Matthew 5: The Sermon on the Mount Continued
“And it hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.” (Matthew 5:32-32)
In Verses 31 and 32 We hear the Lord give the grounds for divorce. If someone is divorced for a reason not given by our Lord, that person is and adulterer. This is something that is entirely ignored today in so called Christian circles and sometimes even among Catholic people. This, however will be the Law during the Kingdom Age because there will be men and women who will want to leave their mates during that period. We will deal with the divorce question in some detail when we get to Chapter 19.
Now let us look at Matthew 5:33-35:
Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God: Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.
The Lord Jesus is saying that we are to be the kind of persons who don't have to tale an oath. There was a day when you could go into the bank and borrow money, then come back a couple of days later to sign a note. Or you call the bank by phone and have a certain amount of money credited to your account. Well, believe me it is different in our day. Why? Because there are a lot more fol today who cannot be trusted. The Lord says, that the child of God, under all circumstances, should be trustworthy.
The Lord says in vs 37:
“But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.”
When a man says to me, "I'd swear on a stack of Bibles a mile high," that is the fellow I do not believe because I think the lie he's telling is a mile high.
Now lets go on:
You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. [Matthew 5:38]
All of that will be changed when Christ is reigning in His kingdom.
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also [Matthew 5:39].
Do you live like this, or do you resist evil? There is a principle for us here, but we are living in a day when a wise man armed keepeth his house. And Paul could say, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works" (II Timothy 4:14). In the kingdom you will be able to turn the other cheek. It reminds me of the Irishman whom someone hit him on the cheek and knocked him down. The Irishman got up and turned his other cheek. The fellow knocked him down again. This time the Irishman got up and beat the stuffin' out of that fellow. An observer asked, "Why did you do that?" "Well," replied the Irishman, "the Lord said to turn the other cheek and I did, but He never told me what to do after that."
So what does this verse mean then?
In a famous letter, Saint Augustine pondered the meaning of this commandment from Jesus. Augustine wondered at first if Jesus meant what he said literally. So he searched the gospels and discovered that Jesus Himself did not obey the commandment literally. After Jesus was arrested and brought to the house of the high priest, when He was struck by a Jewish officer while being interrogated, Jesus did not turn his other cheek. Instead, he said, "Jesus answered him: If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou me?" (John 18:23). Moreover, Augustine, after the Apostle Paul was arrested and struck on the mouth at the command of the high priest, he did not obey Jesus command to turn the cheek literally. Instead, Paul said, "God shall strike thee, thou whited wall. For sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and contrary to the law commandest me to be struck?" (Acts 23:3).
Augustine returned to the words of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel and pondered them more intensely. He noticed that, in his command, Jesus specified that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other. If by the example of Saint Paul as well as that of Jesus Himself it is clear that the command is not to be taken literally, what is the reason for Jesus' specifying the right cheek?
Augustine examined the possibility that Jesus' words, including His reference to the right cheek, pointed to something deeper. Augustine noted that, assuming that the assailant is right-handed, it would be much more difficult for him to strike his victim's right cheek and much easier to strike him on the left cheek. Augustine then speculated: the right cheek is symbolic of those things that cannot be taken away against our will while the left cheek represents temporal things or all those things in this world that can be taken away against our will. If that be the case, Augustine thought, then the meaning of Christ's command becomes clear: if someone strives to take the ultimate Good -the Holy Spirit- away from you against your will, fear not! No one, nothing in this world can do that. Moreover, if someone strives to do that, do not react by seeking security in temporal things -or in hiding the left cheek- from your assailant. If you have the ultimate Good or the Holy Spirit, clinging to temporal goods for security would be less than Christian and would betray the ultimate Good or the Holy Spirit.
Augustine finally unveiled the fuller meaning of Christ's command to turn the cheek. The command certainly includes prohibiting revenge: you should not imitate the behavior of your assailant. However, the command includes more: not only should you forgive your assailant, but also, out of joy, out of Love, out of Holy Spirit, and without fear of any kind or for any reason, seek to make your assailant good. Seek to draw him into repentance and into receiving the ultimate Good, the Holy Spirit.
According to Saint Augustine, Jesus' command to turn the cheek points to the uniquely Christian motive: charity. Charity is the most important of the theological virtues given in (1 Corinthians 13:13).
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away [Matthew 5:40-42].
In the first example in theses verses someone is trying to "lord it over" you, to control and abuse you. They believe they are in the seat of power over you. But Jesus suggests you dispel this notion here by giving them your cloak as well. They are out to take it by force from you, but you turn around and demonstrate that if they intend to wrongfully take it from you, you are going to choose to give to them freely if they need it so badly.
The second example comes from the law at that time. A Roman soldier could legally make you carry something (usually all his military baggage) for him for one mile. If the soldier makes this demand of you, you may well feel as if you are being forced to do this, that you have no choice. The soldier can lord it over you because of his position in the occupying army. You would be tempted to find some way to retaliate, to get back at this soldier for this humiliation of being forced to carry his things for him. But Jesus’ tells His hearers that true righteousness would lead you to walk a second mile for the man as well. It is as if you are saying, "You think that you are forcing me to do this, as if I have no choice. To show you that I am free from your tyranny and that I freely choose to do this, because I serve an even higher Authority, I will go with you even farther than you expect me to."
Thirdly Jesus encourages His listeners to be generous givers. He tells them not to refuse either the person who begs from them or the person who wants to borrow from them. They are not to react in these situations by trying to protect themselves and make sure that everything remains even and fair. Their response is not to come from the immediate situation, but out of a freedom that indicates that they know that money is not the source of their lives and security.
You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:43-48].
In this text Jesus is responding to a misinterpretation of the Old Testament commandment to love your neighbor as your love yourself in (Leviticus 19:18, 34). lets reread Verse 43:
'You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy.
"Neighbor" Is Not Just Friends, Brothers and Sisters,
One of the reasons we know Jesus thought it was wrong to interpret "neighbor" merely as friend or brother or comrade is that in Luke 10:29, when he was asked, "Who is my neighbor?" he answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that parable the man who loved was a Samaritan and the wounded man whom he loved was a Jew. And the Jews and Samaritans were anything but friends and brothers. They had nothing to do with each other. There were religious and racial animosities.
So Jesus doesn't just say, "I have two commands: one that you love your neighbor and one that you love your enemy." He says, "I have one command: love your neighbor and I mean, even if he is an enemy."
But what does he mean by "enemy"? What kind of enmity does he have in mind? From the context we can see that he means a wide range of feelings from very severe opposition to minor snubbing. Notice some of these. As we do, ask who in your experience comes closest, and be praying that God will use his Word, even now, to give you the heart to love them.
One of the meanings of enemy is found in verse 44,
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for them who persecute you.“
So, clearly, by "enemy" he means people who oppose you and try to hurt you. "Persecute" means to pursue with harmful intentions. It might include very severe hostility like the hostility Jesus faced.
Jesus says, "Yes, love them. Love them. If they kill you, love them. If they take away your father, love them. If they destroy your home, love them. Love your enemies. Be that kind of person. Be so changed on the inside that it is really possible."
But Jesus also has in mind situations much less dramatic than that. Verse 45b gives another pointer to the kind of hard relationships in which we should love. It says, “He (God) maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.”
The evil and the unrighteous are people who defy the laws of God. They resist his will. They do not submit to his authority.
A lot of these people do not admit that they are God's enemies. They would resent being told that they are God's enemies. But Jesus mentions them to illustrate God's love for his enemies. And our love for our enemies. So another way to understand "enemies" in this passage is that they are people who are repeatedly going against your desires. They may not call themselves enemies. You may not call them enemies. But they resist your will. They are contrary and antagonistic. In this sense, the enemy might be a rebellious child. He might be an uncaring, non-listening, ill-tempered husband. He might be a cantankerous neighbor that complains about everything you do to your yard. Jesus says, "Love them. Love your enemies. Love them."
One other illustration of the enemy is given in verses 46–47:
“For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this?”
Here in verse 46 the "enemy" is any one who doesn't love you. "If you (just) love those who love you, you are not loving the way I just commanded." And in verse 47 the "enemy" is anyone who is not your brother. "If you greet your brothers only, you are not loving the way I just commanded you."
So the point seems to be: don't stop loving because the person does things that offend you, or dishonor you, or hurt your feelings, or anger you, or disappoint you, or frustrate you, or threaten you, or kill you. "Love your enemies" means keep on loving them. Keep on loving them.
Now we must ask, What is this love? This time let's work backward in the text.
In verse 47 loving your enemy means something as simple and gracious as greeting them: And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Greeting your non-brothers is one form of the love Jesus has in mind here. That may seem utterly insignificant in the context of threatening and killing. But Jesus means for this text to apply to all of life.
Who do you greet when you leave Mass? Only those who greet you? Only your close friends? Only those you know? Jesus says, Greet not only those you don't know. Greet those who are at odds with you. Of course there may be more you should do if there is tension between you. But you have no warrant from Jesus to snub someone. "Love your enemy" means something as simple as, "Greet them."
Second, verse 45 illustrates what love is:
[God] maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.
In this case love is very practical efforts to meet a person's physical needs. Sunshine and rain are the two things that things need to grow so that there will be food for human life. This is the kind of thing Paul had in mind when he quoted Proverbs 25:21. in Romans 12:20.
But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.
Loving your enemy means practical acts of helpfulness in the ordinary things of life. God gives his enemies sunshine and rain. You give your enemies food and water.
Third, verse 44 gives one of the deepest meanings of love for your enemies. It says,
I say to you, Love your enemies: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you:
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. It may be for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. It may be that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.
Jesus is calling us not just to do good things for our enemy, like greeting them and helping supply their needs; he is also calling us to WANT their best, and to express those wants in prayers when the enemy is nowhere around. Our hearts should want their salvation and want their presence in heaven and want their eternal happiness. So we pray like the apostle Paul in Romans 10:1 for the Jewish people, many of whom made life very hard for Paul, the will of my heart, indeed, and my prayer to God, is for them unto salvation.
Now how can we do this? Where does power to love like this come from? Just think how astonishing this is when it appears in the real world! Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?
Let me just give you part of the answer from Matthew 5:11–12,
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
Jesus says that not only can you endure the mistreatment of the enemy, but you can also rejoice in it. Why? Because your reward in heaven is great.
Which means that the command to love your enemy is a command to set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. The command to love your enemy is a command to find your hope and your satisfaction in God and his great reward—not in the way people treat you. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Psalm 63:3).
Loving your enemy doesn't earn you the reward of heaven. Treasuring the reward of heaven empowers you to love your enemy.
We are commanded to love all believers, and we express our love to our enemies by getting the gospel to them, giving them the message of God's saving grace that is able to bring them to heaven.
Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:48]
How is it possible for you and me to be perfect? There are a couple of things we need to understand about this statement. In the first place, the word that is translated “perfect” literally means “be complete.” So often, the New Testament and the Old Testament will describe people as being upright and righteous—not in the sense that they have achieved total moral perfection, but rather that they have reached a singular level of maturity in their growth in terms of spiritual integrity. However, in this statement, it’s certainly legitimate to translate it using the English word perfect. For example, “Be ye complete as your heavenly Father is complete.” Now remember that your heavenly Father is perfectly complete! So if we are to mirror God in that way, we are to mirror him in his moral excellence as well as in other ways. In fact, the basic call to a person in this world is to be a reflection of the character of God.