By Sam E. Stone
During the first year of his earthly ministry, Jesus delivered what is popularly called “The Sermon on the Mount.” This message was an introduction to the nature and character of his kingdom for all who would follow him. It marks the contrast between the Old Covenant and the New, and is filled with practical applications for believers today.
Respect the Word/Matthew 5:17-20
Jesus anticipated that some would misunderstand or misconstrue what he was saying. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” The word “law” is used in different ways in Scripture. It may refer to the Ten Commandments, to the first five books of the Old Testament, or (as it is used here) to the entire Old Testament itself. “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus had no intention of destroying the Old Testament law; in fact, he came specifically to complete it. “Christ is the end of the law” (Romans 10:4).
Even so small a part of the Old Testament Scriptures as the dot on the letter “i” cannot be taken away until everything has been completed. Jesus began at this point to explain the real meaning of the Law. He declared, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” A. T. Robertson notes, “Jesus puts practice before preaching. The teacher must apply the doctrine to himself before he is qualified to teach others. The scribes and Pharisees were men who ‘say and do not’ (Matthew 23:3), who preach but do not perform. This is Christ’s test of greatness.”
Recognize God’s Intent/Matthew 5:21, 22
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago.” Jesus repeats this refrain throughout his message. His teaching is not in conflict with that of the Old Testament. He has just affirmed its validity. Instead Jesus is contrasting traditional rabbinic interpretation with the correct interpretation of the Old Testament Law. He explained God’s intent. No wonder such teaching astonished the people (Mark 1:22; Matthew 7:28, 29).
“But I tell you” becomes his familiar contrast. In contrast to what the people had often heard, Jesus explained the law’s real meaning, what God intended all along. It is not simply murder that is wrong, but the ungodly anger that leads to murder. Even if a person does not actually kill another, God is displeased if he holds that kind of anger against someone in his heart. J. W. McGarvey sees here three degrees of criminality or offence as to the sin of anger: (1) silent anger, (2) railing speech, and (3) bitter reproach (Psalm 14:1). With these there are associated respectively three different degrees of punishment.
Reconcile With Others/Matthew 5:23-26
In contrast to hasty and harsh words, Christ’s followers should be gracious people, known for their kindness and humility. While bringing a gift to the Lord is a good thing, it is not the most important thing in his eyes. “If you are offering your gift at 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; then come and offer your gift.” God does not so much want a Christian to bring him a large gift of money as to see him live at peace with those around him.
Even when a person is on the way to a possible courtroom trial, he should be attempting to settle the dispute with his adversary. Those who fail to do so may find to their regret that they are turned over to the authorities, ultimately resulting in having to serve jail time! Not only is it the right thing to live at peace with others, but it can also help you avoid a lot of frustration and trouble!
R. V. G. Tasker observed, “The offender who does not come speedily to terms with the brother he has offended may have severe penalties imposed upon him if the case is taken to court.” Another teacher observed, “Compromise is better than prison where no principle is involved, but only personal interest.” Elsewhere Paul commands believers, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). To another church he wrote simply, “Live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.