Reading Time: 8 Minutes
I greatly appreciate comments on Facebook and on the real-voices.com website. Based on some comments, I think it will be helpful to pause in our study of the Sermon on the Mount today, and provide some clarifications and a summary of what we have learned in Matthew 5.21-37.
I have been reading books by two authors for this study: R. T. France, “Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew” and Dallas Willard, “The Divine Conspiracy.” Both authors discourage their readers from seeing verses 21-47 as a new and stricter law that goes beyond what is found in the Old Testament.
If it was appropriate to write in bold print and with all capital letters, I would underscore what these two significant scholars have said. This teaching is NOT a new stricter law than what was previously given.
Someone might say, “If it is not a new law, then what is it?” I think Dallas Willard says it best. The remainder of today’s article will be based on what he has written in his book.
The Primary Message
Jesus announced that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4.17). We are to change our minds (repent) and join that kingdom. There is a certain heart of goodness that people have, who have joined their lives to Jesus. Matthew 5.21-47 presents a picture of that kind of a heart.
These verses show us how Jesus changes our inside condition to become the kind of people from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow. This IS the purpose of this section in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus spoke to the religious authorities with these words, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23.25-26).
The Sermon on the Mount encourages a cleansing of the inner person, knowing that the outside will be clean, too.
Actions do not emerge out of nowhere. They faithfully reveal what is in the heart. If the heart is clean, the outside will show it. It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow. But not the reverse.
Dallas Willard says, “When I go to New York City, I do not have to think about NOT going to London or Atlanta. I took steps to go to New York city, and that took care of everything.
“Likewise, when I treasure those around me and see them as God’s creatures designed for his eternal purposes, I do not have to make an additional point to make sure I don’t hate them, lust after them, or attempt to manipulate them.
“On the other hand, making sure that I don’t go to London or Atlanta is a poor plan for going to New York. And being focused on not being angry, lustful, and so on is a poor plan for treating people with love.”
The purpose of this section of Jesus’ sermon calls us to live in kind of inner character or heart that belongs to those whose life truly flows from the kingdom of God.
Summary of Specific Statements
Jesus uses specific topics to illustrate the transformed inner life that is lived with him.
(1) Anger: Matthew 5.21-26 – When we trace wrongdoing back to its roots in the human heart, we find that in the overwhelming number of cases it involves some kind of anger.
Anger indulged, instead of simply waved off, always has in it an element of self-righteousness and vanity. Find a person who has embraced anger, and you will find a person with a wounded ego.
— Contempt is an outgrowth of anger. It is a kind of studied degradation of another. The intent and the effect of contempt is always to exclude someone, push them away, leave them out and isolated.
Filthy language and name calling are always an expression of contempt.
To belong is a vital need based in the spiritual nature of the human being. Contempt spits on path of this deep need.
— Key Principle: Jesus gives us a revelation of the preciousness of human beings.
By no means, is Jesus simply giving us three more things not to do, or three more points on a “list” of things to be avoided.
No one can be “right” in the kingdom sense who does not have anger and contempt cleansed from the inside out. Once again, we don’t aim at no longer being angry, but we aim for an inner heart that sees all people as precious children of God.
(2) Adultery and Lust: Matthew 5.27-30 – The person who cultivates lust is not the kind of person who is at home in the goodness of God’s kingdom.
The heart elements of lust are embedded in a person. Usually the only thing lacking for overt action is the occasion. Just as the thief is the person who would steal if the circumstances were right, so the adulterer is the one who would have wrongful sex if the circumstances were right.
— Key Principle: The goodness of the kingdom heart is the positive love of God and those around us.
(3) Divorce: Matthew 5.31-32 – How many marriage unions are fatally undermined because of contempt that one mate has for the other?
A man was generally thought to be righteousness or good in the matter of divorce if, when he sent his wife away, he gave her a written statement that declared her to be divorced. All a man had to do to send a wife away was to write a statement. The woman had no rights at all.
The consequences of divorce were devastating for the woman. The woman had three options. She may be able to live in the home of a relative as a servant. She could possibly find a man who would marry a woman who had been previously married. She could resort to prostitution. Women were not able to work in that day, as today. To not marry again was a terrible prospect for the woman.
— Key Principle: The inner life of a follower of Jesus substitutes grace for anger, acceptance for contempt, and love for lust. When grace, acceptance and love is present, there is a greater chance for a joyous marriage.
The Sermon on the Mount has been widely discussed because of the issues I have raised over the past couple of days. Some people see the demands as too difficult and don’t give the message any serious consideration at all. Other people see them as inflexible demands and literally break their lives over these words.
I hope that these thoughts that are a distillation from Dallas Willard are helpful. My prayer is that we all will use these words from Jesus’ sermon to look deeply into our lives. Let’s use them to spur us on to a deeper love relationship with Jesus. I believe that is his intent in giving us this sermon.
Dear Jesus, may we all look at our inside condition today. Please draw us into your grace that conquers our anger. Please fill us with love that overcomes lust. Please fill us with your life, so that all of our relationships are influenced by your life lived through us.