A regenerate heart is made evident by loving God and others. It loves God and his laws. It obeys the law beyond externalization, from a changed disposition, and renewed desire. In particular, a regenerate believer obeys the law not only in a negative sense but positively in all that it implies. They desire to obey God and his commandments. The apostle John reminds us “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).” They obey not only by means of performing it externally but internally, meaning from their whole being.
Jesus teaches the proper way to understand and to obey God’s laws. After declaring his disciples as members of God’s kingdom only by God’s grace (Matthew 5:1-10), he goes on to explain the on-going role of the law in their lives. In our succeeding verses, Jesus specifically applies his view on various topics about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and retaliation. He expounds them not as a new law bearer like Moses but as its prophet-priest-king. As a mediator of the new covenant, he speaks with authority not like the tradition teachers of his time. Jesus is not contrasting Scripture itself with his own interpretation. Rather, he is exposing the mistaken view of the Pharisees and scribes.
Today, we will hear God’s Word preached from the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Sermon on the Mount. We will go through three main topics: 1) Anger and Murder; 2) Adultery in the Heart; 3) A Word about Divorce.
But before we begin, let us pray…
Anger and Murder
verses 21-26: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Jesus opens this section about the prohibition against murder with, “You have heard that it was said to those old”. This confirms our understand that Jesus is not contradicting Scripture here as if he said, ‘It is written.” Rather, Jesus is correcting the misunderstanding of the law during his time. He was addressing the interpretation of “those old”.
Jesus wants his disciples to understand that any prohibition of God’s law also corresponds to its opposite and positive application. As Dr. Ferguson explains, Jesus establishes the necessity and urgency of reconciliation from the sixth command: “Do not murder”. He warns us against any sin of hypocrisy.
Jesus illustrates this in two ways:
First, he calls the attention of those who pretend not murdering someone physically but killing them in their thoughts, and words. Calling someone, You fool!, also qualifies as murder in our hearts. Of course, angry remarks are in no way bring physical harm compared to actual murder but the effect to us remains the same – to hate our brother means to murder him in our heart.
Again, to qualify this topic of anger. It does not mean we should not get angry with sin. Instead, we are called to hate sin. So this is not what we are trying to learn here. Also, we are not talking about here that we cannot be angry at all. Instead, Paul warns in our anger we do not sin. He exhorts us not harbor ill-feelings toward anyone. It is related but we are not talking about the absence of angry feelings. Instead, Jesus talks about the necessity of reconciliation as a positive implication of the 6th command. We are called to love our neighbor enough to reconcile with them when needed. Jesus warns against hypocrisy. He calls to worship him in Spirit and in truth but we cannot live in the light of God’s truth if we do not reconcile with our husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings, families and friends.
As a Christian, reconciliation is necessary to live godly holy lives.
Second, Jesus urges us to reconcile immediately with our brothers. He illustrates this by saying, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser”. Again, there are many ways Jesus’ point here can be applied specifically in our own situation but what Jesus wants us to understand is the urgency of the matter. It has to done immediately.
Harboring ill-feelings towards anyone becomes an incubator for ruining relationships. It is acts like a ticking bomb that explodes anytime. As Christians, we need to act decisively to curb any unwanted thoughts, and feelings towards one another. Any relationship either in our own families, or even in our own church struggles with this. It is hard to tell the truth to each other resulting to deepening animosity with one another. Our Filipino culture does not help either. We do not want to appear insensitive or inconsiderate. Instead, we hide true feelings and wait until it explodes due to suppressed emotions. Open rebuke is always better than hidden love says in Proverbs 27:5. So let us make sure to establish peace with one another, maintain an open communication, and immediately reconcile when problems arise.
Chrisitian, do you need to reconcile with anyone today? Do it now. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Adultery in the Heart
verses 27-30: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus now moves to the prohibition against adultery and the positive application of which is sexual fidelity or faithfulness. This exposition of the 7th commandment by Jesus addresses the core issue of lust and idolatry. According to him, it comes from a sinful heart. Unless regenerated, we will never have the power and ability to restrict our flesh or curb our sinful desires.
The main issue Jesus wants to focus here relates to adultery with divorce and we will expound on it later on our third point. It is suffice for now to say that Jesus wants us to properly use the law as mirror and guide for godly living and not as an instrument to justify our lust to sin.
Adultery is punishable by death according the Old Testament law. The rulers of Jesus’ time abuse the provision for divorce set by Moses to allow them to re-marry under pretentious reasons. You don’t like your wife’s cooking? Divorce her and marry someone else. And because only Roman laws were applied to them and not the Torah, the ex-wives of these abusers live were allowed to live and re-marry hence compound the problem and affecting the lives of more people. And for what? To satisfy the whim of a lustful and selfish person! Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of such practice and warns his disciples of its harmful effect in our families and church communities.
So instead of satisfying our lusts and following its destructive path, Jesus calls us to see the law as a mirror to expose our own lust hearts and not it as excuse sin. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we kill sin before it kills us. This is what Jesus means when he says we rather choose to lose a limb than sin with it.
Sexual fidelity means sex is for married couples only. It means for those who are single, any sexual relationship before marriage is prohibited and for those who are married, any intimate relationship aside from husband and wife is to sin against them. Sex in marriage requires this monogamous commitment to one another and any compromise leads to the destructive path of sin and death.
However, hypocrites tend to justify their seemingly innocent flirting. A person deep into sin sometimes acts as victims of circumstances to avoid any responsibility or even guilt. Hindi ko sinasadya. Hindi ko alam ang ginagawa ko. Malungkot kase ako nun. Hindi na kase ako masaya sa kanya sa lagi naman niya ako inaaway. Kung alam mo lang pas ang pinadadaanan ko sa buhay, maiintindihan mo pinagdadaanan ko. And the list goes on.
No Christian. Stop all these excuses. There is no justifiable reason in this world for you to sin sexually. Instead, begin to see the law as mirror exposing your sin and repent. Use the law to guide you to godly living. If needed, lose any connection to lustful thoughts and lifestyle. Kill sin before it kills you. Remember what Jesus says and heed his warning, “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
A Word about Divorce
verse 31-32: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Let end us with a short excursion about divorce. Jesus made a stern warning here against the abuse of divorce to satisfy lust. Clearly, Jesus establishes here the only valid ground for it and that is sexual immorality. Those victims of infidelity can re-marry but only for this valid reason alone. Dr. Ferguson wrote five important points we can drawn from Scripture with regard to marriage and divorce:
- Scripture clearly teaches, and this passage certainly underscores, that God’s design is permanent commitment in marriage. The destruction of a marriage is carnage in God’s sight.
- This passage provides us with Jesus’ corrective for divorce-on-demand, the consequences of which are disastrous for the lives of whole families.
- This passage emphasises that divorce on unbiblical grounds complicates sin rather than cures it, and may implicate others in sin rather than absolve them.
- Jesus recognises that Scripture itself taught that sexual immorality can destroy marriage bonds. In the Old Testament, sexual sin was regulated by the death penalty setting the other partner free from the marriage. Although that penalty is no longer used, its effect is still relevant.
- In view of this Old Testament background, in which the marriage ceased to be, so in the New Testament era, someone who is divorced following such marital infidelity can act as though the other partner has ceased to be, and can remarry.
Divorce is not allowed in the Philippines. And while Annulment is allowed, the grounds for it is strict and prohibitive. Yet regardless of the law of the land, we do not use it to follow our lust and even justify sexual immorality. Yes in Scripture divorce was allowed strictly for marital infidelity but taken positively it means we need to uphold marriage. And that is the only cure to immorality.
Christians, we are called to hold a high view of marriage. Dr. Ferguson exhorts,
“Marriage is a covenant (see Prov. 2:17 and Mal. 2:14). We enter into it as a lifelong promise (to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, until God shall separate us by death.’ Failure to keep that covenant is to live a lie before God and man. Bind it, therefore, on your heart. Decide that nothing will breach it. Strengthen it by genuinely ‘having and holding’ your partner, loving and cherishing them by God’s grace. And gouge out from your heart anything that might destroy the joy of your relationship.”
So Christian wives submit to your husbands. Christian husbands love your wives. (Ephesians 5:22; 25)
ZCRC(Imus), Jesus as our mediator teaches us to love God’s laws and calls us to follow them. Let us obey God and positively consider his laws as a mirror to expose our sins. Let us look at God’s law as a guide to godly living and not use it to justify ourselves before God and men. May the Lord continue to sanctify us with his Word and Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.