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The Sermon on the Mount (4)

J Gibson, Derby

(Mt 5.1-7.29; Mk 3.13-19; Lk 6.12-49)

True righteousness (Mt 5.20-7.5)

Example 5: Unconditional love (Mt 5.43-48; Lk 6.27-28,32-36)

The second most important commandment in the Law of Moses was to "love thy neighbour as thyself' (Lev 19.18; Mt 5.43; 22.39). Failing to understand this command's all-embracing nature, the Jews had added to it, "and hate thine enemy" (v.43). The Lord Jesus Christ corrected this gross misrepresentation of the Law with the challenging statement, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Mt 5.44). Having been mocked, beaten and crucified, the Saviour went on to show these words in action, when He prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23.34). When believers act like this, they display a fully developed spiritual character – "perfect" (Mt 5.48) translates teleios, meaning complete – which is a reflection of God's own nature, who, as a faithful creator, in indiscriminate providential care "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5.45). By being loving to all (even their enemies), believers prove that they are the sons of their heavenly Father (Mt 5.45, JND), secure themselves a future reward (Mt 5.46), and stand out as different from the crowd (Mt 5.46-47; Lk 6.32-34).

Example 6: Humble religion (Mt 6.1-18)

In this section the Lord Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of Jewish religious observances. Even though He was not explaining a specific Law, this teaching was consistent with the Old Testament principle that God "desirest truth in the inward parts" (Ps 51.6). Whether it was in their alms giving, their praying or their fasting, the scribes and Pharisees craved adulation. But there is no future reward for such deliberately showy displays of piety (6.1). Instead, "they have their reward" (vv.2,5,16) now. Christ taught His disciples to be totally secret in these same activities. When giving, "do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets" (v.2). Since "the boxes for charitable contributions in the temple were trumpet-shaped…we can understand the figurative allusion of Christ to demonstrative piety".1 The command to "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (v.3) may have alluded "to the fact that the chest for receiving alms was placed at the right hand entrance into the synagogue, so that in passing it, the right hand was employed in putting into it contributions for the poor".2 And "when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast" (vv.17-18). The Saviour explained to His disciples that these secret actions are noticed by their heavenly Father, who will reward them openly in the coming Kingdom (vv.4,6,18).

Unlike the heathen, who make vain repetitions to deities that will never hear them (v.7; cp. 1 Kings 18.25-29), believers are to pray with confidence, certain that their "Father knoweth what things [they] have need of, before [they] ask him" (v.8). As well as avoiding empty, ritualistic repetition, a believer's prayers should be spiritually intelligent, reverent, and marked by dependency, a forgiving attitude and an overriding desire for God to be glorified. As an example of these things, the Lord Jesus outlined a prayer which would have been prayed by the disciples, and which will be prayed earnestly by tribulation saints. Recognising God's lofty position, as well as His tender care, they will address God as "Our Father which art in heaven" (v.9). With blasphemy abounding (Rev 13.1, 6; 17.3), believers will pray for God's name to "be sanctified" (v.9, JND), something which will be fulfilled in the millennium (Is 29.23; Ezek 36.23). Witnessing widespread lawlessness, and suffering severe persecution, saints will long for Messiah to come to rule and to alleviate their suffering. To this end, they will cry out, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (v.10). Having refused the mark of the Beast and been banned from trading, in utter dependence they will plead with their heavenly Father, "Give us this day our daily bread" (v.11). In the midst of their affliction, instead of harbouring ill feelings that could impede their fellowship with the Father, they will retain a forgiving spirit (vv.12,14,15). And they will pray for deliverance from severe trials and from the full force of the evil one (v.13). Always, in their sights is the soon to be established Kingdom, which will manifest God's power and glory in a world that has rejected Him (v.13).

Example 7: Correct priorities (Mt 6.19-34)

Given that the Lord Jesus Christ had been exposing the flawed teaching – and living – of the scribes and Pharisees, it seems that they had also failed in the area of riches, placing undue emphasis on earthly wealth. While there is no direct Old Testament law being expounded in this section, the New Testament teaches that covetousness is idolatry (Col 3.5). Therefore, to love money is to disobey the command, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex 20.3). With the moral authority of One who "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor" (2 Cor 8.9), the Saviour gave clear reasons why His disciples should not lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven.

First, earthly treasures are only temporary. Moth and rust corrupt them. Thieves steal them. But everything laid up in the heaven is eternally secure (vv.19-20; cp 1 Pet 1.4).

Second, earthly riches can easily captivate, because "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (v.21). For a believer, whose main interest ought to be the coming Kingdom, this could become a major distraction.

Third, material wealth has the propensity to blind a person's perception (vv.22-23). This is true in legal matters (Deut 16.19). It also applies to the spiritual life. The expression, "the light [luchos, a portable lamp] of the body is the eye", suggests that what a person focuses their attention on affects the whole life. To be single minded in the pursuit of earthly riches only leads to spiritual blindness and darkness in the soul.

Fourth, riches are master-like, demanding total loyalty. And "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (v.24).

Fifth, thinking too much about material things leads to anxiety. Christ warned His disciples not to be overly anxious about having sufficient food or drink or clothing, because there is a spiritual aspect to man which cannot be measured by material prosperity (v.25). After all, "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Lk 12.15). An awareness of the tender care of their heavenly Father should protect Christ's disciples from excessive anxiety (vv.26, 28-31). Birds "sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them" (v.26). The lilies referred to would have included the gladiolus species, which grew "among the grain, often overtopping it and illuminating the broad fields with their various shades of pinkish purple to deep violet purple and blue…They all have a reedy stem, which, when dry, would make such fuel as is used in the ovens".3 These lilies "toil not, neither do they spin: And yet…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (vv.28-29). If God provides so faithfully for birds, which are inferior to human beings, and for short lived grass, which is "cast into the oven" for fuel (v.30), how much more will He supply the material needs of His people (vv.26,30)? Furthermore, anxiety achieves nothing (v.27). The Greek word which is translated "stature" is helikia. It can refer either to lifespan or height.4 Fretfulness cannot make you taller, nor extend your life. While unbelieving Gentiles are overcome by their anxiety for the essentials of life, Christ's disciples can be confident that their "heavenly Father knoweth that [they] have need of all these things" (v.32). Instead of living a life that is dominated by anxiety, they should live in the light of the coming Kingdom and God's righteousness, "and all these [necessary] things shall be added unto you" (v.33). Neither should disciples concern themselves with tomorrow (v.34), for as Abraham Lincoln said, "The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time". While this whole section will be particularly pertinent to tribulation saints, its general principles remain deeply challenging for Christian believers, who are commanded to "set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col 3.2).

To be continued.

1 Edersheim A. The Life and Times of JESUS THE MESSIAH.

2 Brown J. Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord.

3 Post G E, in Hastings' Bib. Dic., cited by Vine W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

4 Vine W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.


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