But I Say to You
The text this week is Matthew 5: 21-37. This is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, which is a series of straight teachings from Jesus to His followers. Jesus begins each subject with a statement that “you have heard it said”, then He follows it with “But I say to you”. Jesus is not rejecting the law. He has made it clear in this series of talks that He has come to fulfil the law not to reject it (Matthew 5: 17). What I think Jesus is doing here is upping the ante, so to speak. Jesus is offering a viewpoint that would have us internalize the law, rather than simply cling to the outward obedience of its requirements.
All this internalization is an outgrowth of our belief. It has become, not a question of what we do, but of who we are. This is a fulfillment of the promise God made through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:33 (I will place my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts). It is a statement that our faith will change us in ways much more profound that simply seeing us cling to the exact letter of the law.
Jesus then goes quickly through various applications of this internalization of the law. He covers anger, adultery, divorce and oaths. In each case He offers us a view of what a changed interior will look like.
Regarding anger, it is not enough to simply “not murder”. We must dissolve our anger and reconcile ourselves with those with whom we have a conflict. This is to be done even before offering a gift to the altar. That is, change your interior and let go of your anger, then come place your gift before God. The true gift to God is not whatever material thing you leave at the altar, but rather the interior peace you have because of your faith in God.
Jesus then turns to adultery. It is not enough to simply “not cheat on your spouse”. Jesus wants us to not lust after another. This may be another person, or perhaps work or leisure activities, anything really that diverts you from your relationships. Allow your belief to penetrate your heart so that you do not even consider anything other than the one that God has given you as partner. Talk about upping the ante!
Jesus then turns to the difficult topic of divorce. Here too Jesus recognizes divorce as a reality, when in Verse 31 He says “”Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce”. But Jesus clearly thinks that this is a sinful thing, except on grounds of infidelity. Here too Jesus is asking that we change who we are so that this does not become something that we accept. For those who have been or are going through divorce I would say that this does not mandate a life of solitude, for there is always redemption in Christ Jesus. That is He always makes us whole again.
The last topic Jesus discusses is oaths. We are not to swear by heaven or earth. We are simply to carry out the vows we have made to God. We are to trust God and His good and gracious word and leave it at that. Allowing more than that to rise from inside us is to be in the thrall of the evil one.
The unifying theme of all these topics is that Jesus wants us to trust God, and allow that faith to change us. This will change the way we act, but it starts from the interior of each of us. That is to say that all these topics are variations on the idea that if we believe, then we will obey.
Praise Be to God