Religious Rules or Real Relationship
Diving into our internal heart with truth–not skimming the superficial surface with tradition
Sermon on the Mount–Matthew 5:21-48
Open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5 verses 21 to 48. We are about to take the next six weeks and exposit each major truth in this passage–but today, we need a flyover. You need to hear what Jesus is saying overall, to get the full impact of His words. He is asking some of the most important questions that can be asked. Christ is continuing with His spiritual EKG on your heart and He will to ask you today, are you religious or in a relationship? Are you driven by truth or tradition? Are you internally transformed or externally conformed? Are you seriously aware of the depths of your sin, or lightly convicted you mess up once in awhile? Are you attacking the sins of your heart, the internal sins–like desires, thoughts and motives, or are you merely dealing with the outward, external and obvious sins? Have you truly been converted in Christ, or have you conformed to Christianity?
Grab your Bible and stand with me as I read through this passage, verses 21 to 48. As I do, look for the six major points which our Lord easily identifies for us by this statement—“you have heard it said . . . but I say to you”, which will be repeated six times.
Matthew 5, starting in verse 21, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. 27You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
31“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:21 to 48).
Lord, open our eyes to your truth and expose our hearts. Glorify Yourself today, even if it’s painful for us to hear–we want Your will above ours. You may be seated.
The Pharisees taught that righteousness consisted of performing certain actions, but Jesus said that righteousness comes from a transformed heart. Likewise with sin–the Pharisees had a list of external actions they considered sinful, but Jesus teaches that sin comes from within the heart. Anger is murder in the heart. Lust is adultery in the heart. The person who says that he “lives by the Sermon on the Mount” may not realize that the Sermon on the Mount is more difficult to keep than the Ten Commandments.
Christ teaches that He came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it. So what does the Law teach, which the tradition of the day distorts? And realize this, Christian–righteousness by tradition is possible. Righteousness by truth is impossible. Christ will show you, non-Christian, you can’t be right with God through your behavior. Christ will show you, Christian, that your greatest battles with sin are within you. Christ highlights six different areas where the pharisaic tradition of His day distorted God’s truth in God’s Word–in six different ways, Christ exposes our hearts. Christ is not altering God’s Word, but correcting the Pharisees’ distortion of it. They have heard the error, but Jesus says, “I say to you the truth.” The first is . . .
#1 HATE in your heart, and not merely MURDER
Verses 21 and 22, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
A while back, one out of every 35 deaths in Chicago, Seattle and New York was a murder–and most of these murders were “crimes of passion” caused by anger between friends or relatives. For patrol officers, the most dangerous calls they make are domestic disputes–unstable marriages, divorce, remarriage, broken families are a source of unchecked anger. That’s why Jesus didn’t just say that anger leads to murder–Jesus says anger is murder.
There is a holy anger against sin. There is a righteous anger against injustice—see Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” But here, Jesus is describing an unholy anger against people. Anger becomes sin when directed at other people–when it is full of vindictiveness and retaliation. The Greek word anger Christ used in verse 22 means a settled anger, a malice that is inwardly nursed. And the Lord helps us understand sinful anger with His illustrations in these verses.
When anger is expressed verbally, when you say raca, or empty-head or fool, this verbal abuse stems from the same sinful heart-motives of anger and hatred which can ultimately lead to murder. This provides you with a key to dealing with anger–do not verbalize it. That’s right–do not express it, especially to the one you’re angry at. I’m not suggesting you bottle it up inside and wait to explode or destroy your health. No, there are two healthy options.
One Talk to the Lord–cast your care upon Him. Or . . .
Two Work it out with a brother or sister–but do not speak what you will later regret
There is a warped opinion floating about today that believes you must say everything you think and everything you feel to your spouse, kids or friends or you’re not honest. But God says, “Guard your mouth with a muzzle so you may not sin with your tongue” (Psalm 39:1). Do not speak words of anger to each other. Angry speech makes you a destroyer instead of a builder. Internal anger robs you of freedom and makes you a prisoner. To hate someone is to commit murder in our hearts.
Listen to the apostle John in 1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” The internal heart attitude of anger is what the law prohibits–therefore, even an abusive insult (raca) carries the same kind of moral guilt as an act of murder. This does not mean that we should go ahead and murder someone we hate since we’ve already sinned inwardly. Obviously, sinful feelings are not excuses for sinful deeds. Sinful anger robs us of fellowship with God as well as with our brothers–but it does not put us into jail as murderers.
However, be warned–more than one person has become a murderer because he or she failed to control sinful anger. In one sense, Jesus is saying to His followers in this sermon, “So what that you’ve not committed murder–you still have uncontrolled, sinful anger in your heart.” And when you find it there, Christ continues in verses 23 to 26 to tell us to deal with it aggressively and quickly.
We must go to our brother and get the matter settled, if you can. Work it out in prayer. Talk to a fellow believer. But do not tear down those you love. The Pharisees were wrong–you are not made righteous by avoiding murder, but you are righteous (pleasing to Christ) by dealing with the internal sins of your heart. Is the Lord today calling you to repent of internal anger or hatred in your heart?
#2 LUST in your heart, and not merely ADULTERY
Verses 27 and 28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Stop there, but know that verses 29 to 30 add this–if you are lusting, cut out your eye or cut off your hand! Now Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation (for mutilation does not cure lust, since lust is a sin of the heart). Christ is using a graphic hyperbole to demonstrate the seriousness of lust.
It would be “more profitable” for you to lose a member of your own body, than to bear the eternal consequences from this sin. Lust must be dealt with drastically because of its deadly consequences. Jesus is affirming God’s design for purity. Then the Lord explains the intent of His Law was to honor His design for intimacy. God created sex–it is His good design and what He says about intimacy must be obeyed. God’s design for sex is simple–outside of marriage never, and inside of marriage always.
Twenty-nine times in the New Testament, God forbids sex outside of marriage. Yet God repeatedly commands sexual intimacy inside of marriage. God is not trying to rob us, control us or frustrate us, but He wants to bless us. But if we allow lust or strong desire to continue unchecked, we suffer consequences. Sexual purity and sexual impurity always begins in the desires of the heart.
Again, Jesus is not saying that lustful desires are identical to lustful deeds and therefore a person might just as well go ahead and commit adultery—no. The desire and the deed are not identical, but spiritually speaking, they are both sin. The look that Jesus mentions in verse 28 was not a casual glance, but a constant stare with the purpose of lusting. It is possible for a man to glance at a beautiful woman and know that she is beautiful, but not lust after her. But Job warns in Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” The man Jesus describes looks at the woman with a gaze for the purpose of feeding his inner sensual appetites as a substitute for the act. This is not accidental–it is planned.
How do believers deal with internal lust of the heart?
1 Pursue Christ
When we keep our eyes on the pure one, we will live more pure. First John 3:3, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Learn to direct your passions to Christ–desire God most and other passions will lessen.
2 Pounce on your thoughts
Lust is an internal battle for the mind. Make certain you’re dwelling on biblical mind candy.
Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
3 Prepare to flee
Second Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
Physically, there are things you must not see or watch, places you must avoid, people you can’t be around, and clothes you must not wear. God tells you here, there are some things you must flee, or run from in terror. Don’t discuss it, don’t ponder it, just get out. The Pharisees were wrong–you are not righteous by merely avoiding adultery, but you are pleasing to Christ by dealing with the internal sins of your heart. Is the Lord today calling you to repent of lust in your heart?
#3 DIVORCE for adultery, and not merely a certificate of infraction
Verse 31 and 32, “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
The rabbis had taken massive liberty with what Scripture truly said. They misused Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house.” The scribes used verses 1 to 4 as if it were merely given to regulate divorce paperwork. They had wrongly concluded that men could divorce their wives for anything that displeased them, as long as they gave “a certificate of divorce”–the paperwork.
But Moses provided this as a concession to protect the woman who was divorced–not to justify or legalize divorce under any and all circumstances. Christ gives an exception here–except for sexual immorality. Divorce was allowed in cases of adultery. And in 1 Corinthians 7:15 we can add–because of abandonment. And if it was not, then he causes her to commit adultery. The assumption is, divorced people will remarry. If the divorce was not for sexual immorality or desertion, then any remarriage is adultery. How does that work?
Remember, biblically, a marriage is a vow before God and a physical union. Adultery breaks the physical union, and desertion breaks the vow. God in His grace allows for divorce for the innocent party for those two reasons. The Pharisees were wrong–you are not righteous by giving divorce paperwork. But you are pleasing to Christ by dealing with the internal sins of your heart and only divorcing for adultery or abandonment–and only if you cannot reconcile. Is the Lord today calling any of you to repent of any unfaithfulness in marriage in reality or found in your heart?
#4 KEEPING your word, and not merely making an oath
Verses 33 to 37, “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”
This is the sin of using oaths to affirm that what you say is true. Maybe you say, “I give you my word . . . I swear . . . this is true . . . honest to God . . . if Jesus were here physically.” These verses should not be taken as a universal condemnation that all oaths are sin–God used an oath, Christ spoke under oath and the Law prescribed certain oaths. What Christ is forbidding here is the flippant, profane, or careless use of oaths in everyday speech. And during Christ’s day, many oaths were used for deceptive purposes.
The Pharisees used all kinds of tricks to sidestep the truth, and oaths were among them–to make their victim believe that the truth was being told, some Jewish leaders would swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem or their own heads. They would avoid using the holy name of God, but they would come close by using the city of Jerusalem, heaven, earth, or some part of the body. But Jesus is teaching here that our conversation should be so honest and our character so true, that you would not need and kind of crutch to get people to believe you.
Words depend on character, and oaths cannot compensate for poor character. Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” The more words a man uses to convince us, the more suspicious we should be. Our speech is to be guarded and measured. Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
The Pharisees were wrong–you’re not righteous by giving an oath based on Heaven. But you are pleasing to Christ by dealing with the internal sins of your heart. Is the Lord today calling you to repent of misleading others with your speech? Jesus wants all our speech to be as if we were under an oath by a judge who knows the truth of everything you say–because you are under the great Judge.
#5 FORGIVING and trying to reconcile, and not merely retaliation
Verses 38 and 39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” The Law established this principle for limiting retribution to that which was just. It was designed to ensure that the punishment fit the crime in civil cases. This law was never meant to sanction acts of personal retaliation or revenge. But when your heart is made new because of Christ’s salvation, Jesus says you can become willing to suffer loss rather than to make another suffer.
Forgiveness is not an option–how can any believer who’s been forgiven by Christ not forgive another who has wronged them? Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
But reconciliation is a practice requiring great wisdom. Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Each circumstance, each sin-caused offense requires wisdom, discernment and time. In order to “turn the other cheek,” we must stay where we are and not run away. This demands faith and love. And it also means you can be and will be hurt—but it’s better to be hurt on the outside, than to nurse a vengeful heart on the inside.
It is a strong person who can love and suffer hurt. It is a weak person who thinks only of themselves and hurts others to protect themselves. The Pharisees were wrong–you’re not righteous by making enemies repay their offenses. But you are pleasing to Christ by dealing with the internal sins of your heart. Is the Lord today calling you to forgive, possibly reconcile, one who’s offended you?
#6 LOVING and praying for your enemies, and not merely hating them
Verses 43 and 44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Nowhere did the Law teach you to hate your enemies. The Pharisees got this wrong. The Law indicated just the opposite. Exodus 23:4, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.” Sounds pretty loving.
In His sermon, Jesus goes on to define our enemies as those who curse us, hate us, and exploit us selfishly. Jr High and high schoolers, since Christian love is an act of the will and not simply an emotion, Christ has the right to command us to love our enemies. Come on, Christian! Christ loved you when you were His enemies. Romans 5:10a, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.”
You can show Christ’s love by blessing those who curse you, doing good to them, and praying for them. When you pray for your enemies, you will find it easier to love them. Praying for them takes the poison out of our hearts. In the sermon, Jesus says you do this because it is a mark of maturity, it is Christ-like, and it is a witness to others. The Pharisees were wrong–you’re not righteous by rightly hating your enemies. But you are pleasing to Christ by dealing with the internal sins of your heart. Is the Lord today calling you to love and pray for someone who curses, hates and exploits you?
Chris, I need to know more. This text has raised questions about my anger, lust, promises, divorce, remarriage, forgiving others, being reconciled and loving enemies. The answer is simple–be here for the next six weeks as we exposit this passage. Pray, study ahead, talk to others and ask the Lord to work in your life. But for now . . .
A Your righteous behavior cannot and does not save you, but God’s righteousness given to you does
If sin is found in your heart, only one person can change your heart and give you a perfect standing before God. Look at Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Christ sets an unattainable standard. You have to be perfect, and you can’t make one mistake, externally or internally. The perfect standard sums up what the Law demands. James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
Though this standard is impossible to meet, God cannot lower it without compromising His own perfection. He who is perfect could not set an imperfect standard of righteousness. But the marvelous truth of the Gospel is that Christ has met this standard on our behalf. Second Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Christ exposes the phony, external religion of His day–but in doing so, convinces each of you of your sinfulness. But Christ can take our sin upon himself on the cross and give us His perfect righteousness, so that we might have a perfect standing before God, enabling us to walk with Him now and live with Him forever.
B Take the internal battle with sin SERIOUSLY
The people on that slope were all externalists and Christ has cut with His knife of truth, slicing through their cosmetic religion, by showing them what real internal holiness is. It is a heart, mind, attitudes and desires that have been transformed, so you can live uniquely different. You can be made righteous, and to some measure, live righteous.
You can honor the Lord from your new, born-again nature and obey Him by the power of His indwelling Spirit. Do not give up the fight! Deal with those issues He’s exposed in you. If you are His child, you will want to–and if you are not His child, you will make excuses. Confess your sins. Repent (turn) from your sins. Get help with your sins internally.
C The Good news of salvation must always start with the BAD news
Your heart, your nature, your thinking, your motives, are all sinful–you’re in trouble with God. All your family and friends who are without Christ will never be right with God, unless they admit the depths of their sin–the sins of heart, the sins of thoughts, the sins of attitude, the sins of intention, the internal sins of hate, lust, revenge, lack of love, dishonesty, manipulation and more.
They must repent, not merely of external actions where they have been caught–but internal rebellion which only God and they know. Make certain to call the lost to face the bad news, so they might turn and depend on God’s good news.
D This section of the Sermon on the Mount exposes the true YOU
This is who you really are–not the nice Christian lady. Not the spiritual teen. Not the serving dad or gracious single. Not the CG leader, discipler, deacon or faithful set-up guy. You are not nice internally–you’re a spiritual disaster whom God chose to save, forgive, and transform. But until Heaven, you will battle with a heart that can very quickly turn wicked and sin. Don’t hide or run away.
Trust people, but never forget they can turn untrustworthy. Love people, but never forget they can turn unloving. Respect people, but never forget they can turn disrespectful. Every single day, you and I as Christians are desperately dependent upon God’s grace and the Spirit of God to keep our potential for sin and harm in check.
E Evangelism is our great MISSION and purpose for being here
What’s your purpose? To glorify God. Can you better glorify God on Earth or in Heaven? Of course, Heaven–you will be perfect. Then why did God leave us here? To do on Earth what we can’t do in Heaven. What can’t you do in Heaven? Sin and share the Gospel–which one do you think the Lord left us here for? We are not here to change society or clean up the culture, friends. Listen to George Smeaton, Scottish pastor and theologian, “To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater important than the deliverance of a whole kingdom country from temporal evil.”
What will it cost you? Embarrassment, struggle, failure, pain and closeness with those who are opposed to the Lord. Like C.T. Studd, famous missionary said, “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” Who is it you know, who needs to hear the Gospel from you? Fulfill your purpose.
F Believers must remember they are WASHED in God’s grace
My precious family, do not leave here discouraged, but blessed. I know, you and I can be overwhelmed by our sin, especially as we hear the Lord examine us internally. You can get to the point in your faith where you think, “Is there anything I do which is not tainted by sin? Does anything I do actually count for eternity? Is there anything I say, anything I teach, any ministry I do that actually pleases Christ?”
After a passage like today, it is crucial you recall and daily live these truths–you are washed and secure in God’s grace. Christ said, “It is finished!” You are forgiven–all your sin was punished on the cross. God covers you with His righteousness. You cannot lose what He gave you. Take sin seriously.
He’s the one who called you. He’s the one who gifted you. He’s the one who empowers you. He’s the one who will glorify you. And He’s the one who will say to His children, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Let’s pray.