Raca” would lead to their being taken before the “council.” “Council” can be translated “Sanhedrin” or “supreme court.” It referred to the highest court in the land that dealt with only the most serious offenses. To call somebody “fool” would lead to “hell.” Christ wants us to understand God takes cursing and slandering others seriously. James 4:11 says, “Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters…” We are not to murder people with our hands, hearts, or our words. The name “devil” actually means “slanderer.” When we curse others and gossip about them, we are doing Satan’s work, and God will judge us for it. God hates murder including the heart attitude and actions leading up to it. All animosity will lead to judgment and ultimately hell.5

Therefore, to maintain peaceful relationships, we must not only guard our hearts but our tongue. Our tongue commonly destroys relationships. James describes how the tongue is like a destructive fire. Though a match is little, it can destroy a whole forest (James 3:5-6). Many friendships, marriages, and other family relationships have been destroyed by unwise words. Wars have been started. Therefore, we must learn how to guard our tongue.

Application Question: How can we guard our tongues?

1. To guard our tongues, we must be slow to speak.

Proverbs 17:27 says, “The truly wise person restrains his words.” Wise people restrain their words. They realize how dangerous they are. Proverbs 18:21 says the power of life and death is in the tongue. Unrestrained words can destroy a person, a relationship, and a community. Therefore, wise people always consider their words. “If I say this, what will be the effect?” Many times, they simply choose to say nothing at all.

Are you controlling your tongue or simply speaking whatever is on your heart? Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool expresses all his emotions but a wise person controls them” (God’s Word Translation).

2. To guard our tongues, we must only speak gracious and edifying words.

Colossians 4:6 says: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.” It promises that if our conversations are full of grace—meaning that we bless people with our words even when they don’t deserve it—and also, if they are seasoned with salt—meaning that we turn conversations from perverse or ungodly talk to something edifying—then we will know how to answer everyone. It seems that when we choose to only speak for God, he will give us the words to say in various situations. On the reverse, if we don’t practice godly talk—we’re prone to sexual jokes, criticism, and complaining—then we won’t know how to answer people in a godly way. Essentially, whatever we practice, we’ll become good at in our lives.

Are you only speaking words that edify others?

3. To guard our tongues, we must remember that God will judge our words.

Again, Christ says that ungodly language will be judged by God—even landing some in hell. They don’t go to hell because of their words. Their words prove that they have never been saved. They give insight into what’s truly in their hearts. Good fruit comes from a good heart and bad fruit from a bad heart (Matt 12:33-35).

Jesus taught that not only will God judge our ungodly words but also idle ones (Matt 12:36). We are made in the image of God and there is the power of life and death in our tongues. We must use them properly; if not, God will judge us.

4. To guard our tongues, we must submit them to God.

James 3:7-8 says, “For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” No human can tame the tongue, only God can. Therefore, we must submit it to God. We must confess our sins and ask for God’s grace to control our tongues and use them for his glory. In Psalm 141:3, David said, “O Lord, place a guard on my mouth! Protect the opening of my lips!” We must also walk in the Spirit through spiritual disciplines, so we will produce the fruit of the Spirit which includes self-control (Gal 5:16, 22-23).

Are you guarding your tongue, or are you tearing people down with your words—slandering their intelligence and character? If so, you must remember God will judge such improprieties. To slander the creature is to slander his Creator. If we’re going to maintain peaceful relationships, we must guard our speech.

Application Question: Why is the tongue so hard to control? In what ways do you struggle with your tongue? In what ways have you experienced destruction in a family, friendship, or community because of unrestrained tongues?

To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Recognize that Discord Hinders Our Relationship with God

So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24

Next, Christ focuses on the effect of wrong relationships on worship. For the Pharisees and scribes, everything was centered around worship. “They spent much time in the synagogues and in the Temple. They made sacrifices, offered prayers, gave tithes, and carried on religious activities of every sort. But it was all heartless external ceremony.”6 In the illustration of one offering a gift at the altar, Christ demonstrated that right relationships with others are necessary to have a right relationship with God. To come to worship and offer sacrifices without practicing love in our relationships is simply an outward act with an evil heart. Paul said it this way, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). Worship without love for God and others is just noise to God—a clanging cymbal. There is nothing redeeming about our worship if we’re allowing our relationships to stay in discord and unresolved tension. Sadly, this happens often. Pastors fight with their wives and children before coming to worship. Because of a fight, members won’t even look at one another at church or in a small group. This is not true worship; it is just pretense. We cannot have a right relationship with God without right relationships with others. Christ taught that if others were upset with us, we should leave worship, fix that relationship, and then return.

Scripture teaches that one’s horizontal relationships always reflect his or her vertical relationship. Christ said that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matt 6:15). First John 4:20 says: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

If we claim to love and worship God and yet are in discord with others, our worship is fake—we’re just liars. If we really love God, we will go and seek reconciliation with others, so we can truly worship God and receive his blessing.

Peter said something similar to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7. “Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.” Essentially, Peter taught that discord hinders the prayers of a husband and wife. They may pray but their prayers hit the ceiling—they are ineffective. We must recognize that it’s the same with us.

If we’re going to maintain peaceful relationships, we must realize that discord negatively affects our relationship with God and therefore our ministry to others. Holding on to unforgiveness means that he will not forgive our sins. It makes our prayers ineffective and our offerings as well. If we really want a right relationship with God and his blessing, we will seek to maintain peaceful relationships.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced how discord hinders your relationship with God—whether in prayer, worship, meditation, or serving? Why are our relationships with others so important to God?

To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Seek to Resolve Conflicts Quickly

Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

Matthew 5:25-26

Christ leaves the illustration of worship, and then uses a legal illustration. It was common in those days that if a person owed a debt but didn’t pay it, a plaintiff would take him to court. On the way to court, the accused could make amends with the plaintiff; but once the case had started it was out of their hands and in the hands of the judge. If the accused was found guilty, he was put into prison until the debt was paid.7 Typically, relatives would have to help pay bail or the bill while the person was incarcerated.

Christ’s point is unmistakable: We are to make every effort, with no delay, to reconcile our relationship with a brother or sister so we can avoid God’s discipline. Sadly, discord between friends, relatives, and associates often lasts for years. When this happens, there are great consequences to the unforgiving party. These consequences include hurt, the deepening of strongholds, and the loss of joy and relationships, but there is much more. In Matthew 18:21-35, Christ gave a similar illustration in the Parable of the Merciless Servant. A master had forgiven a servant a great debt; however, this same servant chose not to forgive a fellow servant of a lesser debt. Therefore, the master handed the merciless servant over to jailors to be tortured until he paid the debt. Christ spoke to his disciples saying that God would do the same to them if they didn’t forgive from the heart (v. 35).

These torturers probably picture demons. We see God discipline his people through Satan or demons several times in Scripture: Saul was handed over to a tormenting spirit for his sins (1 Sam 16:14). The man committing sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5:5 was handed over to Satan. The two false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:20 were handed over to Satan as well. When we choose sin over God, we open the door for demonic torment. It may manifest in many ways—sickness, depression, discord, and other difficulties (see Job).

Again, in order to avoid God’s discipline, we must seek to reconcile as fast as possible. The longer we delay, the more opportunities we allow for Satan to attack us. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “‘Be angry and do not sin’; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.” Ephesians 4:3 says, “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Don’t delay! Don’t give Satan a foot-hold in your life, your friendship, your marriage, or your church! Work hard to reconcile! Sadly, many don’t give zealous effort to reconcile—allowing Satan to afflict both themselves and others.

If we are going to maintain peaceful relationships, we must make every effort to reconcile quickly. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.”

Application Question: What steps should people take to seek reconciliation?

  1. Believers should humble themselves by asking for forgiveness and offering forgiveness. This includes providing restitution for any wrongs we might have done. If we gossiped to others, we should confess our wrongs to them. If we stole, we should restore what was stolen or equivalent.
  2. Believers should return good for evil. This means serving them, speaking well of them, and loving them, even when evil is returned. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” By sowing good seeds, we will often reap a good harvest. However, returning wrong for wrong only leads to further destruction.
  3. Believers should be patient. Galatians 6:9 says, “So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.” Though we should quickly seek reconciliation, God is the one who changes hearts. We must patiently wait on him. We’ll reap if we don’t faint.

Application Question: Why is it important to seek reconciliation quickly? Share a story about some discord that God resolved. Are there any current relationships God is calling you to reconcile?

Conclusion

How can we maintain peaceful relationships with others?

  1. To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Guard Our Hearts from Evil Thoughts—Including Anger
  2. To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Guard Our Tongues from Evil Speech—Including Slander
  3. To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Recognize that Discord Hinders Our Relationship with God
  4. To Maintain Peaceful Relationships, We Must Seek to Resolve Conflicts Quickly

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

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1 Guzik, D. (2013). Matthew (Mt 5:21–22). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

2 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 83–84). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 43). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 295). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 101). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 296). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 298). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

13. How To Avoid Sexual Temptation (Matthew 5:27-30)

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30 (NET)

How can we protect ourselves from sexual temptation?

Sexual immorality is a tremendous temptation in our societies. It is the ultimate promotional advertisement. It is used to sell cell phones, colognes, clothes, and other accessories. It is used to promote athletic events. It saturates our entertainment including our TV, movies, and music. What makes the promotion of sex even more pervasive is the invention of the Internet. In a few clicks, people can have access to pornography, which is one of the biggest industries in the world. Statistics say that 70% of men ages 18-24 watch porn and one out of three porn viewers are women. The average age for a child to first view porn is eleven years old.1 The consumption of pornography is leading the march on the destruction of marriages and families. Statistics say that when men watch pornography in marriage their divorce statistics double. When women start watching pornography, their divorce statistics triple.2

Though the principles in this passage apply to lust and sexual immorality generally, Christ’s focus is on adultery. He says that when a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery in his heart. In Matthew 5:20, Christ began to address the need for a person’s righteousness to surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes to enter the kingdom of heaven. The rabbis of that day focused on externally keeping God’s commands to the exclusion of heart motives. They taught that to not murder was to keep the sixth commandment, but Christ taught that to be angry was to murder. Here the rabbis taught that to not commit physical adultery was to keep the seventh commandment. However, Christ taught that lusting after a married person was to commit adultery before God.

Obviously, to Christ lust and adultery are not the same—nor do they deserve the same consequences. According to the law, the consequence for adultery was death. However, God hates not only the act of adultery but also what leads up to it—the lustful eye and the lustful thought. All his commands are summarized by loving God and our neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). Therefore, to lust after someone we are not married to is to not recognize their innate dignity before God. It is to de-value that person and make him or her an object, and God hates this.

Therefore, as we consider this text on adultery, it teaches us how to avoid sexual temptation all together. Sexual temptation is destructive; therefore, it must be avoided. First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee sexual immorality! ‘Every sin a person commits is outside of the body’—but the immoral person sins against his own body.” It is a sin against our mind, body, and spirit. It binds, traps, wounds, and kills. It is so powerful, we are not called to fight or resist it. We are simply called to flee from it.

In this study, we will discern principles about how to avoid sexual temptation.

Big Question: What principles about avoiding sexual temptation can we learn from Matthew 5:27-30?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Eyes

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:27-29

Interpretation Question: Is it a sin to simply “look” at a person we’re attracted to?

When Christ says, “whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he is not referring to an incidental or involuntary glance. The Greek word for “looks” is a present participle which refers to a continuous gaze.3 He speaks about the person who gazes to satisfy his or her lustful desires. It describes the person who watches an X-rated movie for the purpose of satisfying his lust. It describes the person who repeatedly looks at another’s figure to derive pleasure from it.

This is what happened with David before he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11). David didn’t sin by looking at Bathsheba. He probably couldn’t have avoided noticing a woman that was bathing in the nude on top of her roof! However, when he saw her, he could have immediately gone back into the house and fought to get those images and thoughts out of his mind, but he didn’t. He continued to look, leading to lust, and then to the act of adultery. Therefore, if we are going to have victory against sexual temptation, we must guard our eyes.

Application Question: How should we guard our eyes?

1. To guard our eyes, we must recognize the power and impact of images we view and read.

A 2012 study published in Psychological Science, showed that the more teens were exposed to sexual content in movies, the earlier they started having sex.4 Another study showed that boys exposed to sexually explicit media were 3 times more likely to engage in sexual activity within two years than non-exposed boys. The same study showed that girls were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to engage in sexual activity after exposure.5

The eyes are a doorway to the mind and whatever one’s mind continually thinks on, a person will eventually do. If a person is going to be pure, he must be intentional about guarding his eyes. This will affect the types of movies watched, books read, and Internet sites visited. It will also affect how one looks at the opposite sex. For many, when they view the opposite sex, it is hard to not view them from a sexual standpoint. Their eyes continually trigger lustful thoughts and intentions, and if not combated, these eventually trigger lustful actions. When perverse images are continually viewed, a person’s lust can become out of control, even leading to tragic acts such as sexual harassment, rape, molestation, etc.

No doubt, this contributes to the frightening sexual abuse statistics! One out of three American women will be sexually abused during their lifetime. One out of four women and one out of six men will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen.6 Four out of five sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.7 Why is sexual abuse so pervasive and overwhelming? No doubt, it, in part, has to do with the increased access to erotic material in books, on TV, and on the Internet. The result of people viewing these materials is that they eventually can’t control themselves—they are filled and controlled by the darkness their eyes continually engage in.

Conversely, a person whose eyes are continually engaging with the Word of God and godly things will be controlled by them. Fruits of the Spirit will be born in their lives—love, joy, peace, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

What are you focusing your eyes on? If we don’t understand how powerful images and what we see are, then we won’t guard what we watch or look at.

2. To guard our eyes, we must learn how to “bounce” them.

In Job 31:1, Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I entertain thoughts against a virgin?” In order to remain pure, Job guarded his eyes from looking at a woman lustfully. This was his continual discipline.

Some have called this “bouncing” one’s eyes. When seeing an attractive person, instead of cultivating lustful thoughts and intentions, a person quickly bounces his or her eyes to something else. When seeing seductive images on the TV or the Internet, instead of taking a second look, one bounces his or her eyes by turning the channel or closing the webpage.

3. To guard our eyes, we must pray over them.

Another discipline we should practice is prayer. David, a man who struggled with lust, often prayed over his eyes. In Psalm 119:37, he prayed: “Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!”

He prayed for God to turn his eyes from viewing dark images to the light of God’s Word. Whatever we practice becomes a habit. If we’ve practiced sizing up members of the opposite sex and looking at alluring images, then we will need even more grace to break those habits. Prayer is one of the ways that God changes our eyes from being dark to light. We should also enlist the help of others to pray for us (James 5:16).

Lord, turn our eyes from what is worthless to what is good.

Application Question: Why are our eyes so important in this battle for purity? How do you protect your eyes? How is God challenging you to grow in this endeavor?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard the Eyes of Others

But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:28

Interpretation Question: Do we have a responsibility of guarding the eyes of others to prevent them from lusting?

I believe this is implied in this text. Arthur Pink’s comments are helpful, though they focus exclusively on women. He says,

If lustful looking is so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with the desire to be looked at and lusted after … are not less but perhaps more guilty. In this matter it is not only too often the case that men sin but women tempt them to do so. How great then must be the guilt of the great majority of modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of young men. And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses. (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p. 83)8

Not only must we guard our own eyes, but we must guard the eyes of our brothers and sisters. As Pink pointed out, this responsibility is not just for individuals but also for parents who train their children. Parents must teach the importance of modesty. The world will only teach them how to be alluring and sexually suggestive. This is especially true for a woman since her body is more alluring than a man’s. That is why in many cultures, it is socially acceptable for a man to have his shirt off and not a woman. It seems that God made the woman’s body that way—it is the more delicate vessel, which should be honored (1 Peter 3:7). Also, this is especially important for women because men are typically more visually stimulated, while women are more emotionally stimulated.

In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul said,

Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.

Modesty means that a Christian woman should avoid extremes in her clothing. She should not be known for dressing haggardly nor with expensive clothing. However, it especially applies to provocative dress, which can cause others to stumble. It will be very hard for a woman to avoid provocative clothing, as Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), which includes the fashion industry. Sex drives the fashion industry. Shorts and skirts continue to get shorter, tops reveal more cleavage, and pants are tighter. For a woman to dress modestly, she will have to go against the flow and be very strategic and particular in her purchases.

With that said, this is also true for men. Men need to consider their clothing in order to not be a stumbling block to their sisters. Men should be careful of wearing t-shirts that are 3X too small and pants with no air in them.

Dressing modestly is especially important to maintain purity in a dating relationship. Many couples with aims of remaining pure before marriage cause each other to stumble by stirring the other’s passions. Wise pre-marriage couples will have conversations about this topic in order to not stumble the other.

How is your clothing? Could it potentially stumble others?

If we are going to avoid sexual temptation, we must not only protect our eyes but also others’.

Application Question: In what ways have you noticed the trend in clothing to be tighter, shorter, and more revealing? How can Christians wisely avoid these trends?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Mind

But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:28

Interpretation Question: What does “heart” refer to in Matthew 5:28?

When Christ referred to lusting in one’s “heart,” it refers to the mind, will, and emotions. But it probably primarily focuses on one’s mind. Many husbands would never commit the act of adultery because of shame or fear of being caught. However, they are willing to commit the act of adultery in their minds. It is not that having a “bad thought” is a sin. It is almost impossible to fully control passing thoughts. The media, the music, others’ conversations, etc., affect what passes through our minds. However, we can control what we continually think on. We can control what our minds rest on and that is why Christ calls these lustful thoughts adultery.

The imagination is a tremendous gift from God. With our imaginations, we can dream big dreams—dreams that lead to helping others and honoring God. However, our imaginations can also lead to great evil—murder, theft, adultery, and other things. Therefore, we must control our imaginations and use them for good. In order to do this, we must guard our minds.

Application Question: How can we guard our minds?

1. In order to guard our minds, we must recognize ungodly thoughts by testing them against God’s Word, and then rejecting them.

David said this in Psalm 19:7: “The law of the Lord is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the Lord are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.”

The Hebrew word for “inexperienced” or “simple” has the meaning of “open-minded.”9 The ancient Jews used this word to describe “someone whose mind was like an open door: everything went in and everything went out.”10 This person is gullible and will believe anything. His mind is open even to thoughts and images that should be rejected. However, David says that by filling the mind with God’s Word, one becomes wise to discern what is not of God (cf. Heb 5:14). Wisdom in Scripture primarily refers to knowledge of God and obedience to him (cf. Prov 9:10). That is why Scripture describes the “fool” as one who says there is no God (Psalm 14:1).

A person who does not know the Word of God will have difficulty testing what is not good and therefore have difficulty protecting himself. His mind will continually be saturated by ungodly thoughts, sexual images, and lusts meant to control and destroy him. He will lack the power and discernment to close the door on sexual thoughts and many times will not only accept them but also cultivate them.

In fact, every time Christ was tempted in the wilderness, he quoted Scripture to combat the temptations. We must do the same to combat sexual temptation. We should memorize Scriptures like:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV)

Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul,

1 Peter 2:11

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:2-8 (ESV)

If we are going to protect our mind, we must recognize what is not godly. When watching TV shows, listening to music, or engaging in risqué conversations that cultivate and stir lust, the simple accepts what pollutes his soul, while the wise recognizes and rejects what would dishonor God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19).

2. In order to guard our minds, we must saturate ourselves with God’s Word and other things that represent its truths.

Similar to the last point, Philippians 4:8-9 says,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

The more we saturate our minds with what’s true, the less room we have for lies. We should meditate on God’s Word in the morning and at night and throughout the day. When we do this, it brings God’s presence and blessings (Ps 1:2-3). We should leave the enemy no room to work within our hearts.

3. In order to guard our minds, we may at times need to command the devil to leave in Jesus name.

Again, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he initially responded to the temptation with quoting Scripture, but ultimately, he commanded the devil to leave. Matthew 4:10-11 describes this: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.”

Similarly, at times you may need to do this. When battles with lust, pornography, and illicit sex are especially difficult, we can be sure that the enemy has set up camp in these areas, and we may need to pray in authority over these demonic strongholds to be broken in the name of Jesus. We may also need to ask others to pray in authority over them (cf. Matt 16:23). James 5:16 says to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed.

Application Question: Why is the mind so important not only in battling lust but all sins? How do you protect your mind? What disciplines are helpful?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Be Violent

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

Interpretation Question: What is Christ referring to when he commands one to tear out his eye and cut off his hand?

When Christ talked about tearing out one’s eye and cutting off one’s hand, he was not being literal. Obviously, if a person plucked out one eye, he could still see, and if he cut off one hand, he could still use the other. These were figures of speech that symbolized war time tactics. In ancient wars, when an army conquered another, they would at times pluck out the eyes and cut off the hands of the conquered so that they would never rise up and fight again and so they would be disgraced (cf. 1 Sam 11:2). This cruel tactic was used on Samson. When the Philistines defeated him, they blinded him with the intent of disabling him from ever harming them again (Judges 16:21).

By using this figure of speech, Christ shares how we must similarly be violent in order to be pure. He shows us how severely we must deal with sexual temptations. If our eye—what we look at—is causing us to lust, we must get rid of it. If our hand—what we do—is causing us to sin, we must cut it out of our life.

The eye and the hand represent things dear to us—things that may seem essential for life. However, even these must not be spared in our efforts to be holy and pure. Is an intimate relationship tempting us? It must be severed. Is it our reading or TV watching? Let us discard it. We must be violent in our task of remaining pure and holy.

This violence will be demonstrated in various ways: I had a friend get rid of his TV in order to be holy. Personally, as a seminary student and youth pastor, I wouldn’t own the Internet at home because I wanted to protect myself from temptation. I would only use it at work or school. I even had to end dating relationships that went too far physically to protect the person and myself, but most importantly, to honor God.

With this said, we can understand why many cannot remain pure. The reason is simple. They just don’t hate their sin enough. Purity is not a big enough priority to get rid of things that are dear to them. They love their eye and their hand too much. Friendships, TV shows, a dating relationship, the convenience of the Internet, etc., are too much to part with in their quest to be holy.

Are you willing to be violent in order to be holy?

Application Question: What are common things that hinder people’s ability to stay pure? Why are these things so hard to cut out of people’s lives? What things have you had to cut out of your life to remain pure in mind and body? Are there any things God is calling you to get rid of currently in order to remain pure?

To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Fear God’s Judgment

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

Interpretation Question: What does Christ mean by being thrown into hell for sexual immorality?

Being thrown into hell for sexual immorality seems confusing. How can Christ talk to his disciples (Christians) about being thrown into hell for cultivating lustful thoughts? Christ died for our sins, and we’re called to accept his sacrifice in order to be saved. When we do this, we are forgiven of our sins. If this is true, why would we go to hell for sexual immorality?

Does this mean that a believer can lose his salvation? That doesn’t seem to be the case, as taught by other Scriptures (cf. John 6:38-39, 10:27-30, Romans 8:28-30). However, Scripture constantly declares that many professing believers aren’t truly saved. Christ told the professing believers in Matthew 7:21-23 to depart from him as they were lawbreakers. Their lifestyle of sin proved that they had never been saved. He said to them “I never knew you.” Since this is written in the same context (the Sermon on the Mount), that is probably the best way to interpret the judgment of hell.

Those who profess Christ but live in continuous unrepentant sexual sin are probably not genuinely saved and therefore will be judged in hell. In fact, their judgment will be more severe, as they knew the right way, but still refused to obey God. Luke 12:46-48 describes Christ’s judgment on unfaithful servants. It says,

Then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unfaithful. That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating.

This is the consistent witness of Scripture—our lives prove the reality of our faith, whether it is genuine or false. First Corinthians 6:9-10 says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is important for us to think on since “our generation treats sin lightly. Sin in our society is better thought of as aberration, or as illness. It is to be treated, not condemned and repented of; and it must not be suppressed for fear of psychological damage.”11 However, Christ taught that sin is deserving of hell. Our only hope is to turn to Christ who will save us. He bore God’s wrath for us; however, we must not only believe in his life, death, and resurrection, but also repent of our sins and follow him.

With that said, not only should we fear eternal judgment, but also earthly judgment. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” In 1 Corinthians 11:30, people were depressed, sick, and asleep, meaning they had died, because they had abused the Lord’s Supper. When we live in unrepentant sin, God will discipline us (cf. 1 Cor 11:32).

If we are going to avoid sexual temptation, we must fear God’s judgment. Proverbs 9:10 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—it’s the beginning of living a wise life.

Do you fear God’s judgment?

Application Question: Why is it so common for Christians to not fear God? Do you fear the Lord’s discipline? If so, why, and how does this fear affect you? How can we grow in the fear of the Lord?

Conclusion

How can we avoid sexual temptation and all its dangers?

  1. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Eyes
  2. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard the Eyes of Others
  3. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Guard Our Mind
  4. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Be Violent
  5. To Avoid Sexual Temptation, We Must Fear God’s Judgment

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Accessed 8/25/2015 from http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-stats-on-internet-pornography-infographic

2 Accessed 5/26/17, from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/divorce-rates-double-when-people-start-watching-porn

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 302). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Accessed 11/14/2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201208/overexposed-and-under-prepared-the-effects-early-exposure-sexual-content

5 Accessed 11/14/2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201208/overexposed-and-under-prepared-the-effects-early-exposure-sexual-content

6 Accessed 8/28/2015 from http://www.woar.org/resources/sexual-assault-statistics.php

7 Accessed 8/28/2015 from https://rainn.org/statistics

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 303). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Accessed 8/25/ 2015 from http://biblehub.com/topical/s/simple.htm

10 Wiegel, Robert, “How Does God’s Word Change Us.” Sermon accessed 8/25/2015 from https://sermons.logos.com/submissions/49039-19-Psalm-019-7-08-How-Does-Gods-Word-Change-Us#content=/submissions/49039

11 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 47). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

14. How to Protect Our Marriages (Matthew 5:31-32)

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“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32 (NET)

How can we protect our marriages?

In the previous passage, Matthew 5:27-28, Christ corrected the Pharisees’ view on adultery saying that if one lusted in his heart, he had already committed adultery. Here in Matthew 5:31-32, he corrects their permissive view of divorce. Essentially, the Pharisees legalized adultery by allowing themselves and others to simply get a divorce and remarry the person they desired. Divorces were very common in ancient Israel and in the ancient world in general. “The first-century [Roman] poet Martial speaks of women who have been ten times divorced.”1 Over 400 years earlier, in the book of Malachi, God rebuked the Israelites over this very issue. He said:

Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

Malachi 2:13-16 (NIV)

The people in Israel were wondering why God rejected their worship. He told them that it was because of the prevalence of divorce in their culture. He describes divorce as bringing “violence” in the home (v. 16). He also implies that divorce hurts the children by making them rebellious. In the middle of this passage, he says, “And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth” (v. 15). God desires godly children; therefore, the Israelites should stay faithful to their wives instead of divorcing them.

The reality of children experiencing long term negative effects from divorce is well attested. In 1979, former Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, Armand Nicoli, said this:

If people suffering from severe nonorganic emotional illness have one experience in common, it is the absence of a parent through death, divorce, or some other cause. A parent’s inaccessibility, either physically, emotionally, or both, can profoundly influence a child’s emotional health. (“The Fractured Family: Following It into the Future,” Christianity Today, 25 May 1979)2

He continues, as quoted by John MacArthur:

“The trend toward quick and easy divorce, and the ever-increasing divorce rate, subject more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents.” If the trend is not reversed, he says, “the quality of family life will continue to deteriorate, producing a society with a higher incidence of mental illness than ever before.”3

Certainly, this is what we are seeing today. Children often struggle with great anxieties, depression, and other maladies which come from the absence of one or both parents. Lack of parental affection and guidance can often lead to acts of rebellion like joining gangs, abusing drugs, and other criminal activity. God desires godly offspring, so we must remain faithful to our spouses.

Divorce was not only common in the ancient world, it is common in modern times. Sadly, it has become almost fashionable. I once read a bumper sticker that said, “I am always right; ask my ex-wives.” Around fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. “Some surveys indicate that eight of ten people are either directly or indirectly affected by divorce.”4 The mere mention of the word “divorce” brings painful memories and feelings to many people. It was an epidemic during Christ’s time, and it is an epidemic now. Therefore, Christ speaks right to this issue in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.

How can we protect our marriages, spouses, and children? As we study this text, we will learn principles about protecting our marriages in a culture of divorce.

Big Question: What principles about protecting marriages can be discerned from Matthew 5:31-32?

To Protect Our Marriages, We Must Be Delivered from Permissive Views about Divorce

“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’

Matthew 5:31

Interpretation Question: What exactly were the Pharisees and scribes teaching about divorce?

When Christ said, “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document,’” he is continuing to correct the Pharisees’ misinterpretations of the law. This particularly referred to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which gave instructions about divorcing one’s wife. It says:

If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house. When she has left him she may go and become someone else’s wife. If the second husband rejects her and then divorces her, gives her the papers, and evicts her from his house, or if the second husband who married her dies, her first husband who divorced her is not permitted to remarry her after she has become ritually impure, for that is offensive to the Lord. You must not bring guilt on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

This passage was meant to protect the wife; the husband couldn’t just leave her on a whim and then try to take her back later. Divorce had to be legal. This meant the husband needed to think long and hard about leaving his wife. The law was meant to hinder divorce, not promote it.

The interpretation of this passage became a matter of contention among the Jews. It all centered around the phrase “something offensive.” If a husband found “something offensive” in his wife, he could give her a divorce document. What does “something offensive” mean? The phrase can be translated “some matter of nakedness”; however, it doesn’t always refer to something sexual (Gen 2:25, 3:7, 10). It could simply refer to “some shameful thing.”5 In the first century, there were two schools of thought on this. The conservative school, led by Rabbi Shammai, believed it referred to something sexual, but short of adultery. It couldn’t refer to adultery since adultery required capital punishment in the Old Testament (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). Rabbi Hillel taught the liberal view that it could refer to anything dissatisfying to the husband, including burning his breakfast.6 Rabbi Akiba, who also came from the liberal school of thought, taught that a husband could even divorce his wife if he found someone prettier.7

During this time frame, the predominant view held was the liberal one—that a man could divorce his wife essentially for any reason.8 The only thing needed was an official divorce certificate. It was all about one’s personal decision and the paper, as if a paper could truly dissolve a marriage. It was this misinterpretation of the law that Christ was correcting.

Sadly, this is also the predominant view in the present world and often in the church. Marriage is all about happiness and as soon as one loses happiness, he or she should consider divorce. When a struggling couple gets marital counseling from friends, family, and sometimes the church, they ask the magic question, “What will make you happy?” If it’s being separated from your spouse, then do it. “Life is too short!” they say. However, that wasn’t Christ’s view, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

Marriage is not about our happiness alone; it is more about our holiness and building God’s kingdom. God gave Adam a wife, in part, because it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He needed a helper (Gen 2:18). But the other reason God gave Adam a wife was for them to oversee God’s kingdom together (Gen 1:28). God ordained marriage, and it is chiefly about serving God and building his kingdom.

This view is expanded in the New Testament as marriage is described as a spiritual gift meant to build up the body of Christ and to advance his kingdom. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:7:

Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me--a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others. (The Message)

Here Paul taught that marriage is a spiritual gift, even as singleness is. And since all gifts are meant to build up God’s body and his kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), a godly marriage is a powerful weapon for God’s kingdom. The fact that marriages are meant to build God’s kingdom and give God glory makes them a constant target of the evil one (cf. 1 Cor 7:3-5). If Satan can pervert marriages or destroy them, he can hinder the advance of God’s kingdom and diminish the glory God should receive.

Again, in order to protect our marriage, we must rid ourselves of false views about marriage. From God’s perspective, a person’s choice and a piece of paper alone can’t end a marriage union. God ordained marriage for his glory, and he also ordained what ends a marriage.

Well, what is a proper perspective on marriage and divorce?

Application Question: In what ways have you seen a permissive view of divorce in our culture? What are its negative effects on couples, children, friends, and society in general? How have you been affected by divorce?

To Protect Our Marriages, We Must Understand God’s Original Plan for Marriage

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32

Implied in Christ’s limited view on what can actually sever a marriage covenant is the fact that divorce mars God’s original plan for marriage. He declares that unbiblical divorce leads to the remarried partner committing adultery. This means that though the State may recognize some marriages as being dissolved through divorce, God doesn’t. God’s intent was for the marriage union to last. In Matthew 19:3-6, Christ makes this clear when speaking to the Pharisees about divorce:

Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

In marriage, a couple separates from their family and becomes one flesh—they become a separate unit or entity. In fact, marriages are meant to model the unity in the God-head. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” Man and woman were both made in the image of God, but this image was especially seen in their marriage union. In the same way that the God-head is a plural which is one—the Trinity—the marriage union is a plural which is one—two becoming one flesh (Gen 2:24). In fact, even the functionality of the God-head is meant to be seen in the union. First Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Though there is equality in the God-head, there is also authority and submission. In marriage, this is modeled; the wife submits to her husband in the same way that Christ submits to God. The husband resembles God’s authority, and the wife resembles Christ’s submission. The husband and wife are co-equal but with different functions. Finally, the marriage relationship models the God-head not only in its unity and function, but also its permanence. What God joins, let no one separate. This union is meant to demonstrate something of the God-head’s permanence which is Christ’s focus in Matthew 19:3-6.

Therefore, when marriages are in discord and dysfunction, they mar the image of God—pushing people, especially the children, away from God. To protect our marriages, we must understand God’s original plan for them. They are meant to model the God-head—in unity, function, and permanence. Without a proper view of something, it will always be abused.

Another comment on the lasting unity of marriage is necessary. First Corinthians 7:3-5 says,

A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights, and likewise a wife to her husband. It is not the wife who has the rights to her own body, but the husband. In the same way, it is not the husband who has the rights to his own body, but the wife. Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

In talking about the importance of the sexual union where a married couple becomes one flesh (cf. 1 Cor 6:16), Paul tells couples to not deprive each other, except for spiritual reasons and a specified time, in order to protect themselves from Satan. The implication of this is that couples need to live together and develop intimacy as a protection for their union. They should not be separated for long periods of time because it opens the door for the enemy. It might be thought that this doesn’t need to be said, but in many cultures, husbands and wives are often more focused on career and comfort than the health of their marriage. They will separate for long periods of time—couples living in different states and even continents. Others live together but really never spend quality time together because of work and other commitments. They often go to different churches, work different shifts, enjoy different hobbies, and therefore are never physically together. Again, this opens the door for Satan to try to destroy what God has joined for his glory. This type of danger should be avoided at all cost. Sadly, many couples live like they’re functionally divorced, as they no longer live together or spend significant time together at all—opening the door for a plethora of attacks from Satan to sever the marriage.

Again, if we don’t know the purpose of something, we will abuse it. What God has put together, let no one put asunder. We should strive to protect the unity that God has given in marriage. Those who neglect this unity and intimacy commonly open the door for Satan to destroy it permanently.

Implied in Christ’s statements about unbiblical divorce is the importance of knowing God’s original plan for the marriage union—in brief, its unity models the God-head and was meant to last.

Application Question: Why is it so important for couples to know God’s plan for marriage? What are some other aspects of God’s plan for marriage that should direct and guide it? In what ways is it becoming common for married couples to not live together or spend significant time together because of career or other reasons? What makes this dangerous?

To Protect Our Marriages, We Must Understand What Breaks the Marriage Covenant

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:32

Interpretation Question: What does Christ mean by the exception clause of sexual immorality?

Next, Christ describes what breaks the marriage covenant. There is a lot of controversy over the exception clause of sexual immorality. This word “immorality” refers to any kind of illicit sex including fornication, adultery, bestiality, incest, etc.9 When used in reference to the marriage union, it refers specifically to adultery. Christ taught that any divorce not caused by adultery, ultimately leads the woman into adultery. This means that she will most likely remarry, and therefore be in a continual state of adultery. Adultery breaks the marriage covenant. When this happens, the innocent party may seek a divorce and remarriage—though it’s not the ideal; however, the guilty party should seek reconciliation or remain single.

This is also true in cases where divorce is probably prudent for a husband or a wife, though there is no infidelity. Even when one divorces a spouse who is physically/verbally abusive or addicted to alcohol and gambling, he or she should remain single or be reconciled. The certificate of divorce alone does not break the marriage covenant before God. First Corinthians 7:10-11 makes this clear. It says:

To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.

Sometimes “divorce” is translated “separate.” However, the NET translates it “divorce” correctly, as Christ used the same word in the context of divorce in Matthew 19:6. He said, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Therefore, when Christ taught that only sexual immorality broke the marriage covenant, he agreed with the conservative train of thought on Deuteronomy 24:1-4. However, because he referred specifically to adultery, as an aspect of sexual immorality, he went even farther than the OT law did. Here Christ is not only correcting the common Jewish misinterpretations of the law (that only a certificate was needed and that it could be done for any reason) but also establishing the radical righteousness of his kingdom (cf. Mk 7:17-19). Again, the OT required that an adulterer be put to death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). However, under the New Covenant, death is not required.

The fact that Christ changes this requirement is clearly seen in John 8:1-11. In that passage, the Pharisees bring a woman accused of adultery to Christ and say, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?” (v. 4-5). Christ replies, “Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Each of the accusers, feeling convicted, left one by one. Then, Christ pardons her and says, “do not sin any more” (v. 11). Christ adds mercy to the OT requirement. He doesn’t require the death of an adulterer, but he does require the adulterer to repent.

If we are going to protect our marriages, we must understand what severs them. When a couple gets married, they become one flesh (Gen 2:24). According to Scripture, it is a physical union; therefore, only something physical can break it. There are two things that break the marriage union: The first one is death. When one mate dies, the living mate is free to marry another. Romans 7:2-3 says:

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of the marriage. So then, if she is joined to another man while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she is joined to another man, she is not an adulteress.

Secondly, as Christ teaches here in Matthew 5:32, adultery also breaks the marriage covenant. In that case, the innocent party could choose to leave that relationship and marry another, while the guilty party should seek reconciliation or remain single.

However, with that said, Scripture indicates that it is God’s desire for the innocent party to forgive the offender and to also seek reconciliation. This is clearly displayed in God’s call on Hosea’s life. God told the prophet Hosea to marry a woman who would eventually become a prostitute and cheat on him. God was going to use Hosea’s marriage to display his commitment and love for Israel, who had been unfaithful to him through worshipping false gods. Hosea 3:1 says:

The Lord said to me, “Go, show love to your wife again, even though she loves another man and continually commits adultery. Likewise, the Lord loves the Israelites although they turn to other gods and love to offer raisin cakes to idols.”

After Hosea’s wife had left him and cheated on him, he sought to restore their relationship in obedience to God. Marriages are always meant to display God’s glory, even when unfaithfulness is involved. This seems to be God’s ideal when adultery occurs. The innocent party, instead of standing on his or her rights for divorce, should humbly pray and persevere in seeking reconciliation. If the guilty spouse will not reconcile, then the innocent spouse may choose to divorce and remarry.

Interpretation Question: Are there any other exceptions which break the marriage covenant and therefore allow for remarriage?

There is no universal agreement on this:

1. Some believe that when a believer is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever leaves, the believer is free to remarry.

In 1 Corinthians 7:12 and 15, Paul says:

To the rest I say—I, not the Lord—if a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is happy to live with him, he should not divorce her… But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace.

Those who believe this would say the phrase “not bound” means that the person is “not bound in marriage.” The marriage is broken, and therefore, the believer is free to remarry.10 Those who reject this view argue that it doesn’t fit the context. “Not bound” probably refers to not being bound to continually seek reconciliation if an unbeliever leaves.11 This fits with the context of Paul’s command in the previous verse. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, he says,

To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.

In addition, this exception would not only apply to the case where two unbelievers are married and one gets saved. It would also apply when a believer marries an unbeliever in disobedience to Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 7:39). This would seem to reward a disobedient believer. With that said, if an unbeliever leaves, most likely, he or she will remarry which then breaks the covenant any way.

2. Some believe that when a person divorces before coming to Christ, and later is saved, they are then free to remarry.

If the previous view is correct (that a believer is free to remarry after the desertion of an unbeliever), then this second view seems to be a logical conclusion.12 Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!”

3. Some believe that there are no exceptions which allow remarriage after divorce.

Those who believe this would say that the word Christ used for “immorality” refers only to fornication. The word “porneia,” from which we get the English word pornography, originally referred only to pre-marital sex. Christ did not use the typical word for adultery, which would refer to extra-marital sex. Therefore, they believe this referred to the betrothal stage in Israel. If a person cheats during this stage, then, and only then, is the other person free to remarry. For instance, Joseph and Mary were betrothed—which was a legal engagement in those days. In the betrothal stage, the couple had not yet consummated and were waiting for the time of marriage. Like marriage, the betrothal stage required a certificate of divorce when ending the union. In addition, if a person cheated on his or her fiancée during this stage, the consequence was capital punishment (Deut 22:23-24). Therefore, those who take this view believe that there are currently no valid divorces before God, which allow for remarriage. Christ’s provision only applied to the betrothal stage, which isn’t practiced in most cultures today. To remarry after divorce always leads to adultery.

However, there are some weaknesses to this view: First, the word “porneia” eventually was used to not only describe fornication but all types of illicit sex, including adultery.13 Second, in ancient Israel, betrothal was considered the same as marriage. While Joseph was engaged to Mary, he was called her husband. Matthew 1:19 says, “Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately.” Deuteronomy 22:23-24 (ESV) also uses the title “wife” during the betrothal stage. Plus, the fact that God required the same punishment for sexual immorality both during the betrothal period and the marriage union (Deut 22:23-24, Lev 20:10), proves that God viewed the betrothal stage the same as a consummated marriage. Therefore, the exception for sexual immorality should not be limited to the betrothal stage. In the OT, immorality in either state broke the marriage covenant, as the offender was stoned and the innocent party was free to remarry.

Application Question: Why are God’s requirements for marriage so strict?

The regulations for marriage are strict in order to discourage divorce. In a society with no regulations and no fault in regards to divorce, it has become rampant and an attractive option in a difficult marriage. Scripture teaches marriage is a covenant which should reflect God’s covenant with us. Even when we fail him and turn our backs on him, he remains faithful to us because of his covenant. When couples get married, they must remember the fact that it is a life-long covenant. This should also encourage singles to be more discerning in who they marry.

Application Question: How should the church respond to those considering a divorce?

We must walk with them and pray with them. We must help them understand what Scripture teaches about divorce. God hates it (Mal 2:16, NASB). And as a general principle, it is typically God’s purpose for us to persevere in trials, as they test and develop our faith. Also, it is while persevering in doing good that God produces a harvest if we don’t faint (Gal 6:9). Most times it is God’s will for us to faithfully persevere in trials, including a difficult marriage, as it will change us and eventually them.

With that said, we must share that there are times divorce should be considered. God gave Israel a certificate of divorce (Jer 3:8). Therefore, not all divorce is wrong or sin. Christ taught that there are valid divorces in the case of adultery. Also, there may be times when divorce is wise if remaining married leads to a greater evil—such as when a spouse and the children are in physical danger. In those cases, they should seek prayer and the counsel of godly saints, including their elders, to discern what is best. If they divorce, they should remain single and continue to pray for the erring spouse. As mentioned, in most cases, the erring spouse will remarry which then breaks the marriage covenant and allows the innocent spouse to remarry.

Application Question: How should the church respond to those who have gotten a divorce?

We should make clear that divorce is not an unforgivable sin. Christ died for every one of our sins, and God’s love and grace are often experienced in even greater ways in our failures. Where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Rom 5:20). As the church, Christ’s body, we must love and comfort those who have suffered through a divorce. We must help them understand that God doesn’t throw anything away. He uses everything for our good and his glory (cf. Rom 8:28, Eph 1:11). Often from our greatest struggles, comes our greatest ministries. Second Corinthians 1:3-4 says,

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Application Question: Which view of divorce and remarriage seems to have the most biblical support to you and why? What is the weakness of the views you reject?

Conclusion

With the advent of sin, marriage has been severely damaged, and sadly, most, in some way or another, have been affected by divorce. How can we protect our marriages?

  1. To Protect Our Marriages, We Must Be Delivered from Permissive Views about Divorce
  2. To Protect Our Marriages, We Must Understand God’s Original Plan for Marriage
  3. To Protect Our Marriages, We Must Understand What Breaks the Marriage Covenant

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Green, M. (2001). The message of Matthew: the kingdom of heaven (p. 95). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 308). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 308). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 113–114). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 70). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 70). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

7 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 114). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 309). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 116–117). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

10 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 119–120). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

11 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1768). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

12 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 120). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

13 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 116–117). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

15. Practicing Radical Truthfulness (Matthew 5:33-37)

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“Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all—not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:33-37 (NET)

How can we practice radical truthfulness in a world of deception?

Essentially, the first sin that happened on the earth was a lie. Satan deceived Adam and Eve, which plunged the world into sin and destruction. From that point, lying became common. In Romans 3:13, Paul described the effects of sin on humanity this way: “Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues.” Sin has affected everybody’s integrity. Children struggle with lying, adults struggle with it, and the aged struggle with it also. Dishonesty is an epidemic from pre-school through graduate school, from the home to the workplace. It is often hard to trust people in our society.

Other than simply sin nature, why do people practice lying?

  • People lie to make themselves look better (a little exaggeration makes a story more exciting).
  • People lie to protect themselves from consequences (often to cover up a failure committed).
  • People lie to gain something they want (like a good grade, a promotion, or tax benefits).

In Matthew 5:33-37, Christ addresses the abuse of oaths and how dishonesty was prevalent in the ancient world. Christ has been correcting common misinterpretations of the OT law; here he corrects the fourth out of six. Essentially, he declares that citizens of his kingdom will be identified by radical honesty.

Psalm 15 teaches something similar, as it describes the ideal worshiper. Consider the characteristics mentioned:

Lord, who may be a guest in your home? Who may live on your holy hill? Whoever lives a blameless life, does what is right, and speaks honestly… He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.

Psalm 15:1-2, 4

When God looks for a worshiper, he finds somebody with integrity: This person speaks the truth from the heart and keeps his promises. Are we those types of worshipers? Are we practicing the righteousness of the kingdom?

In this text, we learn how to practice radical truthfulness in a world of deceit.

Big Question: In Matthew 5:33-37, what principles can be discerned about practicing radical truthfulness?

To Practice Radical Truthfulness, We Must Reject Deceptive Practices

“Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all

Matthew 5:33-34a

Interpretation Question: What did the OT teach about taking oaths?

The Old Testament did not forbid taking oaths; in fact, it encouraged taking them. Deuteronomy 10:20 says, “Revere the Lord your God, serve him, be loyal to him and take oaths only in his name.” In addition, Jeremiah 12:16 encouraged Gentiles to make oaths in God’s name. It says,

But they must make sure you learn to follow the religious practices of my people. Once they taught my people to swear their oaths using the name of the god Baal. But then, they must swear oaths using my name, saying, “As surely as the Lord lives, I swear.” If they do these things, then they will be included among the people I call my own.

God permitted oaths to restrain humanity’s natural tendency to lie. By invoking God’s name, it brought a greater accountability between people. Essentially by invoking God’s name, one asked for God’s judgment in the case of lying. Deuteronomy 23:21 says, “When you make a vow to the Lord your God you must not delay in fulfilling it, for otherwise he will surely hold you accountable as a sinner.”

What was forbidden in the OT was breaking one’s vows and also flippantly making them. Oaths were reserved for the most solemn occasions and were to be kept. Ecclesiastes 5:2 and 4-6 says:

Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth! Therefore, let your words be few…When you make a vow to God, do not delay in paying it. For God takes no pleasure in fools: Pay what you vow! It is better for you not to vow than to vow and not pay it. Do not let your mouth cause you to sin, and do not tell the priest, “It was a mistake!” Why make God angry at you so that he would destroy the work of your hands?”

However, this was exactly what the Jews were doing. They were flippantly taking oaths, breaking them, and deceiving others by their use. In fact, many were doing this in the name of religion. D.A. Carson explains:

In the Jewish code of law called the Mishnah, there is one whole tractate given over to the question of oaths, including detailed consideration of when they’re binding and when they’re not. For example, one rabbi says that if you swear by Jerusalem you are not bound by your vow; but if you swear toward Jerusalem, then you are bound by your vow. The swearing of oaths thus degenerates into terrible rules which let you know when you can get away with lying and deception, and when you can’t. These oaths no longer foster truthfulness, but weaken the cause of truth and promote deceit. Swearing evasively becomes justification for lying.1

Specifically, some Rabbis taught that as long as people didn’t use God’s name in an oath, they were free to break it (cf. Lev 19:12). Therefore, they would swear upon one’s mother, father, Jerusalem, or something else that appeared sacred. It was like a child making a statement with his fingers crossed—meaning that at that moment it was OK to lie.

Sadly, the integrity of people today is no better. In certain circumstances, it is considered perfectly acceptable to lie, steal, cheat, and offer or accept a bribe. Often it is thought strange to not. Illegal downloading is done and accepted by almost all. Cheating on taxes is normative; people say to themselves, “It is my money! The government shouldn’t be taking it anyway!” Lack of integrity in marriage is also becoming common. McCall Magazine published this story, as shared by Kent Hughes:

A young wife was at lunch with eleven of her friends, who had been meeting together regularly to study French since their children had been in nursery school. As they conversed, one of the women, the group’s leader, asked, “How many of you have been faithful throughout your marriage?” Only one woman at the table raised her hand. That evening when the young wife told her husband about the conversation, she revealed that she was not the one who had raised her hand. He was shocked and devastated. “But I have been faithful,” she added. “Then why didn’t you raise your hand?” She replied, “I was ashamed.”2

This was the type of dishonest culture that Christ spoke to. Unfortunately, it was the religious people propagating it. If we are going to maintain radical truthfulness, we must reject all forms of deceptive practices. We must reject dishonesty in academia, corporations, romantic relationships, and the home. What happens when we tolerate dishonesty is that our integrity begins to slowly erode: what we previously despised becomes accepted and eventually praised.

Interpretation Question: Was Christ forbidding all oath taking? What about oaths given in courts?

When Christ said, “But I say to you, do not take oaths at all” (v. 34), some have taken it as an absolute prohibition such as the Reformation Anabaptists and the Quakers. George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, was sentenced to prison for refusing to swear on a Bible. He said this to the court:

You have given me a book here to kiss and to swear on, and this book which ye have given me to kiss says, “Kiss the Son,” and the Son says in this book, “Swear not at all.” I say as the book says, and yet ye imprison me; how chance ye do not imprison the book for saying so?” 3

Because of Fox’s stand, people in Great Britain and the U.S. no longer have to swear on the Bible in court. They can simply affirm to tell the truth.4

However, Christ was not forbidding all oath taking. Again, the OT encouraged taking oaths. In Genesis 22:16-18, God swore that he would fulfill his call on Abraham’s life and offspring. In fact, when Jesus was on trial and put to an oath by the high priest to say if he was the Son of God, Jesus affirmed. Matthew 26:63-64 says:

…The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

In addition, Paul took oaths before God several times in his epistles: In 2 Corinthians 1:23, he says, “Now I appeal to God as my witness, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth.” In Galatians 1:20, he says, “I assure you that, before God, I am not lying about what I am writing to you!”

Therefore, it doesn’t seem that Christ is giving an absolute prohibition of oaths. He is condemning frivolous oaths and evasive oaths, which only increased dishonesty instead of decreasing it.

As a summary, what deductions about oaths should we take from this? Kent Hughes summarized it this way:

Oath-taking is permitted, but it is not encouraged. In civil life oath-taking, as in the courtroom, is permitted, and when one does so, he does not sin against Christ’s teaching. Also, on rare occasions it may be necessary, as it was for Paul. However, oaths are not to be a normal part of our everyday conversation. In normal relations oaths should never fall from our lips. Kingdom men and women do not need such devices. Their commitment to truthfulness should be evident to all.5

If we are going to practice the radical truthfulness of the kingdom, we must reject all dishonest practices: lying, stealing, cheating, and the abuse of oaths.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen and experienced a culture of dishonesty at school, at work, in the government, and even at home? Why is it hard to maintain a moral compass in this dishonest culture?

To Practice Radical Truthfulness, We Must Recognize God as Sovereign

But I say to you, do not take oaths at all—not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black.

Matthew 5:34-36

Again, the Jews tried to evade God’s judgment and deceive others by removing his name from oaths. They thought if they substituted heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or their head for God’s name, then they were free from God’s judgment. However, Christ reminded them that even though they did not mention God’s name, God would still hold them accountable, since he is the sovereign judge over all. If they swore by their mother or father, God was their Creator. If they swore by their life, God was over that as well.

This is also important for us to realize. We tend to fall into the same type of dualism. If we are in church, then that is a holy place where we shouldn’t lie or curse. However, if we are at a meal with friends, our conversations are no longer as refined. That was the type of thought that led the Rabbis into hypocrisy. To them certain places or things invoked God’s judgment and other places or things did not. Consider Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:16-22:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple is bound by nothing. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.’ Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing. But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath.’ You are blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it.

We must therefore recognize God as sovereign over all, if we are going to practice radical righteousness. He is everywhere and hears everything, and we will be judged not only for breaking our oaths, but also for every word. Matthew 12:36-37 says, “I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Revelation 22:15 describes those who are shut out of the kingdom of heaven as “everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Our words will be judged; they will prove whether we are truly born again or not.

If we are going to practice radical truthfulness, we must recognize God as sovereign. He is everywhere, he hears all, and will judge all. Therefore, truth is important in every situation, not just some situations. Hebrews 4:13 says, “And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”

Application Question: What are your thoughts about the fact that God will judge every one of our words? How should that affect our conversations?

To Practice Radical Truthfulness, We Must Guard Ourselves from the Evil One by Only Speaking Truth

Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.

Matthew 5:37

Interpretation Question: What was Christ challenging believers to do when he said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’?

As a general principle, people use oaths in regular conversations because their integrity is in doubt. Christ says that the members of his kingdom should not have to resort to oath taking. We are called to simply say, “Yes” or “No.”

When Christ said, “Let your ‘word,’” he uses “logos,” which can be translated not only as “word” but also as “speech” or “communication.”6 This emphasizes that not only should our oaths be truthful but our regular daily conversations. We should avoid exaggerations which are shared to display ourselves in a more favorable light. We should avoid half-truths which are often given to avoid consequences. Our words at all times must be truthful.

Interpretation Question: What did Christ mean by anything less is from the evil one?

Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). When we practice dishonesty, we not only model the devil but open the door for him to use and speak through us. In the same way, Satan spoke through Peter in order to try to convince Jesus to not go to the cross (Matt 16:23), we are no less vulnerable to the enemy’s tactics. When we accept lies and then begin to speak them, we allow Satan to use our voice box to deceive, discourage, and destroy. We must be aware of this reality.

In Ephesians 6:14, Paul said that we protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks by putting on the belt of truth. We must know God’s Word if we are going to stand against the evil one and his deceptions. We must not only know it, but we must constantly speak it.

In Joshua 1, when God commissioned Joshua to lead Israel, God told him to meditate on God’s Word day and night and to never let it depart from his lips (v. 8). Joshua was to continually talk about the Word of God. He was to teach and encourage others with it. If he did this, he would be successful in fulfilling God’s call. No doubt, this promise is for us as well. We must know God’s Truth and speak it to ourselves and others. By doing this, we leave no room for the devil in our lives. If we are going to live the radical integrity of the kingdom, we must always speak the truth, including God’s Word.

Application Question: As with Peter speaking to Christ, in what ways does the enemy try to speak through you, whether to yourself or others (Matt 16:22-23)? How can we recognize his lies and have victory over them?

Conclusion

How can we practice radical truthfulness in a world of deception?

  1. To Practice Radical Truthfulness, We Must Reject Deceptive Practices
  2. To Practice Radical Truthfulness, We Must Recognize God as Sovereign
  3. To Practice Radical Truthfulness, We Must Guard Ourselves from the Evil One by Only Speaking Truth

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.


1 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 50). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 113). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 127). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 127). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 127–128). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

16. The Kingdom Response To Personal Injustice (Matthew 5:38-42)

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42 (NET)

How should we respond towards personal injustice—when people hurt and offend us? Scripture teaches that the Christian response must be very different from the world’s.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches about the righteousness of kingdom citizens. He said in Matthew 5:20 that if our righteousness doesn’t surpass the righteousness of the teachers of the law and Pharisees, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Then Christ describes six misinterpretations of the Old Testament law by Israel’s teachers. He considered murder (Matt 5:21-26), adultery (Matt 5:27-30), divorce (Matt 5:31-32), and oaths (Matt 5:33-37). In Matthew 5:38-42, he considers the fifth misinterpretation of the law—“eye for eye” and next he’ll consider “hate your enemy” (Matt 5:43-48). The Pharisees’ teachings on all these subjects were incorrect. On each of these, they lessened the standard of God’s law. They did the same with the OT’s teaching on “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”

“Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was a fundamental principle of OT civil law. It taught that the punishment must fit the crime. This principle was the basis of many ancient laws including the Code of Hammurabi, which was written over 100 years before the Mosaic law1, and it is the basis of the legal system today. In Latin, it is called lex talionis; it is the same idea found in the expressions “tit for tat” or “quid pro quo.”2 As with all the OT law, it represented God’s righteousness and was a good law. It was especially good because it allowed for fairness in the administration of justice and it restrained man’s sinful nature. Typically, when somebody hurts us, we want more than an eye for eye. The selfish anger inside of us typically wants a face or a body for an eye. We saw this in the story of the rape of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, by a Hivite (Gen 34). When the brothers’ heard about this, instead of taking the culprit to court and seeking an equal punishment, they killed all the men from the culprit’s village. They took much more than an eye for an eye. Blood feuds like this were common in the ancient world. Therefore, God’s law restrained sin.

Interpretation Question: How were the Jewish teachers of the law abusing the OT law, “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth”?

“Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” was never to be judged and implemented by individuals. It was always meant to go before the court system. Exodus 21:22-25 says:

“If men fight and hit a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, but there is no serious injury, he will surely be punished in accordance with what the woman’s husband demands of him, and he will pay what the court decides. But if there is serious injury, then you will give a life for a life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

The punishment for hurting this pregnant woman and potentially her baby had to be agreed upon by not only the husband but the court. The court would approve a punishment equal to the crime—eye for eye, tooth for tooth. It is worth noting that if the baby had died, the punishment would have been life for life. God reckoned the baby as an adult life, which disagrees with abortion laws in most countries.

The Pharisees applied the law of “eye for eye” not only to courts, but to personal relationships, which only justified the natural sin within the human heart. However, we as believers are not to be identified by obeying our sinful nature but our new nature. We are to live as citizens of heaven on earth. How then should we respond when others hurt us? Essentially, it could be summarized by simply saying, we must give up our rights. In the following verses, Christ describes four ways that we should give up our rights when wrongs are committed against us. These four examples probably have specific applications to being persecuted for our faith. In Matthew 5:10, Christ said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” If we model the characteristics of the kingdom as seen in the Sermon on the Mount, we will be hated and persecuted by this world. And our response, on a personal level, should not be fighting for our rights—seeking an eye for an eye—but sacrificing our rights, even as Christ did on this earth when he went to the cross.

The teachings in this passage are some of the most abused verses in Scripture. Some have used these verses to support pacifism—the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable. This has led some believers to not join the military, serve as policemen, work in government, or even practice self-defense. This passage has even been used to promote lawlessness and anarchy. Are these applications correct? As we study this passage, we’ll consider four ways believers should respond to personal injustice.

Big Question: What rights must Christians be willing to give up as they serve Christ and respond towards wrongs committed against them?

Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Retaliation

But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.

Matthew 5:39

Interpretation Question: Does “do not resist the evildoer” mean that we should never resist evil or an evil person?

Some have said that “do not resist the evildoer” means that Christians should not resist evil at all in society—again not allowing a Christian to serve in the military or the justice system. However, when this verse is compared with other Scriptures, we know that this is a wrong interpretation. Even in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ is confronting the Pharisees’ wrong teachings on the law. He is resisting evil. He did the same in John 2, when he went into the temple, flipped tables, and ran the people out who were cheating the worshipers. Most of the epistles are Christ’s apostles resisting evil and evil people, as they wrote to correct false teaching and false teachers. In fact, Christ commanded believers to resist evil among fellow church members. In Matthew 18:15-17, he said when someone is in sin, we should confront him first one on one, then with two or three others, and if he still won’t repent, it should be brought before the church. And if the person still clings to his sin, he should be removed from the congregation. To obey Christ, Christians must, in fact, resist evil! It’s part of their call as salt and light in the world. They are to expose and remove darkness.

To further support the need to resist evil people, Romans 13:1-7 says that God instituted government for that very purpose—to punish wrongdoers and reward those who do good. Romans 13:4 says: “For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.”

Though Matthew 5:39 is often used to promote pacifism—the belief that all violence, including war, is unjustifiable—that interpretation contradicts the rest of Scripture. Throughout the OT, God called nations and court systems to punish others for their sins. Even Israel was sent to Canaan for a holy war to bring God’s judgment on a wicked people. And the NT teaches that governments and nations still play that role today. Because of this, there is something that theologians call a “just war.” For example, when a nation is committing genocide by wiping out people groups or minorities, it is just to stop them, even if violence is necessary. It is just and merciful. Therefore, we should commonly pray for our leaders, as they seek to bring peace nationally and throughout the world (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and we should consider whether God is calling us to serve among them. God is still calling Josephs, Joshuas, Moseses, Davids, and Daniels to serve in government—to protect people, bless them, and at times, to wisely execute justice.

Therefore, Christ is not commanding believers to never resist an evil person, and he certainly is not forbidding the government and court system from executing justice. This is made clear by the next phrase: “To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well.” Christ was forbidding personal retaliation, not civil justice. He was dealing with how we respond when evil is committed against us personally. In that case, we should give up our right to retaliate and instead respond gently. His teaching doesn’t mean we should never call the police or seek justice from an authority. (We’ll talk more about this later). It means it is not our right to exact justice.

Interpretation Question: Does Christ’s command to turn the other cheek mean that we should never defend ourselves if somebody tries to physically assault us?

No, that doesn’t seem to be the cultural meaning of his statement. When Christ refers to being slapped on the right cheek, he is not referring to being physically attacked. To be slapped on the right cheek, one would need to use the back of one’s right hand (as most people are right handed), which was culturally considered a deep insult. According to rabbinical law, being slapped with the back of the hand was twice more offensive than being slapped with an open hand.3 It was like being called a nothing and, in context, it probably referred to being called a heretic.4 Again, Christ is probably referring to being persecuted for the faith, as demonstrated by Matthew 5:10-12. Following Christ often led to persecution. A Christian might have been slapped and shamed by family, friends, or even a rabbi for turning from Judaism to Christianity.

Christ taught that his followers should not respond with evil for evil. We should not slap back or try to hurt people when they insult us. Instead, we should willingly take the suffering and give up our right to retaliation.

Certainly, we saw this in the life of Christ. When others were being cheated in the temple, he was like a lion. He fought for their rights and the honor of God. He resisted and exposed evil, as we are also called to do (Eph 5:11). But when the Pharisees raised up deceivers to lie about Christ at his trials, before he went to the cross, he was like a lamb. He said nothing (cf. Mk 14:55-61) and, instead, allowed God to defend him. Christians must do both—fight for others’ rights and, at the same time, in gentleness, be willing to give up our right to retaliation.

First Peter 2:20-23 says:

For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.

When persecuted for our faith or for other reasons, believers must willingly endure suffering. Now, this does not forbid us from going to the police or the court, but it forbids us from taking judgment into our own hands. God has instituted the government, the law system, and authorities in general for those reasons. It is not our place to take vengeance. We see this with Paul when the Jews were trying to kill him while he was imprisoned in Caesarea. In response to the injustice, he appealed to Caesar—the highest court in the land (Acts 25). He used the justice system. We have that right as well.

How do you respond when others slap or insult you? Christ said kingdom citizens will give up their rights to personal retaliation. This supernatural character marks us as kingdom citizens in this world. We willingly suffer personal assaults in order to love God and others more than ourselves.

Application Question: Why is it so hard to give up our right to personal retaliation? Should believers always turn the other cheek when insulted? If not, why not, and how should we discern when to pursue justice? If possible, describe a time when you decided to turn the other cheek and the results.

Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Possessions

And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also.

Matthew 5:40

Interpretation Question: What was Christ referring to when talking about being sued for a shirt and offering one’s coat as well?

The second right believers must be willing to relinquish for Christ is that of possessions. When Christ referred to being sued for a shirt, he was referring to a tunic, which was more like an ancient suit. A person would typically own multiple tunics. The coat, however, was very expensive, and people typically only owned one.5 Often, they were used as blankets to keep people warm at night and in the winter.

Would somebody ever sue another for his clothes? In those times, when people could not compensate with money, sometimes they would pay with clothing. In court, people could be sued for the very clothes on their body, especially if they didn’t have other valuables. However, according to the Mosaic law, people couldn’t be sued for their coats. Keeping one’s coat was an inalienable right. It was considered inhumane to take a person’s coat. How would they stay warm at night or in the winter? If it was taken as a pledge, it had to be returned by the evening (cf. Deut 24:12-14). Exodus 22:26-27 says:

If you do take the garment of your neighbor in pledge, you must return it to him by the time the sun goes down, for it is his only covering—it is his garment for his body. What else can he sleep in? And when he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious.

Again, though this applies to being sued over possessions generally, it has specific reference to the persecution of Christians. Early Christians commonly experienced the loss of their property over their beliefs. Hebrews 10:32-35 says,

But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward.

They joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property. Was it theirs? Absolutely. But, as they served Christ, they relinquished their rights to their possessions and didn’t fight over them. And so must we.

Our possessions are to be held with an open hand before the Lord. This will seem very difficult to those who have zealously strived to accumulate things: books, electronics, homes, and cars. However, Scripture teaches that the whole earth is the Lord’s (Ps 24:1). We don’t own anything. We are just stewards of the Lord’s resources. In fact, in Matthew 6:19-21, Christ calls us to not store up riches on the earth but to practice simplicity, since riches have a tendency to steal our hearts. Also, in 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Paul taught that we should learn to be content with food and covering. If we have understood and practiced these principles with our possessions, it will be much easier to relinquish them, if the Lord calls us to, and respond in love to those who persecute us.

We should also note that even though one had a legal right to keep his coat, in this case, he was not to avail himself of that right. In personal relationships, we should never seek vengeance, we should leave it to God or seek justice through the authorities. But at times, it is God’s will for us to not even insist upon our legal rights. First Peter 4:8 says, “love covers a multitude of sins.” In love, many times we should not only forgive but also not insist on justice. In 1 Corinthians 6, the members of the church were suing one another, and Paul sharply rebukes them by saying: “The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (v. 7). Essentially, he says why not love them and Christ more than your personal rights. This is the Christian way, and so we must prayerfully consider this in situations where our legal rights are violated.

Are you willing to let go of your possessions out of devotion to Christ and love for those who seek to harm you? These types of sacrifices are commonly the way God saves our enemies and draws them to repentance.

Application Question: Why is it so hard to give up our rights to our possessions? Why should we be willing to give them up, even when they are unjustly taken?

Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Personal Time

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

Matthew 5:41

The next example Christ shares considers our right to our time. Roman soldiers had legal rights to make a civilian carry their luggage up to one Roman mile, which was slightly less than a mile today. However, they could not make civilians carry the luggage longer than that.6 This is probably what happened with Simon of Cyrene when he was forced to carry Jesus’ cross (Matt 27:32). The Jews hated such impositions. When Christ said this, he separated himself from the zealots and others who wanted to overthrow the government because of such infractions. Though we may not have direct applications to this in our society, there are certainly indirect applications. James Boice said:

To us that means that we are not to be resentful when people call us on the telephone and take up valuable time—just because they do not have anything to do. And we are not to be surly when we are given added work at the office, are saddled with someone else’s work, or are sent out for coffee when we are in the middle of something we think important. We are to do it cheerfully and as unto the Lord.7

How do you respond when someone imposes on your time and energy? Are you gracious? Do you recognize that your time and energy are the Lord’s and he can use them, as he sees fit? Do you trust God’s sovereignty in the interruptions of the day—including disruptions and impositions by those who are rude and disrespectful, like a difficult boss or family member? Our time is not ours. It is the Lord’s, and we must use it even to serve those who hurt and harm us. This is often God’s method of saving the lost and bringing repentance in the lives of the redeemed.

Are you offering your time to the Lord? Are you willing to sacrifice it for the benefit of others, even the rude and unthankful? Sacrifice of time and energy for others, including the unthankful, will mark kingdom citizens in this world. Does it mark you?

Application Question: Why is giving up our time for others so difficult, especially when they are ungrateful? How can we prepare for unplanned interruptions and handle them graciously? Describe a time you willingly sacrificed time and energy for someone who was rude and/or ungrateful and the effects of that sacrifice on them and yourself.

Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Personal Money

Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:42

Finally, we must not only sacrifice our rights to retaliate, to our own possessions, and to our time, we also must give up our rights to our money. Again, this is very difficult to hear, as money is very hard to earn and even harder to keep. We naturally feel that since we earned our money, it is not right for anybody else to have it. We often struggle with the government taking so much of our money in taxes. In our hearts, we think, “I earned this! Why are they taking it!?” With the poor, we think, “Why don’t they work for their own money and stop being lazy!?” But if we are followers of Christ, our money is the Lord’s, and we are to be extremely generous with it.

Christ said to give to the one who asks and to not turn away the one who wants to borrow. Now this, maybe more than the other statements, seems impossible to follow. If we give to everyone who asks, then we’ll have no money. How can this be done? Well, first Christ is not talking about giving to those who do not have legitimate needs or who would use the money in harmful ways like purchasing alcohol. Sometimes giving to others will actually hurt them. There is a need for discernment. In 2 Thessalonians 3, there were people in the church not working to provide for their needs who were waiting on the coming of Christ. In order to do this, they began to depend on the generosity of other church members. However, Paul said if people do not work, they shouldn’t eat (v. 10). The church was called to not support these errant members but to warn and challenge them in love (v. 15). There is a need for discernment—we certainly shouldn’t give money to every request.

With that said, sometimes it is very hard, if not impossible, to discern if the needs are legitimate. Certainly, we must try our best. But when it is impossible, it has been said that it is better “to help a score of fraudulent beggars than to risk turning away one man in real need.”8 There is wisdom in this saying that believers should heed.

In general, our use of money is a tremendous indicator of our spiritual health. It reveals what we love. Do we love ourselves more than God and others? First John 3:17-18 says,

But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth.

John is giving tests of true salvation (according to his statement in 1 John 5:13). One of the tests is whether we are generous to needy believers. If not, do we really love God? Is his love truly abiding in us? The implied answer is no. True salvation will change our relationship with God, others, and even our money. Others will be more important than our money. Christ said that people will know that we are his disciples by the way that we love one another (John 13:35).

Does the way that we use our money and other resources demonstrate that we are true believers? Are we sacrificially loving others with our money?

Now with that said, we are also commanded to care for our family. Paul said if we don’t care for our family, we are worse than an infidel (1 Tim 5:8). We practice our faith by first caring for our families, but we also practice it by loving others sacrificially. Ephesians 4:28 says, “The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.” Believers should work to not only provide for themselves and their family but to help others in need.

In following Christ, are you giving up your rights to your finances? Listen, Christ offers the best retirement plan that anyone can ask for: “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). He taught “give and it shall be given unto you” (Lk 6:38). And, Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 9:6-9:

My point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work. Just as it is written, “He has scattered widely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness remains forever.”

There are many promises given to those who are generous givers: God promises to bless givers with all their needs and with tremendous open doors for good works. As they faithfully give, God will provide their needs and expand their ministries.

Have you given up your rights to your money? Are you using your money to bless those in need, including those who harm you? Romans 12:20-21 says, “Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In order to do this, we must be willing to use our money to bless the unlovable. When we do this generously and joyfully, we look like God, and God will bless us.

Is your money the Lord’s—for him to use to bless others as he wills? Or is your money primarily used for selfish purposes?

Application Question: What makes Jesus’ teaching about giving money to whoever asks so difficult? How can we practice this kind of generosity? What are some probing questions to ask ourselves for discerning when to give and when not to?

General Applications

1. In responding to personal injustice, we must remember that as followers of Christ, we are called to take up our cross (Luke 14:27)—meaning give up our rights.

Christ was just and deserved no punishment, but he gave up his rights and entrusted them to God. In the same way, we must give up our rights as we serve others and at times experience injustice. We must daily take up our crosses as we follow our Lord. Our lives should not be worldly—consumed with our right to retaliation, possessions, time, and money. Our primary duty and right are to sacrificially love God and others, which at times includes bearing the insults and pain caused by others.

In Luke 14:27, Christ said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” The life of the cross is proof that we are disciples, and therefore saved. Have you given up your rights? Are you carrying your cross by dying to your rights?

2. In responding to personal injustice, we must remember that the ability to give up our rights is supernatural—given through the Spirit of God.

As believers, we still have a flesh that wants to fight for our rights—it desires to hold grudges and seek revenge. However, as we live a life of the Spirit, by obeying God and abiding in him, the fruits of the Spirit are born in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, goodness, etc. (Gal 5:22-23). Therefore, we must repent when we walk in the flesh, and we must pray for grace to love those who are unlovable and to give up our right to retaliation. As we draw near Christ through prayer, time in the Word, fellowship, and obedience, he empowers us to live like him. Galatians 5:16 says to walk in the Spirit, and we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

3. In responding to personal injustice, we must remember that love is the primary way we minister to those who hurt us, and God is the one who pursues justice.

Again, Romans 12:17-21 says:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God will bring vengeance; we should bring love. Now certainly, when God places us in positions of authority such as a parent, boss, or government official, we must, as his representatives, bring discipline in those positions. But in that discipline, we must remember mercy and seek to act in a way that is fair and God-honoring.

4. In responding to personal injustice, we must remember that the life of the cross is a rewarded life.

In Matthew 5:5, Christ said, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” Though we don’t fight for our rights now but, instead, choose to sacrifice and serve others, one day everything will be given to us. Though, as Christians, we sacrifice much of what the world pursues and fights for, we will one day be rewarded eternally. It will all be worth it in the end. In eternity, the reward for the meek will be great.

Does your life bear the marks of kingdom citizens—willing to lovingly bear the burden and pain from others—or citizens of this world—consumed with your personal rights and comfort?

Application Question: What other applications did you take from Jesus’ teaching on “eye for eye” and our need to give up our rights in love for God and others?

Conclusion

Consider Kent Hughes inspiring thoughts on this passage:

Jesus changes our lives! We no longer consider it our duty to get even. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is fine for the court, but not for our relation to others—even our enemies. Thanks to Jesus, we have let go of our legalistic obsession with fairness. We are glad that Jesus was not fair with us, for if we were to have gotten what was coming to us, it would not have been good. As Jesus’ followers we give ourselves to the highest welfare of others, even our enemies. We put up with the sins and insults of others for Christ’s sake and theirs. Though hurt many times before, we refuse to withdraw into the shell of self. We do not run from hurt. We appear weak, but we are strong, for only the most powerful can live a life like this. But the power is not ours, but Christ’s. Everything comes from Christ.9

How should Christians respond to personal injustice?

  1. Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Retaliation
  2. Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Possessions
  3. Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Personal Time
  4. Christians Must Willingly Give Up Their Right to Personal Money

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 329–330). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 329–330). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 133). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 133). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 137–138). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

6 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 334–335). Chicago: Moody Press.

7 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 138). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

8 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1222–1223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

9 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 136–137). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Related Topics: Christian Life

17. Radical Love: The Ethic Of Kingdom Citizens (Matthew 5:43-48)

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“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 (NET)

How can we practice the radical love of the kingdom?

In this text, Christ gives believers the highest standard one can aim for—being like God. He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (v. 48). The word “perfect” can also be translated as “mature.” It has to do with an end, an aim, a goal, or a purpose.1 In the context, this goal is to love like God. In fact, Christ says that when we love our enemies, we show ourselves to be children of God—mature children that look like him.

In this part of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ continues teaching how the believers’ righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). He has tackled five misinterpretations of the law where the religious leaders lowered God’s standards: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and eye for an eye. This is the sixth and final one where Christ discusses love for our enemies.

True salvation changes a person’s life, and this is most clearly seen in the radical way a believer loves. There should be a supernatural love in the life of believers, which distinguishes them from the world. In Matthew 5:47, Christ says, “And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?” Christians should be marked by “more”—they should have a radical love.

In this study, we will consider principles about this radical love. As we consider these, we must ask ourselves, “Is the radical love of the kingdom being demonstrated in my life?”

Big Question: What principles about the kingdom’s radical love can be discerned from Matthew 5:34-48?

Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated to All People

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’

Matthew 5:43

Interpretation Question: How did the Jews interpret “love your neighbor” (Lev 19:18)?

Who one’s neighbor was, was a running theological debate among the Jews. When Christ taught that loving God and loving one’s neighbor were the greatest laws, a Jew questioned, “Who is my neighbor?” as though it wasn’t obvious (Lk 10:29). Christ answered by teaching the Parable of the Good Samaritan (v. 30-37). Jews hated Samaritans, so it would have challenged their thought of who a neighbor was. A Jewish man was hurt and, while religious leaders walked by and did nothing to help him, a Samaritan cared for him and gave him the help needed.

At this point in history, the religious leaders taught a very limited view of “love your neighbor.” It referred only to Jews—not to Gentiles, and certainly not to one’s enemy.

Interpretation Question: How did they come to the conclusion that loving their neighbor only referred to fellow Jews?

Leviticus 19, where the Jews were called to love their neighbor (v. 18), begins with “Speak to the whole congregation of the Israelites” (v. 1). Moses wrote this to the Jewish nation, so they argued that loving one’s neighbor was limited by that context. However, even within chapter 19, there are many calls to love Gentiles. Leviticus 19:33-34 says:

“‘When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

This was a choice omission by the religious leaders. Among Jews living in Christ’s day, this belief was very common. The Qumran sect who preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls had a common saying, “Love the brother; hate the outsider.” Essentially, many Jews believed it was their duty to love fellow Israelites and hate outsiders.2 Instead of love, racism and ethnocentrism were exalted.

Sadly, these types of views, though not explicitly taught, are not uncommon among Christians today. It has often been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week. It is the time where people of the same ethnicity and socio-economic status gather to worship God—away from those outside of that community. Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering with those like us; however, there is a problem when others are intentionally excluded and racist and classist views are harbored. It’s not uncommon for a Christian of one race or socio-economic background to not be allowed to date or marry a believer from another race or socio-economic background. The rich and educated are often exalted and the poor and less educated are commonly looked down on. The church often doesn’t love its neighbor—it has a limited love like the world. Racism and partiality flood our churches.

Paul describes the acts of our sinful nature this way: “idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions” (Gal 5:20). Until the death of our bodies or Christ’s return, we will harbor a sinful nature and therefore, struggle with a propensity to get into factions based on race, culture, wealth, education, and even secondary doctrines. Sadly, the teachings of our spiritual leaders often facilitate these wrong views, even if they only come from parents. This discord was evident in the early church as Greek widows were being neglected in preference for the Jewish widows in Acts 6. In Galatians 2, Paul confronted Peter for shunning the Gentile Christians when other Jewish leaders were around. This partiality was also happening among the Jewish Christians in James 2, as they were favoring the wealthy over the poor. This divisive, worldly spirit is still as prevalent in the church today as it was in the early church.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Christ properly interpreted the law—leaving no room for racism and partiality. People of the kingdom of heaven should not practice racism, classism, ethnocentrism, or general dislike for those different from us, whether that be because of personality or background. Christ’s death on the cross purchased a people for God of every race, tongue, nationality, and socio-economic background. What was separated because of sin, Christ brought together through his death. The body of Christ is a Jewish and Gentile bride without factions of any kind—no first or second-class citizens. Therefore, we should be characterized by a radical love for all.

What are your views towards outsiders—those of a different race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status? Do you treat them differently than those who are like you? Have you conquered the spirit of hate, dissension, and factions in your heart? Kingdom citizens should be radically different than this racist and divided world. Are you truly loving your neighbor—including people who are different from you?

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced racism, classism, and ethnocentrism in our contemporary culture? How have you seen it operating within the church? How should we conquer this worldly spirit—in our lives and others?

Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated Specifically to Enemies

But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

Interpretation Question: How did the religious leaders conclude that the Jews should hate their enemies?

Not only did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day teach the need to dislike Gentiles but also to hate one’s enemies. Again, they limited the understanding of “loving your neighbor” to Jews and likeable people. However, Christ’s teaching to love one’s neighbor even applied to one’s enemies. In fact, this was taught throughout the Jewish law. Consider the following verses:

“If you encounter your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, you must by all means return it to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, you must not ignore him, but be sure to help him with it.

Exodus 23:4-5

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

Proverbs 25:21-22

These verses emphasized how Jews should treat those who personally harmed them. It did not refer to judicial situations like war or a civil court case.

Well, then we must ask, “How did the religious leaders come to the conclusion that the Jews must hate their enemies?” It’s not hard to understand. The leaders considered how the Lord commanded the Jews to wipe out all the Canaanites—not sparing any of them—and applied that to enemies in general. They also drew this conclusion from the imprecatory Psalms which often displayed a great animosity towards one’s enemies. (Imprecatory means to call down curses upon.) For example, Psalm 139:19-22 says:

If only you would kill the wicked, O God! Get away from me, you violent men! They rebel against you and act deceitfully; your enemies lie. O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!

These are difficult verses; they ask for God to slay the wicked. David declares that he hates and abhors those who rebel against God, and that he counts them as enemies. It is not hard to understand how the religious leaders came to the conclusion that Jews should hate their enemies.

With that said, it is clear that the Old Testament taught the Jews to love their enemies in many passages including the ones we just considered (Prov 25:21-22, Ex 23:4-5). And it is also clear that some passages seem to teach hate for enemies by doctrine and example.

Interpretation Question: How can we reconcile these two seeming contradictions—the call to love enemies and the animosity seen in the slaying of the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms?

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Verses that emphasize hate, especially in the imprecatory Psalms, are written from a judicial standpoint and not a personal one. For example, David writes as the King of Israel who was called to execute judgment on the Canaanites—a sinful people God had called Israel to wipe out. God was going to wipe them out as an act of justice because of their excessive and violent sins: They sacrificed their children to false gods and practiced gross immorality and violence like the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel was called to execute God’s wrath and anger on these people. Romans 13:1-5 teaches that this is the government’s role—officials are God’s servants called to execute wrath on wrongdoers. Therefore, the execution of the Canaanites and the imprecatory Psalms express this judicial role. Properly interpreted, they don’t teach Israelites, or us, to practice personal animosity towards enemies (cf. Prov 25:21-22). That was the misinterpretation of the religious leaders, which Christ was correcting.
  2. In addition, God’s judgment, as expressed towards Canaan and in the imprecatory Psalms, reflects God’s righteous anger, which we should also have. Ephesians 4:26 actually calls us to “Be angry and do not sin” (ESV). Sometimes we’re in sin because we’re not angry. We should be angry when God is dishonored and people hurt (cf. John 2:13-16). However, in response to personal wrong, we should be gentle, even as Christ was (cf. 1 Pet 2:21-23).

Often, we only emphasize that God is love, as he epitomizes it. But God also epitomizes perfect anger and wrath. God is holy, and he hates sin. In contrast with our common saying, “Hate the sin and not the sinner,” Scripture doesn’t really separate sin from the sinner. A person who lies is a liar. A person who commits adultery is an adulterer. A person who commits murder is a murderer. Believe it or not, God hates sin and the sinner, and at the same time, loves them. That is why Christ died for sinners; he died for sinners to demonstrate God’s love for them but also to pay the penalty for their sins by bearing God’s wrath. It’s a paradox—God both loves and simultaneously hates. Consider the following verses:

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

The Lord approves of the godly, but he hates the wicked and those who love to do violence.

Psalm 11:5

Certainly you are not a God who approves of evil; evil people cannot dwell with you. Arrogant people cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who behave wickedly. You destroy liars; the Lord despises violent and deceitful people.

Psalm 5:4-6

In the New Testament, this hate or anger is often called God’s wrath. John 3:36 says, “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.” This is the state of all of mankind apart from Christ. God loves them, as he desires for them to repent of their sin, believe in Christ, and follow him as Lord and Savior. But he also hates both the sinner and the sin itself—his wrath abides on sinners and on the cross his wrath abided on Christ for sinners. If we will not repent and accept his Son, God will judge us eternally. Therefore, both love and hate are characteristics of God. And as we follow him, they should both manifest in our lives. We must love, and we must hate. However, Scripture teaches that our hate must not be selfish and vindictive—concerned with personal retaliation (Matt 5:43-44). It must be concerned with God’s glory and the benefit of others. John Stott put it this way:

The truth is that evil men should be the object simultaneously of our ‘love’ and of our ‘hatred’, as they are simultaneously the objects of God’s (although his ‘hatred’ is expressed as his ‘wrath’). To ‘love’ them is ardently to desire that they will repent and believe, and so be saved. To ‘hate’ them is to desire with equal ardour that, if they stubbornly refuse to repent and believe, they will incur God’s judgment. Have you never prayed for the salvation of wicked men (e.g., who blaspheme God or exploit their fellow humans for profit as if they were animals), and gone on to pray that if they refuse God’s salvation, then God’s judgment will fall upon them? I have. It is a natural expression of our belief in God, that he is the God both of salvation and of judgment, and that we desire his perfect will to be done.3

The Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible adds:

We cannot love with a perfect love, nor can we hate with a perfect hatred. But God can both love and hate perfectly, because He is God. God can hate without sinful intent. He can hate the sinner in a perfectly holy way and still lovingly forgive the sinner at the moment of repentance and faith (Malachi 1:3; Revelation 2:6; 2 Peter 3:9).4

The Pharisees’ misinterpretation of the law allowed people to hate those who wronged them—apart from a judicial context and in a selfish manner. However, Scripture does not allow that. We are called to love our enemies. There is a righteous anger, especially towards those who dishonor God and hurt people; however, we tend to fall short of the righteous anger of God, as it becomes selfish anger (cf. Jam 1:20). Like Stott said, we must love in the sense that we want people to repent and turn to God, and we should go out of our way to act lovingly towards these people. But we must hate in the sense that if people continue in rebellion towards God, that we desire for God to vindicate himself and bring justice. Ultimately, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer—your kingdom come, your will be done—we are praying for his justice (Matt 6:10). When Christ brings his kingdom, he will judge the earth. This is what the martyrs in heaven cry out for in Revelation 6:9-11, as they ask for the holy God to judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge their blood. The Jews wrongly applied this reality to their honor instead of God’s honor, and they applied it to personal situations rather than judicial. Therefore, they neglected to practice God’s radical love for all, including their enemies, and kept the Jews from practicing it.

Observation Question: How should we demonstrate radical love towards our enemies?

Christ implies two ways:

1. Love must be demonstrated in acts of kindness.

When Christ calls us to love our enemies, he uses the Greek word “agape.” This word is not primarily an emotional love but a volitional love. It is an act of the will, and therefore implies acts of kindness. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses fifteen verbs to describe agape: love is kind, love is patient, love perseveres, love never thinks the wrong, etc.5 Agape certainly involves attitude, but it is best described by what it does. In fact, in the parallel passage of Luke 6:27, Christ said, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” This is the way God loved us: Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Though we were enemies and separated from God, God acted in love towards us by dying for us. We must do the same to those who wrong us. We must love them by performing acts of kindness to them. Romans 12:20-21 says: “Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

However, it also must be noted that by acting in kindness to them, our emotional love for them will also grow. C.S. Lewis’ comments on loving our neighbor, and thus our enemy, are helpful:

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. … The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity.’ The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.6

As we show acts of kindness to others, especially our enemies, we will find our love for them growing.

2. Love must be demonstrated through prayer.

Out of love, the Lord also calls us to pray for those who persecute us.

Application Question: What types of petitions should we request for our enemies in prayer?

(1) Certainly, we should request for God to forgive them. In Luke 23:34, we saw this with Christ who prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The imperfect tense of that prayer suggests that he didn’t only pray this once, this was his continual prayer. He continually asked for their forgiveness, as they hammered spikes into his hands and feet, and raised his body up on the cross. As they continually mocked and derided him, Christ continually went into God’s presence pleading for their forgiveness. We should continually do the same, even in the midst of people hurting us or when the bad memories come back. (2) In our prayer, we should also request that the Lord restore and heal our relationships with our enemies. It’s God’s desire for us to live at peace with others (Rom 12:18). (3) In addition, we should also continually plead for their salvation and correction (1 Tim 2:1-4).

John Stott said this about praying for our enemies:

Moreover, if intercessory prayer is an expression of what love we have, it is a means to increase our love as well. It is impossible to pray for someone without loving him, and impossible to go on praying for him without discovering that our love for him grows and matures. We must not, therefore, wait before praying for an enemy until we feel some love for him in our heart. We must begin to pray for him before we are conscious of loving him, and we shall find our love break first into bud, then into blossom.7

In the Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who pastored and eventually was killed in Nazi Germany described Christ’s call to pray for our enemies as the “supreme demand.” He said, “Through the medium of prayer, we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”8

Are you willing to plead for your enemies in obedience to Christ’s command? By doing this, you not only love your enemies but also grow in love for them. You also take part in God’s plan to redeem or correct these people. Let us remember that those who persecute us are the very ones God is calling us to pray for—they should be first on our prayer list. In a sense, by their constant antagonizations and our memories of those hurts, the Lord strongly encourages us to intercede on their behalf. Let us imitate Christ’s example by loving our enemies radically both by our acts of kindness and prayers.

Application Question: Why is it so difficult to do good to our enemies and pray for them? Describe a time that you acted kindly to your enemy and prayed for them instead of returning evil for evil. What were the results on your own life and the person?

Radical Love Proves the Salvation of Disciples

so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:45

Interpretation Question: What did Christ mean by saying that showing love towards our enemies makes us “like” our Father in heaven?

In Matthew 5:45, Christ gives believers incentive for showing radical love to our enemies. The reason is that we may be like our “Father” in heaven. Other versions translate this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (ESV) or “that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (NIV). What did Christ mean by this? Obviously, no one enters the family of God, and therefore is saved, by loving others. Christ meant that this radical love distinguishes a child of God and, therefore proves that we are born again.

This is a very important doctrine and endeavor for everyone who professes Christ. This has been lost in much of Christendom, but there is a need to prove our salvation. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ warns:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

Matthew 7:21-23

Among those who profess Christ, there are many who are self-deceived. Instead of obeying the will of the Father, they practice a lifestyle of evil. When others mistreat them, in rebellion towards Christ’s words, instead of loving and praying for them, they return evil for evil. Christ says in the last days, he will say to many professed believers, “I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” Love in a believer’s life is the proof of purchase. Christ said it this way, “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Radical love, even for enemies, should mark believers in this world.

John, the disciple of love, said:

By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God.

1 John 3:10

If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

Does radical love for believers and also your enemies mark your life? The absence of this love could prove that one is illegitimate—not a child of God. It is not natural for a person to love their enemies. It is a supernatural work from God in the life of someone who is truly born again. Romans 5:5 says “the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (paraphrase). At salvation, God pours out his “agape” in our hearts to love both him and others. To lack it to the least extent, might prove that we have never received it. God loves both the good and the evil. He provides rain and sunshine for those who don’t love him. He also sent his Son to die on the cross for those antagonistic towards him. To love “like” him is to prove that we are his children and therefore affirm our hearts before him.

It is important for each professed believer to have assurance of salvation; for within the church are both wheat and weeds, good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats. Therefore, Scripture calls for us to prove our salvation by our works. Consider the following verses:

but I declared to those in Damascus first, and then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds consistent with repentance.

Acts 26:20

Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!

2 Corinthians 13:5

Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin

2 Peter 1:10

Are you demonstrating your repentance by your deeds? Are you examining yourself to see if Christ is in you? Are you making your calling and election sure? The primary way we do this is by our love. Radical love is a proof that Christ—the one who died for his enemies and prayed for them on the cross—is in us. This doesn’t mean we won’t fail at this. We will. But when we do, we should repent and come to Christ for grace to try again. If we are content to simply live a life of bitterness and unforgiveness towards those who have failed us, maybe we have never truly received the mercy of God (cf. Matt 5:7).

Does the way you respond to those who harm you confirm your citizenship? Remember Christ is teaching that if our righteousness doesn’t surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were jealous, vengeful, and unforgiving. Though religious, they cursed, lied about, and murdered our Lord. If our love is no different than theirs, we have never truly been saved, and therefore, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Application Question: In what way have you experienced a change in the way you respond to those who harm you since following Christ? How do you still struggle in this area? What should a person do if they have never experienced a change in their response to those who hurt them—in that they are still vindictive and unforgiving?

Radical Love Will Be Rewarded by God

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:46-48

Another incentive for demonstrating radical love is the fact that we will be rewarded for it. In Matthew 5:46, Christ begins to teach on the reality of heavenly reward. He continues this teaching throughout Chapter 6. He calls the disciples several times to not perform their works of righteousness (giving, praying, and fasting) to be seen by others—lest they lose their reward (6:1,3-4, 6, 17-18). He even commands them to store up riches in heaven instead of on earth (Matt 6:19-20). Christ wants his disciples to receive rewards from their Father. Rewards are the culmination of God’s approval and affirmation on our lives. Every believer should desire them (cf. Matt 25:14-30, 1 Cor 9:24-27).

In considering his kingdom, Christ said his disciples should live in such a way that they will be rewarded. They will be rewarded by practicing a life of secrecy instead of doing their works to be seen by others. They will be rewarded for living by faith instead of living for the things of this world. But they also will be rewarded for practicing a radical love to all, including those who harm them.

In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul said,

If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

One day, the works of believers will be tested by God and the works that last will be rewarded. One primary concern will be that of motives. Was everything we did motivated by love? In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said we can do many radical things for God and others like speaking in the tongues of men and angels, prophesying great mysteries, having faith to move mountains, and offering all we have to the poor; however, if we don’t have love—agape—it will profit us nothing (v. 1-3). Only what is done out of agape—God’s radical love—will be recognized and rewarded.

Sadly, often the reason we serve others is to be seen, applauded, and potentially get promoted—we love to receive in return. That is how the world loves. However, receiving is not a condition for agape love. Agape love only cares about the object of its affection. This is how God loves us. He showers his rain and sunshine on the good and evil, without the condition of love being returned. In fact, he knows that we can’t return it, apart from his grace (cf. Rom 8:7). This is the type of love that God will test our hearts for, recognize, and reward in this life and throughout eternity.

What type of love are you showing to others? Is it a selfish love that needs to be seen, recognized, and returned by others? If so, it may profit others, but it will profit you nothing (1 Cor 13:3). Only agape love—radical love—will be honored and rewarded by God. Will your love be rewarded?

Application Question: What are your views on heavenly reward? Does the prospect of heavenly reward motivate you to serve God more faithfully and love people more radically? Why or why not?

Radical Love Distinguishes Believers from the World

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:46-48

Interpretation Question: Who were the tax collectors and how were they viewed by the Jews?

Finally, Christ challenges his listeners by using the examples of tax collectors and pagans. The Pharisees and scribes considered tax collectors and Gentiles the lowest of the low—they were outside of God’s grace. Certainly, of all people, the religious leaders were better than them. Tax collectors were employed by the Roman government to collect a certain amount of taxes from the Jews, and whatever they collected over that amount was theirs to keep. Therefore, this led to widespread bribery, extortion, and overall corruption.9 The term ‘tax collector’ was essentially synonymous with being a crook—a rich crook. In addition, Jews hated tax collectors simply because they were employed by their enemies—the pagan Romans. Therefore, the examples of the tax collectors and pagans would have greatly challenged the spiritual leaders and Jews as they considered themselves God’s chosen, and everybody else, especially the tax collectors and pagans, was outside of God’s grace.

However, the love of the Pharisees and scribes was no different than theirs. They loved those who were likeable and hated those who were not. All they had was a human love instead of a supernatural love. Christian love should be noted by “more”—more than what the world offers. Christ calls us to be salt and light of the world and that is primarily demonstrated through our radical love.

Kent Hughes said it this way:

The question we must each ask is, is there a “more” in my love? Is there something about my love that cannot be explained in natural terms? Is there something special and unique about my love to others that is not present in the life of the unbeliever? These are important questions because if there is not a “more” to our love, if we love only those with whom we have something in common and who treat us well, if there is nothing more than that, we are perhaps not Christians at all. Notice, I did not say we must perfectly exhibit the “more” of his love. But is there a “more”?10

Are you living a life of more—a life of radical, kingdom love? Or is your love natural—only loving those who are friendly and likeable? Does your love distinguish you from the world?

Application Question: In what ways are you experiencing the growth of your love for God and others? In what ways are you experiencing the life of “more” (Matt 5:47)? How is God challenging you to grow in loving others, especially your enemies?

Conclusion

It has been said that, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.”11 Christ taught that this divine love—this radical love—will be demonstrated in the lives of kingdom citizens. They will be persecuted and hated for their faith (cf. Matt 5:10-12), but they will respond with radical love. Radical love is the Christian ethic—it should define believers. What are characteristics of this radical love?

  1. Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated to All People
  2. Radical Love Should Be Demonstrated Specifically to Enemies
  3. Radical Love Proves the Salvation of Disciples
  4. Radical Love Will Be Rewarded by God
  5. Radical Love Distinguishes Believers from the World

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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1 Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible – Matthew I.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 141). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 117). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

4 The Preachers Outline and Sermon Bible, “Matthew 5:43-48”.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 345). Chicago: Moody Press.

6 Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (p. 144). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

7 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 118–119). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

8 The Cost of Discipleship, trans. R. H. Fuller [2d rev. ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1960 

9 Carson, D. A. (1999). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (p. 56). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

10 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (pp. 142–143). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

11 Hughes, R. K. (2001). The sermon on the mount: the message of the kingdom (p. 141). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

18. Practicing Radical Generosity (Matthew 6:1-4)

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“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4(NET)

How can we live lives of radical generosity?

God is a giver. He gave his only begotten Son to die for the sins of the world. Not only that, he gives us life, breath, sunshine, rain, and everything else. As his children, we should be givers as well. The previous verse of Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Christ teaches on giving right after calling us to be perfect like our Father. Therefore, one of the ways we should aim to be perfect like our Heavenly Father is by generous giving.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ again confronts the error of the religious leaders. In Matthew 5:20-48, he confronted their misinterpretations of the law. They lessened God’s commands on areas like murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, loving one’s neighbor, etc. In Chapter 6, he confronts the wrong manner in which they did their acts of righteousness: giving, praying, and fasting. The entire context follows Christ’s strong words in Matthew 5:20 that if our righteousness doesn’t surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, Christ is warning his followers to bear fruits that match their kingdom citizenship.

In Matthew 6:1-4, Christ teaches principles about how to live radically generous lives that resemble God and please him.

Big Question: In Matthew 6:1-4, what principles can be discerned about living a radically generous life?

Believers Must Practice Giving as a Spiritual Discipline

Thus whenever you do charitable giving

Matthew 6:2

Interpretation Question: What does the fact that Christ says “whenever you do charitable giving” imply about his expectation of his followers?

The fact that Christ says “whenever you do charitable giving” and not “if you do charitable giving” implies that God expects believers to give and be generous like him. This was clearly commanded in the OT law:

“‘If your brother becomes impoverished and is indebted to you, you must support him; he must live with you like a foreign resident. Do not take interest or profit from him, but you must fear your God and your brother must live with you.

Leviticus 25:35-36

There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.

Deuteronomy 15:11

In fact, many rabbis over-emphasized the need to give—taking the doctrine above Scriptural boundaries. Some taught that giving would actually atone for one’s sins. This is taught within the Apocrypha, which was written during the intertestamental period before the writing of the New Testament. Tobit 12:8 says, “It is better to give to charity than to lay up gold. For charity will save a man from death; it will expiate any sin.” The Wisdom of Sirach 3:30 says, “As water will quench a flaming fire, so charity will atone for sin.”1 In the 1500’s, the Roman Catholic church canonized the Apocrypha for this very reason, as it supports salvation by works; however, it wasn’t recognized as canon previously.

Though the Rabbis overemphasized the importance of giving, as all believers are saved by faith and not works (Eph 2:8-9), God certainly commands and expects his people to give generously. Christ taught that this righteousness will be in kingdom citizens. Giving will be their consistent practice and discipline. The Greek word for “give” actually means an act or deed of mercy.2 Since believers received mercy from God in their salvation, they will be known for showing acts of mercy to others (cf. Matthew 5:7).

Application Question: What are some general principles for Christian giving?

1. Christian giving naturally happens when Christ is truly first in our lives.

In 2 Corinthians 8:2-5 (NIV), Paul describes how the poor Macedonian Christians financially supported the struggling Jerusalem church. He said,

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

Though the Macedonian churches were extremely poor themselves, they begged Paul to allow them to support their brothers in Jerusalem. Therefore, radical generosity is not primarily rooted in what we have but who we have. Paul said they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to others. If God isn’t first in our lives, then we won’t be generous givers. Instead, we will be selfish—concerned primarily with our personal benefit.

Are you giving yourself fully to the Lord—your time, money, goals, and aspirations? If not, you won’t be radically generous.

2. Christian giving should be planned and intentional—not haphazard.

Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.” The fact that we must decide in our heart implies that our giving should be prayerfully and wisely planned.

Application Question: What should our planned giving include?

  • Our plan for giving should include regular offerings to our local church.

First Corinthians 16:1-2 says,

With regard to the collection for the saints, please follow the directions that I gave to the churches of Galatia: On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come.

Paul taught that every time they gathered on Sunday, in keeping with their income, they should set aside money to give. We should do the same. As the Lord provides income, whether that be every two weeks or once a month, we should prayerfully give to the ministries of our local church.

  • Our plan for giving should include setting aside money for the urgent needs of others.

Ephesians 4:28 says, “The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.” Having something to share with those in need seems to be above one’s regular giving to the church. These needs might include helping a student go on a mission trip, helping somebody who is struggling financially, supporting an orphanage, or even responding to a world catastrophe.

People often ask me, “Can I give my offerings to other ministries or needs instead of to my church?” I always say, “Do both!” First Timothy 5:17-18 says,

Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.”

One of the main reasons we must give offerings to our local church is to support its ministers. God has commanded for ministers to earn their living from the church, since a worker is worthy of his wages. If we don’t support our ministers, then they won’t be able to serve the church and take care of their families at the same time. Galatians 6:6 says, “Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it.” Sharing “all good things” includes, but is not limited to, financial remuneration.

But God also commands us to help those in need, which is often random. Again, Ephesians 4:28 implies that we should plan to be able to meet those needs. It is good to put in one’s budget regular church offerings and also flexible money for random needs. If there are no random needs, then give that money to the church or save it for when other needs occur. Certainly, it is good to regularly support outside ministries that care for the poor or send missionaries; however, it shouldn’t replace our giving to our local church. It should be above that giving.

God calls for our giving to be decided in the heart; therefore, it must be prayerfully and wisely planned.

3. Christian giving must be offered with a joyful heart.

As mentioned in 2 Corinthians 9:7, God wants our giving to be done with a right heart—one of joy—since he loves a cheerful giver. It should not be out of reluctance or compulsion—God doesn’t need our money. He wants our worship. Therefore, we must be joyful in our giving; this joy comes from our desire to please our Father and help others.

4. Christian giving should be sacrificial.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see that God commanded people to bring their best. They were not to bring the lame or diseased lamb (cf. Mal 1:8); they were to offer the lamb without blemish (Ex 12:5). We should also always offer our best. In fact, that seems to be the reason Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s was accepted. Genesis 4 says Cain gave some of the fruits of his field, while Abel gave the fat portions of the firstborn of his flock. The firstborn and the fat portions were considered the best in those days. Cain’s was rejected while Abel’s was received. Cain wanted the best part for himself—there was no sacrifice in his life. That is how a lot of our offerings are given in the church today. There is no real sacrifice—there is no heart that says, “God, you are the best and worth more than I can offer!” In 2 Samuel 24:24, David said, “I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt sacrifices that cost me nothing.’”

Is your giving sacrificial? Or are you just giving “some” of the fruit of your field—like Cain—the left-over change in your pocket? God wants our best. Our giving must be sacrificial.

  1. 5. Christian giving should ideally be continually increased.

Second Corinthians 8:7 says, “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you—make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too.”

Often churches emphasize giving one’s tithe—10% of our income—which was commanded in the Old Testament. Though I think this is a good percentage to begin our giving at, it is never commanded in the New Covenant. The epistles commonly emphasize how we are no longer under the Old Covenant (Rom 6:14, 7:6). We are not bound to practice the food laws, the sabbath days, etc. Many laws continue, but not because we are under the Old Covenant, but because they are repeated in the New Covenant. In the New Testament, there are never any numerical percentages required of our giving. However, we do have teachings like 2 Corinthians 8:7 which says we must seek to excel in giving. This means 10% is a great place to start, but if we stay there we are not obeying the New Covenant. We should seek to excel in our giving.

First Corinthians 16:2 says we should give according to “the extent that God has blessed you” or it can be translated, “in keeping with how he prospers” (HCSB). This means that many people should be giving way more than 10% because the Lord has prospered them so much. Instead of getting a new phone, new car, or new house, when their finances increase, they should seek to excel in their giving. Are you striving to excel in your giving?

Christ said, “when you give” not “if you give.” Our giving is expected, and therefore it should be a regularly practiced spiritual discipline.

Application Question: Are any principles on this list new to you? If so, which? What are some principles that you have found helpful with your regular giving? What are your thoughts on whether Christians must practice the OT tithe?

Believers Must Guard Against Wrong Motives in Their Giving

“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4

In Matthew 6:1, Christ warns his disciples to not practice their righteous deeds in front of others to be seen by them. In the rest of Matthew 6, he focuses not only on giving but praying and fasting—two other works God expects believers to practice.

The phrase “be careful” has the sense of “being on guard.”3 There is a danger that comes along with all ministry. It is hard not to perform them without concerns about what people think about us or how they perceive our ministry. This is a virtual stronghold for many who serve in public ministry. It can cause great discouragement or great pride. Both are problems, as they are symptoms that prove our ministry is not being done for God alone. Christ warns us of this reality, and we must heed it well.

Seeking the praise of others instead of God was the primary sin of the Pharisees and scribes. John 12:43 said, “they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” Christ called them “hypocrites.” The word literally means “to wear a mask” and was used of an actor.4 An actor takes on a false identity and puts on a theatrical performance in order to receive applause. Sadly, that is how a lot of Christian works are done—preaching, teaching, praying, and, as mentioned in this passage, giving.

Christ describes how the hypocrites would sound the trumpet so that all would know they are giving to the poor. Calvin speculated that maybe they did this under the guise of calling for the poor.5 In considering the trumpets, we don’t know if Christ was being literal or metaphorical. Either way, his point was that these people wanted everybody to hear and see. They essentially cried out: “Look at how much I am giving! Look at how sacrificial and holy I am!”

We must be very careful of this in our ministries. It is sad that something so good as giving to the poor can be turned into a PR stunt that is all for our benefit. However, this is natural to our sin nature—it is consumed with self-glory.

Application Question: How can we know if we are doing our giving and other good works to be seen by others instead of for God?

We can tell by asking ourselves some pointed questions:

  1. Is it important for others to see or hear about our good works and accomplishments? Do we always have to tell others about our successes? If so, maybe the pride of the Pharisees is in our hearts.
  2. How do we respond when others praise us? Are we overly excited? If so, maybe it reveals a desire for self-glory.
  3. How do we respond when people criticize us or don’t recognize our accomplishments? Does this overly discourage us or even make us upset? If so, our focus might not primarily be on serving God and blessing others.

Certainly, all of us have experienced these negative tendencies in some way. It is a reminder that we are sinners, and that we must always guard our hearts (Prov 4:23). God’s honor and pleasure must always be our primary pursuit, even before the benefit of others.

Observation Question: How should believers guard their hearts from wrong motives in their giving and other good works according to Matthew 6:2-4?

Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:2-4

1. To guard our hearts from wrong motives in our good works, we must practice secrecy when performing them.

Christ said to not announce them with trumpets (v. 2). We must aim to practice our good works and giving in secret. Now it is not a sin for others to see; many times, we cannot avoid being seen. Christ said a city on a hill cannot be hidden, in referring to believers being the light of the world (Matt 5:14-16). The problem is our hearts are prone to being consumed with the thoughts and approval of others instead of the Lord’s. So as much as possible, we should practice secrecy in our giving and other good deeds. With our giving, we should try not to tell others—God’s knowledge of our works is enough. With other ministry successes, we should also keep those a secret, unless we deem it more beneficial for others to know. Paul didn’t share many of his visions and spiritual experiences until it was absolutely necessary and beneficial for others to hear (2 Cor 12). He didn’t want them to think too highly of him (12:6).

2. To guard our hearts from wrong motives in our good works, we must practice immediately forgetting what we’ve done by not self-consciously dwelling on them.

When Christ says to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, since most people are right-handed, he assumes most will give with their right hands. While giving, one should make sure the left hand is unaware of what the right hand is doing. He uses this metaphor to say that we should even hide our good works from ourselves. The point is that even though others might be unaware of our good works, many times we are still self-conscious of them. We continually replay our giving, teaching, serving, and other good works over and over in our head—leading either to pride or insecurity. We either puff ourselves up—thinking how great we are—or we get really discouraged because we think we failed. Both of these thought processes reflect that our primary goal in serving is not honoring the Lord and bringing him glory. It is too easy for ourselves and our own approval to become the focus of our good deeds, instead of God. This was exactly how the Pharisees and scribes did their good works. In Luke 18:11-12, a Pharisee, who was praying, continually boasted before the Lord, “Thank you, Lord, that I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (paraphrase). Though his works weren’t currently in front of others, they gave him great pride, as he boasted before the Lord about them. When practicing our good works, we must be careful of being self-conscious.

Prepare, do your best to honor the Lord and help others, but entrust the results and glory to God. Certainly, there is a place for constructive reflection and evaluation, so we can improve in order to better honor God and bless others. But after doing that briefly, we should forget our works (Phil 3:13)—lest they turn into a boast or an insecurity, which are both rooted in pride.

Christ said those who do their works for others to see have received their reward (v. 2). The “have” used here, or “have received” in other versions, is a commercial term meaning to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.”6 It meant that they will receive nothing else. Their reward is the congratulations of others or their self-congratulations, but they will receive nothing from God. In performing good deeds, including our giving, we must be satisfied with God being our only witness and having only his approval.

Application Question: Why is seeking the approval of others such a danger for those serving in ministry? How have you experienced the sinful propensity to be “self-conscious” over our good works—making them essentially about us instead of God? What are common fruits of being self-conscious in our life and ministry? How can we guard ourselves against the tendencies of seeking the approval of others or our own approval in ministry?

Believers Must Pursue God’s Reward for Selfless Giving

And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:4

Finally, Christ encourages his listeners to practice secrecy in their giving because it will be rewarded by God. This is taught throughout the entire Bible, as giving is part of the Lord’s cycle of blessing.7 Consider some of the following verses: Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” God promises refreshment to those who refresh others by their generosity. When they open their homes for others, or give sacrificially, the same will happen to them. Psalm 41:1 says, “How blessed is the one who treats the poor properly! When trouble comes, the Lord delivers him.” Those who care for the poor and struggling, God will deliver in times of trouble. What they do for others, God will do for them.

Second Corinthians 9:8 (NIV) gives this as a promise for cheerful givers: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” The promise is twofold: (1) God will make sure givers never lack. This promise is probably broader than just financial provisions; it could also refer to God meeting their emotional, social, and physical needs. (2) God will make them abound in every good work. If God can trust us with money, he can trust us with reaching souls, understanding and teaching the Bible, caring for the poor, etc. He will increase the righteousness of givers. Second Corinthians 9:10 re-enforces this: “Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow.”

As a general principle, our effectiveness in ministry correlates to our faithfulness and generosity with God’s money. In Luke 16:10-11, Christ said it this way:

“The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches?

“True riches” don’t just apply to righteous works on earth, but eternal riches in heaven. In Luke 19, the reward for those who were faithful with God’s minas was ruling over cities in the coming kingdom.

John MacArthur’s comments on the correlation between the faithful use of finances and ministry are helpful. He says,

Many young men have dropped out of seminary because they could not handle money, and the Lord did not want them in His ministry. Others have begun in the ministry but later dropped out for the same reason. Still others remain in the ministry but produce little fruit because God will not commit the care of eternal souls to them when they cannot even manage their own finances. Spiritual influences and effectiveness have a lot to do with how well finances are handled.8

Are you being a radical giver? If so, God will radically reward you and that reward includes provisions on earth and expanded righteousness both in heaven and on earth. Those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly and those who sow generously will reap generously (2 Cor 9:6).

How is God calling you to be a radical giver?

Application Question: What promises stood out to you most when considering the reward for givers? How have you seen the principle of giving and receiving at work in your life—either negatively or positively (cf. Mal 3:8-12)?

Conclusion

The members of Christ’s kingdom will be radical givers. Their righteousness will surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. What are some principles about practicing radical generosity?

  1. Believers Must Practice Giving as a Spiritual Discipline
  2. Believers Must Guard Against Wrong Motives in Their Giving
  3. Believers Must Pursue God’s Reward for Selfless Giving

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 355). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 128). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 353–354). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 129). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

5 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 128–129). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

6 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 129–130). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 358). Chicago: Moody Press.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 359). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

19. How to Pray (Matthew 6:5-8)

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“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:5-8 (NET)

How should believers practice prayer?

In Matthew 6:5-8, Christ continues to correct the wrong manner in which the Pharisees and scribes did their acts of righteousness. After addressing the abuse of giving (v. 2-4), he focuses on the abuse of prayer. Though at times done incorrectly, the Jews were known for prayer. William Barclay said:

No nation ever had a higher ideal of prayer than the Jews had; and no religion ever ranked prayer higher in the scale of priorities than the Jews did. ‘Great is prayer,’ said the Rabbis, ‘greater than all good works.’ One of the loveliest things that was ever said about family worship is the Rabbinic saying: ‘He who prays within his house surrounds it with a wall that is stronger than iron.’ The only regret of the Rabbis was that it was not possible to pray all day long.1

In addition, Jews had formal prayers for every aspect of life. Barclay adds:

There was prayer before and after each meal; there were prayers in connection with the light, the fire and the lightning, on seeing the new moon, on comets, rain or tempest, at the sight of the sea, lakes or rivers, on receiving good news, on using new furniture, on entering or leaving a city. Everything had its prayer. Clearly, there is something infinitely lovely here. It was the intention that every happening in life should be brought into the presence of God.2

They also had regular times of prayer. Devout Jews would pray three times a day—9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm. When the Babylonian public officials wanted to find a way to accuse Daniel, they knew he was vulnerable in his prayer life (Daniel 6:10, cf. Ps 55:17). Even though Jews were known for prayer, there was much confusion and misconceptions about prayer. In Matthew 6:5, Christ describes people who “love to pray” however were praying incorrectly.

It is possible for us to love to pray as well and yet be wrong in how we do it. Christ rebukes the common practices of the religious leaders and instructs his disciples on proper praying. In Matthew 6:9-13, he continues to teach on prayer, as he gives a pattern of prayer, often called the Lord’s Prayer.

As was true with the Jews, many people today are confused about their prayer life and struggle with it. Even the disciples approached Christ, later in his ministry, about teaching them how to pray in Luke 11. After watching Christ pray, praying with him, and hearing him teach on it, they still struggled with it. And this is true for many of us.

In Matthew 6:5-8, Christ begins to teach his disciples how to correctly pray, and therefore, we’ll learn principles about properly practicing prayer.

Big Question: In Matthew 6:5-8, what principles can we learn about practicing prayer?

Believers Must Pray as a Spiritual Discipline

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites… But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.

Matthew 6:5a-6a

As with giving, Christ doesn’t say, “if you pray” but “whenever you pray.” Christ expects believers to practice the regular discipline of prayer.

Application Question: What are some aspects of a regular, disciplined prayer life?

1. Prayer takes time.

Like with any discipline, we must take time to do it. If we are going to pray effectively, we must set aside periods of time to partake in it. As mentioned, devout Jews would pray morning, noon, and afternoon. Yes, we are called to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). However, without set times of intimate prayer with God, our spontaneous prayers throughout the day won’t be as rich and fluid. For example, my wife and I have a date night once a week to focus on undistracted communication and enjoyment of each other. Having a date night doesn’t mean we don’t talk at other times. We have a date night in order to enhance our routine, daily communication. This discipline makes us less prone to miscommunicate. This is true of prayer. Having focused times of prayer will enhance our spontaneous praying throughout the day.

We should select times to focus on prayer and guard them. A great time to do this—apart from distractions—is in the morning. In the Psalms, the writers often talk about seeking the Lord in the morning. Consider the following verses: Psalm 119:147 says, “I am up before dawn crying for help. I find hope in your word.” Psalm 5:3 says, “Lord, in the morning you will hear me; in the morning I will present my case to you and then wait expectantly for an answer.” Similarly, Christ often got up early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went to pray (Mk 1:35). The morning is a great time for us to focus on prayer as well. It is harder to be distracted when nobody else is up and the daily grind hasn’t begun.

Another interesting thought to consider is that we often don’t pray because we feel like we don’t have time. However, prayer maximizes our time. Martin Luther understood this. A famous quote of his is: “I am so busy tomorrow, I must get up three hours early to pray in order to get it all done.” He realized that time devoted to prayer typically makes the rest of the day more productive. It makes us more effective at work and in relationships with others. This is true because through devoted prayer we invite the Divine, not only into our great tasks and trials, but also our mundane. The Lord maximizes the time of those who maximize their time with him. Certainly, you will find this true, as many others have.

Are you setting aside fixed times to be with the Lord?

2. Prayer is often enhanced by having a quiet place where we regularly meet with God.

In Matthew 6:6, Christ calls us to go into our room and close the door—to seek the Lord in secret. He practiced this himself, as he commonly went on a mountain to pray (cf. Lk 6:12, 9:28, Matt 14:23). In Acts 10:9, Peter went on his rooftop to pray. Where do you go to be alone, away from distractions, to focus on God? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a room; it could be a routine. It could be a walk in the morning. It could be putting on your head phones to listen to worship while bringing your requests before God. Where is your secret place? What is your routine like when you meet with God? Christ had one and so did his apostles (cf. Acts 6:4, 10:9). We should have one as well.

3. Prayer takes sacrifice.

As with any discipline, we often have to give up something to do it. We must give up time on the Internet, our cell-phone, and with family or friends. We may even need to sacrifice ministry to have good prayer time. In Acts 6, the apostles gave up an opportunity to serve widows to focus on prayer (v. 4). We must do the same if we are going to be disciplined with our prayer lives. What is God calling you to sacrifice in order to focus on prayer?

4. Prayer flows out of time in God’s Word.

If prayer is talking to God, meditating on God’s Word is God talking to us. We can’t have a healthy prayer life if we are not hearing God speak back. A one-sided conversation is never very productive. Prayer flows out of regular meditation on God’s Word. In fact, our faithfulness to God’s Word leads to answered prayer. In John 15:7-8, Christ said: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.”

How can Christ’s words “remain” in us? They remain in us by consistently studying and thinking about them. They also remain in us as we daily obey them. By doing this, Christ says our prayers will be effective. God will answer our prayers. In fact, this is taught in other verses as well:

and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.

1 John 3:22

...The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

James 5:16

A righteous person is one who knows and obeys God’s commands. When we do that, God answers our prayers. This makes perfect sense. If a father blesses his children when they are disobedient to him, it only reinforces their sins. If you reward disobedience, it only increases disobedience. If you reward righteousness, it increases righteousness. For that reason, God blesses his children who love and obey his Word. The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. David agreed with this principle by stating it negatively. He said, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Harboring sin—meaning not enjoying and practicing God’s Word—hinders our prayer life.

Prayer comes out of healthy communication with God. Healthy communication with God comes from hearing God’s Word and responding in obedience.

In fact, it should be added that one of the best ways to pray is simply to pray exactly what Scripture says. Christ even prayed the Psalms while on the cross (Matt 27:46, Lk 23:46, Ps 22:1, 31:5). We should continually be prompted to pray from our time in Scripture, and we should continually pray what Scripture says.

5. Prayer is enhanced when practiced corporately.

Since Christ tells believers to go into their room, some have thought that this forbids corporate prayer. This is not true. Christ commonly prayed with others and even asked others to pray with him. When Christ went to pray, right before going to the cross, he brought three disciples to pray with him (Matt 26). He did the same at his transfiguration (Matt 17). In fact, the Lord’s Prayer, which he teaches right after this text, is in the plural: “our Father,” “our trespasses,” “our daily bread,” and “deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:9-13). Though Christ emphasizes individual prayer in this passage, he soon focuses on our need to pray corporately afterward. We must do both. Corporate prayer enhances our prayer life, and Scripture says it is especially powerful. Matthew 18:19-20 says: “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”

For this reason, we should commonly share our problems, concerns, and ambitions with others, so they can pray in agreement with us. When we don’t do this, we spiritually impoverish ourselves. It’s like the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you.” We need the prayers of the body of Christ. When others agree with us in prayer, our prayers are more powerful.

In this passage, Christ doesn’t say “if you pray” but “whenever you pray.” He expects us to pray, and therefore, it must be a regular discipline. Are you disciplined with your prayer life?

Application Question: What are some other helpful principles or tips for practicing a disciplined prayer life? What is your prayer closet or routine that helps you with prayer? In what ways do you struggle with regularly praying?

Believers Must Be Careful of Wrong Attitudes and Practices in Prayer

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward… When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:5, 7-8

Observation Question: What unhealthy practices does Christ warn believers about in their prayer lives?

Christ warns of several wrong tendencies in our prayer life (and righteous acts in general) that we must be careful of. We should:

1. Be careful of being self-conscious and others-conscious in prayer.

Christ said that the hypocrites prayed standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others (6:5). This word “hypocrite” was used of actors in a play. They performed in order to receive applause from others. There is a tendency towards this in the midst of our prayers. Yes, we should consider others when praying, especially when praying in public. We should consider their needs and God’s desires for them, so we can pray accordingly. However, we should not be praying with the intention of gaining their approval or for them to notice us. If we do, our prayers cease to be worship to God.

Sadly, it is hard to do any type of ministry without this sinful tendency. It is hard to sing during worship and not wonder what others think of our voice: “Is it too loud?” “Do I sound good?” It’s hard to freely express ourselves in worship—raised hands, bowed head, etc.—and not think of what others might think. Hypocrites embrace these wrong thoughts, instead of fighting against them. They pray eloquently and loudly to be seen.

As mentioned, devout Jews would pray three times a day at the appointed times. They would go to the synagogue to pray, which was fine, but they might stop right in front of the synagogue when praying so they could have the largest audience. Others would be walking along the way and if it turned 3pm, they would stop to pray on the street, which again was no sin. However, the word Christ used for “street” is different than the one used in verse 2, when he talked about the hypocrites blowing their trumpet on the “streets.” The word used in verse 2 refers to a narrow street. The word used in verse 5 refers to a wide street; therefore, it probably refers to a major street corner.3 The hypocrites strategically timed their prayer for when they reached a major intersection—where a large crowd would be. They prayed there so all could see them. We must be careful of this type of hypocrisy in our prayer life. We must guard our hearts from all wrong motives to be seen and exalted—not only in our prayer life but also in other acts of righteousness. We must confess self-centered thoughts and attitudes even as we are worshipping God and serving others. Second Corinthians 10:5 describes how we must take our thoughts captive and submit them to the lordship of Christ.

Sometimes we think of the devil being only in the worst places like a brothel; however, Satan likes to show up at the church and other places of worship. When Christ was in the wilderness fasting, Satan showed up there (Matt 4). In the book of Job, when the angels were gathering to worship God in heaven, Satan showed up there as well (Job 1). One of Satan’s greatest pleasures is probably corrupting people’s worship by making it about themselves or others instead of God. It seems that Satan himself, who was originally an angel of the Lord, practiced the same type of corrupt worship. While leading others in worship of God, he began to want the praise only God was due. Isaiah 14:14 documents him saying, “I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!’” Yes, our worship services, times of prayer, teaching, evangelism, and missions are times when Satan will attack. We must be aware of this. He wants to twist our intentions and pervert our worship. Therefore, we must arm our minds and hearts with God’s Word and confession. In the wilderness, Christ did not sin—he rebuked Satan with God’s Word (Matt 4). Since we’re so prone to accept and cultivate wrong thoughts and attitudes, we must confess them quickly. In prayer and other acts of righteousness, we must guard against being self-conscious and others-conscious.

Application Question: How can we discern if we have wrong attitudes in our prayer life?

Here are some pointed questions we must ask:

  • Do we pray more frequently and fervently when in public than when we’re alone?
  • Are we spectators of our own performance in prayer—considering our words, volume, and what others think?
  • Is it important for us to tell others how long and fervently we prayed?

If we answered yes to any of these questions, then we may have pharisaical motives that need to be repented of.

2. Be careful of being thoughtless and heartless in prayer.

In verse 7, Christ says, “do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles.” “Babble repetitiously” can be translated “empty phrases” (ESV) or “vain repetitions” (KJV). What was Christ referring to? Sometimes pagans would simply repeat a phrase over and over again—trying to coax a response from their gods. For example, we see this today with Hinduism and Buddhism when the word “om” is repeated over and over again, as they pursue blessings from a deity. Christ warned against similar vain repetitions. No doubt, many Gentiles, who converted from paganism, tended to worship God in this manner, but using Christian phrases instead. In addition, Jews sometimes would add many different adjectives to God’s name like wonderful, awesome, majestic, sovereign, and so on. Again, this often became a form of vain repetitions.

Interpretation Question: Is Christ warning against repetition in prayer in general?

Obviously not. Before Christ went to the cross, he prayed three separate times for an hour (Matt 26:36-46). Scripture indicates that his main petition during that time was “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (39, 42, 44). He sought the Lord three times for three hours with this petition being the primary focus. Paul prayed three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed (2 Cor 12). In Luke 18:1-8, Christ encouraged the disciples to persevere in prayer through the Parable of the Persistent Widow. This widow continually went to the judge asking for justice, until he finally responded because of her persistence.

Should there be repetition in our prayer? Yes. What Christ warns against is vain repetition. This means thoughtless prayer—when we’re saying something with no heart or focus. Sadly, this often happens when we pray before a meal or other common endeavors. Sometimes we rattle off these prayers with no thought or real intention to engage God. Vain repetitions are also a warning against allowing our minds to wander during prayer. Again, then we’re just offering words with no heart or thought.

3. Be careful of needlessly long prayer.

Along with warning about vain repetitions, Christ warns against long prayers, which come from these vain repetitions. He said, “they think that by their many words they will be heard.” Many Jews believed that long prayers were preferred over short ones. “Rabbi Levi said: ‘Whoever is long in prayer is heard.’ Another saying has it: ‘Whenever the righteous make their prayer long, their prayer is heard.’”4

Interpretation Question: Is Christ forbidding long prayers?

We must be careful about saying long prayers are bad and short prayers are good. That is not the point Christ is making. He is warning against long prayers that are repetitious, thoughtless, and void of a right heart. Sometimes long prayers are needed in the same way long conversations are needed. Most of our conversations are short, but sometimes we need to have long conversations with others. This happens for many reasons: (1) Sometimes conversations are long because we really enjoy a person or enjoy the topic we are talking about. (2) Sometimes they are long because we need to talk through some difficulty, confusion, or hardship. (3) Sometimes they are long so we can gain discernment about a major decision or difficult situation. Prayers are often long for the same reasons, as well as many others. As we grow in our love and passion for God, we will find a desire to spend long times in conversation with him. Other times, our prayers might be long because of turmoil in our heart, the life of another, or the world in general. Long prayers are good and are often a sign of a healthy relationship or a growing relationship. Often, a lack of talking is a sign of a shallow relationship or one that is in discord. Sadly, that is exactly what many Christians have with God. When Christ chose his twelve disciples, which was a major decision, he spent a night in prayer (Lk 6:12-13). Sometimes, our major decisions need that type of prayer. Before Christ went to the cross, he warned his disciples that if they didn’t pray for an hour, they would fall to temptation (Matt 26:40-41). How often do we fall into temptation, lack wisdom for a major decision, or lack strength to persevere through a trial simply because we haven’t spent quality time in prayer? Long prayers are often good.

With that said, often a short prayer is all that is needed. After the prophets of Baal prayed most of the day for fire from heaven to no avail, Elijah prayed briefly, and God answered with fire. God knows our needs before we ask, therefore long prayers are often unnecessary. When a long prayer is needed, it’s mostly for our benefit rather than God’s—to give us peace, strength, or to change our heart.

Here, Christ warns his disciples to not model the needlessly, long prayers commonly offered by the religious leaders. These prayers were in vain because they repetitiously said nothing, lacked the right heart, or were offered in order to be seen by others.

Application Question: How can we avoid ineffective praying like vain repetitions and needlessly long prayers?

One way we can avoid vain repetitions and needlessly long prayers is by preparing for prayer. Sometimes when I’m going to call somebody or lead a meeting, I write out the topics I want to talk about to keep me focused and concise. We should consider doing that before going into prayer as well. Many do this by keeping a prayer list and praying through it. Some do this by praying through the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer or some major points in one’s Scripture meditation. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says: “Do not be rash with your mouth or hasty in your heart to bring up a matter before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth! Therefore, let your words be few.” Thoughtful preparation helps us to not be quick with our mouth and hasty in our heart—it helps us avoid vain repetitions and needlessly long prayers. When praying, we must avoid wrong attitudes and practices.

Application Question: In what ways have you struggled with some of these negative tendencies—praying self-consciously or conscious of others, vain repetitions/thoughtless prayers, or needlessly long prayers? In what ways can church culture sometimes propagate negative types of praying?

Believers Must Pray with a Proper Knowledge of God and His Character

When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:7-8

Observation Question: In Matthew 6:7-8, what aspects of our relationship to God does Christ mention, which should positively affect our prayer life?

After Christ calls his followers to not be like pagans in their prayers, he tells them why—by implication, God is not like the pagan deities. Pagans lived in fear of their deities. They believed they had to coax them into answering their prayers. They not only continually repeated their petitions for hours, but also would cut themselves and offer human sacrifices to appease them. Again, we saw this in the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18: they cried out, “Baal, answer us!” from morning to noon (v. 26). When there was no answer, they began to shout louder and cut themselves with knives and swords until evening—still to no avail (v. 28). They tried to coax their make-believe god into answering their prayers. Christ essentially says our understanding of God will either negatively or positively affect our prayers. Therefore, to pray effectively we must develop our knowledge of God and his character.

Christ points out two understandings about God which should help us pray properly:

1. God is our father (v. 8).

By pointing out this reality, Christ essentially says God wants to bless us, give us what we need, and lead us into what is best. He is not a pagan deity whom we should live in fear of. Certainly, he deserves our reverence as our Father, but he also loves us and wants to be intimate with us. Christ used this same reasoning when encouraging his disciples to pray in Luke 11:9-13. He said:

“So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

He says if a human father, who has sinful tendencies, provides good gifts for his children, how much more will God the Father provide for his children? Basically, Christ says we must come to God in faith because he is our heavenly Father.

James said it this way:

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8

James said if we lack faith—trust in God, his goodness, and his desire to bless his children—we will receive nothing from God. Christ said that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains (Matt 17:20).

Likewise, we must come to God in faith. He is our Father who wants to bless us and guide us into what is best. In fact, if we lack faith in God’s goodness or power, by necessity, we will be hesitant to pray. Why pray if we believe God doesn’t really care or can’t help us?

Interpretation Question: What is faith and how do we develop it?

Faith is not a blank check, as some would say in the “Word of Faith Movement.” One cannot just name something and simply speak it and believe it until it comes to fruition. Faith is based on revelation. It is based on God’s revealed Word and character. John says it this way:

And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him.

1 John 5:14-15

This means we can have total faith that God will answer our prayers when we are praying according to his will. How do we know God’s will? We know God’s will by his Word. James promises that God will give us wisdom if we ask in faith (James 1:5). Therefore, we can approach God in faith for that promise. Paul promises that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom 10:13). If we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus as our Savior, we can have faith that God will save us. If we are in need and we begin to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then we can trust God will provide our needs (Matt 6:33). The more we know and believe God’s Word, the more our faith will increase. Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.” If we are little in the Word, then we will be little in faith and little in receiving God’s blessing on our prayers.

With that said, some requests God doesn’t promise to always answer affirmatively. For instance, it is not always God’s will to heal people. Scripture says it is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment (Heb 9:27). All of us will die at some point unless Christ returns before our death. It is not always God’s will to heal. In those times, we should pray for healing and trust that God’s will, will be done. Christ, at times, even qualified his requests by saying, “Yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). No doubt, he prayed like this for our sake, since he always knew God’s will. We can pray for a certain job or ask God to open a specific door, but trust that God will do what is best, even if it means not answering our request in the manner we desire. Often praying is more about intimacy with God and conforming our heart to his will than receiving our requests.

Sometimes, God may give a special impression or word that it is his will to heal, open a door, or act in a certain way, and when that happens, we should have faith. With that said, those experiences must be tested (1 John 4:1), but when they are valid, we should have faith. For example, in the midst of praying, God told Paul it was not his will to remove a “thorn in the flesh” which was probably a physical sickness of some kind (2 Cor 12:7). Apparently, at other times, Paul knew it was God’s will to heal, and therefore he approached God with full confidence. Sometimes, God may give special revelation about his will, but in most circumstances, it will not be clear. And in those times, we must pray and simply trust God. Our faith must be in God’s character—God is our Father and he will always choose the best and most perfect path to bring glory to himself and edify us (cf. Eph 1:11, Rom 8:28).

When we come to God, we must come to him in faith. He is not like the pagan gods—needing to be coaxed by vain repetitions, long prayers, and sacrifices. He is our Father who wants the best for us.

What else does Christ reveal about God, which should influence our manner of prayer?

2. God knows everything (v. 8).

The fact that our Father already knows everything is meant to encourage us to pray more. Sometimes we won’t share with people because we are afraid of their reaction—will they reject us, hate us, or use the information to hurt us? God already knows; therefore, we should run into his presence to share. Why share if he already knows? Because it allows God to work in our hearts, it draws us into more intimacy with God, and it accomplishes God’s will in our lives and that of others. There are some things God won’t do unless we pray (Ez 22:30). James said we have not because we ask not (Jam 4:2).

With all this said, we must recognize that a right view of God encourages our prayers, and a wrong view of God—or wrong theology—hinders our prayers. Like the Pharisees and pagans, if we think God must be coaxed to answer our prayers, we will pray amiss. At times, we may pray needlessly long prayers because we think that it is necessary for an answer. If we have wrong doctrine—such as, it is always God’s will for people to be rich and healthy—we will pray amiss. We must have right doctrine to pray in accordance with God’s will. As mentioned earlier, prayer and God’s Word go together. If we aren’t living in God’s Word—rightly understanding and obeying it—our prayers will be ineffective.

Because of this reality, Satan is always attacking our theology of God. Just as when he attacked Eve, he wants us to think God doesn’t love us, is not trustworthy, and doesn’t have in mind the best for us. Satan lies about God in order to turn us away from prayer and obedience to him. Wrong theology will hinder our prayer life and ultimately our relationship with God.

What are your thoughts about God? Do you trust him? Are you approaching him in faith? Do you realize that he is your heavenly Father who wants to bless you and lead you into what’s best for your life? Do you realize that he already knows your needs and just wants you to ask? Do you realize that even when he says ‘no’ or allows trials, it is for your best? If we are going to faithfully pray, we must be growing in our understanding of God. Wrong understanding will hinder our prayers.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced wrong views about God that negatively affected your prayer life—whether that was being angry at God or accepting false doctrine? In what ways is the doctrine of our need for faith in prayer being abused in the church? What is the proper balance?

Believers Must Be Motivated by God’s Reward in Prayer

But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:6

Instead of pursuing the reward of others approving our spirituality, like the Pharisees did, we must go into our room, close the door, and pursue the reward of our Father. The word Christ uses for “room” was used of a storage room where valuables were hidden, like treasure. It was often a secret room that nobody knew about.5 The implication is unmistakable. The place of prayer is a valuable place of treasure. We must go there often to pursue God’s reward.

Interpretation Question: What types of treasure/reward await us in the secret place?

This reward may take many forms:

1. In prayer, God rewards us with his presence.

Jeremiah 29:13-14a says, “When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord.” Those who seek the Lord with all their heart—not for the applause of themselves or others—shall receive the greatest reward, which is knowing God. He will make himself known to those who wake up early to meet with him and who go to bed late just to linger in his presence. He will meet them and reveal himself to them in special ways. With Moses, God spoke to him face to face, as a man speaks to a friend (Ex 33:11). God desires the same intimacy with us (Jam 4:8).

2. In prayer, God rewards us with spiritual rewards.

As mentioned earlier, James 1:5 says that God gives wisdom to those who approach him in faith. Isaiah 26:3 (ESV) says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” God gives peace to those who constantly seek his face in prayer (cf. Phil 4:6-7). In Acts 4:31, after being ordered to no longer preach the gospel, the disciples corporately sought the Lord in prayer, and they were filled with the Spirit and spoke God’s Word with great boldness. Power comes from faithfulness in prayer. Many lack the power of the Holy Spirit and boldness in their lives because they lack prayer.

The rewards of prayer are legion. James 4:2 says, “…You do not have because you do not ask.” Many don’t receive from God simply because they don’t ask. Therefore, they lack wisdom, strength, boldness, and many other graces God would like to give.

3. In prayer, God rewards us with heavenly rewards.

No doubt, when Christ refers to rewards, he also had heavenly rewards in mind. Scripture seems to indicate this may include crowns, which represent our earthly righteousness (Rev 4:10). It also includes greater opportunities to serve him in the coming kingdom. In Luke 19, the Parable of the Minas, the reward for faithfully serving the master was ruling over cities in the coming kingdom.

Our times in prayer are a place of reward. God, our Father, waits for us there, and his desire is to bless. Are you faithfully entering your prayer closet to be rewarded by God?

Application Question: How have you experienced these rewards in your prayer closet? In what special ways does God meet with you there? What keeps you from entering? How will you become more faithful in meeting God there?

Conclusion

How should believers practice prayer?

  1. Believers Must Pray as a Spiritual Discipline
  2. Believers Must Be Careful of Wrong Attitudes and Practices in Prayer
  3. Believers Must Pray with a Proper Knowledge of God and His Character
  4. Believers Must Be Motivated by God’s Reward in Prayer

Copyright © 2019 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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1 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 220). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.

2 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 223). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 365). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (Third Ed., p. 225). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 366). Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Kingdom

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