Matthew 5

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Greetings!  This begins the famous Sermon on the Mount.  This is chock full of important theology, so I’ll just comment on a few things.  Please feel free to comment on what stood out to you. 

Matthew 5

The Beatitudes

 1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 4Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
 5Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
 7Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
 8Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
 9Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.
 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I listened to a terrific sermon series by John MacArthur on this passage.  He did a whole sermon on each beatitude (a verse that starts with “Blessed are . . .”)  Here are the meanings in a highly summarized form:

Poor in spirit: Those who know they are spiritually bankrupt are blessed because they know they need God.

Mourn: I used to think of this as blessed are those who mourn over things like other people dying.  But it makes more sense to read it as blessed are those who mourn over their sin and spiritual bankruptcy.

Meek: The comedian Dennis Miller had a great piece on Matthew 5:5 – Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  He said something like:

Who cares if the meek inherit the earth?  We’ll just take it right back from them.  What are they going to do about it?  They’re a bunch of meeks!

Of course, the key to the joke was the misunderstanding of what it means to be meek and to inherit the earth.

Meek does not equal weak!  It is power under control.  It is humility and not exercising our power.  By submitting our wills to God we are being meek.  Just as a tamed lion or horse still has all of its power, so do we. 

Meekness does not equal cowardice!  Consider what Christians have done over the centuries for God that took incredible courage.

Meekness does not equal timidity or passivity!  Consider all the exciting and energy-requiring things people do for God. 

Hunger and thirst for righteousness: Those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness will get what they are seeking.

Merciful: This is along the lines of “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Being merciful to others brings blessings to us as well.

Pure in heart: Being pure in heart certainly brings blessings, because our sinful thoughts wear us down and cause misery. 

Peacemakers: I used to think of this as just helping people solve disagreements.  But in this context I think it applies more to evangelism – i.e., helping others make peace with God.  We are all at war with God until we put our faith in Christ.

Persecuted: This is always a difficult concept.  How can it be a blessing to be persecuted?  Yet those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake are blessed – though perhaps more in heaven than on earth.

Salt and Light

 13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

 14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

We don’t want to do good deeds just to be seen, but others can be inspired and drawn to God if they see the difference He makes in our lives.

The Fulfillment of the Law

 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

This must have been shocking news for the original hearers.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were reknowned for obeying the law, but Jesus said they couldn’t enter the kingdom of Heaven.  He was emphasizing that we can’t do it on our own; we need the righteousness of Jesus credited to our account.

Murder

 21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

 23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

 25“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Adultery

 27“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Of course Jesus was not being literal here.  At least I hope He wasn’t.  But He was emphasizing just how serious sin is.  Note the multiple mentions of Hell.  Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven, and more than is in the Old Testament (where the supposedly “vengeful God” resides.)  He knows how serious it is and was giving the strongest possible warning against spending eternity there.

Jesus “raises the bar” with respect to what sin is.  The Pharisees thought hating was OK as long as they didn’t murder, or that lust was OK as long as they didn’t commit adultery.  Jesus made it clear that what we think matters to God and that we win in more ways than we realize.

Divorce

 31“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Sadly, the church has all but abandoned this teaching on divorce.  Too many un-Biblical divorces take place every day.

Oaths

 33“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

An Eye for an Eye

 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

That passage is often misinterpreted to mean that violence is never permitted.  But pure pacifism is sinful.  It may take violence to protect the innocent.  “Turn the other cheek” means to not lash out at insults.  Note that Jesus specifically mentioned the right cheek.  Since 90% of people are right-handed, this would mean you were hitting them with the back of your hand – i.e., slapping them instead of hitting them.  If we turn the other cheek when others are in danger or attacked, that isn’t Christianity – it is cowardice.

Love for Enemies

 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Loving your enemies must have been the most outrageous teaching of all!   

What passages stood out to you, and why?

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20 Responses

  1. The beginning of a slew of stupid questions:

    Can a woman divorce a man for being unfaithful to her? Is that considered a “just” divorce, whereby she can remarry and neither she nor her new (presumably faithful) husband will be committing adultery?

    I always thought that the prohibition on thinking about sinful acts was that it is the start to actually doing those acts. To put it in theological terms, you are allowing Satan to do his work through you. Is there another reason for it?

    Why do all of the Beautitudes have different rewards? Is the implication that, for example, those with righteous anger will not inherit the Earth?

    The interpretation of “poor in spirit” makes “pure in heart” somewhat redundant. The law student in me wants to avoid interpretations that create a redundancy.

    So when are you doing a Qu’arn study blog? 😉

  2. Ha – I’ll let you lead the Qu’ran study!

    Seriously, those are good questions.

    Yes, the divorce laws work both ways (with the exception of Catholics, I think). Jesus was picking on the men in this example because they were abusing the exception Moses had made for them 1,500 years before. This is just one of many pro-women passages you’ll see from Jesus – especially when considered in light of that culture.

    I think you’re right about the sinful thoughts. We rarely do things that we didn’t think about first, so thoughts may lead to actions. Also, God knows all our thoughts. The Bible teaches that Satan and/or demons might tempt us but we mainly do plenty of sinning on our own.

    Not sure about the different rewards, other than that I think the Beatitudes build on each other. I need to be poor in spirit before I can mourn over my sins and before I adopt a meek attitude and so on.

    The Bible teaches that righteous anger is not a sin. Stick around for when Jesus clears the temple! He really goes all out.

    Thanks for coming by!

  3. “Yes, the divorce laws work both ways (with the exception of Catholics, I think).”

    AFAIK, yup. Or, at least, gals have it easier should they choose to divorce.

  4. [I don’t ever plan to divorce, should I get married, nor do I plan on doing anything that would annoy my wife anywhere near enough to even want to divorce me, so I’m not too studied on the issue. Sides, I haven’t even hit Uni.]

  5. Hi H.O. – Thanks – I thought of you when I commented and hoped you would step in!

    But I just realized my comment wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean to say that the rules were different for men and women in the Catholic church (are they?), but that the overall divorce rules were much different for Catholics (I saw a couple site that said adultery isn’t a valid reason to divorce for Catholics – is that right?!).

  6. The overall divorce rules are much stricter for Catholcis then for msot other Christian groups [the rules on marriage even differ between Catholics and Orthodox, but I forget how].

    I’ll have to look it up for you and get back to you. So far I’m just going by memory.

  7. Ok, I couldn’t find the one document that summed it up nicely that I had read before, so here’s the basic rundown. [Where what I say now does or appears to contradict what I said earlier, what I said earlier is wrong.]

    According to the Catholic Church, marriage is indissoluble. Divorce does not exist. Marriages can be decklared null and void [like a divorce, kinda] if there is an ‘ecclesiastical impediment’ to marriage that existed prior to the start of the marriage. [In short, ecclesiastical impediments are the obvious reasons for Christian divorce, and include the pre-marriage intention of being unfaithful.] The state divorcing a couple does not terminate the marriage in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

    So yeah. There’s plenty more to it, but there are also plenty of people more capable and qualified to explain it. Adn they tend to have websites. 😛

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Hidden One

  8. I also looked it up. The pre-marriage impediments would be something like: a desire to not have children that was never expressed to the other spouse; youth; one member of the marriage who is not a baptised Catholic; or two people who are not Catholic and wed, and one converts. When two mature, consenting Catholics who want to have kids get married, there is no such thing as a null marriage.

    The rationale is that marriage is something that God has ordained as good. What I don’t understand is why we presume that no Christian marriage is wrong in the eyes of God. The Bible is quite clear that adultery is wrong (and sometimes punishable by death).

  9. Thanks for the research. I think this shows how adding man-made rules can be problematic. Ironically, Jesus spent a lot of time nailing the Pharisees for the same thing. Jesus raised the bar on the Commandments (or clarified them, I suppose, by pointing to the spirit and not just the letter).

    I’m really surprised that Catholics (or any other group) permit divorce if one person converts or if only one was a Catholic. That isn’t a Biblical motif at all.

    I’m not just picking on the Catholic church here, because all denominations tend to emphasize some things in the Bible (not good) or add some of their own and treat them like they were in the Bible (really not good!). I have nothing against preferences (music or no music, or the type of music) or differences of opinion on non-essential issues.

  10. Why the assumption that any marriage, no matter how ill-conceived, no matter how abusive, violent, or adulterous, is a bad idea? Why the assumption that all marriage is done by God’s hand? Under that theory, you wouldn’t permit children to be removed from abusive homes, as it is a part of God’s plan to have those children born there, right?

    While I fully understand why the Church has separate standards for divorce than our government does (after all, the latter only acknowledges the economic and legal aspects thereof, not the spiritual), I simply don’t understand why a marriage that violates Christian notions of a marriage cannot be dissolved by divorce.

    On a somewhat related note, allowance of divorce for adultery would have allowed Terri Schiavo to divorce her husband (or her parents to do so for her), which would have prevented her cruel death. It just seems ridiculous to me to bind someone to one who refuses to be so bound: such a scheme only punishes the good, while letting the bad people continue their behaviour, unfettered.

    • According to the Bible, divorce is only allowable in cases where the spouse is unfaithful. However, I fully believe that if a woman (or man) is in an abusive or otherwise unhealthy marriage, she (or he) should get out of the situation. The person does not need a divorce to move out or to ask the other person to leave. Once living separately (and safely) both parties will be in accordance with God’s will–not getting divorced, but still living healthy lives.

      I also believe that if the marriage is right, and if God wants it to continue, He will resolve and repair it in His own time. If He does not want it to continue (or if either the husband or the wife no longer wants to be in the marriage), one of them will move on to dating others and the faithful party would then be right to ask for a divorce.

      I’m not saying that we should all sit around waiting for our abusive husbands or wives to eventually cheat on us, but I know that if we put everything into God’s hands, He will take care of us, comfort us, and give us strength to live according to His plan.

  11. Good points, Bridget. Just to clarify, though – you are referring to the Catholic Church only, right? Some Protestant churches err on Biblical teachings on divorce but typically in the other direction.

    Tragically, some pastors have sent women back into abusive marriages. That is just nuts and not Biblical at all. If a man beats up his neighbor’s wife he gets arrested. Why is it suddenly lawful if it is his own wife?

    Ideas have consequenes. When we twist the clear teachings of the Bible then all kinds of bad things happen.

  12. Referring, essentially, to any Christian-based church that would forbid a divorce to a person whose spouse commits adultery or who is abused. While the Catholic Church does not have either situation in its enumerated exceptions and therefore falls under the list, I would be surprised if there were not some Protestant churches (small “c” – either individual congregations or small groups that don’t allow divorce in those situations).

    I agree that it’s nuts to send women back into abusive marriages. What is also nuts is that good people who want to follow the Bible aren’t getting the message that it’s okay to divorce an abuser and stay with him. I’m all for “to death do us part,” (or, as my grandfather said, “When we said ‘For better or for worse, we meant it,'”) but there comes a point at which the situation is not a marriage in any sense of the word.

    Another one of my ten thousand questions: is the Bible silent on abortion, and, to the extent that Christianity and the pro-life movement are linked, what are the recourses for spouses with respect to abortion? Must a man remain wed to a woman who aborts his child? (This might fall under the Catholic exception of not having children.) What about a woman whose husband threatens her with harm if she does not abort? (Being a law nerd, I can imagine a situation in which adultery would not be grounds for a divorce, but abortion would – even if the child were not the husband’s.)

    Please don’t mistake any of my eternal pessimism as anti-marriage… I’m actually all for a return to covenant marriage. People might take it a bit more seriously if they couldn’t get out of it, and men wouldn’t be able to chuck their wives of 20 years for younger, sexier women. (Funny how those old-fashioned ideas are remarkably protective of women….!)

  13. EDIT: “…would not be surprised if there were some Protestant churches…. that hold the same ideas.”

  14. “is the Bible silent on abortion?”

    The Bible doesn’t specifically mention the word “abortion.” The closest that comes to it is a passage in the book of Exodus. It is an interesting passage in that some less accurate translations make it appear that it could be a pro-choice verse, while looking back to the original Hebrew make it obvious that it is giving humanity to the unborn.

    I teach pro-life reasoning courses for new volunteers at CareNet (I split the secular and Biblical arguments). The PowerPoint slides I use are on this page. I usually joke that you can flip open the Bible anywhere and go a couple pages either direction and make a pro-life case.

    There are many pro-life themes that are quite clear in the Bible: Jesus is the author of life, we are human from conception, we should protect the weak and defenseless, humans have equal value, etc.

    Some pro-choicers argue that Jesus didn’t specifically mention abortion, so it must be OK. They are arguing from silence, of course, as this “reasoning” could be used to say that Jesus approved of all kinds of evils that He didn’t specifically mention.

    “Must a man remain wed to a woman who aborts his child? . . . What about a woman whose husband threatens her with harm if she does not abort?”

    There are no specific Bible verses addressing those cases. I’m not sure if the Catholics or any Protestant denominations get that specific.

    “Funny how those old-fashioned ideas are remarkably protective of women….!”

    Ha! Good point. I have a post partly drafted about how Paul and Jesus could rightly be described as feminists (in the good sense). They offend feminist sensibilities today, but in that culture their pro-woman message would have been scandalous for the opposite reasons.

    As you probably know, women were basically property then and couldn’t even testify in court (this made the fact that women were the first to discover the empty tomb rather significant, because if the Disciples made up the story then that would have been a stupid thing for them to put in). The Bible teaches in several places that men are to “love their wives as Christ loved the church.” That is a powerful statement today, considering how He suffered and died for the church, but back then it must have been really shocking to husbands . . . and wives!

  15. Last point first: “third wave” feminism is what most people think of feminism: pro-choice until the baby is out of the mother’s body, breathing, and walking on its own (well, you know what I mean); pro-divorce, anti-chastity, etc.

    The early feminists (Susan B. Anthony and her group) would have wholeheartedly approved of the messages brought by Jesus. Many of them hoped to end the need for abortion by giving women more control of their lives (not the other way around – increasing abortion in the name of giving women control over their lives).

    Anyway, yes, Jesus did believe in feminism: after all, denying equality of women would be to deny the goodness of God’s creation, right?

    I’m not sure when abortion became common as a practice, so I’m not sure if it would have been addressed in the Bible or not. “Thou shalt not kill” does cover it pretty well; if you aren’t killing, then the baby wasn’t alive in the first place and you aren’t pregnant.

    As for abortion and divorce: I can really see how it would push a couple apart — but it does seem odd to allow a marriage to flout one of the most basic tenets of Christianity but not allow dissolution of the union.

  16. I was just listening to a radio show where a guy was talking about abortion, infanticide, infidelity, gladiators, etc. back in the Greek / Roman world before Jesus came. Abortion was popular then, as was infanticide – especially with female babies. Child sacrifice was common in pagan religions.

    The guy also mentioned how odd it was for Jesus to have female followers and close friends (Mary and Martha) and to have talked with the Samaritan woman in John 4, among other things. Apparently talking to this woman was a social faux pas that even shocked his Disciples.

    Re. “Thou shalt not kill” – great point – that covers abortion!

    Good point re. abortion and divorce. It may be one of those things that is relatively uncommon – or at least not very public – for a couple to have an otherwise sustainable marraige and then to have one party insist on abortion. Perhaps that is the reason it isn’t part of the divorce guidance. Or maybe it was assumed by Jesus – i.e., if you are a follower of him then of course you shouldn’t be killing your unborn children, and not getting divorced w/o adultery being involved. Just speculation on my part.

  17. Neil,

    I was also a classics major in college, and I remember my professors commeting on “exposing” babies. Obviously, this wasn’t in the Michael Jackson sense, but parents who could not afford another baby would leave it on the side of the road in the hopes that a stranger would take it. Girls were considered to be less useful and more expensive than boys, so they were differentially exposed.

    I did take a course on ancient medicine and cannot recall the discussion of abortion — perhaps during Hippocratic times (?), but we really did not cover that.

    In one of my classes, my prof mentioned that most early Christians were women and lower class persons, as they really liked the idea of equality before God’s eyes. The spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire is largely due to that appeal. (For that reason, I think that religions like Islam are simply unsustainable; women will eventually revolt and will only continue the religion under duress. Christianity seems to have reached an equilibrium where it will continue on its own accord, not on account of war or other force.)

    I would love to agree with your last point, except for the fact that followers of Jesus wouldn’t really engage in adultery, either, but that did not stop Him from addressing the issue. The fact that it would not be public seems like a good point… perhaps there is also the assumption that married women don’t get abortions (statistically, untrue).

  18. Ok, I’m kinda in a hurry, so I’ll jsut respond to the first point of interest [having nto even the time to read all of the posts here atm.]

    “What I don’t understand is why we presume that no Christian marriage is wrong in the eyes of God. The Bible is quite clear that adultery is wrong (and sometimes punishable by death).”

    I think your logic is faulty. That there is the abuse of something does not mean that the something is not right in the eyes of God – its the adultery, not the marriage, which is wrong.

  19. […] as Jesus notes in Matthew 5, the meek will inherit the earth.  But meek does not equal weak!  It is power under control.  It […]

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