From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 1 to 14                             Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2018

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 1:  Chapters 5-7)

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Behaviors and Attitudes That Receive Divine Blessings (5:1-12):  1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain.  After he sat down his disciples came to him.Then he began to teach them by saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:1     And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.  Choosing a mountain, permitted the listeners to be “below” Jesus physically and better able to see and hear Him.  Pulpits are raised in modern worship facilities for much the same reason. 

            However note that Jesus did this preaching sitting down, which was the contemporary norm.  I’ve done this a few times--especially in my old age--but found it far more difficult to do than standing up . . . a sign, perhaps, of how cultural differences inevitably affect our thinking.       

 

            5:2     Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying.  In one sense we can “teach without words” (by our example and our behavior), but that is “teaching” in a very broad and vague sense.  To teach specific ideas requires what we find here:  coming out and saying it in explicit words.

            In the previous verse they are described as “disciples.”  The discourse was therefore spoken, not simply to the multitudes, a chance audience, but with primary and special reference to those who had already made some advance in relation to Him.”  (Pulpit Commentary)  They both wished and wanted to learn more and He is going to take advantage of the opportunity to explain to them the attitudes and behaviors that will keep them pleasing in the sight of God.    

 

            5:3     “Blessed are the poor in spirit, / For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Monetary poverty may or may not be a blessing--my personal experience argues it isn’t--but if you are arrogant and treat others with contempt it won’t do you a bit of long term good either.  The poverty that counts is “in the spirit,” in our inner person.  The way of thinking that makes us recognize our own limitations as well as admit the strengths of others.   If you want one word to sum it up, “humility.”

            Sidebar:  It is not uncommonly argued that, “Luke omits “in spirit” [Luke 6:20], showing that the literal poor are primarily meant, Matthew shows that they are not exclusively meant.” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).  We should not, however, necessarily assume that this is the same sermon.  In this one Jesus was seated when He taught; in the one Luke narrates, He was apparently standing instead (Luke 6:17).  This address is on a mountain side (verse 1); that in Luke “on a level place” (6:17).

            Furthermore, as any preacher knows, one may drastically modify a sermon theme as it is preached in one place from the language used in a different one.  In fact, it is hard to believe that Jesus did not preach these same basic points upon a number of occasions and to varying size audiences, the contents and wording varying significantly in the process--not contradicting Himself but reflecting the needs of each particular group He was addressing.  One group might need the lesson on humbleness (“blessed are the poor in spirit”) while another needed to be reminded of the blessedness of not being well to do.  

 

            5:4     Blessed are those who mourn, / For they shall be comforted.  Will God count you blessed because you left your “six pack” at the store?  Yet it is things like that which many people feel most sorrowful and upset and “mourn” about.  The missed opportunities of life go completely unrecognized.  The sin and transgression they are either oblivious to or glory in doing.

            But real hurt and pain and anguish occur in every age and that is what the Lord refers to.  Disease, “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” being unjustly treated at work or in your neighborhood--the list is endless.  You can’t change what has happened but the Lord can give the “comfort” that better days are ahead and that injustice will ultimately be called to account before the royal judicial bar of God.     

 

            5:5     Blessed are the meek, / For they shall inherit the earth.  “Meek” is one of the most treacherous words because in colloquial English it carries the connotation of weakness and lack of strength.  In its Biblical usage, however, it carries the sense of restraint and self-discipline.  The kind of person who does not fly out of control at every real and imagined irritant.  The kind of person who puts up with annoyance rather than verbally or physically striking out at every opportunity.  He may even be “able to beat you to the pulp” but he knows there is no need for those who exercise honorable self-control will be amply rewarded by God.  You, however, who cause all the problems face a far “warmer” and unpleasant eternity than you can imagine.

 

            5:6     Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, / For they shall be filled.  To be “righteous” in God’s sight requires the desire to be such:  to “hunger and thirst” after such, according to our text.  Some never improve because they are blind to the need.  Without perceptive self-examination there can never be the motivation for improvement.  And the desire for improvement must be as strong as physical hunger and thirst if we are to have adequate stimulus to overcome our natural lethargy.  

 

            5:7     Blessed are the merciful, / For they shall obtain mercy.  Ultimately we will be treated the way we treat others.  If we treat them with respect and courtesy, most will respond that way.  If we treat them with disrespect and the abuse of our power and influence, why should they do the least to help us when the situation is reversed?  And one of the certainties of life is that the situation will be reversed and somewhere, sometime we will be the ones who need to be on the receiving end of moderation and self-control.  And if we haven’t done so when we could have?  In modern colloquialism, this is called “the chickens come home to roost” phenomena.

 

            5:8     Blessed are the pure in heart, / For they shall see God.  Modern Christian mythology has virtually every one go to heaven.  First of all, if they did they would be miserable in such a place that is the exact opposite of their acquired lifestyle.  Second of all, as our text says, it requires inner (“heart”) purity to ever stand in the presence of God.  In other words, what we really are and not our public face will determine the matter.

 

            5:9     Blessed are the peacemakers, / For they shall be called sons of God.  When some one needs a Biblical text to encourage international peace, this is one of the most common choices.  Yet Jesus is addressing individuals and not national leaders.  He is talking about the kind of “peace” that you and I create with others by what we say to them and how we treat them. 

If we can’t summon the inner resources to deal with others in a restrained and respectful kind of manner on a personal basis, how in the world can we ever expect nations to?  Yet considerations of personal ego and vanity, the refusal to admit we ourselves are in the wrong no matter how blatant the evidence, the fact that we feel mortally offended if we do not get our way--such are some of the obstacles to ever living in a peaceful and contented relationship with others.  With friends, neighbors, and—yes—with spouses.

           

            5:10     Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, / For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  The fact that one is “persecuted” does not guarantee that one is in the right.  We have all seen people act in outrageous ways and seen how they became horrified when the social wrath of their neighbors or the legal wrath of the law came down on them.  The “blessedness” Jesus is speaking of is quite different.  It is for those who are ill treated for “righteousness’ sake,” i.e., for doing the right thing and living the right way even when it violates the misguided preferences of the community.  Those who do evil suffer the just consequences of their actions; those believers who are the victims of injustice, however, receive citizenship in an eternal kingdom from which such folk are permanently banned.

           

            5:11     “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  At this point Jesus moves from the abstract to the individual.  Notice how He has been speaking in the third person:  whoever manifests such-and-such behavior will receive such-and-such blessing.  Here He shifts to the personal, “Blessed are you. . . .”  What He has been saying was meant to be applied to the lives of each listener, but here He begins to make this explicit.

            In other words, what He is saying is not mere theoretical teaching in the “Sermon on the Mount;” it is quite realistic, “this world” forewarning--this will be happening to quite a few of you.  It is at this point that many fail.  We can recognize a principle/rule of behavior easy enough, but when we get to the point where we have to live by it, that can be quite difficult because of the pain, danger, and consequences we face.  Even so, whatever was taught in the abstract was still intended to be applied in individual behavior—our own behavior.  Standing on a recognition of its rightness alone does no good at all.

 

            5:12     Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  To apply the point of this passage to a wider area:  We may or may not receive “what we deserve” in this life.  But the one thing we can be certain of is that when God becomes the judge in the next life, then we will get our just deserts.  Indeed, more than we truly deserve for none is perfect and grace is required to make up the difference between perfection and our less-than-perfect reality.

            Sidebar:  The prophetic precedent--“Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:21), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:21; 20:2), and the sufferers in the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 18:4), are the great historical instances.  Isaiah may be added from tradition.  But the words were, we can hardly doubt, true of the prophetic order as a whole.  The witnesses for unwelcome truths have never had, anywhere or at any time, a light or easy task.” (Ellicott’s Commentary)               

 

 

So Long As Believers Live Their Faith, They Preserve Their Own Lives and Light Up the World with Their Demonstration of Good Behavior (5:13-16):  13 “You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.  14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden.  15 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.  16 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.”    

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

  

            5:13     “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.  The presence of faithful believers enables the world to survive just like literal salt does for food.  (Salt was the classic ingredient in curing food so it would last indefinitely--not to mention its use in adding flavor and taste.)  Although Christians may annoy the world by their refusal to completely conform to its secular norms, yet their very refusal to do so enables the world to persevere in spite of the evils that secularism either ignores or cannot cure.

            Sidebar:  Although this result was valid everywhere, those acquainted with the Jerusalem Temple would find it especially appropriate in that religious context.  The Talmud shows  . . . that the salt which had become unfit for sacrificial use in the store-house was sprinkled in wet weather upon the slopes and steps of the temple to prevent the feet of the priests from slipping, and we may accordingly see in our Lord’s words a possible reference to this practice.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary)

 

            5:14     “You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  A city built on a hill can not escape notice.  Likewise our true character can not escape attention by others.  We don’t have to brag about how “moral” we are, how much we “give at church,” or how “dedicated to the Lord” we are.  By our day in and day out regular behavior it will be obvious that we are different from the norm in a positive and constructive manner.  Our moral “light” will shine, penetrating the fog and darkness.

 

            5:15     Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  A light is supposed to give light.  That’s a “truism” but still unavoidable:  Likewise if you accidentally turn a light off you promptly turn it back on so that it can do its job.  Or if it starts going dimmer we check it out and see if we can “jiggle” it around in the socket so it works the way it should. 

            In a parallel way, when we notice that our light—spirituality and morality--starts to grow dim we need to “turn the electricity up” so to speak.  This can be assisted by prayer, regular church attendance, scripture study and other aids to spiritual growth.  But if corrective action is not taken, our inner light will simply become dimmer and dimmer.  And then go out permanently.  The reason we need to do this is not only for our own personal good but to benefit others as well. . . . 

 

            5:16     Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  Just as it is obvious when a light is turned on, the “light” of our discipleship should we so obvious that it will be noticeable without us even having to mention it.  The problem, of course, is that with many people the only way you ever have any idea that they are a church member is that they accidentally happen to mention it.  There is nothing in their behavior that makes you ever suspect it.  God does not want us to be pretentious and “holier than thou,” but neither does He want us to hide our values as if we were ashamed of them.

 

 

To Be Acceptable to God Means That We Must Both Teach and Obey His Law (Matthew 5:17-20):  17 “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.  18 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.

19 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.  20 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.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:17     “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  “The Law” and “the prophets” means the Old Testament as a whole.  “The Law” refers to Genesis to Deuteronomy and “the prophets” refer to the rest of the Old Testament, whose consistent message was calling people back to the Torah, the underlying fundamental law.  Just as the “prophets” weren’t out to “destroy” the fundamental moral message of the law, neither was Jesus.  Instead, He was laboring to “fulfill” its every purpose, intent, and prophecy.

            Sidebar:  The other way the ancients divided the Old Testament was into Law, Prophets, and Psalms.  Jesus Himself used this division in Luke 24:44:  These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”  David could therefore, with full justice, be considered a prophet as well as a “mere” psalmist since he wrote of things that were to be “fulfilled” in and through the Messiah.  In addition, the apostle Peter applies to David (Acts 2:29) the language of “being a prophet” (verse 30).         

 

            5:18     For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  This could be taken in either or both of two senses.  First, the Law would not pass away until its every purpose and intent had been “fulfilled” through the New Testament writers explaining the way its principles applied to us once God’s new law--the gospel--was “rolled out” to benefit all nations.  Many of its values, purposes, and goals obviously remained in the new system though its ritualism and sacrifices were removed.  

            Second, it can refer to fulfillment in the narrower, prophetic sense:  only when all the Law had spoken about Jesus became past and accomplished history would it pass away as authority.  Although the first point is a fine sermonic one to develop, the second approach seems to be the actual point being made.

            Sidebar on the meaning of “jot” and “tittle:”  The ‘jot’ is the Greek iota, the Hebrew yod (’), the smallest of all the letters of the alphabet.  The ‘tittle’ was one of the smaller strokes, or twists of other letters, such, e.g., as distinguished ד (D) from ר (R), or כ (K) from ב (B).  Jewish Rabbis used to caution their scholars against so writing as to cause one letter to be mistaken for another, and to give examples of passages from the Law in which such a mistake would turn a divine truth into nonsense or blasphemy.  The yod in its turn was equally important.  It distinguished Joshua from Hoshea, Sarai from Sarah.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)   

 

            5:19     Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  Whenever a religious code is authoritative, there is no justification in claiming there is an excuse to violate it.  We human beings are great advocates of “what if” ethics:  why God surely can’t mean that we have to do such-and-such because “what if” such-and-such happens that would make it extremely difficult or inconvenient?  You may not stop being a disciple by adopting such a method of exegesis, but Jesus warns that anyone with this attitude will be counted as “least in the kingdom of heaven.”  That does not sound like a formula for success does it?

            Sidebar:  “These commandments” relate to moral matters, as the “but I say” examples that soon follow demonstrate.  Although He certainly expected the ceremonial elements of the Old Testament to be followed so long as it was in force, the thrust of His ministry was on uplifting moral behavioral patterns instead.  

 

            5:20     For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus illustrates the “what if” excuse making mentality by two respected pillars of the community—the educated scribes (who could write and copy text) and the Pharisees (who claimed to be pillars of spirituality).  They insisted that every letter of the Divine law be obeyed--but if they were displeased enough with what it demanded, they could always seem to find an excuse to avoid obeying it.  And remember this “game playing” was not being done by those who scorned spirituality but by those who claimed to be exemplars of it in practice!

            The fact that the six “but I say” contrasts come next argues that these are examples of the kind of twisted logic that the scribes and Pharisees used to undermine the true intent of Scripture. 

 

 

It Is Not only the Act of Murder That Is Wrong, but Also Unjustified Anger and the Behaviors That Stem from It (5:21-26):  21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’  22 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.

23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.  25 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. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:21     “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  Some traditions are right.  The one cited here is the commandment against murder and the interpretation that such behavior would place a person in danger of “judgment” was clearly correct—“judgment,” of course, as in the establishment of guilt, followed by punishment.

 

            5:22     But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.  And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.  The problem was not the interpretation of the prohibition against murder in the preceding verse.  The problem was that they thought that this meant that one was free to be as angry as one wished and use whatever hateful language one desired.  They had fallen into the trap of thinking that just because one extreme is wrong that anything short of that has to be acceptable.

            Jesus’ teaching is nothing unique to His gospel.  The Old Testament itself was quite specific on the dangers of uncontrolled language anger.  For instance:

            Psalm 37:8:  Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it only causes harm.”

            Proverbs 15:1:  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

            Proverbs 17:27:  He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  –New American Standard Bible

            Proverbs 18:6:  A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth invites a flogging.”  --Revised Standard Version

            Next Jesus provides two illustrations (verses 23-24 and 25-26) of the potential self-destructive results of uncontrolled temper.    

 

            5:23-24     Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  This was an age in which people often went up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and that practice is what this verse refers to.  So important was reconciliation with someone they had done wrong to, that even these voluntary or required sacrifices were to be delayed.  A modern parallel would be our delaying going to church services because we needed to set things right with someone we’ve done an injustice to. 

In one sense, delay could be rationalized:  The postponement is “so short;” “would do no harm,” etc.  On the other hand, we have a very human tendency to multiply excuses (like delaying this kind of corrective action) when its something we know is going to be embarrassing and that we would rather avoid entirely if we can find a way.

This is exactly the kind of reconciling behavior--and repentance--that Leviticus 6:2-6 directly commands:  If a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins:  then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering.  And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering, to the priest.”  

Note that the repenting behavior comes before the sacrificial offering to demonstrate he recognizes his guilt.  Hence the teaching is not unique to Jesus . . . even though the claim has been common that Jesus--in these “Antitheses”--is setting out new principles that contrast with what was found in the Old Testament.    

 

            5:25     Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  Here Jesus refers to the uncertainty that comes with any court case:  you can never be fully sure of what the judge will decide.  Hence it is far better to strike a deal with your enemy before the question gets taken out of your hands entirely.  This is the philosophy behind modern “plea bargains”—it avoids the potential for something even worse.  

            Proverbs 25:8 speaks of the danger of falling into such situations:  Do not go hastily to court; for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor has put you to shame?” 

            Proverbs 6:1-5 speaks of such potentially disastrous situations and how one must throw every bit of energy into avoiding what is coming:  My son, if you become surety for your friend, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,  2 you are snared by the words of your mouth; you are taken by the words of your mouth.  So do this, my son, and deliver yourself; for you have come into the hand of your friend:  Go and humble yourself; plead with your friend.  Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids.  Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”   

 

            5:26      Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.  In this verse the assumption is that you owe the other person money and that you are going to be thrown into jail so that individual can collect it.  Of course, your being in jail means you can’t earn the money to pay it back!  In the conflicts of every day life today a somewhat parallel punishment can occur:  conflicts can drag on so long that there is literally nothing you can do any more to resolve it.  You--and maybe the other person--are going to endure the consequences and repercussions of it indefinitely.  You are both in “a jail without walls” and neither of you can escape it.

 

 

The Uncontrolled Sexual Desire That Leads to Adultery Must Be Brought Under Control (5:27-30):  27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 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.  30 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.”    --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:27     “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  Once again they remembered the law correctly:  they weren’t supposed to have a sexual relationship with anyone but their spouse--as it was ordered in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).  “It meant what it said and said what it meant,” to use a much later expression.  This far their exegesis was clearly correct and the traditional interpretation reliable.

 

            5:28      But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  But once again they made the wrong deduction:  that if they avoided the mere act they were home safe.  The problem was that if they fantasized in their “heart” committing adultery, they were already half-way there.  They simply hadn’t gone the full course . . . yet--out of cowardliness?  lack of opportunity?  society’s disapproval?  Have they avoided the act or merely postponed it . . . made it inevitable that they will yield to the temptation when the opportunity actually arises?  The situation will obviously vary from person to person.  But the danger is always there.

            The Old Testament is not without warning about keeping one’s sensual desires under “visual control” in passages such as these:

            Job 31:1:  I made a covenant with my eyes, how then should I look lustfully at a young woman?”  --World English Bible 

            Exodus 20:17:  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife [how can this possibly avoid the connotation of having a sexual relationship?], nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

            Proverbs 6:25:  Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids.”  

 

            5:29     If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  Here Jesus is engaging in hyperbole:  exaggeration to make a point.  A literal casting out of the eye would not automatically stop a person from fantasizing adultery.  There would still be the memory in the mind.  Furthermore, note also that Jesus refers to one eye, the “right” eye” being removed rather than to both, so the capacity would clearly remain present.  Jesus’ point, then, is the importance of willingness to pay any price to keep our own moral weaknesses from destroying us. 

           

            5:30     And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  Jesus next takes the exaggeration and applies it to another area:  cutting off one’s hands.  For some people this is their area of danger:  violence, theft, arson, bookkeeping fraud, false advertising, etc.  Such sins are carried out through the use of our hands and those can get us into just as much trouble with God as fantasizing any other evil.  The cure is similar:  The cause of our evil must be removed not by an external act but an internal excision of the degrading motives and intents.  A basic reorientation of our attitudes.

 

 

                        The Wrongness of Indiscriminate Divorce (5:31-32):  31 “It was said, 

            Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ 32 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.

 

 

            5:31     “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  Once again they have the broad principle right:  to protect a woman’s right to remarry--that is, by showing that she was not bound in marriage to anyone else--she had to be given a certificate of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).                     

 

            5:32     But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.  Their problem was that they thought that a divorce right provided carte blanche to use that right even for the most trivial of reasons.  They jumped from the need to verify in writing the fact of divorce to assuming that the reason for divorce could be anything and everything.

            As to the reason for divorce, Jesus puts the emphasis on the sexual relationship:  only if the marital bond of mutual acceptance and commitment has been shattered by sexual misconduct should one even consider divorce and remarriage.  He is not saying that other severe provocations may not occur nor is He laying down a rule for what to do if this has happened before conversion.  Rather He is trying to fasten their minds on the need to make the relationship last if at all possible.  The bottom line is that if you don’t care about a relationship it is going to fall apart.  Only the excuse for failure will differ.

            Truth be told, even the Old Testament had a prerequisite for divorce and it sure does sound like sexual misconduct!  In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we read:  When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

            The major objection to the sexual immorality interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 is, perhaps, that adultery was punished by death rather than divorce in the Old Testament (Leviticus 20:10).  However this was to be done if they were found in the act of committing it:  If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:22).  Cf. “If a man is caught having sexual relations with a married woman” (NET). 

            The man in Deuteronomy 24 may not have caught them in the act and, even if he had, he might not want to admit it in public lest he become a laughing stock.  So in “real world” terms divorce could easily occur for sexual misbehavior.  Shall we even mention that Jesus is attempting to teach them what was acceptable under existing Jewish (Biblical) law rather than introducing a contradictory standard (verses 17-20)?     

 

 

It Should Never Require an Oath from Us to Assure That We Are  Telling the Truth (5:33-37):  33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’  34 But I say to you, do not take oaths at all—not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, 35 not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King.  36 Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black.  37 Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’  More than this is from the evil one.’      --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:33     “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’  Both assertions that are quoted were true as far as they went (notice that limitation once again):  promises to God (“oaths”) were to be faithfully fulfilled; likewise one was to perform those “oaths to the Lord” and to no other God.

            But there is a profound difference between doing both of these and whether there should be a need to do so.  Should not a person be so obviously of good character that the words are actually redundant and needless?  Encouraging just such a high moral standard is the level of character Jesus is imploring for (verse 37).

 

            5:34      But I say to you, do not swear at all:  neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne.  The scribes and Pharisees tried to find ways to make oaths less binding--while going through the form of an oath--to build into them the greater opportunity to repudiate them if they became uncomfortable or burdensome.  But they did not use as good thinking in their excuse making as they thought they were doing.  Here they thought it made a difference if an oath was given “by heaven”--rather than directly invoking God’s name--yet how could that make any difference when it is God’s “home” and where His “throne” is?

 

            5:35     nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Others thought they could swear “by the earth,” presumably something on the earth.  But wait a minute:  it is His creation, His “footstool” in the words of this verse.  Others thought an oath “by Jerusalem” was of a different degree of bindingness.  But that produced yet another problem:  It was “the city of the great King,” i.e., either God or His Messiah.  Such oaths, therefore, carried with it far more serious implications as to requiring their complete and full obligation than they wished to concede.  In other words all the “acceptable” basis for less binding oaths actually had logical and fatal objections.  In principle they were just as binding as one directly introducing the name of God. 

 

            5:36     Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  Others made oaths personal:  swearing by some part of the body.  The “head” is mentioned in particular, but will even that actually work?  We can’t reverse our hair color (from white to black or vice versa).  We can’t change our eye color.  We can’t alter but marginally how old we look.  Who are we then to make oaths by ourselves as if we were all that important?  So all their verbal game playing not only undermined the seriousness and obligation of an oath it also had an inbuilt ill-logic to it.

 

            5:37     But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’  For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.  The bottom line was they were to give their word and keep it.  If they said “yes” they would do something, then they should faithfully proceed and do it; likewise if they said “no” that they would not, they should keep to that commitment as well and not play the hypocrite and betray their commitment. 

By undermining  and repudiating the concept of finding “holes in an oath,” the point becomes not the rejection of taking an oath in and of itself, but the solemn commitment and obligation to completely fulfill it--both the positive and prohibitory types:  If you say “yes” to do something, then you will carry it out; likewise if you decide to deny yourself something as a matter of religious commitment (say “no” to it) you will similarly avoid violating that pledge.  There were no “worm holes” to escape solemn personal commitments that are being made.

In other words the underlying thrust is to live so honorably that oaths are irrelevancies to the commitments we make.  As James wrote, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath.  But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment” (5:12).  They are not to swear by heaven--just as Jesus condemned doing (verse 34).  They are not to swear by earth--just as Jesus rejected doing (verse 35).  The fact that they have said one thing or another (“yes” or “no”) is sufficient in and of itself to assure that this is how they will act.  At least that is what it is supposed to be.  Anything else is to be a spiritual failure.

 

 

Restraint under Provocation (5:38-42):  38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  39 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.  40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also.  41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:38     “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  The principle here--modern exaggerations of it notwithstanding--was really progressive legislation:  when someone does something particularly bad to you, the “natural” human reaction seems to be to do something many times worse in retaliation.  “Eye for an eye” ruled out such excess (Exodus 22:23-25).  The law of Moses attempted to reign in unlimited and excess retribution by strictly limiting the retaliation to what you yourself had suffered.  “Eye for an eye” may sound horribly extreme to our ears, but even today there are many places and times when the punishment is still likely to be far out of proportion to the offense.

 

            5:39     But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  Self-control under insult is the point in this verse.  Pretend you are using your hand to hit the “right cheek” of the person next to you (the specific cheek mentioned in the text).  Unless you are that minority who are left handed, you can only slap the person, not hit him or her since you are using your own right hand. 

            In other words, the point is self-control when provoked.  When we change the subject to pacifism it makes it a lot easier for us to wiggle out of the text’s point:  we seldom face the danger to being called to combat, but every one of us faces the dilemma of how to respond when we have been angered.

            When Jesus was treated this way, He protested with a demand of what He had done wrong (John 18:22-23) and Paul responded to what was about to be done by challenging the legal authority for it (Acts 10:24-25).  There is a profound distinction between not responding with violence and treating the mistreatment with indifference.

 

            5:40     If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  Notice here that the person is suing for our clothes.  The purpose then is not paying off some real or imagined debt we owe for clothes alone were hardly likely to accomplish such a result.  They can’t take the debt out of our wallet because it is empty; they can only take it out of our self-respect by embarrassing and humiliating us.  Jesus advises that we give the suer more clothes than has been asked for:  make the adversary uncomfortable instead of merely passively enduring the embarrassment.  Non-violent psychological one upmanship, if you will—for they should we showing restraint and compassion as well!

 

            5:41     And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Jesus refers to a Roman custom:  a soldier could legally order you to carry goods for one mile--but not more.  Unless there was a major military move under process, such was often really an abuse of power by a single individual who did not want the hassle of carrying the burden himself.  Again non-violent psychological one upmanship is advised:  take it double as far as you have to.  And leave him in perplexity as to what is really going on.  You are no longer the mere subject of abuse; by doing more than he demands you are dealing with him as the equal he does not want you to be.

 

            5:42     Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.  Charity is the point of the text.  Don’t harden your heart.  Jesus does not endorse credulity however.  If the person pulls up in a brand new car and wants to borrow rent money, there is something very wrong in that picture.  Barring very unusual circumstances, all giving the money will do is encourage the person in similar acts of bad judgment:  you don’t go out and make a major purchase when you can’t cover the essentials!

            We simply shouldn’t even think about treating our co-religionists in such an irresponsible manner.  The apostle Paul was well aware that there are “spongers” who will regard a shared religion as an excuse to take advantage:  “Even when we were with you, we commanded you this:  If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.  12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-13).

 

 

To Meet the Heavenly Ideal, Loving Behavior Must Be Extended Far Beyond Our Circle of Friends (5:43-48):  43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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.  46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they?  47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do?  Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?  48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”      --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            5:43     “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  This is partially right, of course--love of neighbor is commanded--but the deduction added to it of hating one’s enemy was never intended to be made.  In real life, the “enemy” most of us have is our “neighbor” as well . . . quite literally so:  either someone living near us or someone working “at the next desk” (so to speak) at our employer.  Love of neighbor was intended, then, to include love of obnoxious neighbors.

            In fact, that hate and the revenge seeking it produces are improper can be seen in the wording of the Old Testament command itself where the two approaches are clearly contrasted:  17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart.  You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.  18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19).  

 

            5:44     But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.  We can’t control what other people do to us.  We can only control what we do to them.  We can’t make them do right, but we can make ourselves do so.  Refusing to strike back with insults and vile language probably won’t make them like us better, but it will minimize the danger that we will act the same aggressive and unjustified manner toward others.  You don’t deal with injustice by becoming unjust yourself.  

 

            5:45     that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  Paul made the same point when he wrote that Christians should “be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love as Christ also has loved us. . .” (Ephesians 5:1-2).  Although Paul’s immediate point lay in its application to fellow Christians, he began the section with the caution that he is drawing this deduction from the principle of how one should treat their “neighbor” (4:25).

            The precedent for such active good will is the Father’s own behavior:  He sends both sunshine and rain on both the deserving and the undeserving.  The good and the unjust.  And the people we deal with fall into both categories as well.  Some will be admirable and others little short of fools.

 

            5:46     For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  This verse is rooted in the fact that few classes in the first century had a worse reputation than “tax collectors.”  They not only collected the taxes, they “interpreted” the tax law right then and there and if you didn’t like it, you were still stuck with their often excessive charges.  Yet even these people could express “love” the verse tells us--to those who loved them.  If we limit our own love we are no better than they--willing to give love out of the self-serving motive of getting it back.

            Sidebar on the reputation of tax collectors:  Tax collectors had bought the right to collect taxes and had to gain all of that cost back plus a profit--a system called “tax farming.”  It thus being the interest of every contractor and sub-contractor to squeeze as much as possible from those under him, the whole system was demoralizing to all engaged in it.  In the case of Judea it was especially so, as there was a strong feeling among religious Jews against the lawfulness of paying taxes to a Gentile ruler (cf. Matthew 22:17).  It is no wonder, therefore, that we find the native collectors (even of districts where the money raised went to Antipas's treasury, [as in] Matthew 9:9) classed with ‘harlots’ (Matthew 21:31), ‘sinners’ (Matthew 9:11), the heathen (verse 47; Matthew 18:17).  Yet out of these one was chosen to be among the twelve, and to write [this] Gospel. . . .”  (Pulpit Commentry)

 

            5:47     And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Even the tax collectors greeted those they liked:  “Peace be with you,” being typical, followed by various compliments and words of praise.  If we limit our courtesy and cordiality to just our friends, once again, we are no better than those rightly despised tax collectors.  Who wanted to be in that low a moral category!

 

            5:48     Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.  We must interpret this verse in its preceding context.  Standing alone, it makes a beautiful “proof text” demanding “sinless perfection.”  But the examples Jesus has been giving concern treating others rightly even though we have excuse, even reason, to do otherwise.  The Father would not be morally complete--“perfect” in the sense of nothing lacking--unless He were able to extend mercy to the undeserving.  Neither can we.  Hence the passage is talking about being ethically “perfect”/complete--specifically by extending concern and help . . . not in being sinless.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

 

Do Not Live a “Show Off” Religion in Your Charity (Matthew 6:1-4):  1 “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.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            6:1     “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them.  Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Some things are right in themselves, but how one does them is what brings discredit.  Jesus shows this by singling out charity in particular.  This is to be an occasion to help others rather than one to become the center of praise ourselves.   

           

            6:2     Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  We don’t know whether people literally blew a trumpet to announce they were giving money to the poor—perhaps the Lord simply singles this out as being so ludicrous that even these attention grabbers would hesitate to do it!  On the other hand, they could certainly have rationalized such “showmanship:  this way the poor would know to hurry and come since gifts were being passed around! 

Although precious few today would treat giving individual charity in such a conspicuous manner, we certainly have an obvious parallel when charitable institutions are being funded—think of the “cutting of the ribbon” on the doors, the abundant television cameras and interviewers, the newspaper headlines, etc . . . with the “important person” funding or creating the place basking in the public glory and attention their “charity work” has provided them.  Does the motive of doing good drown in the search for personal publicity?

 

            6:3     But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  In contrast with the ego-serving people in verse 2, when we give charity it is to be in such a way that it does not draw attention to ourselves:  it is to be done in such a manner, so to speak, that one of our hands doesn’t know that the other hand has done anything.  In other words, it is to be so much a custom or practice that even we don’t pay special attention to it.  It is a way of life.  A constructive lifestyle that we take for granted.

           

            6:4      that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.  In “secret” is how the charity is to be given:  inconspicuously and not in a manner that seeks out publicity (and praise!) or the inflation of our egos.  (Or for the tax deduction either.)  In other words, charity designed to help others rather than ourselves.  That kind of charity the text tells us God both sees and will reward in a manner obvious to ourselves and others.

 

 

Do Not Live a “Show Off” Religion in Your Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15):  “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.

So pray this way:  Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,

10 may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread

                        12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our

debtors.

                                13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil

            one.

                14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.”      --New English Translation (for comparison)             

 

 

            6:5     “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  A person who prays to “be seen” is defined by Jesus as a “hypocrite.”  Prayer is intended as a means of communication with God and not to show off our “spirituality” in front of others.  When that occurs, its fundamental purpose has been distorted.  Furthermore, when we become preoccupied with the human rather than Divine reaction to our words, we are tempted to give sincerity a lower priority than the manner of speaking that will impress others the most.  Instead of being heart-based and heart-felt, prayer becomes superficial and a matter of how it will advance our pious image.

            Note that just as the ego-building charity givers in the previous section, these also “have their reward.”  In the Greek that means they have their reward now.  In other words the praise and recognition they receive from others is all they are going to be benefited.  It won’t do a bit of good with God.

 

            6:6     But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  This is an excellent example of how we must not place on a passage an interpretation that flies in the face of what other passages teach but must look for the central point being made.  Jesus, for example, prayed in Gethsemane.  Peter prayed on a flat roof top (Acts 10:9).  These weren’t literally “entering closets!” 

            Hence the point is that mentally our prayer is to be viewed as a private communication with Deity:  a one-on-one conversation.  Even when we know that others are joining in with us in group prayer it also expresses our genuine internal convictions and emotions.  Even in those public contexts, it is not prayed to impress them but to communicate with the heavenly Father in a way both we and others present can understand and say “amen” to.

 

            6:7     And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  “Vain repetitions” are given two characteristics in this verse.  They are self-defined as inherently useless, “vain;” in other words they are simply rote repetitions with no real sincerity.  They are verbal “repeat buttons.”  The problem lies not in the repetition per se but in the fact that they have become emptied of any spiritual significance.  They are simply something to be said in a prescribed manner and nothing more.  ESV renders it “empty phrases;” NET speaks of “babble repetitiously.”

            Secondly, they are defined as containing “many words.”  Like a member of Congress trying to filibuster its members into acquiescence with their own legislative purpose.  The usefulness of prayer is not determined by its length but by its motive and contents.  “Filibustering” God is not going to get anyone anywhere.

            Sidebar:  The apocryphal book of Sirach provides a useful version of this point, “Do not prattle in the assembly of the elders, nor repeat yourself in your prayer” (7:14; RSV); “Use not many words in a multitude of elders, and make not much babbling when thou prayest  (KJV).

 

            6:8     “Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.  In a very real sense prayer informs God of nothing:  our text tells us that He already recognizes the things we truly “have need of” before we say a word.  What then is the value of prayer?   For one thing, it shows that we recognize that we can’t obtain solutions to many problems and dilemmas without assistance.  We can take things so far but beyond that point, Divine help is required.  In other words, it is a humble recognition of our own limitations.

 

            6:9     In this manner, therefore, pray:  Our Father in heaven, / Hallowed be Your name.  God’s name is to be “hallowed:  reverenced, respected.  Here’s something for one to meditate upon:  If we use God’s name as part of a curse are we showing respect for it or are we demeaning it?  Are we using it to express piety or to express rage?  Are we using it in a positive manner or as if we were trying to invoke it as a divine curse--as the ancients did in imploring their gods to strike dead their foes?

 

            6:10     Your kingdom come. / Your will be done / On earth as it is in heaven.  It is easy to overlook the linkage between the first part of this verse and the remainder:  If it is God’s kingdom, then it is inevitable that His will must be strictly obeyed here on earth by His people—just as it is observed by the angels in heaven.  After all, the people of a kingdom are supposed to observe the King’s laws. 

And God has revealed those laws through His Son:  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak  (John 12:48-49).

If the people of God decline to observe Jesus’ laws and teachings, then how can they claim to be a part of the Divine kingdom and hope to make that kingdom an earthly reality in all its purity and idealism?  Especially if they--in their human arrogance--dismiss His teachings as not reflecting the more “mature” and “developed” insights that we have supposedly gained in regard to sexual behavior and other subjects. 

 

            6:11     Give us this day our daily bread.  “Daily bread” is an expression that has given the intellectuals among us vast opportunity to engage their talents.  To give but two examples:  does it mean that we are seeking today’s bread or tomorrow’s bread?  (I suppose that, in part, it hinges upon whether you are praying the words in the morning or when you go to bed at night!)  Either way the emphasis is on immediacy.  Not the food of a week or month from now but what is needed now—in the very short term.  If we were able to dwell on the needs of now and less on what “might” happen down the road in weeks or years, would we not be happier people?  Easier said than done, isn’t it!

 

            6:12     And forgive us our debts, / As we forgive our debtors.  The standard of forgiveness is how much we ourselves exercise that same generosity.  Yet how emotionally comforting it can be to implore God’s forgiveness for our own failures, while cherishing in our hearts like a priceless gift the failures of others. One scary thing about that quite human attitude is that--objectively--their faults may be a lot milder than our own.

 

            6:13     And do not lead us into temptation, / But deliver us from the evil one. / For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.  Our verse self-explains the meaning of praying that God will not lead us into temptation:  He does it by delivering us from “the evil one.”  That “evil one” may be the Devil who seeks our spiritual destruction--surely the primary reference--or our human enemy who seeks our temporal dishonor.  In either case God has the power to deliver us from the foe.  Think in terms of the Psalms which repeatedly show David praising God for delivering him from the dangers he faced.              

 

            6:14     “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  Even in our age, some debts have conditions for being removed.  For example, a loan to attend college might be reduced in large part or totally if we spend a certain number of years in a poor area where good teachers rarely go.  In a similar manner forgiveness of our sins has a condition attached:  the willingness to be forgiving to others. 

If we meet it, we have the promise of Divine forgiveness for our own lapses; if we don’t, well this verse doesn’t actually tell us—directly.  But is this not a fine case where necessary inference leaves only one answer?  If it’s not “no,” then what special value would be attached to forgiving others since those who don’t would receive the same reward as those who do?  As if to wipe out even the possibility of a deluded soul thinking that there could be any other answer, Jesus immediately adds what is in the next verse.

 

            6:15     But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  Hatred is easy.  Indeed it is one of the most pleasant human experiences.  But there is a hefty price to be paid out of our own hides:  If we refuse to forgive others their evils when they seek our forgiveness, Jehovah/Yahweh will look just as cold-heartedly upon our own sins.  Not because He does not want to forgive, but because we have demonstrated the kind of mind frame that rules it out.  Those who receive mercy, He requires to practice mercy.  “What goes around, comes around.”
            Picture forgiveness as a row of people holding hands:  If you won’t hold the hand of the person next to you--forgive the individual’s sins whatever they may be—the person next to you has every reason not to reach out and embrace your hand and forgive you either.  Except, in this case, the person not reaching out and helping you has no need of anyone’s forgiveness and is, instead, moral perfection embodied—God the Father.  His “helping hand” is the most needed of all.

 

 

Do Not Live a “Show Off” Religion in Your Fasting (Matthew 6:16-18):  16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward.  17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            6:16     “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.  For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  Fasting was a common practice in the first century and an honorable one--though they fasted as a means of showing reverence for God and dependence upon Him rather than as we moderns often do, as a means of losing weight!  But fasting was like prayer and alms giving, to show respect for God and not to impress others.  Hence to “disfigure” the face so it was obvious that you were fasting defeated the spiritual purpose that was supposed to lie behind it.  You were supposed to be showing God your spiritual concerns and sorrows and not your neighbors.

            Sidebar:  Isaiah vigorously ridiculed similar people in his own day.  In that case they were going through impressive external displays of fasting while what they really needed to be doing was engage in spiritual fasting by abstaining from the evils they would normally do . . . and by doing good for the helpless whom they would ordinarily ignore (Isaiah 58:3-10)

 

            6:17     But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.  They were, to external view, to appear today just like they did on any other day.  Nothing visible was to distinguish a time of fasting from any other time.

 

            6:18      so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  This verse makes our deduction from the previous verse quite explicit:  by looking like your everyday self you would not be showing others that you were fasting.  The important thing is that our God can see what we are doing in “secret:”   Others can’t see our fasting, but God can and will reward us freely and openly. 

 

 

Setting the Right Priorities:  Serving God First and Not Self-Advancement (Matthew 6:19-24):  19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            6:19     “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  Whatever we own in this life is subject to either physical deterioration to the point that it is destroyed or to theft by someone who wants to take it from us.  Jesus uses this unquestionably true reality to make a point:  it’s not what you have on this earth that is important.  It’s not the place to have your true “treasures.”  Anything here can be lost.  He then contrasts that with heaven. . . .

 

            6:20     but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.    Whatever “treasures” we have stored away there are beyond human harm and destruction.  He doesn’t define what those treasures are, but since “treasures” are things that are valuable and important to us, the general idea would certainly include that of heavenly things . . . Our spiritual interests, hopes, and dreams—our salvation and our highest hopes.  Earthly ones we can lose; heavenly ones no one can take from us against our will.  Earth can oppress us but it can never steal these things.

            When Luke quotes Jesus on this theme, He speaks in particular of how our good works prepare for us future blessings in heaven:  32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.  34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12).  

 

            6:21     For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  We speak of our “heart” as the center of our longings and desires.  Hence wherever the things are that we “treasure,” there also is what our heart is interested in.  These will be the things we count as important and to be pursued—with enthusiasm and zeal.  Hence, as the apostle Peter wrote, we have “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).  What can that valuable an “inheritance” be but an invaluable “treasure?” 

 

            6:22     “The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  We think of the “eye” as that which allows us to see that which is outside of ourselves, the surrounding world.  Here Jesus reverses the image.  He speaks of the impact of the world upon us through the eyes we use to see.  He speaks of how if it is the “good” we seek out in the world, then our body will be full of “light”--enlightenment, insight, the best intentions, if you will.               

 

            6:23     But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  If what we see that is good and wholesome fills us with spiritual and moral light (verse 22), the opposite is also true.  If our “eye” is defective and all we let in—or even primarily let in—is the sight and influence of the abundant evil that surrounds us, then our inner being will become darkened to truth and right . . . and even to the low levels of common morality we find in the surrounding world.  We become an echo of the world’s human failures rather than the bearer of a genuine alternative lifestyle.

            And, worst of all, we don’t recognize our true state.  In ancient times, Seneca spoke of a deeply intellectually challenged slave on his household staff who had quickly gone blind:  Now, incredible as the story seems, it is really true that she is unconscious of her blindness, and consequently begs her attendant to go elsewhere because the house is dark.  But you may be sure that this, at which we laugh in her, happens to us all; no one understands that he is avaricious or covetous.  The blind seek for a guide; we wander about without a guide.” (Vincent’s Word Studies)    

 

            6:24     “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth.  But one does not have to live very long to see how it can easily be abused both to hurt others and even our own long-term interests.  Hence when it comes to the matter of what is our top priority it cannot be the obtaining of mere affluence (“mammon,” in many translations); it has to be the service of God. 

            It is simply impossible to fully serve both God and the interest of getting richer simultaneously.  Jesus tells us one of them is going to land up being loved and the other hated.  Often it is God for earthly wealth “lets” us do anything without restriction; in contrast, God dares to say “no” to some of those desires and goals.  Even ones our culture insists are now quite acceptable even though they were once regarded as the height of depravity.

 

 

Anxiety Solves Nothing—So Trust in God!  (Matthew 6:25-34):  25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?  26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?  27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 

28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin.  29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these!  30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?

31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Today has enough trouble of its own.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            6:25     “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?   The old King James translation rendering of this as taking no “thought” about earthly interests is totally misleading.  As you will have noticed in any modern translation, the emphasis is on “worry.”  Only the irresponsible give no “thought” about earthly needs; prudence is one thing but self-torment something else entirely.  Only those who do not believe God can make things work out right need to torment themselves about such temporal matters.  But oh how hard it is to translate that truism into daily life!

 

            6:26     Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  In the first example Jesus cites to back up His challenge to avoid worry are the creatures that they saw every day--the birds of the air.  Somehow they survive and yet they do none of the sowing and harvesting that would be the human method of preserving life.  Hence there can be survival even when those are unavailable.

            Aside:  Both Job 38:41 and Psalms 147:9 refer to how God provides for such creatures.  A rabbinic adage that touches on this:  Rabbi Simeon ben Eliezer used to say, Hast thou ever seen beast or bird that had a trade?  Yet are they fed without anxiety.”  (Pulpit Commentary) 

 

            6:27     Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  The second example Jesus gives carries an implicit challenge:  What good does worry do you?  Instead of concentrating on doing whatever is needed, worrying causes us to become so self-absorbed and panicked that the very way out of our problem may be missed.  And if we can still not find a way “out” even then, we can still leave things in the hand of God, who can see and move things in ways beyond our mere human limitations.

            Sidebar:  The underlying Greek can easily be rendered with a different image that makes the same point and most translations now prefer it--“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

 

            6:28-29     “So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If God makes the flowers so beautiful that they seem to surpass even the glory of wealthy Solomon--who could attire himself in the best clothes money could buy in antiquity--He surely has the capacity to provide for us as well! 

You might call this an argument “from least to least.”  When we become depressed we look upon ourselves as having “fallen” as low as one can.  On the physical level there isn’t much less important than mere lilies.  Yet even if our self-evaluation is right, if God cares so much for the least of the physical creation surely He will do the same for the least of His human creation as well!

           

            6:30     Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Here Jesus shifts his argument to one from the lesser to the greater.  If God is so concerned with the seemingly least important things of the temporal world--the grass that would be burned for oven fuel in that ancient society--surely He has far more interest in a human being, who is intended to live on and on.  In this life not to mention the next. 

            Although Jesus has been directly cautioning against needless anxiety, there is also a spiritual point that He wants to make crystal clear in the following verses:  Our attitude on this matter reflects the degree and intensity of our faith.  Preoccupation, obsession with possessions and earthly well being manifests “little faith,” He insists.  We claim we cherish our faith, but if “in the pinch” it virtually disappears, we have far too little of it. 

 

            6:31     “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  This is a continuation of the closing thought of the previous verse:  Crossing the line between concern about such matters and allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed by them.  The things of this world are not unimportant; it’s rather a matter of confidence that God will help us see our way through any crisis that arises.

            He doesn’t deny that in a sense it’s understandable--for some folk:  there are many whose resources are far too close to the survival line.  Even there God will perpetually be concerned since there are so few humans who will be.

            But the despair and frustration Jesus describes is just as likely to happen to those who are surprisingly well off but are horrified that their foreign food delicacy has not arrived (“what shall we eat?”) or that their connoisseur’s rare wine is no available (“what shall we drink?”) or that their prestige designer’s clothes are temporarily unavailable (“what shall we wear?”)  If this were true of the prosperous Jew, it was even more so of the presumably prosperous Gentiles that He invokes in the next verse . . . for as polytheists they would not have true spiritual concerns in mind in the first place and have only the things of this world to dwell on.

 

            6:32      For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  It is easy to forget that, with rare exceptions, Jesus is always addressing a Jewish audience.  The faults of the Gentiles (the non-Jews of the world) were well known.  Jews felt superior to them and usually were.  But if one became obsessed with worry, one proved oneself to be no better than those much condemned outsiders!

            Sidebar on “for after all these things the Gentiles seek:  Actually the Greek carries with it the idea of an obsession with them.  Hence we find such translations as “eagerly seek” (Holman, NASB), “run after” (NIV), “pursue” (NET).  

 

            6:33     But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  The necessities of life are not promised to just every one.  According to this verse it is assured for a far smaller category:  those who put “first” the seeking of God’s kingdom and the “righteousness” that comes from obeying His will and abiding by His moral standards.  Putting “first” these things means religion is not a secondary concern left for the occasional Sunday, but one that is pursued regularly.  It means that one’s character is not a hodgepodge of self-serving behavior mixed with moral character but a persistent effort to routinely do the right thing.

 

            6:34     Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  The essence of this verse is this:  You are going to have enough problems today.  Why add to your burdens those of tomorrow, which hasn’t even arrived yet?  In extreme cases the ability to preserve the distinction is the difference between sanity and insanity . . . or life and a fatal heart attack.

            Sidebar:  In different words, the apostle Paul taught the same thing:  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4).  Similarly the apostle Peter urged his readers that they should be “casting all your care [anxiety, NIV; the whole of your anxiety, Weymouth] upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

 

Judge Others by the Same Standard You Apply to Yourself (Matthew 7:1-6):  1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.   For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own?  You hypocrite!  First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            7:1     “Judge not, that you be not judged.  In other words, the person whose life is characterized by censoriousness, condemning, criticizing, stressing at great length the minutest weakness of others--the person who is going to put the worst possible interpretation on anything and everything.  If you are going to “judge” in that sense it is going to come home on you. 

            Even more so if you are doing the same things you are condemning:  Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. . . .  And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1, 3).

            Judging in the sense of making the distinction between “right and wrong” is not under consideration, but even there one must be sure that the scriptures really do condemn the behavior and that we aren’t “making a mountain out of a molehill.”  Although it is fully true that an overworked imagination can turn any evil into a virtue, the reverse is sadly true as well:  mental exaggerations can turn virtually any and everything that is morally neutral--neither inherently good or bad--into an evil act.  Judge others with the same sternness and generosity of mind that you wish to be judged yourself. . . for you will be, as Jesus now warns. . . .

 

            7:2     For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  That same ruthlessness as you have used upon others.  You who would never accept the possibility that there was a totally innocent explanation are going to find yourself in a situation where your own motives and actions are going to be totally misread as well.

 

            7:3     And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  By citing this example Jesus shows that He does not have in mind just “judging” others in the sense of criticizing or condemning.  Jesus Himself criticized others--the scribes and Pharisees in particular.  In the previous chapter He had repeatedly “judged” and rejected faulty interpretations of scripture:  people had accepted the prohibitions of various texts while embracing behavior that was also bad but did not come under those passages’ direct condemnation.  This is “judging,” but a very different qualitative kind of judging. 

Here evil “judging” is illustrated by the case of criticizing others for their behavior when ours is actually worse.  They may or may not be doing right but what we are doing is far worse.  Hence--comparatively-- they have a mere “speck” in their eye; compared to them, we have a “plank” in ours!  For example, the preacher who criticizes you for not coming to church regularly while he is spending part of his salary on having an affair.  His ability to make moral and spiritual judgments is, to put it kindly, seriously compromised.  (And let us not forget about hypocrisy.)

           

            7:4     Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Jesus appeals to their common sense and the inbuilt logic of moral propriety:  there is just something inherently absurd in trying to act as a moral improver of others’ lives when we are actually living far worse than they are.  We are acting far more extreme than they, but we have the arrogance to claim that we can improve their conduct by removing that small, troublesome “speck.”

            Sidebar on the terms used:  “[Beam:]  A log, joist, rafter; indicating a great fault. . . .  The word mote [KJV; speck, NKJV] . . . suggests dust; whereas the figure is that of a minute chip or splinter, of the same material with the beam. . . .  In explaining the passage it is well to remember that the obstruction to sight is of the same material in both cases.  The man with a great beam in his eye, who therefore can see nothing accurately, proposes to remove the little splinter from his brother's eye, a delicate operation, requiring clear sight!”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

 

            7:5     Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  If you really want everyone to live right, you must be able to make helpful moral and ethical judgments of yourself as well.  That means you must have good spiritual and moral vision—the “cataracts” on your own sight must be removed.  And until you get rid of those worst faults, you aren’t in a position to help remove the “obscurities” and “tiny points” of wrong behavior that bother them.  Hence if you are violating blatant prohibitions, cut some slack for those whose difficulties are milder and less severe.  And before “helping” them, apply your intellect to the solution of your own worse problems.

 

            7:6     “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.  Some people will simply not listen to anything about Jesus’ moral and religious demands and to seriously endanger yourself by pressing the message on them makes as much sense as throwing pearls to pigs:  They will put no value on them and could easily harm you as well. 

Example:  I once met a lady who decided that she had to go into a bar to “witness” for Jesus.  She eventually got out of the hospital.  People half or more drunk aren’t in a mind frame to consider what you have to say.  She hadn’t been torn to pieces like in the parable, but she did have broken bones that took a good while to heal.  Wisdom and prudence is to accompany spiritual dedication.

Sidebar:  The Old Testament also recognized the need for wisdom who you share the truth with and under what circumstances:  He who corrects a scoffer [mocker, NET, NIV; worthless bragger, CEV] gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself” (Proverbs 9:7).  Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (Proverbs 23:9)A scoffer does not love one who corrects him ‘Mockers resent correction, NIV], nor will he go to the wise” (Proverbs 15:12).    

 

 

Since God Will Treat You Generously, You Should Treat Others Fairly and Justly as Well (Matthew 7:7-12):  “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. 

Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

           

            7:7     “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  Beginning in this verse Jesus shifts to the subject of prayer.  One of the fundamental concepts of God presented in the New Testament is His willingness to answer our requests.  Perhaps an earthly analogy would be useful:  To “answer” the telephone you must first have someone calling you on the phone.  Likewise if we expect God to “answer” our prayer we must first “ask” in prayer.  Hence the emphasis on this logical beginning point for teaching on the subject.

           

            7:8     For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  The unavoidable prerequisite of being given something is to ask for it.  The unavoidable prerequisite to finding something is to look for it.  The unavoidable prerequisite to having the door answered is to knock on it.  In a similar vein, if you want any realistic possibility of prayer being answered, you have to “ask”—tell God what you seek, “seek” it through repeated prayer, and “knocking” on the door of heaven (so to speak) by yet further prayer. 

            Jesus is not dealing here with the exceptions to when prayer will be left “unanswered” (though, strictly speaking, “no” is itself an answer).  He is dealing in generalization--the broad rule or pattern.  God will answer prayer.  If there wasn’t that confidence, why would one pray in the first place?

 

            7:9     Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  In the ancient world, certain rocks looked like the large round shaped loaf of baked bread that was widely eaten.  But no father was going to substitute the look alike rock for the bread itself.  If he did we would consider him debased, insane, or drunk.  His character would be fatally flawed.  He would be acting out of the basest irresponsibility.

            He gives what the son both asks for and that which is truly needed.  He doesn’t substitute something inferior or even outright dangerous as the Lord mentions next. . . . 

 

            7:10     Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  You might find a “serpent” than looks something like a fish—just like an eel can be found in the water as well as a fish--but no parent is going to substitute one for the other. Substituting the food that will fill the stomach with something that is either dangerous or repugnant.  When fishing with my father as a young boy I once caught an eel—and he promptly cut the line to get rid of the ugly and useless thing.  It made as much sense to take that home to eat as it would a serpent. 

 

            7:11     If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  Every parent recognizes that in some sense or to some degree he or she is “evil,” imperfect, falls short of the ideal.  Using this as the basis of His argument, Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater:  If an imperfect human will do right by the children, how much more will a perfect God do right by His children.

 

            7:12     Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  This is the famous “Golden Rule.”  Its has often been cited as an example of Jesus’ religious innovation, of His insight and wisdom.  Although Jesus had plenty of that, this is not the place to go to prove it.  Notice that Jesus told His listeners that “the Law and the Prophets” (i.e., what we call the Old Testament) had already taught them this principle.  What He was attempting to do was to convince them to accept and practice a principle that they should already have recognized.  A lot of preaching is like that:  not to teach us something new but to make us truly grasp truths we have skimmed over the surface of in past years.

            Sidebar:  The Golden Rule is really an application of the Torah’s demand that one love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:17-18) and this included the alien outsider who lived in their land as well (verses 33-34).  Covering much the same ground is Zechariah 8:  “ ‘These are the things you shall do:  speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace.  Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath.  For all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord” (verses 16-17).

            Similarly other commands also lay the groundwork to make the teaching that Jesus does:  to love kindness to others (“to do justly, to love mercy,” Micah 6:8) and the flip side of that, not do injustice to others (“has not oppressed anyone;” has only “executed true judgment between man and man,” Ezekiel 18:7-8).

 

 

Salvation Is Available Only to Those of Good Character and Who Obey the Lord Jesus (7:13-23):  13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it!

15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.  16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they?  17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.

21 “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.  22 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?’  23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ ”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            7:13     “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  God has expectations that differ from those of most people.  The “gate” He expects us to walk through and the “path” we are to follow is “narrow” compared to normal human preferences:  that path is broad and permits just about anything.  Because there are so few restrictions, it appeals to a wide cross-section of society.  As the result, many follow that pleasant road only to discover that its destination is self-destruction.

            Sidebar:  Some argue that “destruction” means that in eternity they are annihilated, i.e., cease to exist.  So far as they go, the word implies, not annihilation, but waste ([as in its usage of wine diverted to a perceived inferior usage:] Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4). . . .  [Furthermore,] ‘life’ is more than mere existence.  ‘Destruction,’ by parity of reasoning, should be more than mere non-existence.  On the other hand, the fact of the waste, the loss, the perdition, does not absolutely exclude the possibility of deliverance.  The lost sheep was found; the exiled son, perishing with hunger, was brought back to his father’s house.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  

           

           7:14     Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Jesus reaffirms what He has said in different words, but with an emphasis on how “few” prefer the “narrow” path that leads to eternal life compared to the easily traveled road that leads to disaster.  Jesus does not enter into a futile discussion about how “narrow” is “narrow.”  He simply wants His listeners to recognize that there will be restrictions and demands that won’t match their preferences.  Is it to be Christianity as we want it to be or as Jesus wants it to be?  That is the eternal alternative.

 

            7:15     “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  “False prophets:  obviously the term means those who either falsely claim to be prophets or those who make false predictions, justifying it to themselves because of some good they are supposedly doing.  The latter would even include a true prophet whose character is in the process of being corrupted--who is willing to use misrepresentation to maintain their position:  You haven’t been told by God how to answer their question so you invent what sounds like the kind of response that you believe He would have made. 

            One characteristic such people have, argues Jesus, are the moral weaknesses they have not removed:  they are like hungry wolves needing to be fed.  That description suggests they are preoccupied with using their position for their own personal benefit.  Real or imagined prophetic ability becomes cherished not as a tool to help others but to further one’s own interests--be it financial or egotistic. 

            Substitute “preachers” and “priests” and “evangelists” and whatever other position of religious leadership you prefer and you easily see the application for today.

 

            7:16     You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  You will identify them by their behavior, by their “fruits.”  The way they are acting is thoroughly out of keeping with what they claim to be:  Their greed--or arrogance--will inevitably seep out from behind their veneer.  Not to mention that their prophecies will turn out to be fraudulent  

            How in the world then will we “harvest” good from their doctrine if they have so fundamentally bent their own character?  So, Jesus warns, they are the wrong “source” to go to in our search for spiritual truth.

 

            7:17-18     Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  In these two verses the idea is that you can not rationalize your way around such behavior.  The evil genius of Russian religion before the Bolshevik Revolution was Rasputin.  He believed that to be truly full of Divine grace you must first have deeply and thoroughly sinned--and continue to do so.  Hence the more sin he did, the more he was forgiven, and the more grace he was blessed by!

            People rarely put the concept that crudely, but something along that line is required if one is to knowingly do evil while claiming that one is “truly” good in the heart.  Jesus repudiates that kind of thinking:  what your behavior is, that represents your true character.

 

            7:19     Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  There is a Divine wrath coming on such individuals:  they will be “cut down and thrown into the fire.”  God will remove such from His people and bring punishment upon them.  Whether it happens in this life or the next, it inevitably occurs.  All get their “just deserts” at the bar of God, but some receive disaster for their misbehavior even while alive as well.  The “fire” of punishment overwhelms them.

            This illustrates the repudiation of the tree--the judgment that it is so worthless that it is not deserving of further preservation.  It is not only not preserved, but it is the subject of outright rejection and punishment.

            Sidebar:  In a similar manner John the Baptist had warned, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).   

 

            7:20     Therefore by their fruits you will know them.  Jesus does not say that their behavior is the only way.  But it is an easily available means to those willing to keep their eyes open.  Doctrinal disputes may weary the mind and be beyond the background knowledge of many to fully grasp.  But the behavior you can see with your own eyes:  if that is blatantly out of accord with the person’s religious claims, then obviously they have something fundamentally wrong with themselves.  If you permit them to use their glibness of tongue to weasel out of it, you only have your own self to blame for the success of their deception.

 

            7:21     “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Respecting Jesus--calling Him “Lord, Lord”--benefits nothing if the person doing the talking isn’t conforming to the Father’s will as well.  The right words of honor and admiration are there, but not the right behavior.  “Words are cheap” and cost nothing; the behavior of obedience is another story entirely.  Or as James 1:22 puts it, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  In a similar vein Romans 2:13, “for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.”

 

            7:22     Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  Not even the claim (1) to prophesy, (2) to cast out demons, (3) to work miraculous “wonders” proves that a person is acceptable to God.  Whether these are counterfeit, pseudo-miracles or whether these are the “real thing,” the point is still the same:  acceptability to the Father hinges on more than the outward religious acts one claims to be performing.  Even if they fool us they can never fool the Lord!

            Sidebar:  Jesus presents Himself not as a mere teacher but also the ultimate judge of the human race as well--“No part of the Sermon on the Mount is more marvelous in its claims than this; to those who see in Christ only a human Teacher with a higher morality than Hillel or Seneca, none more utterly incomprehensible.  At the commencement of His ministry, in a discourse which, though it is spoken in the tone of authority, gives no prominence to His mission as the Messiah, He yet claims, with the calmness of assured conviction, to be the Judge before whom the faithful and the hypocrites will alike have to give an account.  In ‘that day’ (the words, though they would not suggest, as afterwards, the thought of His own advent, would yet carry the minds of men to the ‘great and dreadful day’ of Malachi 4:5) the words ‘Lord, Lord,’ would mean more than the expression of human courtesy.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  They would suggest Deityship and the ultimate authority that automatically goes with it.

 

            7:23     And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’  Such an individual who is not conforming himself or herself to God’s will (verse 21) will ultimately be rejected by Jesus.  Note the words that will come out of Jesus’ own mouth:  “I” will say, depart.  Such individuals will, indeed, “see Jesus eye to eye,” but only to bid goodbye.  A time that should be filled with joy suddenly being filled with horror as one’s self-delusions are stripped away in the ultimate repudiation. 

            But it’s actually far worse than even that:  “I never knew you.”  They have cultivated the delusion that they are His faithful servants when really they never had anything to do with Him in the first place--that is, with the real Jesus and His real teachings.  They may well have had loyalty to the imaginary Jesus they reshaped in their minds, altering and mutilating His genuine character and characteristics.  They may well have had loyalty to the imaginary teachings of that Jesus which had been changed and reshaped from what He actually said and intended.  But that Jesus never existed.  The one they face in Divine judgment is the real one. 

 

 

Because Salvation Is Available Only Through Faithfulness to the Lord, One Must “Build” One’s Life on the Solid Rock of His Teaching (7:24-29):  24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.  25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.  26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”

28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            7:24     “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  Jesus had emphasized that to do the Father’s will (verse 21) is the essential pre-requisite of entering the heavenly kingdom.  These verses teach that acceptability also hinges upon faithful allegiance to Christ’s teaching as well.  For that to be the case, the essential implication is that the Father’s will and the Son’s interpretation of it are different aspects of the same truth—they teach exactly the same thing. 

            You can’t play one off against the other.  And that is quite natural:  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17:7-8).

           

            7:25     and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.  In this illustration, the person building on the rock is besieged by a horrendous rain storm and a flood and a powerful wind.  Each of these could be dangerous, but combine them all and the impact is far worsened.  But none of these is adequate to destroy the house because it is built the right way--on the strong and solid foundation of the rock that lies beneath any sand.  Those that lack that extra effort collapse easily in extreme weather, but the one built on Jesus’ teaching stands firm regardless of what happens.

 

            7:26     “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  In contrast to the faithful disciple of the Lord is the person who hears Jesus’ words but does not bother to accept or obey them.  He maintains, at most, only a very superficial loyalty. 

            That person is as foolish as one who builds on top of the sand where there is nothing to keep the house firmly rooted in time of bad weather.  The building may look impressive and it was surely easier—and less expensive of money and time—to do it that way.  But the result is humiliation and disaster when serious difficulties arrive.

 

            7:27      and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell.  And great was its fall.”  When that bad weather comes the house is devastated.  What is often overlooked is that Jesus is not talking about the person who knows nothing about Jesus.  He is talking (verse 26) about the one who knows the words of Jesus and hasn’t permitted it to be of any value.  It hasn’t become part of the inner person, it hasn’t become the basic principles that life is built upon. 

            Hence Jesus is describing the kind of person who might--at the most generous--be called the “superficial believer.”  That individual is there on Sunday (at least sometimes) but nothing that has been heard or seen has been permitted to have the life-altering impact on behavior that it was designed to have.

 

            7:28-29     And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  People might be “astonished” (amazed) at a person’s teaching for many reasons, both good and bad.  Here (verse 29) it is because Jesus taught them like one who had “authority” and that is contrasted with the teaching of the scribes. 

            Rabbinical style teaching (and presumably that of the scribes) was that of appealing to past rabbis.  Jesus did not do that.  He laid out the truth for His listeners and challenged them to evaluate its credibility, its reasonableness, its conformity with what the scriptures had taught.  He did not “hide” behind what others had to say.  And if He differed with contemporaries, He laid it out directly and to the point.