Oaths, Eyes, and Enemies
Matthew 5:33-48 (focal: v47: ‘What more are you doing than others?’)
In our study of the Sermon on the Mount we are in the midst of Jesus’ teaching on the law of God in contrast with the Pharisees’ misinterpretations. We looked last week at the first three of six antitheses concerning murder, adultery, and divorce. This week we look at oaths, eyes, and enemies.
As a teacher without parallel, our Lord draws out the real significance of the Old Testament law, just as he would later draw out more clearly the significance of the Old Testament prophets (see Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). We have seen that his principle to fulfill, not to destroy the law is already expressed in the antitheses he draws in Matt. 5:21-32. Rather than play down its teaching, he has shown how searching and probing it really is. What at first appears to be a contrast is really Jesus’ proper explanation and application.
The illustrations of Jesus’ teaching seem to be divided into two groups of three, the second triad introduced by the word again in verse 33. The division is not based on any clearcut difference in content; indeed, it may simply break up the material for learning purposes. (The whole Sermon on the Mount bears indications that it was intended for memorization.) In vv33-48, Jesus deals with the swearing of oaths, the question of retaliation, and our attitude to our enemies. In each of these areas, as we shall see, he demonstrates how the Christian is ‘different,’ even ‘extraordinary’ (v47).
Jesus begins this section reminding us of the necessity and urgency of living with integrity. Do we do what we say we will do? Can people trust us as models of integrity? These are the very practical, day-to-day issues that Jesus raises in vv33-37.
The two final antitheses (vv. 38-48) bring us to the highest point of the Sermon on the Mount, ‘for which it is both most admired and most resented, namely the attitude of total love which Christ calls us to show towards one who is evil (39) and our enemies (44)’ (Stott).
He goes on to write:
“Nowhere is the challenge of the Sermon greater. Nowhere is the distinctiveness of the Christian counter-culture more obvious. Nowhere is our need of the power of the Holy Spirit (whose first fruit is love) more compelling.”
Of the entire Sermon on the Mount, no ideas are more frequently alluded to than the ones that follow: an eye for an eye; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile. For some people, they are the essence of Christianity. These statements have been used to explain and justify pacifism (opposition to war or violence of any kind), by Christians and by others. For the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy (who consequently had a major influence on Mahatma Ghandi), these words produced a revolutionary effect. But what do they mean?
Sinclair Ferguson, a beloved pastor, and fellow of Ligonier Ministries, reminds us that it is always an important principle in Bible study to remember the context in which a passage appears. If we do not ‘hear’ it in proper context, we might decide it means something quite different from what the speaker or author intended.
We invite you to join us this week as Chad proclaims the Word of the Lord that we might understand the meaning of Jesus’ words in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. That we might hear the plain teaching of Jesus explaining and applying God’s law for us. Listen closely for the haunting question Jesus poses at the conclusion of this section in v47.
I hope you are making plans to join us for a churchwide luncheon on Sunday April 10 (Palm Sunday). The church will provide the meat and drinks. We ask that you bring some delicious sides to share with all. Also, on Easter Sunday we are delighted to be able to give to each of our children an Easter gift.