Christians and the law (1) (Matthew 5:17-36)

As Jesus explains the role of the law of God in the lives of his people, he contrasts his teaching with longstanding tradition when he uses the clause, ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old….’ It is likely that he is referring to some of the traditions followed by the Pharisees.

The sixth commandment
Tradition accepted that a murderer should face judgement, which the law also required. Yet Jesus teaches that the sixth commandment goes far deeper than physical murder. Words of anger are a breach of the sixth commandment – Jesus means sinful anger. Moreover, there are degrees of anger that could lead to degrees of punishment in the future. In the present, such anger prevents worship of God.

What should a disciple of Jesus do? His priority is to be reconciled with the person to whom he expressed anger. The reconciliation takes priority over continuing in worship of God. The implication is that worship from unreconciled persons is unacceptable by God. The follower of Jesus must rush to be reconciled with the one he has offended. Jesus uses an illustration from a courtroom to picture what will happen to the person who does not do this – he will find himself in a prison.

The seventh commandment
Again, the traditional viewpoint had limited breaking the seventh commandment to physical immorality. Jesus points out that thoughts of lust are sinful. Moreover, his followers will not be content to have sinful thoughts and will take appropriate steps to deal with them. Why? Because tolerated sinful thoughts mark those who are not converted. 

Jesus does not say that his followers would not have such thoughts, but he does say that they are not content to have them in their minds. In fact, they so oppose such thoughts that they will take radical steps to deal with them. The Saviour is not suggesting physical destruction of one’s body here. He knows that cutting off your hand would not stop sinful thoughts. 

Tolerated sinful thoughts will lead to wrong actions. Wrong looking by the eye will lead to wrong actions by the hand. The point that Jesus makes is to use your mind to ask where sinful actions lead. If persisted in, they indicate we are on the broad road.

Connected to immoral behaviour was the practice of easy divorce. The Bible allows divorce for two reasons – immorality and desertion. However, it was traditionally acceptable for a man to divorce his wife for no other reason apart from wanting to replace her. The outcome was that there were numerous wrong relationships. Jesus makes it clear that his followers will not engage in such an immoral practice, which is based on selfishness and cruelty.

The next issue that Jesus mentions is misuse of oaths. He is not forbidding making promises to God. Rather he is rebuking those who imagined that if they replaced God’s name with something else, such as heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem, or something to do with themselves, then they were free of the responsibility of keeping oaths. In contrast, his followers would use straightforward speech.

So we can see how spiritual the law of God is

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