2 Peter Lesson One

2 Peter 1:1-15 – Growth in Faith

Simeon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ: 

To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature,  escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you. 

12 Therefore I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are established in the truth you have. 13 I consider it right, as long as I am in this bodily tent, to wake you up with a reminder, 14 knowing that I will soon lay aside my tent, as our Lord Jesus Christ has also shown me.  15 And I will also make every effort that you may be able to recall these things at any time after my departure. (HCSB)

Verse 1

The use of the term “Simeon” instead of “Simon” is the first curious feature of the letter. The spelling of his name is Semitic and would be directed at a Palestinian setting. The only other place where Peter is called Simeon is in Acts 15:14, likely because of its Palestinian setting. 

In calling himself a slave of Jesus, he means that he’s placed himself under the authority of Jesus and submits to His lordship. It also implies a sense of honor to be Jesus’ servant. There is some Old Testament connection with the use of the term “servant.” 

  • Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – Exodus 32:13a Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
  • Moses – Deuteronomy 34:5a So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab.
  • Samuel – 1 Samuel 3:9-10 He told Samuel, “Go and lie down. If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” 
  • David – 1 Samuel 17:32 David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged by him;  your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” 

It was also used in the New Testament  for Paul, James, and Jude. It denotes not only humility but also honor in serving Jesus. Additionally, not only was Peter writing as a servant, but he was also an apostle of Jesus. Such a title would denote authority within the infant Christian church.

Verse 2

Peter’s greeting here is similar but not an exact copy of his greeting in 1 Peter. 

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus and God, our knowledge of them increases. We understand God’s unconditional acceptance through grace as we place our trust in Jesus. When this happens, a transformation begins in our hearts, which is evident in our behavior. As the transformation grows, we experience abundant grace and peace not only with God but also with others.

Verse 3

The first question to ask when reading this verse is, “who is Peter referring to with the term ‘divine power?’”

  • Jesus
    • Jesus is called “God” in verse 1.
    • Jesus appears last in verse 2, making a reference to Jesus natural.
    • Power refers to Jesus in verse 16 of this chapter.
  • Father
    • Due to holding the primary place in the Trinity.
    • Peter would likely view the Father as the one who possesses divine power.

Therefore, it is likely that Peter is referring to Jesus, although the ambiguous nature of the passage infers that Peter is not distinguishing between God the Father and Jesus.

The main point is that Jesus has provided everything that believers need for “life and godliness.” Also, the term “us” refers to all Christians and not just apostles or Jewish Christians. Additionally, salvation is accomplished by understanding Jesus’ glory and goodness, and they trust God with their salvation.

Verse 4

The phrase “by these” ties in neatly with “glory and goodness” from the previous verse. As believers, we inherit the promises of God as we grow in the knowledge of Jesus and become more like Him. 

The phrase “divine nature” creates a tension of already-not yet. When we become a Christian, we inherit a divine nature and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. However, we still have a sinful nature and won’t be fully perfected until we dwell in heaven. 

The word “corruption” refers to sin in the world and the way it corrupts everything, especially us. We escape corruption as followers of Jesus.

Verses 5-7

The phrase “for this very reason” links verses 5-7 to verses 3-4. However, holiness doesn’t happen by chance or inaction. Instead, it requires effort on our part to pursue holiness. The virtues presented, starting here and ending in verse 7, should not be viewed as a template to follow in order. However, we should take note of the first and last virtues in the list.

  • Faith – the root of all virtues.
  • Love – the goal and climax of the Christian life. 

Trusting God is the foundation on which all other virtues build. 

  • Knowledge – Rooted in God’s grace. True knowledge discerns the difference between truth and lies, right versus wrong.
  • Self-control – One of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:23 and a requirement for knowledge. It is the inner strength to control our sinful desires and cravings.
  • Endurance – The characteristic of endurance for a believer is found in numerous Scripture passages and is particularly important to the recipients of Peter’s letter. Courage to deal with difficult periods in our lives.
  • Godliness – Living a life of obedience to God’s commands. It is understood as reverence and obedience.
  • Brotherly affection – The love bond between fellow believers and the family-like care and devotion that should set apart the Christian community. 
  • Love – A spirit of love is the ultimate expression and proof that a person is a Christian. To share in each other’s burdens. Those who have love possess all the other virtues.

Verse 8

The phrase “these qualities” points back to the list contained in verses 5-7. There are three main points Peter is making.

  • The list of virtues needs to be apparent in the lives of believers.
  • There must be spiritual growth (increasing) through the process of sanctification. 
  • Unbelievers and false Christians will lack virtues listed in the preceding verses. 

Verse 9

Some translations use the term “nearsighted,” but a better translation is the one in the HCSB, shortsighted. Peter is saying that those who do not possess the virtues listed above have become blind to the saving grace and forgiveness of sins that they once embraced. They are not living as forgiven sinners but as unconverted people. Believers who live immoral lives signify that forgiveness of sins is not valued, while those who treasure being forgiven live in a way that pleases God. They are in a state of spiritual illness.

Verse 10

“Therefore” connects this verse to the previous one. Peter is exhorting the reader to hold fast to their faith through concentrated effort and not by being lax. We must be careful to understand that Peter is not endorsing work’s based salvation but evidence of salvation because of behavior and virtues that the believer displays. When a believer has an active faith that pursues God, they will not stumble. The correct understanding of “stumble” is not that we won’t sin but that we will not forsake God or commit apostasy. Believers who possess the virtues described in verses 5-7 are daily growing their relationship with God. Additionally, God has no doubt about our eternal state. Instead, the believer may have doubts about their eternal destiny, causing them to stumble.

Verse 11

Peter now turns to the eschatological kingdom, the one that believers will enter on the Day of the Lord and the one that the lost will never see. Peter is once again inferring that entrance into heaven is based upon salvation with works, much like James talks about. Salvation without works is either a bare existence salvation or a false salvation. For those who do enter heaven, the reward we will receive goes beyond anything that we deserve.

Verse 12

This is a simple verse but a stark reminder of how weak our faith and commitment can be. For those who have experienced the saving grace of Jesus, that should be something we never forget. However, how many of us do fall away or go through periods of intentional disobedience? How many times have we read of some ministry leader who has wandered from the path and fallen into sin? Think about the Exodus generation. They witnessed miracles first-hand yet were openly disobedient. We fool ourselves if we think that could never happen to us. Therefore, we need pastors, elders, deacons, family, and spiritual friends to constantly remind us and encourage us to stay on the narrow path. We need to do the same to those around us. It is easy to get complacent in our faith. Peter is calling for us to be focused and intentional to prevent this complacency. 

Verse 13

Peter is using an illustration, bodily tent, to denote his physical body. As long as he was still alive, he felt called to be a constant encouragement to those around him. He would rouse those who had fallen into a spiritual stupor to wake up and press into God.

Verse 14

Peter understands that this life is short, even if we live to 80 years. At some point, our “bodily tent” will give way, and we will pass into eternity through one of two doors. None of us know when that will happen to us; some may die young, and some may live a long time. Our next breath is never guaranteed. Additionally, in the context of this letter, Peter may have begun to observe the persecution that would soon fall upon the church from the Roman government, and he knew that danger was swiftly approaching.

Verse 15

Here Peter is basically restating what is contained in verse 12, that he will never cease to look after fellow Christians and steer them back onto the narrow path. There is also an inference that his writing will be a guide even after he has been killed.

Applications

  • We must ask the question, “Are we truly a Christian?” If the answer is yes, we all have the Holy Spirit living within us to empower and equip us to live a victorious life. If the answer is no, I pray that the truth of the Gospel will be revealed to you, and you will surrender your life to Christ.
  • Our spiritual state will only grow if we are intentional to cultivate it through: Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship, and service. Just as the athletes we watch or the musicians we listen to, their ability was cultivated through countless hours, weeks, or years of dedicated practice. The Christian life requires the same, or even more, dedication.
  • We must take responsibility to pursue godliness. However, it isn’t done in our power but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Take an inventory of how well you display the virtues in verses 5-7. Then ask your spouse, children, close Christian friends, or co-workers how they would rate you. Then take that feedback and address the areas where you are lacking.

1 Peter Lesson Nine

1 Peter 4:1-6 Lesson Nine – Following Christ

Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, equip yourselves also with the same resolve —because the one who suffered in the flesh has finished with sin — in order to live the remaining time in the flesh, no longer for human desires, but for God’s will. For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the pagans choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. So they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living—and they slander you. They will give an account to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was also preached to those who are now dead, so that, although they might be judged by men in the fleshly realm, they might live by God in the spiritual realm. (HCSB)

The majority of this passage is relatively straightforward and easy to understand. It is only the last verse that presents a challenge, but more on that later. By starting this passage with the word “therefore” Peter is tying this section into what was discussed in 3:18–22, that Christ’s suffering was the road to victory. Since Jesus suffered in the flesh, believers should prepare themselves to suffer as this indicates that they are no longer letting sin have control over them. 

Verse 1

Peter’s point is for believers to prepare themselves for suffering. The term “equip yourselves” is related to military preparation and its use in other passages compares the life of a believer to the life of a warrior.

  • Romans 6:13b – But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness.
  • Romans 13:12b – So let us discard the deeds of darkness  and put on the armor of light.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – But since we belong to the day, we must be serious  and put the armor  of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet  of the hope of salvation.

The military language implies that discipline and perseverance are needed to live as a Christian, with an attitude that suffering will come at some point. Just like soldiers prepare and train for battle, Christians must prepare for suffering.

The challenging part of this verse is the reference to “finished with sin.” The logical question is who this is referring to. There are three possible interpretations.

  • Jesus – The most apparent reason to reject this interpretation is that Jesus never sinned. Those who support this interpretation do so on the grounds that Jesus took on the sins of the world as He went to the cross. Still, this interpretation should be rejected.
  • Christians – Any believer who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6 says that believers have died with Jesus, via baptism, to the power of sin. However, this interpretation should also be rejected.
  • Christians who accept and embrace their suffering – These believers have finished with sin because they cease to participate in those activities and they endure the persecution that accompanies that decision. This commitment reveals a passion for a new way of life that is not yet perfect but is still different from the unbelievers around them. This is the correct interpretation.

Verse 2

Believers prepare themselves to suffer so that the remainder of their lives are a reflection of pursuing God’s will and not the desires of their flesh. However long they live, believers are to live with passion pursuing God. Pursuing God invests the remainder of our life in activity that is lasting and satisfying. However, following the world leads us to waste the remainder of life and face regret when we stand before Jesus.

Verse 3

For the person who has submitted to the lordship of Jesus, they’ve already spent enough time chasing the desires of the flesh. They are not to participate in those activities anymore. Peter gives a list of actions to be avoided.

  • Unrestrained behavior – Behavior completely lacking in moral restraint, often pertaining promiscuous sexual behavior.
  • Evil desires – To strongly desire what belongs to someone else, to covet or lust after the possessions of others.
  • Drunkenness – Means what it says, to be drunk.
  • Orgies – Out of control drinking parties with associated immoral behavior.
  • Carousing – Also describes out of control social drinking parties.
  • Lawless idolatry – Unholy and profane lifestyles.

The activities in this list were uncommon in religiously devout Jews, but were common place in the practice of Gentiles.

Verse 4

Because of the difference in behavior between the pagans and the Christians, they are now facing persecution for their faith. However, the persecution at this point is from individuals and not from any government or groups. The activities listed under verse three were normal and expected in the Greco-Roman culture and when people choose not to participate it was seen as going against societal norms. In the culture at the time of this letter public festivals, where the “gods” were celebrated was considered a civic duty of citizens, as well as worship of the emperor. Those who chose not to participate would be viewed as social outcasts. It is easy to envision that believers would be discriminated against and the object of abuse. 

Verse 5

As he does throughout this letter, Peter focuses the readers on the last days and judgment. At the present time for the recipients of this letter the pagans may have enjoyed the upper hand in society, with the perks of advancement and recognition. However, that was a temporal state that would be turned on its head on the day of judgment. Whatever advantages the pagans enjoyed at the moment was not to be desired by believers. By holding fast to the faith and pursuing the will of God they would be vindicated at the time of judgment. No matter how difficult the circumstances they must not fall back into old practices.

Verse 6

We now get to what I referenced in the introduction as the most difficult verse in the passage.

The first thing to note is that the word “for” links this verse to the preceding verses. At the same time “for this reason” points ahead to the purpose “so that.” But before moving on we need to determine what Peter meant by “the gospel was preached to those who are now dead.” Here are some possibilities.

  • Peter is referring to the spiritually dead. 
    • Avoids an interpretive problem of the Gospel being preached to those who are physically dead and agrees with Paul’s position that unbelievers are spiritually dead.
    • However Peter never used the word “dead” (nekros) to talk about spiritual death. Plus, the word “dead” in the previous verse is clearly talking about physical death.
    • Context doesn’t support this possibility.
  • Peter is talking about the physically dead.
    • Those who support this possibility often refer to 1 Peter 3:19. However, if you remember from the last lesson this verse talks about Jesus proclaiming His victory over sin and death, and not a proclamation of the Gospel message.
    • The verb “was also preached” talks about the preaching of Christ, not the preaching by Christ. This preaching was done by believers.
    • This view implies that the Gospel was preached to all the dead after their physical death. This would suggest a second chance for everyone. However, Scripture is clear that there is no second chance. Hebrews 9:27a And just as it is appointed for people to die once–and after this, judgment. 
  • Peter is talking about believers who have experienced physical death.
    • Unbelievers viewed the physical death of believers as proof that there was no advantage to being a Christian, as everyone dies.
    • However, the unbeliever’s viewpoint misses the understanding of the Gospel. A believer experiences physical death but receives eternal spiritual life in heaven. 
    • Physical death is not the last word. Rather, it is a new and eternal beginning.
    • We should embrace this interpretation as the correct understanding of the verse.

Applications.

  • Prepare yourself daily to live as a follower of Jesus. Every day the world slips further into depravity and sinful behavior. As a believer, we must spend time reading Scripture, praying, gathering with other believers, and sharing the Gospel with the lost. This won’t happen by itself, it takes preparation and dedication on our part.
  • Turn away from sinful desires and practices. Find an accountability partner or group to meet with and share your struggles. Don’t wait to ask for help as you might find yourself mired in sinful practices before you realize it. Challenge fellow believers if you see them participating in or even condoning sinful behavior.
  • We must never lose sight of the fact that we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Will we stand in assurance of salvation, or despair in eternal separation from God? Will we be rewarded for living fruitful lives, or will be ashamed of all the wasted opportunities? Regardless of what you’ve done before you can make a decision right now to living fruitful life, glorifying God in the process and resting in the full assurance of your salvation. 

1 Peter Lesson Eight

1 Peter 3:13-22 – Undeserved Suffering

13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, 15 but honor the Messiah  as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused,  those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, 

the righteous for the unrighteous, 

that He might bring you to God, 

after being put to death in the fleshly realm

but made alive in the spiritual realm. 

19 In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits  in prison 20 who in the past were disobedient, when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while an ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 22 Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him.

This passage breaks down into two parts. The first is verses 13-17, and the second is 18-22. The first is relatively straightforward to interpret, while the second part is quite challenging, with theologians having dozens of interpretations of the meaning. 

Before we break down the individual verses, let’s summarize the first section. The promise of eternal fellowship with God overrides the trials and distress of the present life. When contrasted against eternity, the span of our lives is a mere blip on the timeline. That doesn’t mean that our struggles are easy, but when viewed through the lens of comparison, we should weigh future glory as priceless compared to the short-termed pleasure of ease of life.

Verse 13

Peter is presenting a rhetorical question. No one is able to harm believers on the day of judgment as God will reward them for their faithfulness. Yahweh will look favorably on the righteous but is against those who practice evil. A believer should never fear what the world can do to them for being obedient to God. Romans 8:31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

God will vindicate believers on the day of judgment.

Verse 14

The word “but” at the beginning of the verse provides further clarification and could be understood to mean “indeed.” Peter’s underlying point here is that regardless of what happens to our physical bodies or the trials we suffer through in this life, we are still blessed because of our future destination. There are two implications to Peter’s point.

  • Since believers are blessed (eternal implication) by God, they shouldn’t fear what unbelievers can do to them.
  • They should fear (respect) God and be obedient. True fear of Yahweh removes the fear of anything else.

Verse 15

A reminder from 1 Peter 1:22 and 3:4 is that the heart is the origin of our human behavior, and character and everything we do flows from our heart. Because of this, if Jesus occupies our heart, our behavior will reflect His character as we live out our faith regardless of our circumstances. Every believer should be able to explain why they have joy and hope regardless of their trials or struggles. We should be able to explain the basics of our faith. Our response to difficulties will be noticeable to unbelievers and demonstrate that our hope is in God and not anything of this world.

Verse 16

Will the previous verse explained what we should; this verse explains how to do it, why you do it, and the result of right behavior.

  • Always interact with others in a spirit of gentleness and respect.
    • We should never be arrogant.
    • We should never argue.
    • We aren’t prosecuting attorneys or a judge. There is only one judge, and none of us are qualified to sit on that throne.
    • The point isn’t to win an argument; it is to bring the lost to Jesus.
  • Believers do this because the Spirit of God lives within us, and we are to reflect the character of God in our lives.
  • When believers live in a righteous, not self-righteous, manner, those who abuse them will be ashamed. 
  • There are two viewpoints on what “shame” means in this verse.
    • It could be the shame of realizing that believers are acting in a righteous manner and the unbeliever is not.
    • It could be the shame and humiliation that unbelievers will experience on the day of judgment.

Verse 17

The correct understanding of this verse is that it is better to suffer in this life for doing good than to suffer on the day of judgment, and for all eternity, for doing evil.

Verse 18

Peter’s intention here is not that believers should focus on imitating Christ in their suffering, although we may suffer for being a follower of Jesus. Instead, Peter is calling on the reader to focus on Christ’s victory over suffering and death. 

  • We can never suffer to the extent that Jesus did as He bore the sins of the world.
  • Suffering is a prelude to future glory for each believer.
  • Emphasizing Jesus’ victory reminds us that our troubles are of a temporary nature, but our future glory is permanent.
  • Though Jesus suffered death, the Spirit raised Him. In the same manner, we will suffer a physical death but will share in Jesus’ resurrection.

Verse 19-22 The second portion of the passage is quite challenging, with many different interpretations. 

Verse 19 – The three main views are:

  • Descent into hell.
  • Preexistent Christ.
  • Triumphal proclamation over the spirit-world.

The third view is the most widely accepted, and a proper understanding of the text would lead one to agree. It also fits the overall context of vindication presented in the passage. 

In the New Testament, the word “spirit” is used to describe angels or demons, not humans. Peter also used the term “people” in verse 20, so to use a different term to refer to humans in both cases doesn’t make sense.

The point of verse 19 is that Jesus proclaimed His victory over evil.

Verse 20

The reason the spirits were imprisoned is that they were disobedient. The act of disobedience is not crystal clear, but some explanation is provided in Jude 6-7 and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, the angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions, just as angels did, and serve as an example by undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. 

It also ties into Genesis 6:1-4, indicating that angels had sexual relations with women. In this context, it is possible to view what occurred in Genesis 6 as the climax of sin, prompting Yahweh to release His judgment on the world. In the same way that the water killed almost everything on the earth, the water saved Noah and his family by separating them from the evil in the world. Once the waters receded, they entered a new life.

Verse 21

An important to bring up at the very beginning of the discussion on this verse is that baptism by itself does not lead to eternal life. Peter is using an illustration here. The flood serves as an illustration of baptism in the New Covenant and for the church. New Testament baptism should be understood and being immersed in water. Anyone who goes completely underwater will eventually die. The illustration is that baptism represents death to the old life, and once lifted from the water, the new life begins. Baptism doesn’t remove our sin (filth of the flesh), but it is an outward expression of an inward change (good conscience toward God). Placing our faith in Jesus and repenting of our sin is the only way to eternal life. Although baptism is something that every believer should do after placing their faith in Jesus, it is not a requirement for eternal life. The narrative in Luke 23 with the two thieves is proof of that. Jesus told the one that he would be with Jesus in paradise, but there was no chance for the thief to receive baptism.

Verse 22

The culmination of this passage, Jesus’ victory over His enemies. There is a reference to Psalm 110:1 This is the declaration of the LORD to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” The conclusion to draw is that even in the suffering that believers experience, Jesus reigns and rules. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has triumphed over all the forces of evil, and His followers will reign with Him together for all eternity. The theme here is vindication. Jesus occupies a position of royal dignity and authority beside God the Father. Jesus has broken the power of evil. He has authority over good and bad spirits (good and bad angels), as well as authorities and powers in the spiritual realm. All of creation is subject to the lordship of Jesus.

A summary of the passage includes the following principles:

  • Jesus, as Messiah, has fulfilled the hope of Israel by defeating all the evil spiritual powers of the world.
  • All the wickedness and corruption from the beginning of time are overthrown.
  • Regardless of our struggles or persecution, we should never lose sight of the victory we share with Jesus. 
  • We need to be a witness of our hope and the truth of the Gospel regardless of our circumstances.

Applications

  • Are you committed to pursuing goodness and righteousness regardless of the cost or consequences? If you falter in this area, you may have a faith problem. Pray for your faith to be strengthened.
  • Are you bold in sharing your faith? Are you proactive in finding those opportunities, or are you reactive, only sharing when confronted or asked? We are called to be proactive in our witness and do it with a humble spirit and gentleness.
  • Do you have complete confidence and trust in the victory of Jesus? If not, pray that you would completely trust in Him. 
  • Your behavior should demonstrate a spirit of joy, victory, and humility to the world around you. Jesus doesn’t need arrogant or self-righteous victors. He wants victors who bask and are filled with love and joy at the victory He secured by going to the cross, paying our debt, and redeeming us from all unrighteousness.

1 Peter Lesson Five

1 Peter 2:18-25 Submission of Slaves

18 Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. 19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.

21 For you were called to this,

because Christ also suffered for you,

leaving you an example,

so that you should follow in His steps.

22 He did not commit sin,

and no deceit was found in His mouth;

23 when He was reviled,

He did not revile in return;

when He was suffering,

He did not threaten

but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.

24 He Himself bore our sins

in His body on the tree,

so that, having died to sins,

we might live for righteousness;

you have been healed by His wounds.

25 For you were like sheep going astray,

but you have now returned

to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (HCSB)

Because of the potentially sensitive nature of the central theme at the beginning of this passage, slaves and slavery, it is essential that we have a correct understanding of slavery in the 1st century, as in many ways it is significantly different from modern slavery, especially the issue of slavery in American history.

Characteristics of slaves/slavery in the ancient Greco-Roman World.

  • Many slaves lived a miserable existence, especially those who worked in mines.
  • However, many slaves served in what would today be considered a professional occupation.
    • Doctors.
    • Teachers.
    • Managers.
    • Musicians.
    • Artisans.
  • It was not unknown for a slave to have a higher education than their master.
  • Many household slaves were loved and trusted by the family they worked for.
  • Some slaves owned their own slaves.
  • Slavery was not based on race.
  • Slaves could suffer brutal treatment from cruel masters.
  • Children born in slavery belonged to the master.
  • They were subject to any form of abuse one could imagine.
  • Manumission – the process of purchasing their freedom.
    • Required help from their master.
    • Usually only available for urban slaves.
    • Most slaves had no hope of this possibility.

Now that we have an understanding of what Greco-Roman slavery looked like, it is important to discuss the New Testament’s position on slavery.

  • It is not commanded to be part of the social structure.
  • It is regulated as part of the social fabric.
  • The argument that the early church should have vigorously fought against slavery ignores the fact that the early church had little power, and slavery was such a normal and accepted practice that the church would have been doomed to failure.
  • Instead, the early church’s focus was on the believer’s relationship to God, and they focused on the sin and rebellion of individuals against their Creator.
  • New Testament writer’s concentrated on a godly response of believers to their mistreatment.

As we move through this study, it will be essential for us to bring the underlying principle from the Greco-Roman world to our modern world. That principle is submitting to our boss, supervisor, or workplace requirements.

Verse 18

  • Believers are called to obey their masters, even if they are wicked.
  • However, there is a fine line implied in this command.
    • Peter is not saying that Christian slaves should participate in or follow a wicked master in the execution of evil.
    • Peter is saying that completing non-evil tasks are commanded even if their master is an evil person.
    • Let’s look at a modern example.
      • A Christian secretary’s evil boss asks them to type a letter that doesn’t contain any evil actions. That is ok to complete.
      • A Christian secretary’s evil boss asks them to type a letter that encourages and promotes abortion and gives details on how to get an abortion. In that case, it is ok for the secretary to refuse the command.

Verse 19

Peter now explains why believers are to submit, even if their master is evil.

  • It brings favor. The literal Greek word here means “grace.”
  • This same term concludes verse 20, indicating that the two verses should be viewed together in context.
  • Although Peter is addressing slaves here, it is also a model for how believers are to respond to social injustice.
  • Slaves who endure unjust suffering because of their relationship/obedience to God will be rewarded by God.
  • In the same way, believers today will receive a reward for unjust suffering because of their relationship and obedience to God.

Verse 20

This verse expands upon the previous, explaining under what circumstances believers can expect a reward.

  • Doing wrong (sin) that results in punishment will not result in a reward from God since they received what they deserved.
  • On the other hand, if the believer does what is good and receives punishment, they will receive favor (grace) from God.

Verses 21-23

These verses show the example of Jesus and how He lived His life. They also tie back into verses 19-20. We are to endure suffering for doing good because Jesus suffered at the hands of the authorities even though He lived a sinless life.

Verse 21

Christ is the example.

  • Jesus’s suffering serves as an example to all believers.
  • We are called to suffer through righteous living because Jesus set the example.
  • At the same time, we will never experience suffering to the level Jesus did.
    • Being crucified.
    • Bearing the sins of the world.
  • Godly living displayed by believers can win the lost to a life of faith.
  • Only Jesus’ suffering and death atone for sin.

Verse 22

Peter directly references Isaiah 53:9 and the suffering servant.

  • He committed no sin involves wrong actions in a general sense.
  • No deceit was found in His mouth involves not sinning with words or speech.

Verse 23

The sinless life that Jesus led was anything but easy.

  • He faced insults and severe suffering.
  • His silence in the face of persecution and suffering is an extraordinary example of His nonretaliatory spirit. This is especially true when we consider the events surrounding His trial and crucifixion.
    • The urge for revenge can be overwhelming when we feel wrongly accused or mistreated.
    • In the ancient world, people would demonstrate their innocence by arguing zealously against those accusing them.
    • Jesus’ silence demonstrated complete confidence in God vindicating Him.
    • Jesus’ lifestyle matched His teaching, love of enemies, and a spirit of nonretaliation found in Matthew 5:38-48.
  • Believers triumph over evil because they trust God will vindicate them and judge their enemies, righting all the wrongs found in Romans 12:19-20.
  • Jesus is proof that a person could be completely in God’s will and suffer unjustly.
  • Churches/pastors that teach believers they will not suffer if they are in God’s will are preaching a false message.

Verse 24

The unmistakable difference in the suffering between Jesus and His followers is now clarified.

  • The suffering and death of Jesus are unique and the foundation for our salvation.
    • He bore the sins of all who would place their faith in Him.
    • His sacrificial blood cleansed us.
  • The purpose of Jesus’ death was not merely to provide forgiveness.
    • It was also to provide His followers the power to live for righteousness.
    • Living for righteousness results in dying to sin.
    • We would experience freedom from the power of sin.
  • The idea of being healed does not refer to physical healing. Peter is talking about healing from the penalty of eternal separation from God because of sin.
  • Believers now live a new life.

Verse 25

We have to be honest and admit that living this way through adversity and persecution is not easy. Unfortunately, there are those who drift away from the faith when life gets hard, and they feel that they can’t cope anymore. However, there is safety and support by staying under the care of the shepherd instead of leaving.

This verse connects back to verse 24, with the idea of being healed in verse 24.

  • Healing involves the forgiveness of sins.
  • Believers are no longer lost sheep, following the ways of the world.
  • Believers have submitted to the care of the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls, Jesus.
  • Peter reminds the reader that their ruler is not the emperor or their master; it is Jesus.
  • There is also an implied reference to the church of Jesus.
    • Peter is illustrating Jesus’ authority here.
    • The word “Guardian” in the original Greek is episkopos. This term is used for those who had authority in the early church and is found in Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, and Titus 1:7.
    • Christ is the ultimate authority in the church.
  • The truth that Peter wants us to understand is the following.
    • As we live godly lives and submit in times of suffering, we follow Jesus’ example and become more like Him.
    • We submit and obey for the following reasons.
      • As an example to the lost around us.
      • To show our love for Jesus.
      • So that we may grow spiritually and become more like Jesus.

Applications.

  • Do we respect and follow the requests of our boss, workplace, and organization as long as it doesn’t go against the commands of Scripture? There may be tasks or requirements that we don’t like, but we must do them. There may be bosses or co-workers we don’t like, but we must still treat them with respect. The only time we can go against the instructions of our boss or organization is when they go against God’s commands.
  • We should expect to suffer as we live our Christian lives. It is never fun, but we still need to persevere through those times by holding fast to Jesus. Suffering for doing good will be rewarded. Suffering for sinful behavior will receive its just punishment.
  • Our one and only loyalty is to Jesus. Anyone or anything that redirects our loyalty needs to be removed or adjusted. We will answer to Jesus on judgment day, not a person.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Fifteen

Do Not Worry – Matthew 6: 25-34

In this lesson we’ll address the issue of worry.

25 “This is why I tell you:  Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?  26 Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? 27 Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! 30 If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith?  31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,  and all these things will be provided for you.  34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (HCSB)

The central theme here is “worry,” occurring six times in this passage. The entire passage focuses on God’s provision of food and clothing and our worrying over these basic needs. These two areas were key concerns for the first century. However, we shouldn’t focus on just these two items as they are two examples to teach us a broader principle regarding God’s provision. We could place any basic need that makes us worry here, such as shelter, community, job, etc.

There’s an old saying that is applicable here. If you’re worrying, you’re not trusting; and if you’re trusting, you’re not worrying.

Verse 25

Some translation start verse 25 with “Therefore,” defining the relationship between a kingdom servant and the king. In the previous passage, Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus called for total devotion from His followers. Now Jesus is saying that when we enter into this type of relationship with Him, He will take care of our needs (not wants). It is a mutual commitment established by the covenant relationship between Jesus and His followers. Those who are totally committed to the King do not need to worry.

If God gave us life, surely we can trust Him to provide for our basic needs; food and clothing.

Verse 26

Birds don’t worry. They don’t store up food for the future, and yet their lives go on. They aren’t concerned with hoarding material wealth. They are content with their daily provision. At the same time, this is not a promotion of being lazy.

  • Colossians 3:23-24  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10  In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.”

We need to be careful here to differentiate between those unwilling to work and those not capable because of a handicap or injury. Under those circumstances, the Christian community should help the brother or sister who is unable to provide for themselves.

Verse 27

The original Greek phrase reads, “add one forearm length (pechys) to his age/stature (helikia).” The word helikia usually denotes a measure of age or maturity as in Hebrews 11:11, but occasionally it is used for physical stature as in Luke 2:52. In the context of this passage, it must refer to a measure of time. Jesus’ followers are not to worry as that won’t age any time to their lives. Most likely, the opposite would happen. Worry and anxiety would shorten their life.

Verses 28-32

In verses 28-30, Jesus talks about the flowers and how beautiful they are. If God gives beauty to something as short-lived as a flower, won’t He care for us in a much greater manner? If God bestows beauty and love on a flower, won’t He give even greater care and love to people who are created in His image?

Jesus’ use of “you of little faith” in verse 30 is not meant in a derogatory manner. It only occurs in the New Testament here and in Matthew 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20, and Luke 12:28. The term can be confrontational but can also be used in an endearing context. Jesus’ tone is not scolding but coaxing with an arm around our shoulder. Jesus is not belittling the disciples; He was encouraging them.

Another reason Jesus’ followers are not to worry is that worry marked the habits of the pagans (idolators) in verse 32. Worry marks those who don’t truly know and understand God. Worry is, in its most basic understanding, distrust of God and sinful behavior.

Verse 33

This verse is the climax of the passage. The word “seek” does not mean to search for something that is not present. Jesus has already announced the arrival of His Kingdom. In the context of this passage, it means that Jesus’ followers are to make the heavenly kingdom a continual and central priority in their daily lives. Jesus’ followers have already entered the heavenly kingdom and are to live with that understanding as they follow God’s design for their lives. By doing this, they “seek…His righteousness.”

To build on this understanding, we need to go back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in verse three, where Jesus points out our spiritual bankruptcy and complete lack of righteousness apart from God. Righteousness comes as a free and merciful gift, grace through faith.

Ephesians 2:4-10  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

The first reference to righteousness appears in Genesis 15:6 Abraham believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.

Paul confirmed this in Romans 4:2-25.

The New Testament is clear that the righteousness of God comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 3:22-24  22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Jesus speaks to this in John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

However, it is logical to ask the question of why so many Christians throughout history, even to our present day, suffered deprivation and even starvation. There are several possible solutions.

  • The promise is for the period after Christ’s return. However, the hole in this argument is why Jesus would tell His followers not to worry in the present age.
  • The proper understanding is that Jesus’ followers have not correctly applied Scripture throughout the ages.
    • Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
    • Mark 10:30a who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time
    • Acts 2:44-45 Now all believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had need.
    • Jesus’ teaching implies the sharing of goods within the Christian community. When Jesus’ followers corporately seek first His priorities, they will take care of the needy within their local fellowship communities.

Verse 34

Jesus concludes this passage by encouraging daily dependence on God but also stating that it will never be completed in this age because of daily worry (evil) that exists. This is also a trust issue. If we truly trust God, we won’t worry about tomorrow. We are to live in the present and trust God for the future.

Applications

  • Does worry control you or even affect your daily living? That’s an indicator of a lack of trust in God and the truth of His Word. Repent of that sin and trust in the promises of God. Remember that pagans are controlled by worry and try to appease their “gods.” As Christians, we have a loving and merciful God who we don’t need to appease.
  • Are there people around you who are controlled by worry? Pray for them and talk to them about the promises of God. If they aren’t believers, it is a perfect opportunity to share your testimony about how God has changed your life and how you now live worry-free.
  • Remember that righteousness comes from an understanding of being spiritually bankrupt apart from faith in Jesus.
  • Be generous with what God has blessed you with and help those less fortunate in the body of Christ.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Ten

Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48

Part ten in my discussion on the Sermon on the Mount is one of the more challenging messages…from the perspective of our human nature. How do we love someone when that person is anything but loveable, or they are outright antagonistic towards us?

43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those whopersecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His 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 will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (HCSB)

Jesus begins with His now familiar phrase, “You have heard that it was said.” Once again, Jesus is going to correct faulty thinking regarding Scripture and teach His followers the true meaning.

The first thing to note is that the phrase, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” is not entirely from Scripture. The first part comes from Leviticus 19:18b, “but love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the second part does not appear in the Old Testament. Some scholars point to various passages of Scripture as an implicit allowance for hating an enemy (Blomberg):

  • Deut 23:3-6  No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the Lord’s assembly. This is because they did not meet you with food and water on the journey after you came out of Egypt, and because Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram-naharaim was hired to curse you. Yet the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam, but He turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. Never seek their peace or prosperity as long as you live.
  • Deut 25:17-19  17 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you on the journey after you left Egypt. 18 They met you along the way and attacked all your stragglers from behind when you were tired and weary. They did not fear God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.
  • Psalm 139:21  Lord, don’t I hate those who hate You, and detest those who rebel against You?

When we succumb to our sinful, human nature, it is easy to believe and follow the second part of the quote.

What can be understood from Jesus’ stating, “You have heard that it was said,” is that the practice was accepted in Israel at that time.

However, a correct understanding of the term “neighbor” undermines the belief that “hate your enemy” is a proper attitude. Let’s look at three points to support this.

  • God loves all people. At the same time, it is true that God will judge and punish the wicked, but that is not His first choice. God would prefer that all surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and be obedient followers.
  • A proper understanding of Luke 10:25-37 will lead us to conclude that every person we come in contact with is our neighbor. There are no enemies.
  • Matthew 22:34-40  We are to love others the same as we love ourselves.

The proper conclusion is that we are to extend love to everyone.

But what kind of love is Jesus talking about? There are four different Greek words for love found in the New Testament.

  • Eros – sensual or romantic love
  • Storge – love for family members
  • Philia – love that unites fellow believers
  • Agape – God’s love for humanity

Jesus is talking about agape love here. This is an unexplainable love that exists entirely apart from the possibility of being loved back. Where do we see this love? Where is it demonstrated? The answer is that we see it only in Jesus Christ and in His sacrifice on the cross. A review of New Testament passages will reveal that in almost all instances that talk about God’s love, there is also an explicit or implicit reference to the cross.

  • John 3:16 God’s love and the sacrifice on the cross.
  • Galatians 2:20 Paul being crucified with Christ and Jesus’ love.
  • 1 John 4:10  God loving us sending Jesus to atone for our sins.
  • Romans 5:8  God demonstrating love for us and Jesus’ death on the cross.

What is so amazing about Jesus’ sacrifice is that He did it for sinners like me and you, true agape love.

Looking at verse 45, we see that God provides common grace to all people. All of His creation is worthy of care. God desires the evil and unrighteous, the tax collector, and the Gentiles (understood as pagans) to become children in the spiritual family of God. This doesn’t take away from the fact that each of us will stand before the throne of judgment and be held accountable for their life.

Verses 46-47 present a bridge from the beginning of the passage to the final verse. In essence, if we love those who love us and treat us well, we are no different than any lost person in the world. If we act like that, nobody will discern that we are followers of Jesus.

Verse 48 presents a challenge. How are we to be perfect just as God the Father?

Jesus used teleios, a Greek word that means “having reached its end, mature, complete, perfect.” The goal for the kingdom servant is to behave like his Father, and to reach the mature level of supernatural transformation (Weber). To put it in another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed, and made. A thing is teleios if it achieves the purpose for which it is intended; human beings are perfect if they achieve the purpose for which they were created and sent into the world (Barclay).

As we reflect on our journey to perfection, we should examine Philippians 1:6, I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When we think about what this passage says, we must remember that God’s Word is true, and He never changes. God will complete what He has begun. All true believers of Jesus will undergo a process of perfection, although it won’t be complete until we are resurrected in our new bodies.

Jesus is saying that the Law has never pointed to legal restraints, shortcomings from our hardened hearts, or even the law of love. It has always pointed to God’s perfection, as demonstrated by this first part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the perfection that followers of Jesus must obey if they are true disciples.

We enter into Christ’s perfection when we learn to forgive as God forgives, unconditionally, and learn to love as God loves, unconditionally.

How do we apply this passage to our lives?

  • As hard as it is, and it is, we are called to love all people. When I look around me, and at the news from around the world, it is clear that mankind, including many Christians, fall far short of this standard. At times I am as guilty as anyone. Do we really love others regardless of how different they are from us? It doesn’t matter our skin color, country of origin, ethnicity, gender, social status, wealth, I could go on and on. Jesus is weeping over the hatred on prominent display around the world. We can either get sucked up in this spiral of hatred, or we can be a vehicle for change. Which will you be?
  • Are we really different from the lost in the world? If someone who didn’t know you could observe you secretly for one or two weeks, would they come to the conclusion that you are a Christian? Do an honest assessment of yourself. You may not like what you discover. But, discovering it means you can work on fixing it. Not in your strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Look back on the early church, especially the Book of Acts. Walking in the strength of the Holy Spirit was the difference. Let’s do the same.
  • Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. At the same time, don’t give up in despair. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus, God will complete the work He started in you.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Nine

Go the Second Mile – Matthew 5:38-42

Part nine in our journey through the Sermon on the Mount. This lesson covers Matthew 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 tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (HCSB)

In verse 38, Jesus is referencing several Old Testament passages that address this idea:

  • Exodus 21:24  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot
  • Leviticus 24:19-20  19 If any man inflicts a permanent injury on his neighbor, whatever he has done is to be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Whatever injury he inflicted on the person, the same is to be inflicted on him.
  • Deuteronomy 19:21  You must not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.

These passages are often used to, incorrectly, support the idea that portions of the Old Testament were bloodthirsty, savage, and merciless. However, that is misunderstanding the intent of the passages. Let’s consider four points before we proceed.

  • The law of tit for tat, known as lex talionis, is actually showing mercy as it intended to limit retribution. In ancient tribal societies, if one man injured a man from another tribe, it was expected that the tribe suffering injury would take vengeance on all the members of the offending tribe. The passages above direct punishment no greater than the original offense.
  • No law ever gave the right to private individuals to enact punishment. It was for official court proceedings. This is contained in Deuteronomy 19:15-21  15 “One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 “If a malicious witness testifies against someone accusing him of a crime, 17 the two people in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and judges in authority at that time. 18 The judges are to make a careful investigation, and if the witness turns out to be a liar who has falsely accused his brother, 19 you must do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from you. 20 Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you. 21 You must not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.
  • In a civilized society, the law was never carried out literally. The Jewish jurists argued rightly that to carry it out literally might, in fact, be the reverse of justice, because it might involve the displacement of a good eye or a good tooth for a bad eye or a bad tooth. Jewish law in the tractate Baba Kamma carefully lays down how the damage is to be assessed. If a man has injured another, he is liable on five counts—for injury, for pain, for healing, for loss of time, and for indignity suffered. In actual practice, the type of compensation that the lex talionis levied is strangely modern.
  • Possibly most important is that the lex talionis is not the summation of Old Testament ethics (Barclay). There are passages of great mercy in the Old Testament:
    • Leviticus 19:18  Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.
    • Proverbs 25:21  If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat,
      and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
    • Proverbs 24:29  Don’t say, “I’ll do to him what he did to me; I’ll repay the man for what he has done.”
    • Lamentations 3:30  Let him offer his cheek to the one who would strike him; let him be filled with shame.

Now that the historical and cultural background is set let’s dive further into the passage. Jesus begins with His now-familiar comment, “But I tell you…” meaning He will clarify the misunderstanding in interpreting the relevant passage. In light of the prevailing ethical thought of the period, Jesus contrasts radically with most others of His day in stressing the need to decisively break the natural chain of evil action and reaction that characterizes human relationships.

Jesus’ disciples are not to think first about retribution. Even when they are being abused, they must think of ways to advance the kingdom of heaven and its influence on this earth.

Jesus uses four illustrations, one each in verses 39-42, from the everyday life of His disciples under oppression to emphasize how they can serve those who offend them. Their ultimate goal is to seek “an opportunity for the enemy to be converted to the truth of God’s kingdom. (Wilkins)”

The term for resist in verse 39 is antistenai and was often used in legal discussions.

  • Isaiah 50:8  The One who vindicates Me is near; who will contend with Me? Let us confront each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him come near Me!
  • 1 Cor 6:7  Therefore, to have legal disputes against one another is already a moral failure for you. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated?

Jesus is talking about, in a broad sense, not taking revenge on someone who wrongs you. However, there are times we are to resist evil.

  • James 4:7  Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
  • 1 Peter 5:9  Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.

Verse 39 is not support for Christians to subject themselves or others to physical danger or abuse, nor does it have a direct bearing on the pacifism/just war debate (Blomberg).

Another cultural understanding of the concept of slapping someone on the face sheds further light on this verse. Since most people are right-handed, the best way to slap another on the right side of their face was with a back-handed slap from the offender’s right hand. According to Rabbinical law, to hit a man with the back of your hand was considered twice as insulting as striking with the palm of your hand. The message here is no matter how degrading the insult, a follower of Christ is not to react to the insult.

The second illustration, verse 40, is in a legal setting. Understanding verse 40 requires an understanding of the basic clothing of someone living at that time. It consisted of a loincloth, covered by one or more body-length shirt(s), the outer cloak, a girdle acting as a belt, a head covering, and sandals. The “shirt” (chiton) was the basic garment, a long-sleeved inner robe similar to a nightshirt that a person wore next to the skin. Jesus instructs His disciples that if someone tries to sue for their shirt, they should let him have their “coat” (himation) as well. The coat was the outer robe, which was an indispensable piece of clothing (Wilkins).

The third illustration, verse 41, is a military scene. Israel was subject to something that most of us will never face, an occupying force controlling their nation. The one mile refers to the practice of the Roman soldiers requiring civilians to carry their burden for one mile. By Roman law, the soldier could require no more than one mile of a single porter, but Jesus’ kingdom servants, representing the gracious spirit of their King, are to go beyond what is required of them (Weber).

The fourth illustration, verse 42, is talking about the bothersome people in our lives. These people exist in two forms. The first is the one who “asks.” The Greek word, aiteo, is talking about a poor person who is begging for alms. The second, the who wants to “borrow,” may also indicate someone who is poor. The Greek word is danizo and is also used in Luke 6:34 for someone who is not able to repay the loan. However, giving should never be done in such a way as to encourage laziness or a sense of entitlement. In the long run, that type of giving hurts the recipient. It should always be done in a way to help the individual get back on their feet and become productive.

When we view these four illustrations together, it is easy to see the contrast between what the world views as personal “rights” and what Jesus is calling His followers to pursue as “righteous responsibilities.” Followers of Jesus need to set-aside four “rights” that the world holds dear.

  • The right of retaliation.
  • The right to our “things” or possessions.
  • The right of our time.
  • The right of our money. This may be the single greatest measurement of the depth of our walk with Jesus.

I purposely used the word “our” in three of the above “rights.” In reality, none of those are “ours.” They are God’s to be used for His glory and to further His Kingdom.

How do we apply this passage to our lives?

  • We need to set aside our perceived “rights” and live a life of servitude and sacrifice based upon “righteous responsibilities.”
  • At the same time, we should stand firm on matters of principle and for the rights of others.
    • Acts 16:37  But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!”
    • Acts 22:25  As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?”
    • Acts 25:8-12  while Paul made the defense that, “Neither against the Jewish law,nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all.” Then Festus, wanting to do a favor for the Jews,replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before me on these charges?” 10 But Paul said: “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well.11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!” 12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!”
  • If we are insulted, regardless of how humiliating, we need to move on and not strike back. That is easier said than done, but that is precisely what Jesus did as He walked obediently to the cross.
  • We should not enter into legal disputes, especially with other Christians.
  • Always do your best in whatever task you undertake. Don’t do it with a grumpy attitude and, if possible, do more than the bare minimum. Col 3:23  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.
  • Be generous with your finances. It is better to help twenty fraudulent beggars than risk turning away the one person in real need. Rabbinical law laid out five principles of giving:
  • Giving must not be refused.
    • Giving must befit the person to whom the gift is given.
    • Giving must be carried out privately and secretly.
    • The manner of giving must befit the character and the temperament of the recipient.
    • Giving was at once a privilege and an obligation, for, in reality, all giving is nothing less than giving to God.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Six

Adultery Begins in the Heart – Matthew 5:27-30

In this sixth part of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll look at what Jesus has to say about adultery and sexual purity.

Matthew 5:27-30: 27 “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin,  gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 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 the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!

Before we dive in, let’s define some of the key terms.

Adultery: In His teachings, Jesus stands firmly in the traditions of the Mosaic law and prophecy by regarding adultery as a sin. But He extends the definition to include any man who lusts in his mind after another woman, whether she is married or not. It is thus unnecessary for any physical contact to take place since the intent is already present. By this teaching, Jesus demonstrates that, under the new covenant, motivation is to be considered just as seriously as the mechanical act of breaking or keeping a particular law. Sexual activity is to be confined to the marriage relationship only, and if a married man or woman has sexual intercourse with someone other than the spouse, that person has committed adultery (Harrison).

Lust: An intense craving or desire, often of a sexual nature. Though used relatively infrequently (twenty-nine times) in Scripture, and a common theme can be seen running through its occurrences. The word is never used in a positive context; rather, it is always seen in a negative light, relating primarily either to a strong desire for sexual immorality or idolatrous worship (Akin).

Hell: In this lake of fire, God punishes the wicked, along with Satan and his followers (Matthew 25:41), bringing an end to evil. There are four features of hell:

  • Sinners occupy hell – Revelation 21:8  But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
  • Hell exists for the retribution of evil deeds.
    • Matthew 16:27  For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done.
    • 2 Corinthians 5:10  For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.
  • Hell is a final place of bondage and isolation from righteousness.
    • Revelation 20:14-15  14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
    • Matthew 13:42   They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Sinners suffer penalties in hell.
    • Matthew 8:12  But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    • Luke 12:48   But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

As we dive into this passage, there are four main theological principles to keep in mind:

  • Adultery: It goes against God’s design for marriage, breaks the marriage covenant, it is often a well-hidden trap, it has consequences.
  • Chastity: Sexual purity is commended; chastity is required in the marriage covenant; we shouldn’t associate with the sexually immoral.
  • Self-indulgence: Demonstrates a lack of self-restraint, we give in to our sinful desires, we place ourself ahead of God.
  • Self-denial: A requirement to follow Jesus, and we do it not only for ourselves but to protect those around us.

Now we’ll break this passage into two sections.

Verses 27-28  27 “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus is defining that the standard of his followers is to be, quite simply, chastity before marriage and fidelity afterward. At the same time, He is not teaching against having normal yearnings and desires for the opposite sex. However, the proper place for this is inside the marriage covenant. Additionally, adultery was considered one of the most serious offenses because it broke the relationship that was a reflection of God and his people. Finally, for the original hearers of this message, Jews, they would understand that this was also a way to describe Israel and their pursuit of false gods. Adultery, in its most basic understanding, is a sin against God.

  • Potiphar’s wife, tempting Joseph.
    • Genese 39:9  No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?
  • David confessing his sin after the affair with Bathsheba.
    • Psalm 51:4 Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge.

Never in the history of the western world since the death of Greek and Roman paganism has fidelity in marriage been so threatened, or an uncontrolled indulgence of free sexual passions been so encouraged or praised. In the first place, it is threatened by the mass media, which uses the lure of sex to push materialism and to glamorize the pursuit of mere pleasure. This is acute simply because the media have a scope and immediacy in this age that they have possessed in no other. One writer has noted that sex is “the cornerstone of mass persuasion and the symbol par excellence of the life of leisure and consumption.”

The Christian ethic of faithful and monogamous marriage is also threatened in our day, perhaps even more seriously than by the mass media, by a new hedonism symbolized by the so-called “playboy philosophy.” Hedonism is the philosophy that makes pleasure the chief goal in life, and it is as evident in the pursuit of the second home, the third car, and the right and proper friends, as it is in adultery and premarital sex experimentation.

Another issue in marriage is speaking in a disparaging way regarding one’s marriage. To speak disdainfully of married life, to talk about it with an attitude of sarcasm, to speak about it in a manner that exalts the world’s definition and ignores biblical marriage is to blaspheme God. And since God established marriage, we should get our advice about marriage from…the Bible, not from secular books, television, or movies.

Here are a few passages to read:

  • Hebrews 13:4
  • Proverbs 18:22
  • Genesis 2:24
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
  • Proverbs 19:14
  • 1 Peter 3:7
  • Ephesians 5:22-33
  • Colossians 3:18-19
  • Proverbs 31:10
  • Proverbs 12:4
  • Mark 10:9

Too often, we base marriage on a narrow or simplified concept. Man has a trinitarian nature in that we possess a body, soul, and spirit. Marriage needs to be approached with this three-part nature taken into consideration.

  • Body: Scripture is clear that a husband and wife are not to deny each other sexually.
    • 1 Corinthians 7:2-5  But because sexual immorality is so common, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. A husband should fulfill his marital responsibility to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another sexually—except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
    • Neither partner should coerce or manipulate their partner by using the above passage. Within marriage, sex should be a mutually satisfying experience that honors God.
    • A wife who always has a “headache” or a husband who is always out with the guys is a marriage headed for trouble.
    • At the same time, if the marriage is based solely on sex, it is a marriage headed for trouble.
    • And while we’re on the subject of the body, we might hear the excuse my husband/wife is no longer attractive; they’ve let their body go, etc. That person needs to take a long look in the mirror. Odds are they aren’t what they used to be either. We should pay more attention to the inside of the person rather than the outside.
  • Soul: This refers to the intellectual and emotional aspects of a person. A union of souls is one that shares many of the same interests, both intellectually and emotionally.
  • Spirit: A marriage of spirit to spirit is one between two followers of Christ and is the type of marriage that God intended. It is also a marriage that places Jesus first.
    • Marrying a non-Christian is a recipe for unhappiness.
    • Consider Solomon.
      • Blessed by God and renowned for his wisdom.
      • He placed geographical alliance above his alliance with God by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter.
      • This was not God’s will.
      • It led to his downfall.
      • Solomon knew his action was wrong, 2 Chronicles 8:11  Solomon brought the daughter of Pharaoh from the city of David to the house he had built for her, for he said, “My wife must not live in the house of David king of Israel because the places the ark of the Lord has come into are holy.”
  • A marriage that is solidly built upon these three principles is one that can withstand any storm.

Here Jesus is not limiting the idea of adultery to only sexual relations outside of marriage; He is talking about sexual sin in general. The grammar of verse 28a leads to two possible translations. Jesus could be speaking of one who “looks at a woman with the intention of committing adultery” or to one who “looks at a woman for the purpose of getting her to lust after him.” Either way, the present tense participle blepōn refers to one who continues to look rather than just casting a passing glance, and in either case, the mere viewing or mental imagining of a naked body is not what is being discussed. Instead, Jesus is condemning lustful thoughts and actions—those involving an actual desire (the most literal translation of the verb epithymeō) to have sexual relations with someone.

Verses 29-30  29 If your right eye causes you to sin,  gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 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 the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!

It is important to understand that Jesus is using hyperbole here to make a point. Unfortunately, in church history, there are examples, albeit disputed, of those who took these two verses literally. However, Jesus is saying that we should get rid of anything that may cause us to sin. The eye is often the vehicle through which the temptation stimulates our lust, and the hand represents the way in which the thought is physically carried out. Even the reference to the right eye and right hand have meaning here. In antiquity, the right hand was viewed as more valuable. We are to have a single-eyed and single-handed commitment to our spouse.

Depending on the translation you read, it could say, “causes you to sin” or “causes you to stumble.” Regardless, the Greek word here is skandalon. Skandalon is a form of the word skandalēthron, which means the bait-stick in a trap. It was the stick or arm on which the bait was fixed and which operated the trap to catch the animal lured to its own destruction. So, the word came to mean anything which causes a person’s destruction (Barclay). We are to dig out any of the habits that tempt us down the path of sinful behavior. These could include

  • The vast majority of television shows or movies produced today have some type of suggestive behavior, foul language, or revealing clothing.
  • Pornography.
  • Television talk shows that often contain subjects or conversations of a sexual nature.
  • Magazines, even those that appear innocent.

Jesus is calling for His followers to remove the poison and protect yourself from such filth. If there is a habit or pleasure that leads us down the path of sinful ruin, we must remove it from our lives.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how hard you try to overcome or remove them, it almost always ends up in failure? There are really only two ways to defeat these forbidden thoughts.

  • Christian action
    • Fill your life with Christian service
    • Think about others before yourself
    • This doesn’t mean we neglect our families or responsibilities. There needs to be balance. Growing up, I personally witnessed one family that fell apart because one spouse was always at some church event or activity, totally neglecting the house.
    • It does mean filling our idle time with productive Christian service or more time in Bible reading, prayer, and meditation.
  • Fill our minds with wholesome thoughts. The way to defeat evil thoughts is to think of wholesome things.

Jesus is clear that there will be judgment for those who wander down this path. The consequences are eternal separation from God in a place Jesus often talks about, hell.

Now let’s consider some application points from this passage.

  • Make an honest evaluation of your habits and activities. If your Christian brothers and sister or your pastor knew about your habits and activities, would that make you uncomfortable? If you can answer “yes” to any habits or activities, you should remove them from your life. Share these with your accountability partner for support.
  •  Once you identify those habits or activities what safeguards can you utilize to keep from venturing over the line? Identify the boundaries or fences that you can put in place to protect yourself.
  • Do you give yourself solely to your spouse? Do you treat your spouse with the dignity and respect they deserve as a person created in the image of God? If you are unsure, then have a heart-to-heart talk and be willing to listen to what they say. Often, we are totally unaware of how our actions or words affect our spouse. Anything less demeans your spouse.

I want to close with a word of encouragement. If you struggle in this area, you are not alone. Most of the statistical studies on the use of pornography, as one measure of sexual health, among church attendees, both male and female, show that over 50% view pornography on a somewhat regular basis. Jesus is clear that sexual sin leads to eternal consequences. However, if you truly repent and surrender to Jesus and turn from those harmful habits, you will receive forgiveness.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Five

Murder Begins in the Heart – Matthew 5:21-26

In this fifth part of my series on the Sermon on the Mount, we will look at Matthew 5:21-26.

21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!  (HCSB)

Up until verse 20 of the Sermon on the Mount, the call for internal righteousness is presented in a positive light. Now, Jesus begins to address things in a negative light.

As we proceed through this passage, we’ll be concentrating on four themes found within this passage.

  • Murder/anger in a physical, emotional, or verbal sphere. 
  • Being subject to judgment.
  • An adversary/accuser.
  • Being reconciled to one another.

First, let’s define key words/concepts that we will explore.

  • Murder: The biblical understanding of murder is contained in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. The commandment says “kill,” but the original meaning of the Hebrew word is murder. Therefore, the 6th Commandment talks about the taking of another person’s life for personal or selfish motives. Jesus takes the understanding further by saying that even contemplating this action in our hearts is evil (Elwell).
  • Judgment: In Scripture, it is closely related to God’s justice. In all His relationships, God acts justly and morally. Human beings, created by God, are morally structured to positively respond to God’s righteous demands on their lives. Divine judgment, involving God’s approval or disapproval upon each human act, is a natural consequence of the Creator-creature relationship between God and humanity. Thus judgment, simply defined, is the divine response to human activity. God, the Creator, must also be God the Judge. Since God is just, He responds with either punishments or rewards to what each person does. One’s moral accountability to God, a quality not shared by the rest of creation, is an essential ingredient of being created in God’s image. Creation in the divine image meant that God and man could communicate with each other in such a way that all people were able to understand God’s moral requirements and willingly respond to them. In a purely technical sense, judgment includes God’s approval upon acts which please Him; but more frequently, judgment is understood negatively in the sense that God punishes those who violate His commands. Since the fall, all human activity stands under God’s negative judgment (Elwell) Rom 2:12 All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
  • Reconciled: Restoration of friendly relationships and of peace where before there had been hostility and alienation. Ordinarily, it also includes removing the offense, which disrupted peace and harmony. This was especially true in the relation of God with humanity when Christ removed the enmity existing between God and mankind by His sacrifice. Scripture speaks first of Christ’s meritorious, substitutionary death in effecting the reconciliation of God with sinners; of sinners appropriating this free gift by faith; the promised forgiveness and salvation that become the sinners’ possession by grace; and, finally, reconciliation to God (Elwell).
    • Rom 5:10   For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!
    • 2 Cor 5:19  That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.
    • Eph 2:16  He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.
  • Accuser/adversary: Any foe, opponent, or enemy of God and his saints. The apostle Peter’s description of the devil as “your adversary.”
    • 1 Peter 5:8   Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.
    • This has led to the use of “the Adversary” as a reference to Satan in literature and popular speech. The Hebrew noun שָׂטָן (satan) means “adversary” or “accuser.” The term appears in Job 1–2 as a title for a heavenly being who has some sort of prosecutorial or adversarial role in the heavenly court (Elwell).
      • Job 1:6–9  One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” “From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered Him, “and walking around on it.”Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing?
      • Zechariah 3:1  Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.
    • The word can also be used in a general sense for an accuser in a human legal context.
      • Psalm 109:6  Set a wicked person over him; let an accuser stand at his right hand.
    • Or for a military or political enemy
      • 1 Samuel 29:4   The Philistine commanders, however, were enraged with Achish and told him, “Send that man back and let him return to the place you assigned him. He must not go down with us into battle only to become our adversary during the battle. What better way could he regain his master’s favor than with the heads of our men?
    • By the New Testament, the Hebrew word satan has come into Greek as Σᾰτάν (Sătan), a name for the devil (Barry).
      • Luke 13:16  Satan has bound this woman, a daughter of Abraham, for 18 years—shouldn’t she be untied from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
    • This being’s role as an accuser is mentioned once in the NT where Satan is called ὁ κατήγωρ (ho katēgōr, “the accuser”) (Barry).
      • Revelation 12:9–10  So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come,
        because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before our God day and night.

Verses 21-22  21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors,  Do not murder,  q and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’  will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.

As noted above, the definition of murder is the premeditated killing of another person. The Hebrew word is rasah and does not apply to killing animals (Genesis 9:3), defending your home (Exodus 22:2), accidentally killing someone (Deuteronomy 19:5), executions conducting by the state (Genesis 9:6), or involvement in certain types of warfare. It does apply to accessory to murder (2 Samuel 12:9) and those who have a responsibility to punish known murderers but fail to do so (1 Kings 21:19).

Since man was created in God’s image, a person should not murder another.

The penalty for murder was death; it was not to be reduced to a lesser sentence (Numbers 35:31).

The phrase “you have heard” is an introduction to three forms of murder that do not include the physical act of taking another’s life.

  • Anger (1 John 3:15) When we are inappropriately angry with people, we attempt to take their identity and value as God’s creature away from them, the ultimate form of which is the physical act of murder. The righteousness expected of God’s subjects is not only in avoiding physical murder but in eliminating anger from our relationships.
  • The second case is calling another disciple “raca,” a transliteration of an Aramaic term implying “empty-headed.” This term of contempt was a personal and public insult. Name-calling was highly insulting in Jewish culture because a person’s identity was stripped away, and an offensive identity substituted (Wilkins).
  • The third case is saying “you fool” to a disciple. This likewise was highly insulting in Jewish culture, because moral connotations were attached to the term (Proverbs 10:23). The original language word for “fool” is a form of the Greek word moros (the origin of the English word “moron”), indicating a person who consistently acts like an idiot. To treat one’s brother with such contempt was to strip away his personal identity and wrongly make the person into something he or she was not (Wilkins).

The Jewish rabbis taught against such anger and such words. They spoke of ‘oppression in words’ and of ‘the sin of insult.’ They had a saying: ‘Three classes go down to Gehenna and return not—the adulterer, he who puts his neighbor openly to shame, and he who gives his neighbor an insulting name.’ Anger in a person’s heart and anger in a person’s speech are equally forbidden. (Barclay)

Do we commit murder? By this definition, yes. We lose our temper and keep hold of our grudges. We gossip. We kill by neglect, spite, and jealousy. And we would learn that we actually do worse things than these if only we could see our hearts as God is able to see them. It is no accident that even in our speech, such things sometimes are termed character assassination, or that we speak of destroying a person by words. This is literally true, and we do it. Jesus says we are not to be that way as Christians.

Those who are slaves of their anger, who speak in a demeaning or disrespectful way to others, who destroy another’s good name, may not have committed murder in action, but they are murderers in their hearts.

Of course, there is righteous anger. Jesus spoke in righteous anger against the hypocritical so-called leaders of His day. Paul spoke in justified anger against the legalizers who were trying to undermine the true faith of the Galatian believers. David gave voice to anger in the imprecatory Psalms. But, if we are honest with ourselves, it is not very often that our anger is like that; we must admit that far more often we are angry at some wrong done against ourselves, real or imaginary, some insult, or some undeserved neglect (Boice).

Finally, “brother” in this passage is not a reference to a biological sibling; it refers to a spiritual brother or sister. Matthew 5:44, 7:3-5, 12:49-50, 18:15, 21, 35, 23:8, 25:40, 28:10.

This does not mean it is ok to be angry with non-believers. However, Jesus is saying that it is particularly bad to get angry with fellow believers who have been spared God’s wrath. Restraining one’s wrath against a fellow believer is a virtue still desperately needed today.

Verses 23-24  23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Here, Jesus is dealing with occasions when His disciples have offended another person, not when they have been offended. Reconciliation is the responsibility of the one who has wronged someone else, though a reciprocal attitude is understood (Matthew 18:21–22; Mark 11:25). The expression “offering your gift at the altar” assumes a sacrifice being given in the temple at Jerusalem. To leave immediately indicates the importance of reconciliation because Jesus’ audience was from Galilee, and the effort to attend the temple sacrifice was significant (Wilkins).

Of course, we cannot guarantee that another person will agree to be reconciled with us, but we should make every effort “as far as it depends on” us (Romans 12:18). “Has something against you” probably implies a “just claim” and also suggests that we ought not to bring up our grievances with others that they do not yet know about but that we deal with situations in which others remain upset with us. How many of our churches would or should be temporarily emptied if these commands were taken seriously? The Christian sacrifice is first of all one of trusting in Christ, but true discipleship will necessarily lead to reconciliation with fellow believers. Neither one without the other can save a person (1 John 1:8–9 with 2:9) (Blomberg).

But two important things have to be noted. First, it was never held that sacrifice could atone for deliberate sin. If someone committed a sin unawares or was swept into sin in a moment of passion when self-control broke, then sacrifice was effective; but if a person deliberately, defiantly, callously and with open eyes sinned, then sacrifice was powerless to atone.

Second, to be effective, sacrifice had to include confession of sin and true repentance; and true repentance involved the attempt to rectify any consequences sin might have had. The great Day of Atonement was held to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation, but the Jews were quite clear that not even the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement could avail unless people were first reconciled to their neighbors. The breach between human beings and God could not be healed until human beings could reconcile their differences. If someone was making a sin offering, for instance, to atone for theft, the offering was held to be completely unavailing until the thing stolen had been restored; and, if it was discovered that the item had not been restored, then the sacrifice had to be destroyed as unclean and burned outside the Temple. The Jews were quite clear that people had to do their utmost to put things right themselves before they could be right with God. (Barclay)

Jesus is also clear about this basic fact—we cannot be right with God until we are right with one another; we cannot hope for forgiveness until we have confessed our sin, not only to God, but also to others, and until we have done our best to remove the practical consequences of it. We sometimes wonder why there is a barrier between us and God; we sometimes wonder why our prayers seem unavailing. The reason may well be that we have erected that barrier, through being at odds with our neighbors, or because we have wronged someone and have done nothing to put things right (Barclay).

We see starting in these two verses and ending with verse 25, a remedy for anger.

  • Admit we get angry – verse 23
  • Correct the injustice – verse 24
  • Act immediately once we realize the injustice we committed – verse 24
  • Ask God to change our heart – verse 25

Romans 12:19-21 “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

Verses 25-26  25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  26 I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

These two verses have caused some interesting discussion amongst theologians and differing religious views. The main thrust is of averting God’s wrath on Judgment Day before it is too late to change one’s eternal destination. The Roman Catholic church uses, incorrectly, these verses to support the idea of purgatory. However, we could never pay enough for our sins to get out of hell (Blomberg).

Jesus likely has two ideas in mind in these verses.

  • He is giving practical advice. It is the experience of life that if a quarrel, or a difference, or a dispute is not healed immediately, it can go on breeding worse and worse trouble as time goes on. Bitterness breeds bitterness. If at the very beginning, one of the parties had had the grace to apologize or to admit fault, a grievous situation need never have arisen. If ever we are in a disagreement with someone else, we must get the situation corrected quickly. It may mean that we must be humble enough to confess that we were wrong and make an apology; it may mean that, even if we were in the right, we have to take the first step towards healing the hurt. When personal relations go wrong, in most cases immediate action will mend them; but if that immediate action is not taken, they will continue to deteriorate, and the bitterness will spread in an ever-widening circle.
  • It may be that in Jesus’ mind, there was something even more basic than this. It may be that He is saying: ‘Put things right with your neighbors while life lasts, for someday—we don’t know when—life will finish, and we will go to stand before God, the final Judge of all.’ The greatest of all Jewish days was the Day of Atonement. Its sacrifices were held to atone for sin known and unknown, but even this day had its limitations. The Talmud clearly lays it down: ‘The Day of Atonement does atone for the offenses between man and God. The Day of Atonement does not atone for the offenses between a man and his neighbor unless the man has first put things right with his neighbor.’ Here again, we have the basic fact—we cannot be right with God unless we are right with one another. We must live so that the end will find us at peace with all people (Barclay).

Remaining imprisoned until a debt is repaid down to the last penny elicits a sense of impossibility, since the debtor had no chance to work to create funds. The “penny,” kodrantes, is the Roman bronze/copper coin quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. Jesus uses this scenario to return to the seriousness of the problem of anger. Unreconciled anger is the inner equivalency of murder, which is impossible to repay. To leave problems unreconciled is to allow the sin that has been created to continue to destroy relationships between people.

Fulfilling the law’s command, “Do not murder” is not accomplished simply by avoiding legal homicide. Jesus reveals that the intent of the law is to nurture relationships. Jesus’ disciples must have a daily urgency about maintaining a healthy life in their relationships, both with other disciples and with non-disciples. Anything we do that strips away the personal distinctiveness of a brother or sister is sin, and it is our responsibility to become reconciled.

Our internal heart attitudes are manifested in our external behavioral attitudes.

When we reflect on the message contained in Matthew 5:21-26, we see a message that is timely in today’s world. That is one of treating people with dignity. The striking feature of the first antithesis is its emphasis on the dignity of the human being created in the image of God. Not only are we not to take the physical life of a human, but we are not to do anything that demeans a person’s dignity.

Another essential feature of the first antithesis is our responsibility to be ministers of reconciliation so that human relationships reflect the glory of God. Jesus’ illustration of hurrying to make reconciliation even if the disciple is offering a sacrifice accentuates the urgency of maintaining healthy relationships. Religious activity that attempts to appease our relationship with God is meaningless if it is not based on purity in our human relationships. We are not to come to worship with the knowledge that we have treated someone wrongly.

As ministers of reconciliation, however, there are limits to what we can accomplish. We cannot force another person to forgive us. Sometimes it takes time for another person to trust us after we have hurt them. The obligation remains for us to pursue reconciliation, but it may not be according to our timetable. That is why we should be so careful with our words and actions. We can never take back a word uttered, and a hurt inflicted often leaves lasting scars.

Jesus’ sayings require us to think carefully about what He is not saying. It is possible to be angry and not to sin (Eph. 4:26). Throughout Scripture, we see evidence of righteous indignation against sin, which is called anger. Jesus demonstrated this in the cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:12–17), and in His parables, God displays anger and wrath (Matthew 18:34; 22:7). In the criticisms against the religious leaders during his final fateful week in Jerusalem, Jesus referred to the teachers of the law and Pharisees as “blind fools” (Matthew 23:17), using a related term to what he prohibits in 5:22. But this was not flippant name-calling. They really were fools because they were blindly allowing their religious practices to distort their lives with God.

Jesus’ teaching is sometimes used to advocate opposition to capital punishment. But the prohibition of the Old Testament that Jesus continues to uphold is against murder, not killing per se. Moreover, Jesus is addressing personal activity, not governmental responsibility. The judicial taking of life in punishment for crime is authorized in Exodus 21 and is the most likely intention of Paul’s statements in Romans 13:1–5. There are four areas where the taking of life is sometimes justified according to these passages: capital punishment, maintaining law and order, self-defense, and a just war (Wilkins). These ideas will be looked at later as we continue our journey through the Sermon on the Mount.

Applications

  • First, we need to understand the foundational principle that Jesus talks about here and in other places in the Sermon on the Mount. It isn’t always the literal interpretation of His message, but often the figurative interpretation that convicts us. The odds of anyone reading this post and committing actual, physical murder is close to, if not completely, nil. However, probably 100% of those reading or hearing this message has at one time or another committed “murder” in the sense that Jesus is talking about here. We need to understand that our words can create deep pain, and once we understand that to pray for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in our conversations. For some, this may be a difficult and slow transformation, but Jesus is calling for us to stop using destructive speech even as we watch the world around us filled with destructive speech on a continual basis. We can either conform to our Lord and Savior, or we can conform to the world around us. We have control over the direction we take in this area.
  • When we realize that we have hurt someone, we need to be quick in mending the situation. Often, we won’t do this because of pride. Pride is the root of all sin. Pride caused Satan to try and usurp Yahweh’s rightful place. Humility and submission are characteristics of Jesus. We also control whether we will remain prideful and display the characteristic of Satan, or practice humility and submission as followers of Christ. This is true even if the wronged person refuses our apology. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, not troublemakers.
  • If we struggle in this area, we need to pray and ask God to change our hearts. We need to be transformed from the inside out. All of us are in need of major heart surgery, and Jesus is the great physician. He can cut all the disease out of us…if we submit to His Lordship. In today’s world, submission is not a popular practice. Yet, imagine how different the world would be if we practice submission.
  • Finally, the one connecting theme through this passage is to treat others with dignity and respect. Don’t we want others to treat us in that manner? If we expect that from others, we should demand it of ourselves in our interaction with others. All of us are created in the image of God regardless of our gender, the color of our skin, our ethnicity, or our denomination. When we get to heaven, there won’t be separate sections for these groups. We will ALL live in peace and harmony with each other. Shouldn’t we strive for that here?

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Four

Christ Fulfills the Law – Matthew 5:17-20

In this fourth part of my series on the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll look at a passage that does present some challenges. The biggest challenge is in understanding how Jesus fulfills the Law and prophets. First, let’s look at this passage in its entirety.

17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so 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.  20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (HCSB)

As we proceed through the verses, we’ll be concentrating on four themes found within this passage.

  • The Law and how Jesus fulfills it.
  • The authority of Scripture in its entirety.
  • The Pharisees and scribes.
  • The righteousness required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Verse 17: Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 

This is the most challenging verse in the passage and the one that generates the most discussion amongst theologians. First, let’s define the Law.

The Jewish understanding of the Law.

  • The Ten Commandments.
  • First five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.
  • The Law and the Prophets, literally the entire Old Testament.
  • Oral or scribal law – in Jesus’ time, the most common understanding of the word “law,” 613 commandments created by the religious leaders.

Jesus is focused on the entire Old Testament when He talks about fulfilling the Law and prophets. At the same time, His condemnation of the religious leaders focuses on the oral law that puts additional requirements on the people. The religious leaders had introduced legalism, creating burdens instead of interpreting the principles behind the Law and focusing on practical application.

In the OT there are few rules and regulations, instead they contain rather broad principles.

  • The Ten commandments listed principles.
  • The religious leaders wanted details.
  • Scribes reduced the principles to thousands of rules and regulations. As an example: To write was to work on the Sabbath. But writing has to be defined. So, the definition runs: ‘He who writes two letters of the alphabet with his right or with his left hand, whether of one kind or of two kinds, if they are written with different inks or in different languages, is guilty. Even if he should write two letters from forgetfulness, he is guilty, whether he has written them with ink or with paint, red chalk, vitriol, or anything which makes a permanent mark. Also, he that writes on two walls that form an angle, or on two tablets of his account book so that they can be read together is guilty … But, if anyone writes with dark fluid, with fruit juice, or in the dust of the road, or in sand, or in anything which does not make a permanent mark, he is not guilty … If he writes one letter on the ground, and one on the wall of the house, or on two pages of a book, so that they cannot be read together, he is not guilty.’ That is a typical passage from the scribal law; and that is what orthodox Jews regarded as true religion and the true service of God (Barclay).
  • Jesus was not talking about these “rules” when He mentions the Law.

The point of Jesus’ teaching here, and in other passages of Scripture, is to understand the principles behind the instruction and apply them. An area that the religious leaders had failed in miserably.

Now let’s look at how Jesus fulfills the Law and prophets.

  • Fulfill does not mean “bring to an end.”
  • It means to fill out or expand the understanding (Weber). The Greek word is pleroo.
  • Jesus was not adding or taking away from the law; He was clarifying its meaning as its original author. John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    • This was in contrast to the religious leaders who added to Scripture through the oral tradition.
    • Israel had lost some/most of its understanding of the Law through those oral traditions.
  • How does Jesus fulfill the Law?
    • By keeping it perfectly.
    • Providing a way of salvation that meets all the righteous requirements of the law.
      • Jer 31:31-34: 31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration. 33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. 34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.”
      • Ezek 36:26-27: 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.
    • By dying on the cross and canceling the claims of the law against all who submit to His lordship (Boice).
    • The Bible is about Jesus and how He fulfills what is written in it.
      • Jesus fulfills the moral law through obedience.
      • Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecies by the events in His life. Here are a few of them.  
        • Gen 3:15: I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
        • Gen 22:18: And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.
        • Ps 22:16-18: For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.
        • Ps 16:10: For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your Faithful One to see decay.
        • Isa 53: Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to? He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate?  For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion. They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully. 10 Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.  When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. 11 He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.
      • Fulfills the sacrificial system by His once-and-for-all atonement.

When looking at the Ten Commandments, the principles can be summed up by the words reverence and respect. All law is based upon them. They are the permanent stuff of our relationship to God and others. These are the foundations of Jesus’ message.

Verse 18: For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.

It starts with “For I assure you.” When Jesus uses this phrase or a similar one depending on what Bible version you’re using, it’s a notice to stop and listen.

The main focus here is the absolute authority and inerrancy of Scripture. Let’s look at Jesus’ views on Scripture.

  • It had supreme authority over life.
  • If a practice was in agreement with Scripture, it must be continued.
  • If it went against Scripture, it must be changed.
  • Even the smallest part is important; you can’t pick and choose which you like and want to follow. Many facets of liberal theology fail in this area.
  • Jesus often quoted Scripture in His debates or to support what He had said.
  • He submitted to Scripture.
  • Followers of Christ must follow His example regarding how Scripture is viewed.

Jesus is also refuting the claim levied by the religious leaders that He was undermining Old Testament Law.

In today’s world, biblical authority and truth are under attack. The enemy uses three main methods to undermine biblical authority.

  • An appeal to tradition.
    • This was the main problem in Jesus’ day.
      • Rabbinical traditions had distorted the Law.
      • Traditions throughout church history have distorted the truth of Scripture.
    • The Roman Catholic church did the same thing.
      • Protestant reformation, sola Scriptura…Scripture alone, not a sinful man, the Pope, as a leader.
      • Tradition had replaced the truth of Scripture.
      • Is that a problem in today’s church?
  • Elevate reason above revelation, a method of liberal theology.
    • Measure it against reason.
    • Judge it by scientific or historical assumptions. The 18th-century enlightenment ushered in this method.
  • Rejecting the Bible’s sufficiency or absolute truth.
    • This is an issue with the modern church, which often uses “signs and wonders,” such as the seeker-sensitive movement, which turns a worship service into an entertainment spectacle.
    • Working in secular ways produces secular results, shallow Christians at best.
    • If you reject portions of the Bible as no longer relevant, where do you draw the line between truth and fiction?
    • Christians need to stand on the sure foundation of God’s Word, which is absolutely inerrant and infallible.

Some may ask, “what about Old Testament practices that are no longer done?”

  • As one example, let’s take the temple sacrifices to atone for sin. Death and the shedding of blood are no longer required as Jesus fulfilled that with His death on the cross. However, the penalty and payment for sin are still valid and need to be taught and understood for salvation through Jesus (Wilkins).
  • Another example, which is still a requirement for us, is to love God and our neighbors.
  • Later in this chapter, verses 21-48, Jesus will give practical examples for us to follow.
  • Instead of throwing out Old Testament instruction which seems outdated, as in the example of temple sacrifices, we need to understand the underlying principles and how they are still applicable today.

Verse 19: Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so 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. 

The word “breaks” here creates a wordplay with the term “destroy” from verse 17. It is best understood to mean “sets aside” or to “release” from having to follow (Blomberg). It is important to note that this verse is directed towards those who do follow Jesus, not the lost. Jesus gives a warning that the faithful teaching of Scripture is expected.

  • There is a duality in this verse.
    • Obedience in personal action.
    • Faithfulness in correctly teaching others.
      • There is a greater measure of judgment for teachers of the Word. James 3:1 Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.
      • Misleading children, either literally as in physical age or in spiritual maturity Luke 17:2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
  • Jesus is addressing His disciples as future teachers. Contextually, the Sermon on the Mount is a sermon to His followers.
  • It is essential that followers of Jesus teach everything in Scripture, not adding or taking anything away. Jesus will ultimately give this task in the Great Commission Matt 28:19-20 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
    • Jesus is emphasizing the binding authority of Scripture.
    • His followers must do the same.
      • Follow Scripture.
      • Teach Scripture.
  • He is also condemning the Pharisees and other religious leaders for altering the Law and reminds them of their responsibility to teach others.
  • “Least” and “great” refer to Christians, not those inside or outside of the Kingdom.
    • “Least” are those who have cruised through life, not fulfilling God’s purpose.
    • “Great” are those who have been faithful to their calling (Wilkins).

Verse 20: 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This statement would have been shocking to the average Jew at that time. We must remember that the religious leaders were viewed as the epitome of Judaic righteousness. But Jesus is saying that those who follow Him must surpass the righteousness of the religious leaders. In effect, it is the thesis statement for the entire Sermon on the Mount; Christian discipleship requires greater righteousness.

  • In Matthew, “righteousness” means actual conformity to God’s demands in Scripture, externally, and internally (Boice).
    • The religious leaders lived under the motivation of the law to follow its details.
    • Christians live under the motivation of love, love from and to God extended to others.
    • Righteousness must be an inside-out and not an outside-in process. Ps 51:16-17 You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
      17 The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
  • Scribes were the equivalent of a professor of biblical and theological studies.
  • Pharisees were a sect that was committed to fulfilling the demands of the OT through oral tradition.
  • Within Judaism, the Pharisees and scribes were considered the pinnacle of righteousness.
    • Jesus is not challenging their meticulous attention to the Law.
    • He is challenging their refusal to discipleship, which is following the intent of the Law (Blomberg).
    • A Jewish listener to this message would believe no one could enter heaven.
    • Even when Paul pleaded his case before Herod Agrippa, a Pharisee was considered in high esteem as Paul stated that he had lived after the strictest sect of Judaism. Acts 26:5 They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee.
  • Jesus was challenging the concept of keeping the law because the issue was with their heart.
    • An example is the Pharisees’ teaching that implied if a man avoided having sex with someone other than his spouse, then he had kept that portion of the law. Jesus, understanding the universality of human lust, filled the law out to the full by pointing out God’s original intention—because adultery is a matter of the heart, people regularly commit this sin through a single moment of lust in the mind (Weber).
    • The points Jesus makes throughout the Sermon on the Mount shows that virtually each one draws a contrast between the false righteousness of the religious leaders and the true righteousness that God desires.
    • The person who discovers and appropriates true righteousness will manifest the character qualities described in the Beatitudes (5:3–12) and will impact the world as described in 5:13–16. The Pharisees did not.
    • Jesus declared war on the false religion of the Pharisees. Not even the law-keeping Pharisees could enter heaven without a Savior.
    • Externally they looked good, but their inner self (heart) was rotten. Man looks at the outside, and God looks at the inside
      • 1 Sam 16:7  But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.”
      • Matt 23:27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity.”
    • Everyone needs heart surgery Ps 51:10 God, create a clean heart for me
      and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
  • Even here, Jesus’ words either draw people to Him or cause them to react in hatred and spurn Him.
  • Consider what Paul, a Pharisee among Pharisees, wrote towards the end of his life in Phil 3:4-9 although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more:circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee;regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing ChristJesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christand be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.
  • Paul lists seven achievements here, four inherited and three earned (Boice).
    • Inherited.
      • Born a Jew.
      • Pure-blooded Jew, both of his parents were Jewish.
      • Circumcised on the eighth day.
      • From the tribe of Benjamin, one of the two tribes that had remained faithful to temple worship and the law.
    • Earned.
      • He was a Pharisee, the strictest sect of Judaism. It was a personal decision to become one.
      • He was a zealous Pharisee, as proved by his persecution of the church.
      • He worked so hard at his calling he actually believed himself blameless as a Pharisee before the standards of the Law.
  • However, when all was said and done, Paul viewed all of it as worthless apart from knowing Christ.

Application

  • Are we legalistic, or do we apply principles that are contained in Scripture? Too often, being legalistic, besides it being a wrong approach, drives away our spiritual brothers and sisters, as well as those who may be seeking to learn more about Jesus. There are two avenues to evangelism. The first is the informational Gospel message, what is contained in the Bible. The second is the incarnational Gospel message, how we live as followers of Christ. If we share the information about God’s love for us, but our lives don’t demonstrate that same love as we interact with the world around us, we are hypocrites. This also often drives people away. Jesus always met the lost where they were and tried to bring them to where they needed to be, a loving relationship with God. This does not mean we tolerate sin; we address it in a spirit of love, whether it is a member of our spiritual family who has fallen into sin or a lost person. This is an area where many churches and individuals fail. There is no better example than the narrative of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t condemn her. He showed love and compassion but also said, “go and sin no more.”
  • Do we believe in the absolute authority of Scripture? That it is inerrant and infallible? This topic is a dangerous slippery slope. If we start to doubt a section of the Bible, where does it stop? Pandora’s box has been opened; we can start questioning any section of Scripture that we don’t feel comfortable with. From earlier in this lesson, we read that Jesus is the Word. Jesus is true and perfect. Therefore, the Word is true and perfect.
  • Are we faithful in following and teaching what is in Scripture? Knowing what is in Scripture, head knowledge, if not accompanied by heart knowledge and transformation, does not lead to salvation. James 2:19 You believe that God is one, you do well. The demons also believe – and they shudder. The demons have head knowledge about God, but that won’t save them. We need to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Then, we need to teach others. Jesus gives us that command in the Great Commission; we are to teach ALL that is contained in Scripture without adding or taking away from it.
  • Do we understand that our heart condition and our identity in Jesus are important? Not what the world values but what God values. Our identity is found in Jesus and nowhere else. The world says that our titles, jobs, income, neighborhood, education, car, house, or our success are what matters most. Pursuing those rob you of joy as you will never be satisfied, you will always want the next step up from wherever you are or whatever you have. We all are in need of heart surgery to remove the idols from our lives. However, when we know that we are loved and valued by the creator of the universe what more is needed? He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for us. His desire is that all would be saved. We realize that what the world tells us is nothing more than a lie. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we should be thankful for what we do have. And if our identity is in Jesus, do we really need anything else?