Setting

Having talked about the character and influence of the citizens of God’s kingdom, the Lord Jesus continued to expound the laws of the kingdom. In His discourse, the Lord set a higher moral requirement and pointed His listeners to a new dimension in observing God’s laws.

Key Verse

(5:17)

Did You Know...?

  1. Raca (5:22): An insulting term of strong personal abuse. [ref] May be related to the Aramaic word for “empty” and means “Empty-head!” [ref]
  2. Certificate of divorce (5:31; cf. Dt 24:1-4): The Law was supposed to deter divorce rather than encourage it. It required a “writing of divorcement”—a public document granting the woman the right to remarry without civil or religious sanction. Divorce could not be done privately. [ref]
  3. Swear (5:33): The Pharisees were notorious for their oaths, which were made on the least provocation. Yet they made allowances for mental reservations within their oaths. If they wanted to be relieved of oaths they had made by heaven…by earth…by Jerusalem, or by one’s own head, they could argue that since God Himself had not been involved their oaths were not binding. [ref]
  4. Tax collectors (5:46): Traditionally known as “publicans,” these were local men employed by Roman tax contractors to collect taxes for them. Because they worked for Rome and often demanded unreasonable payments, the tax collectors gained a bad reputation and were generally hated and considered traitors. [ref]

Outline

  • The Law’s Fulfillment
    (5:17-20)
  • The Old and the New
    (5:21-48)
  • Personal offense and reconciliation
    (5:21-26)
  • Adultery and purity
    (5:27-30)
  • Divorce and remarriage
    (5:31-32)
  • Oaths and truthfulness
    (5:33-37)
  • Personal injury and self-sacrifice
    (5:38-42)
  • Hatred and love
    (5:43-48)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    Do you observe a recurring pattern in this section of Jesus’ discourse? Record each of the commands using this pattern.

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    Each topic begins with quotation of the old law, “you have heard that it was said” or the like, and is followed by the new principle: “But I tell you….” In all topics except one, the Lord Jesus also gave further instructions and applications.

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  • 2.

    Compare the old and the new requirements of God’s law. What characterizes the new requirements?

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    Higher moral standard that rises above the common expectation of people.
    Emphasis on the spirit of loving God and men from the heart rather than a superficial observance.

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Segment Analysis

  • 5:17-20

    1.

    What does “the Law or the Prophets” refer to?

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    The Scriptures (see 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Lk 16:16; Jn 1:45; Acts 13:15; Rom 3:21).

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  • 2.

    How did Jesus fulfill the law?

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    Jesus Christ came to fulfill the requirements of the law perfectly, so that the requirements can also be met in those who obey and trust him (Rom 8:3,4). The Law and the Prophets all point to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21; Gal 3:24). Therefore, the true spirit of the Law and the Prophets can only be understood in light of Christ and His teachings.

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  • 3a.

    What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

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    The righteousness of the Pharisees refers to the careful keeping of God’s law, right down to the letters. But such practice has often been turned into a mere outward observance.

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  • 3b.

    How can we surpass it?

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    The Pharisees’ careful observance of the Scriptures was good, but not good enough. The Lord demands something more. He wants us to also keep the spirit of God’s commands from the heart.

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  • 5:21-26

    4.

    Why should we reconcile with our brother before offering a gift at the altar?

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    Our heavenly Father will not forgive us if we do not forgive our brothers from our heart (6:14,15; 18:35). Our offering will also be unacceptable to God.

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  • 5:27-30

    5a.

    Should we literally gouge out our eyes and cut off our right hand to avoid sin? Explain your answer.

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    Literally gouging out our eyes and cutting off our hands would not guarantee a sinless life.

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  • 5b.

    How can we apply these words to our lives if we have the tendency to sin?

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    The Lord teaches us to be radical in dealing with sin. Only the “violent” may lay hold of God’s kingdom (Mt 11:12). Paul uses similar language when he exhorts us to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13; Gal 5:24). We need to turn away from sin, even if it involves drastic changes in our thoughts and lifestyle, and even if it means denying our desires in order to deal with our weak spots.

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  • 5:33-37

    6a.

    What do the words “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” mean?

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    Be truthful.

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  • 6b.

    What does this command have to do with swearing?

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    While an oath was meant to be a solemn declaration and sign of trustworthiness, it was often misused as a means to make up for the lack of personal integrity. So the Lord teaches us to be truthful in our words instead of relying on oaths to make us credible.

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  • 7.

    Could we as Christians swear in a court of law? Why?

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    The command of our Lord is to be truthful and not call upon heaven, earth, or our heads to boost our credibility. The Lord Jesus himself testified under oath (26:63,64); Paul also claimed that God was his witness (Rom 1:9; 2Cor 1:23; 1Thess 2:5,10; Phil 1:8). As long as we are not using the oath to cover up any untruthfulness, we do not need to refuse to testify under oath.

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  • 5:38-42

    8a.

    What is the teaching behind verses 39 to 42?

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    Instead of retribution, we should repay evil with good (Prov 25:21,22).

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  • 8b.

    Is Jesus teaching us to be timid and weak? Explain your answer.

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    Concession is not a sign of weakness but leaving room for God to carry out His justice (Rom 12:19-21). Furthermore, loving those who have wronged us is the way to overcome evil and win over our enemies.

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  • 5:43-48

    9.

    Is it possible to fulfill Jesus’ command, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”?

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    The command does not say “be as perfect as the heavenly Father,” since no one can ever be as perfect as God (Mk 10:18). But the imperative “be perfect” sets a direction and goal for us to aim for (The word “perfect” is from telos, meaning “end, goal, limit”). Just as we are to be holy as God is holy (Lev 11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7; 1Pet 1:16), we are to be perfect as God is perfect. We ought to imitate our heavenly Father in every way rather than just settling for mere compliance to the regulations of the law. As a conclusion to the subject of loving our enemies, the Lord requires us to be perfect in our love just as God is perfect in His love.

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