Matthew 5:27-28– You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus continues with his teachings to the people. He again points out that the current spiritual leaders of the people (mainly the Scribes and Pharisees) were setting a wrong/bad example for the people they were leading.
The main problem is that over the years, the spiritual leaders had become very legalistic. They were hyper-vigilant in making sure that their external actions conformed to the law. However, their hearts and minds were running wild and out of control. The intents of their hearts did not match their outward actions.
For example, if you asked a Scribe what the definition of adultery was, he would respond that it meant having sexual relations with a woman who was not your wife. And he would be correct – that is the law’s definition of adultery.
But remember that Jesus came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. His definition of adultery was not only having sexual relations with a woman who was not your wife, but also looking at any woman with lust! Jesus shows us that God is not just interested in our actions, but the thoughts and motivations of our inner most being.
While this seems simple enough to us, it was shocking revelation to those in Jesus day.
Matthew 5:29-30 – If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Wow! Speaking of shocking revelations…
This seemingly strange statement is really clear and simple, once you take a good look at it. Let’s begin by looking at the phrase ‘causes you to sin’, or your translation may say ‘offends you’. The original meaning of this word in the Greek signifies something that is a stumbling block. A stumbling block is anything in your path that causes you to fall. In this case, it would mean anything that causes you to fall into sin.
So, what is causing us to fall into sin? Jesus describes it as either our right eye or our right hand. Clearly, this is NOT to be taken literally. Cutting off your hand or removing your eye will not free you from sin.
We often use parts of the body as metaphors. For instance, we use the word ‘heart’ to mean affection or feeling. We use the word ‘bowels’ to mean compassion. We use the word ‘guts’ to mean bravery.
Here, the word ‘eye’ means inward intent or desire to sin, while ‘hand’ refers to the physical act of sinning. This fits in with the case that Jesus is making about adultery; it entails not only the outward, physical act (hand) but also the inward lust of the mind (eye).
The truth is that the mind and the body work together to sin. First, the mind conceives the sin. Then, it considers and thinks about the sin, until it has been firmly rooted and established in the heart. Once that is done, the evil grows to fruition and the body commits the actual act of sin. This is why it is vitally important to bring your thoughts into captivity for Christ.
Now the overall meaning of the passage becomes clear. Anything that causes us to sin (either mentally or physically), needs to be ‘cut off’ or removed from us completely. It’s that simple, but keep in mind the warning of Jesus – if you don’t, you could wind up in hell.
Here is a more subtle point – if Jesus is telling us to get rid of things in our life that cause us into sin, then it must be possible for us to do exactly that. How do we cut off the thing that is causing us to sin? What does that look like from a practical standpoint?
First, you need to have genuine repentance for the sin. If you are just giving ‘lip service’ to repentance, you will continue to be ensnared by the sin. For example, let’s consider the sin of gossip. If a person recognizes that they gossip, they must first be truly repentant about that sin, before they can remove it from their life.
Second, the person should begin to pray that God will give them the strength to overcome that evil in their life. They have been trapped in the snare of gossip and they should pray to be delivered from it.
Matthew 6:13 – And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Third, the person should remove themselves from any occasion that makes that sin easy. If they always gossip with the next door neighbor, they need to find a way to stop doing that; one possibility is to confess to the neighbor that they are not going to talk about people anymore.
Fourthly, the person can overcome gossip by using their mouth in accordance with God’s laws. They can begin to offer encouragement to those in trouble, rather than gossiping about them. They can begin to pray and assist people rather than spreading rumors about their situation.
Fifthly, they need to keep a watch and a guard over their hearts so that the sin cannot gain a new foothold into their life once it is overcome. If their mind starts thinking about gossip, they need to take control of those thoughts and replace them with the Word of God.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to cast sin out of our lives.
Matthew 5:31-32 – It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This teaching involves an Old Testament law from Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 24:1 – When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
The Jews had two interpretations of this law. One group (the school of Hillel) believed that the true meaning of the law was found in the word ‘uncleanness’ and it referred only to adultery. Therefore, adultery was the only true basis for divorce.
The second group (the school of Sammai) believed that the true meaning of the law was found in the phrase ‘she finds no favor in his eyes’ and interpreted that to mean that if a woman displeased her husband in any way, no matter how trivial, he could give her a certificate of divorce and send her away. We have historical evidence of just how ridiculous this became – a man could divorce his wife if he did not like her cooking!
Not surprisingly, the second view became very prevalent amongst the Jews. And once again we find the Jews making the same serious mistake – adhering to the letter of the law, and believing themselves righteous for it, while at the same time completely ignoring their duty to God.
We will delve further into the divorce issue in chapter 19. For now, let us understand that Jesus is calling his people do what is right before God; He is not just looking for adherence to rules and regulations.
Matthew 5:33-35 – Again you have heart that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king.
An oath is a solemn affirmation or declaration, made with a reverent appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed. Our society still uses oaths today, for example, in a court of law. In the Mosaic law, oaths were not only allowed, but required in some instances (see Exodus 22:11, Leviticus 5:1, etc).
However, the Jews were using oaths in a far different way. They were using oaths, or swearing, in their everyday common conversations. To make matters worse, they had silly traditions that made most of these oaths null and void. Thus, they were using the sacred name of God in an irreverent and profane manner.
They were making a mockery of oaths, which in reality, was a very serious thing because they called God as a witness to the actions of man. When the Jews trifled with oaths, and did not consider them binding, they were also trifling with the power, authority and majesty of both God and his creation. This was a form of profanity and Jesus told them to knock it off.
Perhaps this is a good time to take a quick inventory of our own words. Are we constantly ‘swearing to God’ or otherwise using his name in vain? If so, we need to knock it off too!
Matthew 5:36-37 – And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
A man or woman who is of a good character and who is a faithful follower of God does not need to swear or take oaths in daily conversation. Because they are honest, sincere and upright in heart, their simple declaration of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will be believed and accepted.
What about your own personal life? Are you a man or woman of your word? If you give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to someone can they believe you without an oath?
Matthew 5:38-39 – You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ is indeed part of the Old Testament law. It is also known as the Law of Retaliation and it can be found in several Bible passages including Exodus:
Exodus 21:24 – Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…
Here is an important fact: this law was given as a rule to regulate the decisions of judges. As a judicial rule it is both fair and just.
The Jews, however, took this law, extended it to private conduct and then used it as a means to exact revenge on their fellow man. They believed they had every right to injure someone else, as long as they were not the one to attack first. Revenge was often carried out to the utmost extremity and more evil was returned that had been received.
Jesus challenged the Scribes and Pharisees on their personal conduct. He made it clear that the law of retaliation did not apply to the behavior of individuals. As children of God, the Jews were not to give evil for evil, or hold a grudge or avenge themselves. Instead, they were to forgive and overlook the petty injustices done to them.
Matthew 5:40-42 – And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Jesus then takes this teaching one step further. Rather than just bearing the injustice, we are to respond with goodness. This teaching is reinforced in the book of Romans:
Romans 12:19-21 – Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
The key part of this passage is in verse 21 – Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. Jesus gives us three examples.
The first is whoever smites you on the cheek, turn to him the other also.
This example refers to insults, verbal persecution or slander. Have you ever had someone insult or mock you and at the time you couldn’t think of anything to say, but later you thought of a clever comeback? We’ve probably all been there but it’s honestly a good thing that you didn’t think of a quick insult to fire back, because that is not what Christ wants us to do. Admittedly, this type of attack is one of the hardest to let go; our nature is to have a flash of anger and return an insult that is equally as humiliating as the one we received. But the spiritually correct thing to do is to bless instead of curse.
The second example is this – if anyone would sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
The meaning of this example has to do with petty litigations. Again, Jesus is telling his followers to settle with their adversary before going to court. If the matter is truly petty, let your adversary have his way and even more, for this gives you an opportunity to display the rich and undeserved love of Christ.
The third example is that – if anyone compels you to go a mile, go with him two.
Let’s examine this in historical context. In the days of Jesus, there was no Post Office. The Romans had horsemen stationed along regular intervals on the king’s highway. They passed notices and messages from hand to hand until the message was delivered. The officials at these stations had the right to force any common person as well as any horse, donkey, boat or other vehicle to carry the message or notice to the next station. I imagine this would be extremely annoying to people who were trying to travel or conduct business. This is really a type of forced labor.
The person pressed into service was not to be hateful or annoyed; Jesus instructs that they should not only go to the next station without complaining, they should willingly travel two stations.
As we consider all three of these examples, we have to admit a couple of things. One, it would be difficult to do these things out of love. We might do them with clenched teeth, but that is no good. Remember, God is looking at our hearts, not just our actions. Don’t fall into the same trap as the Pharisees, who thought that only actions mattered.
Two, if we can train ourselves to act righteously in these situations, what a testimony it will be for the King of Kings! I guarantee that unsaved people are not reacting this way.
Perhaps there are even some Christians that are not reacting this way. So for those of us who can train ourselves in righteousness, our actions will stand out like a light in a very dark place. We will be lifting up Jesus and showing his love to the world. Isn’t that worth bearing a little grief in life?
One final word of caution – this section concerns petty or insignificant injustices. Jesus is not telling us to surrender all our character, property and time to those who will abuse us.
Matthew 5:43-46 – You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
The Old Testament law did command the Jews to love their neighbors as themselves:
Leviticus 19:18 – You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
However, the law did NOT command anyone to hate their enemy. That bit of instruction was handed down from earlier generations and enforced by the Scribes and Pharisees. The Jews frequently considered other Jews to be their neighbors, and Gentiles to be their enemies.
Jesus corrects this teaching by telling his followers to love their enemies. Does that sound unreasonable or even absurd to you? It certainly did to the Jews. Why is that? Because fallen man is governed by the flesh, and the natural reaction of the flesh is to hate our enemies.
But if we receive a new nature by being born again, we can choose to be governed by the Spirit, who gives us the ability to love.
Love can be divided into two pathways: Love for a person and love or approval of their conduct. Accordingly, it is possible to love a person, but hate their behavior and actions. In fact, many of you may have a friend or family member that you love and perhaps even pity, while at the same time you cannot love or approve of their life choices. So we are directed by God to love the person, while we can still hate their sin.
We are to pray for those who persecute us. This helps us as well as our tormentor. If the Holy Spirit moves upon the heart of the wicked and he becomes saved, he will then stop persecuting us. Praying for our adversaries identifies us as genuine sons of God.
Matthew 5:47-48 – and if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Even sinners will commonly render good for good. The followers of Christ must be willing to do something different – render good for evil.
It is the duty of Christians to desire and to press towards perfection/completeness in grace and holiness, working to conform ourselves to the example of Jesus.
So, let me give you some encouragement and some relief: When someone treats you unjustly, it is normal for your first reactions to be anger and revenge rather than love. That doesn’t mean you are not a Christian. It just means that you have some maturing to do. Remember, we can train ourselves in righteousness. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can love people as Jesus does, and we can learn to overcome evil with good.
Let me give you some strength: Taking control of your thoughts and guarding your mind are essential keys to defeating sin in your life. They are keys that YOU control. Begin to be aware of what you are feeding your mind and what you allow to dwell there. If you find some things that need to go, cast them out immediately and replace them with thoughts of righteousness. You have the spiritual power and toughness to take control of your mind, so do it!