MATTHEW 5

NOTES ON MATTHEW 5

It is interesting to notice the way each of the four gospel writers introduce the public ministry of Christ. In Matthew, the Gospel of the Sovereign, we have the account of His precepts, as He sets out the righteous demands of His kingdom. In Mark, the Gospel of the Servant, the first address is the parable of the sower, so the emphasis is on the work of God’s perfect Servant. Luke begins his Gospel of the Sympathising Saviour with His visit to the synagogue of Nazareth, and the reading of the passage in Isaiah which speaks of Him as the one who would bind up the broken hearts of men. John, however, gives as the first discourse in his Gospel of the Son, the words of the Lord in the temple concerning His Deity. So each account of the beginning of the public ministry fits in with the theme of the particular gospel account.

If we needed a key verse to sum up this discourse in Matthew chapters 5-7, it might well be verse 20, which reads, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”. So the ritual righteousness that the rulers depended upon to gain entrance to Messiah’s kingdom is not enough. The only way to have a righteousness good enough for that kingdom is to have it imputed by God when there has been repentance and faith.

So the discourse centres on the demands of the King in regard to righteousness. In the previous chapter Matthew has shown conclusively, in his account of the temptation of Christ, that He ever acted in conformity to His Father’s will, and refused to be side-tracked. Since this is His character, He has the moral right to demand that His subjects likewise conform. As David said, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God”, 2 Samuel 23:3. He went on to confess, “although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure”, verse 5. How delighted Matthew must have been to write of a King who would “save His people from their sins”, Matthew 1:21, and who, therefore, must have been sinless Himself. He is the only one who can fulfil David’s desire that his descendant sit upon his throne.

But a Sovereign must have subjects, so He is setting out the terms upon which men may be in His kingdom. John the Baptist, the herald of the King, had said that “His fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”, Matthew 3:12. The first part of that verse is in operation in this and subsequent chapters, as the King sets out the differences between the “wheat”, His true people, and the “chaff”, those who only profess to believe. The burning of the chaff awaits the future, although mentioned in 5:22, 29, and 30.

Survey of the chapter

In verse 20 there is mention of the scribes and the Pharisees. In this chapter the emphasis is on the scribes and their teaching, whereas in the next chapter the behaviour of the Pharisees is more in view. In verses 1-12 we learn the features of those who, as the blessed ones, are fit to enter the kingdom when it is manifest. In verses 13-16 we learn the effect those blessed ones have on the world before the kingdom is manifest. In verses 17-20 the King establishes the true reason for His coming. He has not come to destroy the law but to fulfil it, because if men only live according to the doctrines of the scribes about the law, they will not enter the kingdom. In the remainder of the chapter the King shows that only His word, when it is obeyed, will produce the characteristics suitable for the kingdom. The teaching of the scribes will only produce hypocrites, and they will be cast out of the kingdom.

Structure of the chapter

(a) Verses 1-12 Excellence of the character of the subjects of the King
(b) Verses 13-16 Effect of the lives of the subjects of the King
(c) Verses 17-20 Explanation for the coming of the King
(d) Verses 21-48 Examination of the teaching of the scribes

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW CHAPTER 5, VERSES 1 TO 12:

5:1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him:

5:2 And hHe opened His mouth, and taught them, saying,

5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

(a) Verses 1-12 Excellence of the character of the subjects of the King

5:1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him:

And seeing the multitudes- we read in 4:25 that “there followed Him great multitudes of people”, and now the King is going to test whether they are true and loyal subjects or not. As noticed before, John the Baptist said he would purge His floor to divide between the wheat and the chaff, the true and the false. This process begins here.

He went up into a mountain- in Scripture a mountain is often used as the symbol for a kingdom. For instance, when Daniel interpreted Nebuchanezzar’s dream of an image that represented different stages of Gentile rule during the Times of the Gentiles, the stone that destroyed the image became a great mountain, Daniel 2:35. When that dream was interpreted by Daniel, the stone that became a mountain meant a kingdom that would destroy and replace all other kingdoms. The only kingdom that shall do this is Christ’s kingdom. So the Lord, by going up into a mountain, is signifying that He is going to be speaking of His kingdom. Many in the multitudes that followed Him were eagerly awaiting the kingdom of the Messiah, and their enthusiasm must not be allowed to degenerate into a popular uprising. Those who would participate in such activity would show themselves to be unbelievers, so the Lord is going to ensure they are clear about that. The true believers will suffer persecution, verse 10, and they will not persecute others to get their way.

And when He was set- no doubt as they went up the mountain the multitudes thronged Him, but now He sets Himself down formally as one who is going to teach them the principles of His kingdom. Later on, He will compare His teaching with that of the scribes as they commented on the law of Moses, but this mountain is not Sinai with all its terror, but a mountain whose name is hidden from us, just as His kingdom is hidden from men as yet.

In Psalm 2 the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord, but God’s response has been to set His king upon His holy hill of Zion. And that is the situation now, for the princes of this world crucified the Lord of Glory, and God has set Him at His own right hand in heaven, awaiting the day when His enemies shall be the footstool of His feet, Hebrews 1:13.

His disciples came unto Him- so there seems to be a division between disciples, those who sought to learn the mind of God through Him, and the crowds who came out of curiosity. At the end of the discourse His hearers are either like a wise man who built his house on a rock, (the true disciple, who hears His sayings and does them), or a foolish man who built on the sand, (the non-disciple, who hears the sayings but does not do them). This is the difference between the wheat-disciples and the chaff-believers.

5:2 And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying,

And He opened His mouth- later He will say that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things”, 12:34,35.

And taught them, saying- this is the test for men, whether they will respond to the doctrine of the king. At the present time, as Matthew 13 explains, the kingdom establishes itself in the hearts of men not through force of arms, but by the word of God, the word of the kingdom, 13:19. The sower went forth to sow, not to fight, and He did not brandish weapons, but sowed seeds.

5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit- a common misunderstanding about these blessings is that they come on those who are of a certain character, as if they are a reward. So, it is said, those who are poor in spirit will be blessed. This is not the idea here. The King is pin-pointing the features that mark His true subjects. They are His subjects not because of their works or attitudes, but because they have been born again. Unless a person is born again he cannot see or enter the kingdom of God, John 3:3,5.

The idea of being blessed is of being spiritually prosperous, and only believers can be spiritually prosperous. The King is highlighting the difference between His true subjects and those who are only professing to follow Him, but without sincerity. He is, in effect, giving a preview of the time when He will divide the sheep from the goats, and the sheep He will call blessed, and the goats He will label as cursed, Matthew 25:34,41. When that happens, it will be too late to change, for the King will have come, but now there is time to change sides.

So those who are poor in spirit show themselves to be in the kingdom already, and when the King comes they will be rewarded for their attitude. The poor in spirit are not arrogant or proud. They have no ambition to be rich with this world’s goods, but rather “lay up treasure in heaven”, and shows themselves to be “rich unto God”, Luke 12:21. They are already spiritually prosperous, but that prosperity will increase when the King comes, as the next phrase indicates.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven- the proud and the self-willed will be absent from the kingdom, for their attitude is contrary to the attitude of the King, and only those who are like Him shall have a settled place in that kingdom. There will be some in the kingdom of heaven when it is established on the earth that, being the children of believers, but themselves unconverted, will show themselves as not genuine, and they shall be cast out of the kingdom. But true believers will have the kingdom as their sure possession.

Special note

There are those who believe that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are identical. This cannot be the case, for only those who are born again are in the kingdom of God, John 3:3,5, whereas some of the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 8:11. We must bear in mind that the kingdom of heaven is not heaven, any more than the Kingdom of God is God. The kingdom of heaven is the realm where the rule of the King is professed to be obeyed. Whether that obedience is genuine or not will be tested finally when the King comes, but there are guidelines in the chapter we are considering, and indeed in the whole of the Gospel of Matthew.

5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are they that mourn- this is not a general statement concerning all who have ever lost loved ones, and who therefore mourn. Such an idea would undermine the gospel, which insists that blessing only comes through faith in Christ. The mourning here is not because a death has occurred, but the mourning of those who feel deep sadness for the way the things of God are treated, whether by the unsaved or the saved. In 9:15 the Lord foretells that believers will mourn over His absence. In 1 Corinthians 5:2 the apostle Paul rebukes the believers for not mourning over the sin in their midst.

For they shall be comforted- just as surely as they mourn now, they will be comforted in the hereafter. Those things that make the believer sad now will be remedied, and the measure of their current sadness will be the measure of the comfort they shall know.

5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are the meek- meekness should not be confused with weakness. Meekness is that attitude of heart which accepts the will of God, whatever it entails. To persevere when trials come, and opposition, and disappointment, shows spiritual strength. To be meek in a hostile world full of hostile people, is oftentimes to be downtrodden and taken advantage of. This will sometimes result in poverty, but the Lord here declares that such people are spiritually prosperous, not just now, but in a day to come when the rewards are given.

For they shall inherit the earth- the idea is of ample compensation for all the injustice, trial and oppression they have meekly endured in this time when the kingdom is not manifest and the King is not present. The apostle Paul wrote that the blessing promised to Abraham was that he would be “heir of the world”, Romans 4:13. In the final sense the seed of Abraham is Christ, Galatians 3:16,17, and He will inherit the earth, Psalm 2:8. Believers are “joint-heirs with Christ,” Romans 8:17, see also Galatians 3:29, 4:1, so that all that Christ inherits, His people inherit too. This is rich compensation for anything that may have to be endured at this time.

5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness- the scribes of Nehemiah’s day praised God by saying that when Israel were passing through the wilderness, “Thou…gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst”, Nehemiah 9:15. That was literal hunger and thirst, satisfied by literal food and water. The true believer has a spiritual hunger, for he knows that his soul can only be prosperous if he feeds on “the living bread which came down from heaven”, John 6:51. Indeed, an indifference to that food is a sign of a lack of spiritual life, for the Lord said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you”, verse 53. So important is this matter, that the feeding of the five thousand, the miracle that prompted Christ’s address on the subject of the living bread, is the only one that is found in all four gospels, and the only miracle John’s gospel has in common with the other three.

The true believer also drinks the “living water”, the Spirit of God given by the Saviour Himself, John 7:37-39. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had “all been made to drink into one Spirit”, 1 Corinthians 12:13.

The true believer hungers and thirsts because he has a concern for righteousness. He lives in a world where there is much unrighteousness, so he realises he needs to feed his soul on that which is of God and not of man. The wise man said that “The lips of the righteous feed many”, Proverbs 10:21, and as we listen to the words of “Jesus Christ the righteous”, our souls are fed. And this is a sign of spiritual prosperity.

For they shall be filled- there is a sense in which this filling takes place now, for as Mary said in her song, “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away”, Luke 1:53. But the present time is but preparation for the future, when, unhindered by the things of time and sense, and with minds released from the bondage of corruption, the things of God will fill our minds as never before.

5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the merciful- these are the kind and compassionate ones. The word translated merciful is only used elsewhere as a noun on one occasion, and that is in reference to the Lord Jesus as being “a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people”, Hebrews 2:17. The word for mercy here indicates the outward manifestation of pity, with need on the part of the one shown mercy, and resources on the part of the one showing it. So the true believer actively seeks to manifest pity on those who have need.

For they shall obtain mercy- sometimes such people are taken advantage of, but in a day to come the merciful and faithful Christ will ensure that they are compensated. On the other hand, the scripture exhorts us “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgement without mercy, that hath shown no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgement”, James 2:12,13.

5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the pure in heart- at the end of His ministry, when He was pronouncing woes and not blessings, the Lord denounced the scribes and Pharisees as being hypocrites, “for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within are full of hypocrisy and iniquity”, Matthew 23:27,28. They paraded through the streets in their white robes, but there hearts were impure. Only those who have been given a new heart under the terms of the New Covenant can be said to be pure inwardly in their hearts.

For they shall see God- only those who are fitted for the presence of God by the sacrifice of Christ and faith in Him have access into God’s presence, either now or in the future. Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me”, Job 19:25-27. Job looked on to the day when Christ, God manifest in flesh, would stand upon the earth to claim His kingdom, and Job would share in the resurrection of the Old Testament just men. It shall be said at that time, “Behold your God”, Isaiah 40:9, for “the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him”, verse 10.

5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers- James tells us that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace”, James 3:18. Righteousness and peace go together, for there is no true peace unless there is a righteous basis for it.

For they shall be called the children of God- the children of God are those who are born of God, and therefore have His life, and share His nature. To be called the children of God means to be recognised as such. The angel said to Mary in relation to her child, “therefore also that holy thing that sahll be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”, Luke 1:35. It is not that the Lord Jesus became Son of God by being born of Mary, but that He who is eternally the Son of God would lose nothing by beoming incarnate, and believers would be right when they referred to Him as Son of God. To call Him Son of God is correct. So also, to call believing peacemakers “children of God” will likewise be seen to be correct in a coming day. God is the God of peace, and His children are able to express that in action. Sadly at present, so many in the world seem to think that Christianity brings strife and division, and therefore believers are called troublemakers. In a day to come God’s people will be recognised as peacemakers, even if they are not called that now by men.

5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake- the display of the spiritual features such as poverty of spirit, mournfulness, meekness, mercy, purity and peace-making, which the Lord has commended in the previous verses, expose the sin of the men of the world. Their reaction is to persecute in some way, either with physical violence or mental pressure. We read that Ishmael mocked Isaac, Genesis 21:9, yet when the apostle Paul referred to this he said Ishmael persecuted, Galatians 4:29. So the mocking smile is just as much persecution as imprisonment and torture. It might be easier to bear, but it is still hostility.

Note that the persecution is for the sake of righteousness; it is not the opposition of men because of law-breaking or malicious dealings. Those who break the law of the land and are punished for it must not call that persecution. Those who are a nuisance to their neighbours and meet with their anger as a consequence, must not say they are being oppressed for their faith. We are expected to love our neighbours, not aggravate them. The apostle Peter wrote, “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing”, and again, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf”, 1 Peter 3:17; 4:15,16.

Those who are persecuted are blessed in the present. When Peter and the other apostles were imprisoned for preaching and working miracles, and then beaten, we read that after they were released, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”, Acts 5:41. Peter wrote later, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you”, 1 Peter 4:14.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven- those who are persecuted are blessed in the future as well. To quote the apostle Peter again, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy”, 1 Peter 4:12,13. Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake show themselves to be genuine believers, and for them a place in the kingdom is secure.

5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.

Blessed are ye- previously the word used for the Blessed Ones was “theirs”, and was emphatic, “theirs and theirs only”. Here all those referred to in the “Blessed” statements are grouped together, and the word no longer needs to be emphatic, because it has been made abundantly clear who is referred to.

When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake- so this treatment may be expected by any of those described in verses 3-10. Whether it be insults, or open persecution, or false accusation, all believers may expect to be opposed at some time or other. Notice that it must be for His name’s sake that the persecution comes, just as it must be for righteousness’ sake, verse 10. His name must not be associated with anything unrighteous.

The fact that three verses are taken up with the idea of persecution, and the believer’s reaction to it, shows that the kingdom of heaven in its manifestation is not yet. The truth is still opposed, and Christ is not reigning. It is our duty to prepare ourselves for participation in that reign, for the word is “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us”, 2 Timothy 2:12.

5:12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad- it is not that believers take pleasure in pain, but rather, that they are pleased to associate themselves with their Saviour, and have fellowship in His sufferings. Those who are justified not only rejoice in that fact, but also glory, (the word means rejoice), in tribulations also, Romans 5:3, for they know that this is part of God’s education programme for them, so that they develop maturity in the things of God.

For great is your reward in heaven- the reward is in heaven, but that does not necessarily mean it is enjoyed in heaven, for the meek shall inherit the earth, verse 5. Association with the King is in view and He will reign on the earth. John records the words of Christ in relation to His coming, “behold, I come quickly: and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be”, Revelation 22:12. The quick-coming of Christ, a matter of joy and relief for the believer, is coupled here with a reminder that it marks the start of an assessment which the Lord will need to make before rewards are granted. Notice the “is” and the “shall be”. The reward is with Him when He comes because He has observed all we have been and done. It only remains for us to give account to Him, so that His view and our view may be made to coincide. It is only our view of what has been done which will need to alter.

For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you- what dignity attaches to the believer in that he follows after in the line of the prophets. They moved in faith and faithfulness, and were opposed by those who hated the truth. It should be a cause of rejoicing that we follow where they led.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW CHAPTER 5, VERSES 13 TO 16:

5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

(b) Verses 13-16 Effect of the lives of the subjects of the King

5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Ye are the salt of the earth- the King continues with “ye”, the ones defined by whether they have the spiritual features of verses 3-10, and who are therefore persecuted as in verses 10-13. It is these who act as a preservative, like salt. It is truth that preserves from the spread of corruption and evil. They are not preserving the world, for that is a hopeless task, but they are ensuring that truth is maintained in the earth as far as is in their power. They do this by living according to the truth themselves, ensuring those they have a responsibility for, such as their children, live similarly, and praying for the powers that be that they may govern in truth and righteousness. They also do it by making known the truth of the gospel, which alone is able to change the hearts of the men of the world. By being and doing all these things they will not convert the world or bring in the kingdom. But they will be in harmony harmony with the Spirit of God, who restrains evil so that the rise of the Antichrist is held back, 2 Thessalonians 2:6,7.

But if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? When salt was dug out of the earth, or when it became exposed through natural erosion, its outer surface came into contact with the air, and chemical reactions took place which caused it to lose its saltness. The salt that did not come into contact with the air retained its savour, meaning its ability to affect the taste of things was retained. When believers absorb the atmosphere of the world around them, they are changed, and lose their effectiveness. Note that the Creator is speaking. He does not say the saltness cannot be restored, for He knew perfectly well how it could be done, but He asks the question of His disciples, implying that they did not know.

It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men- altered salt is no good to put on food. Its only use is to make up the roads, and men tread on it as they go about their business. So it is that the unbeliever has nothing but contempt for a Christian who does not live according to his faith. He is thought of by men as a hypocrite, and rightly so. He is well described as good for nothing, being neither useful to God nor man.

5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Ye are the light of the world- light has the property of being able to pass through polluted things, and remain untouched. For instance, the sun passes through earth’s atmosphere, but arrives on the surface of the earth unaffected. Believers are children of light, Ephesians 5:8. They have been made partakers of the Divine Nature, and God is light, 1 John 1:5. They not only walk in the light as they follow Him who said “I am the light of the world”, John 8:12, but they are able to shine that light on others. The apostle Paul wrote, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, 2 Corinthians 4:6. The word he used for the light shining at the command of God is one which means to “radiate brilliancy”. The shining of the light out of darkness would refer to the fact that in Genesis 1 the Spirit of God was moving on the face of the waters, and darkness was over those waters. The Spirit had entered into the darkness, and then shone forth out of the darkness, and radiated forth a brilliant light. So it is with the believer. The Spirit of God has enlightened him when he was in the darkness of ignorance and sin. The Spirit, when he believed, has entered within. One of the many reasons why the Spirit of God dwells within the believer is given here. It is so that from our hearts there may radiate the light of the gospel. So the giving of the light is two-fold. Firstly, the one who believes is given the light, and then the believer gives light to others as he radiates the light of the gospel as seen in the face of Jesus Christ. One day the King will come and His glory will light up the world, but meanwhile the subjects of the King are to shine on His behalf.

A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid- two fresh ideas are introduced by the metaphor of a city. The word city brings to mind community, and also administration. Believers are not only to shine individually, but collectively, as the come together as churches. In this way the light intensifies. As for the concept of administration the word city suggests, believers are to come together as those who are united by a common allegiance to Christ, willing to be submissive to His control. In a day to come Jerusalem shall be the city of the Great King, verse 35 of this chapter. Meanwhile, believers are to anticipate that, and maintain the godly order that He administers through His commandments to His people.

5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Neither do men light a candle- the city set on a hill cannot be hid because of the combined effect of all the candles in each house. Ancient cities did not have street lights. The word candle or “candel” is entirely proper as long as we understand it correctly. Even in modern times a powerful light is measured in candle-power, showing that a candle or candel is a legitimate word for a light of some sort. The candlestick in the tabernacle was a light-giver, just as the sun and moon are called “lights” or “light-givers”, in Genesis 1:14. The candlestick is so-called because it was a holder for light. It did not have to have candles on it to make it a candlestick, but it did need to have lights, and this it did.

And put it under a bushel- the bushel measure is a symbol of business and trade. The man lighting his lamp is the equivalent of him getting saved. However, instead of using his time and energy to further the spread of the light, that others may see it, he busies himself in his own affairs. In Luke 8:16 the Lord adds, in a slightly different context, but still using the metaphor of a lamp, “or putteth it under a bed”, the symbol of laziness. So two extremes can both stifle the shining of the light.

But on a candlestick- this is the purpose of a candlestick, to facilitate the spread of the light. Believers are to further the cause of truth; they are not left on earth to either further their own interests, or to hinder the Lord’s interests.

And it giveth light unto all that are in the house- this is the practical purpose of a light, for it does not shine for itself, but for others. The believer is to heed the apostle when he wrote, “look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”, Philippians 2:3. The believer is left here in the absence of the King to love God and love his neighbour, and he does it by shining for God, and shining on men the light of the gospel. Those in the house would be more than neighbours, but fellow-members of the family of God.

5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Let your light so shine before men- note it is “your”, not “thy”, so the King is addressing all the children of light. The more the individual houses in a city are shining brightly, the greater the light that the city gives to those around. In this way the light in the house shines to the world.

That they may see your good works- the apostle Paul wrote, as he exhorted believers to walk as children of light, “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth”, Ephesians 5:9. So the light shines when, by the power of the Spirit, we do acts of goodness, uphold righteousness in our lives, and act according to the truth of God’s word. Evil deeds, unrighteousness and error are expressions of darkness, and we should distance ourselves from them. The perfect demonstration of these virtues is, of course, in Christ. He “went about doing good”, Acts 10:38; He is “Jesus Christ the Righteous”, 1 John 2:1; He described Himself as “a man that hath told you the truth”, John 8:40. The glory of God is seen in the face, (that is, the person) of Jesus Christ, and as we behold Him, we are enabled to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light”, 1 Peter 2:9. His praises are His praise-worthy virtues.

And glorify your Father which is in heaven- far from glorifying the believer, good works done in the right attitude of heart will glorify our Father in heaven. This shows that the believer is living his life aware of His Father in heaven, and with His interests at heart.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW CHAPTER 5, VERSES 17 TO 48:

5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

5:21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

5:40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

5:44 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;

5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

5:46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

(c) Verses 17-20 Explanation for the coming of the King

5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets- the law given to Israel at Sinai represented God’s demands upon the people if they were to be His covenant nation. The prophets exposed their deviations from that law. As a result of their sin in going over to idolatry, the people, and the tribe of Judah in particular, were carried into captivity. This meant that the tribe from which the King was to come was ruled over by a Gentile monarch. If this situation is to be remedied there must arise one who has not forfeited the kingly title by sinning. Matthew presents as the climax to the wilderness temptation the refusal of the Lord Jesus to worship any other than God, even if the prize for doing so was the kingdoms of the world and their glory, 4:8-10.

This statement is in preparation for His ministry, in which He would be accused of breaking the Sabbath law. Far from breaking it, however, He would show the true use of the Sabbath.

I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil- to fulfil the law is to do two things. First, to explain its precepts with authority, and second, to live in perfect accord with its demands. This the Lord Jesus has done. The prophet said He would “magnify the law and make it honourable”, Isaiah 42:21, and so He did.

5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

For verily I say unto you- not only is He Israel’s King, but Israel’s Prophet, the one God promised to the people when they found the terrors of the law too hard to bear, Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The apostle Peter made it very clear to the nation that the prophet God sent was “His Son Jesus”, Acts 3:22-26. So when He says “Verily”, and “I say unto you”, He is claiming authority as the Son of God, the God-sent Prophet.

Till heaven and earth pass- this will happen at the end of the millenial reign of Christ, Revelation 20:11. It seems from this that the rule of the manifest kingdom in the future will be based on the law of Sinai, as far as sinners are concerned, but administered under the terms of the New Covenant as far as believers are concerned. That covenant is expressly said to not be like the one at Sinai, for that was conditional, whereas the New Covenant is unconditional, see Hebrews 8:8,9. The difference is that those under the New Covenant will all be believers with a new heart and a new spirit, Ezekiel 37:36, because they are born again. The giving of the law at Sinai was designed to show men how sinful they were, and drive them to seek the forgiveness of God when they brought a sin offering. There will be sinners on the earth during the reign of Christ who will need to repent.

One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law- in the Hebrew language, the jot or “yod”, (as the spelling was in Hebrew), was the very smallest letter of the alphabet. The tittle means a “title”, which in older English meant a minor stroke on a letter. The idea is of the smallest and least parts of the alphabet, a metaphor for what men call the smallest and least commandments, as the next verse says.

Till all be fulfilled- all God’s commandments shall be preserved intact, until everything has been lived out, whether by Christ in His life down here, or by believers in His kingdom. It will be shown that it is possible to keep God’s law, but only if the sin-principle is not present, and the Spirit of God dwells within. Even now believers are not expected to transgress any of those things that the law demanded as being right, (“the righteousness of the law”), which is fulfilled in believers now as they walk according to the dictates of the Spirit of God, see Romans 8:1-4.

5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments- following on from this, (hence the “wherefore”), given the importance of seemingly insignificant statements of the law, (which are like seemingly insignificant parts of the letters used to write the law), teachers of the Scriptures should be very careful to abide by them. These “least commandments” are the commandments represented by the jot and tittle of the metaphor in the previous verse.

The Lord did distinguish between commandments of the law, for He said later on in His ministry, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel”, Matthew 23:23,24. So He granted that some matters were of greatest importance, whereas others are simply of great importance, being commandments from God. Nothing that comes from Him can be said to be light or unimportant.

And shall teach men so- it is a serious thing to break a commandment, even one of the least, but it is far more serious to teach others that they may break it too. A heavy responsibility rests on those who teach the Scriptures. As James wrote, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation”, James 3:1. By masters he meant teachers of Divine truth.

He shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven- so he that thinks the least commandment to be of little account, he himself shall be thought to be of little account in the kingdom. There shall be a correspondence between attitudes now, and position then. This shows that the attitudes we adopt now will determine the attitude the King will adopt when he allots places in the kingdom.

But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven- the reverse is the case, and is a great incentive for those who are teachers of the scriptures to be faithful in their making known of the truth. They must also ensure that they “do”, as well as “teach”. Luke speaks of “all that Jesus began both to do and teach”, Acts 1:1. It is those who hear His word and do it, that build their house on the rock, Matthew 7:24. It was the scribes of chapter 5 whose teaching was faulty, and it was the Pharisees of chapter 6 whose doing was deficient.

5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

For I say unto you- the Prophet-King is again setting His word over against that of the scribes, and showing it to be superior.

That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees- by righteousness is meant right behaviour, as judged by God, The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was right behaviour as judged by man.

As the apostle John wrote, “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, 1 John 3:7. That does not mean that a person earns a righteous standing by doing right things, for man is not able to do right things without power from God. John means that if you see a man who is doing truly righteous things, as judged by God, it means he is righteous in standing before God. He has had righteousness imputed to him, and is thus enabled to accomplish righteous acts. We know this because the apostle went on to say, “as He is righteous”. So the righteousness the man displays, is the righteousness that Christ displayed in His life, which was the outworking of the righteous nature He possesses.

Ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven- there are no exceptions to this principle. There is no way that a man can have a settled place in the future kingdom of heaven apart from having righteousness imputed to him by God. The scribes and Pharisees thought that they had a place in the kingdom by virtue of physical descent from Abraham, and by circumcision. As such they were in the kingdom by profession. But only those who are in the kingdom by possessing a righteous nature shall be there permanently. All others shall be excluded. We learn this from the parable of the tares, where the wicked are allowed to grow to the harvest, and are then dealt with so they do not enter the manifest kingdom, for the angels “gather out of His kingdom all things that offend”, Matthew 13:41, then the righteous shall “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father”, verse 43. So there is a stage of the kingdom when the wicked are present in it, and then when they are excluded from it. Only those who are truly righteous shall be in the latter stage.

We come now to the section, running from this point until the end of the chapter, in which the King gives examples of the teaching of the Scribes, and then proceeds to show how their understanding fell far short of “fulfilling” the law and the prophets. The examples are these:

Verses 21-26 “Thou shalt not kill”.
Verses 27-30 “Thou shalt not commit adultery”.
Verses 31-32 “Whosoever shall put away his wife…”
Verses 33-37 “Thou shalt not forswear thyself”.
Verses 38-42 “An eye for an eye”.
Verses 43-48 “Thou shalt love thy neighbour”.

(d) Verses 21-48 Examination of the teaching of the scribes

Verses 21-26 “Thou shalt not kill”.

5:21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement:

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time- the King proceeds to analyse the teaching of the scribes. He examines six sayings. In verses 21,27, and 33, the formula is “”said by them of old time”. In verses 31,38,43, the formula is “it hath been said. So three sayings are from of old time, and three are not, but are more recent. Of old time means from the time that the scribes gained prominence.

Thou shalt not kill- so the scribes quoted accurately what God had said when He gave the law. So far, so good.

And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement- this was their expansion of what God’s commandment involved. What they said was perfectly true, because God had required the murderer to be stoned to death; that was the judgement upon him, as set out in the judgement chapters of Exodus 21-23, which gave instruction as to the way the breaking of the law was to be dealt with.

5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

But I say unto you- this is the phrase which alerts us to a new attitude to the law, and shows the way in which the word of the King over-rides the word of the scribes. They resented this, and were prominent in ensuring that Christ was crucified.

The prophet tells us that the Messiah “shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears: but with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth”, Isaiah 11:3,4. In other words, He does not have to have testimony given to Him by others, but will have perfect understanding of the motives of the heart, and shall judge accordingly.

That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement- anger, if persisted in, is well able to lead to murder. And it is the potential crime that is assessed here, what an angry attitude could result in. Notice that this anger is without a cause. Some spurious manuscripts omit “without a cause”, and they are followed by some modern translations. But we know that the Lord Jesus was angry on at least one occasion, Mark 3:5, so does this mean He is in danger of the judgement? Such a thought is blasphemy. The fact is that the believer is called, in certain circumstances, to be righteously angry, as long as that anger does not turn to sin, for the apostle wrote, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath”, Ephesians 4:25. So there is a distinction between righteous anger and sinful anger, the latter being the sort that is expressed for no just reason.

So those who are angry for no just reason are in danger of the judgement that is administered when a believer’s behaviour is harming the testimony, and is contrary to the attitude of the King. The judgement under the Law was to be stoned to death, which is severe enough. But the judgement under the rule of the King is to dealt with by God personally. The apostle Paul wrote, in connection with bad behaviour at the Lord’s Supper, when the believers were eating and drinking unworthily, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world”, 1 Corinthians 11:30-32. So those who thoroughly judge their own failings and repent of them, will avoid the disciplining hand of the Lord. But if we refuse to carry out this rigorous self-discipline, we are liable to be chastened of the Lord in various ways, whether by weakness of the body or removal by death.

Should we be the subject of His judgement, the apostle assures us that this does not mean we are not saved. Those who respond to His discipline will thereby show themselves to be genuine believers, and therefore will certainly not be condemned at the great white throne when final judgement is pronounced upon sinners.

And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council- this is a stage further than simply being angry with another, for that anger may not be expressed. Here the anger is vocal, and is made known by the use of the word “raca”. There is a possibility that this word is connected to the Hebrew word “raqaq”, meaning “to spit”. If this is the case, the anger is not only vocal, but comes from a deep sense of loathing. Alternatively, the word “raca” may simply mean “worthless fellow”, an attack upon a man’s moral worth. Note the expression is “in danger of”, for there is room for repentance, and the judgement can be avoided.

It seems that there is angelic assessment of the behaviour and attitudes of believers, just as there was a council of wise men in Israel who gave their verdict on cases brought to them. If the believer does not respond to the discipline of “the judgement”, then there is a further stage where the heavenly council must become involved. The third stage, as spoken of next, is more severe still, and the offender is in danger of being classed as an unbeliever, and therefore in grave danger of hell-fire.

But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire- it might seem that to call another a worthless fellow is more severe than to call him a fool, or stupid. The one comments on his character, and the other on his intellect. So why is the latter action threatened with the severer punishment? Is it because in the context here the King is addressing His remarks to the scribes, and he Himself called the “fools and blind”, Matthew 23:17,19, using the same word for fool as is found here. Being the all-knowing King, He is qualified to give an assessment of the folly or otherwise of men, whereas we are not. Nor were the scribes and Pharisees, although they insisted on doing so. Somewhat of their attitude is learnt from their contemptuous words in John 7:49, “But this people, who knoweth not the law are cursed”. Is it any wonder that in Matthew 23:33 the Lord asked the question of them, “how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” So the same penalty is in view for the scribes and Pharisees who are blind guides, as for those who call others a fool.

5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

Therefore- this word shows that the King, having shown the effect God-ward of anger, is now giving an example of the effect man-ward.

If thou bring thy gift to the altar- the current situation in Jerusalem is in view, with a literal altar to which a literal gift may be brought. The principle holds true still, even though there are no altars as such now. The Lord envisages a man doing what other men would think to be a commendable thing. The question is, however, whether his heart is right with his fellow-man. The altar was “before the Lord”, so the man is at the place where the Lord is trying his heart.

And there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee- the man bringing his gift may have dismissed from his mind his wrong attitude to another, but now he has drawn near to God, his conscience is alerted to his fault.

Before he warned the Corinthians about bad behaviour when they came together at the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul spoke of them coming together “in the church”, 1 Corinthians 11:18. By this he meant, not coming into a physical building, (for an assembly can meet outdoors and still be “in the church”), but the holy confines of the gathered company, where the Spirit of God dwells.

5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way- the man is not to give up on offering his gift, (so he is to leave it beside the altar, not take it away), but he must make amends first, so that he is in a fit state to come before God, and his exercise is not spoiled by his attitude to his brother.

First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift- strictly speaking, a gift would indicate an offering of flour as a meat offering, as detailed in Leviticus 2. A distinction is made between gifts and sacrifices in Hebrews 9:9. Because the expression “And the Lord spake unto Moses”, which marks a new section of the record, as in Leviticus 4:1; 5:14;6:1; 6:8; 6:19; 6:247:28, does not occur at the beginning of Leviticus chapter 2, we learn that the man who brought a gift offering was in the good of the burnt offering of chapter 1. This meant he was in a state of acceptance with God. But this conflicted with his attitude to his brother, hence the need to remedy the situation. He must put things right with his brother, or else his fellowship with God will be spoilt. When he has done this, his gift will be acceptable, but not otherwise.

5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him- there is the possibility, however, that the man who has been called “Fool”, or “Raca”, is not prepared to be reconciled to the one who offended him, and treats it as a matter of slander to be dealt with in the courts. In this case, the Lord advises paying what the man demands as restitution for the damage to his character. The lesson is clear: insults have consequences, and are costly.

Lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison- the full process of law will take place unless an out of court settlement can be agreed. Whilst in an ideal situation the offended one will forgive, if he is a believer, provided the offender is repentant, (“if he repent, forgive him”, Luke 17:3), there is the risk that he will not. The offender should have taken that into account before he insulted the man, and been restrained by that. Note now that the consequences are in this life, for the judge, the officer, and the prison are on earth. It is not a question of being in danger of hell fire as before, since the King is now dealing with the remedy for slander as pertains to two people on the earth.

This procedure confirms that the setting is either the time then present, or the tribulation period after the church is gone, for in this present age, the proper place for the resolution of matters that cause brethren to be at variance is the local assembly, see Matthew 18:15-17. If discussion on a one-to-one basis does not work, and then discussion one-to-one with others present to witness does not work, then the matter must be told to the church. If the offending party does not listen to the verdict of the church, then he has raised a doubt about the genuineness of his conversion, and must be treated as an unbeliever until he shows signs, by repentance, of being truly saved.

5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

Verily I say unto thee- here is a personal word from the King to one who insults another and is taken to court for it. The powers that be are ordained of God, and, as the apostle Paul wrote, “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”, Romans 13:4. We would not expect the One who set up the powers that be, to undermine them; and He does not.

Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing- the full amount of damages that the slandered man has demanded, and the judges have determined, will certainly be paid, such is the seriousness of insulting one’s brother. From these verses we learn the seriousness of a breakdown of relationships between those who should be living in harmony.

Verses 27-30- “Thou shalt not commit adultery”.

5:27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time- having dealt with the underlying demands of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, Exodus 20:13, the King now turns to the seventh commandment.

Thou shalt not commit adultery- what the scribes added by way of commentary is found in verse 31. This command gives in very precise terms God’s hatred of unfaithfulness on the part of married persons. Of course later on detailed statutes are given in relation to the sin on the part of unmarried persons known as fornication. Serious as that sin is, the ten commandments concentrate on the underlying principles of God’s nation, the nation of Israel, and one of these is the concept of marriage and family, and adultery is in the context of the marriage relationship.

5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

But I say unto you- as with the command to not kill, the King is going to deepen the scope of the law. In His words, to fulfil it, (see verse 17), in order to bring out the full meaning of the words. It is not only the avoidance of the act that is in view, but the prohibition of the attitude that could very well lead to the act.

That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her- of course it impossible for any man to go through normal life without seeing a woman. So it is not, “Whosoever looketh on a woman”. The look in question here is one that has behind it strong desire. It is a look that will stop at almost nothing to obtain the satisfaction of the lust that is behind the look. The look is deliberately and intentionally lustful. Note in passing that this assumes that men will not shut themselves away in monasteries in the vain hope that they will be prevented from sinning. Such a practice has often had the reverse effect, and grievous sins have been encouraged rather than prevented.

Hath committed adultery with her already in his heart- so just as there is heart-murder, there is heart adultery. Given the opportunity, such was the lustfulness of the stare, adultery would take place. And He who reads the hearts knows this, and exposes it here. If he who hates is a murderer, then he who lusts is an adulterer.

5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee- just as the Lord added some guiding principles with regard to disputes with a brother who has been slandered, so here He explains how lustful looks may be avoided. The language is purposely exaggerated, in order to impress upon us the drastic action that is needed. It is also metaphorical, for the Creator of our body would not advocate self-harm. The words of the apostle Paul explain the principle, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry”, Colossians 3:5. He has just spoken of the believer being dead, that is, dead in association with Christ and His cross. Now he is exhorting us to act upon this, and to reckon not just ourselves as a whole to be dead, but each particular member of our body with its individual ability to sin. If we do this as regards our eyes, with their potential to lust after a woman, we shall have plucked it out. But we are not just to pluck it out, but to cast it from us. In other words, resolve to have done once and for all with the sin the eye is associated with.

For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell- the King is commanding His subjects for their best spiritual interests, so that they profit from His words and His wisdom. Far better to pluck out the eye, just one member, and cast it away, than for the whole body, every member of it, to be cast into hell.

By hell is meant Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire, the final destination of the wicked. But how is it that this threat is made? The answer is that the King is speaking to those who claim to be in the Kingdom of heaven, and this is the sphere of profession. Those who are not truly believers have not the power to mend their ways in the drastic way the King commands. They may long to be different, and make resolutions, but break them time and again. This is why the warning is given; it is in effect a call to true conversion. The unconverted will indeed be cast, body and soul, into the Lake of Fire, matthew 10:28. Only those who take action in this matter are genuine believers.

5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee- if the right eyes can be used to desire a woman who is not one’s wife, then the right hand can be used to divorce a woman who is one’s wife by writing a bill of divorcement. This is the next stage after lusting after a woman, and explains why the lusting was done, even because the man wants a relationship with her as if she is his wife.

For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell- it is better to cut off one’s right hand, than to use it to write a bill of divorcement. To do so casts doubt on the reality of one’s profession of belief. The Lord spoke of these things again in Mark 9:42-50, and not only referred to hand and eye, but foot as well, thereby encompassing the whole of our activity, what we do, what we see, and where we go. He explained how it is that the unsaved can be in the Lake of Fire in their bodies. It is because, after having taken part in the resurrection of damnation, John 5:29, (and remember resurrection is a rising again, so refers to the body that fell in death, but which shall be raised up in resurrection), the body shall be salted with fire, Mark 9:49. Just as salt preserves that to which it is applied, so the fire of the Lake of Fire shall continually preserve for more fire. This is an awesome thought, and is a stern warning to any who remain in unbelief. The unbeliever would do well to heed the exhortation of John the Baptist, to flee from the wrath to come, Matthew 3:7.

In that same verse the alternative is presented, for the Lord alluded to Leviticus 2:13, where we read “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt”. The meat offering specially typifies what Christ was as to His manhood. Ever and always He was in harmony with God. He never needed to make adjustment to His life, and as such is the supreme example to His people. Hence it is that He says in Mark 9:50, “have salt in yourselves”. In other words, just as every sacrifice was to have salt in it, so those who would be like Christ must have the salt of preserving truth applied to their lives, so that they do not sin, as He did not sin.

Verses 31-32 “Whosoever shall put away his wife…”

5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

It hath been said as already noted there are quotations in this chapter that begin with “it hath been said by them of old time”, and others, like this one, which begin, “it hath been said”. There is the significant omission of “of old time”, as if the saying is recent. Perhaps during the period between Malachi and Matthew attitudes to divorce in Israel had changed, influenced by the Gentiles, amongst whom they had been dispersed. We see the beginnings of this when we read Nehemiah 13:23-27. Evil communications had corrupted good manners, 1 Corinthians 15:33.

Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement- we can sense the casual nature of this teaching of the scribes. It is not a quotation from the Old Testament, but a gloss put upon the law to make divorce seem acceptable. All the man has to do if he wearies of his wife is to write out a bill or letter of divorcement, and he thinks his responsibilities to her are over and the marriage is at an end. This is a misapplication and distortion of the arrangement in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which was an exceptional case, and will be dealt with in the notes on Matthew 19.

Christ in righteousness stressed that their action of putting away caused the woman to sin, and was therefore in itself sinful. That sin was not mitigated by giving a bill of divorcement to the women. The Lord is highlighting the havoc that is caused if divorce is carried out for reasons other than the fornication He mentions in the next verse, which has nothing to do with Deuteronomy 24. The woman is caused to commit adultery, for she is still the wife of the one who has divorced her, but in order to survive in a cruel world it is assumed that she will marry again, relying on the teaching of the scribes who said this was lawful. Moreover, the man who rescues her from destitution by marrying her sins also, again because he listens to the scribes. Instead of being scrupulous about the apparently trivial matter of giving a bill of divorcement to her, the man should have been concerned about the moral implications of his action. The problem was that he was listening to the wrong teachers, the scribes, believing they had authority in the matter. But they were blind guides.

It would be helpful to set out the differing views that are held on the matter of divorce, to see clearly the differences between them and the consequences of each position:

The teaching if fornication and adultery are identical sins

(i) Divorce without fornication having been committed is forbidden, but if it takes place then the divorced wife commits adultery if she remarries, as does the man marrying her.

(ii) Divorce after fornication has been committed is allowed, and the parties to the marriage may remarry.

Objections to this position are as follows:

(i) This contradicts the Lord’s teaching in Mark 10:11,12, which does not mention any “exception clause”.

(ii) This makes the apostle Paul teach differently to the Lord, for he maintained in Romans 7:2 that “the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he liveth”, and in 1 Corinthians 7:39 that “the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth”. The law in question being the law of marriage established in Genesis 2:24, which says a man and his wife are one flesh. It has nothing to do with man-made laws, which may sanction divorce.

(iii) This does not take account of the distinction that is made between fornication and adultery in Matthew 15:9, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Galatians 5:19, where lists of sins are given.

(iv) This view makes the Lord sanction what He forbids, for He said, “let not man put asunder”, Matthew 19:6.

The teaching if fornication relates to pre-marital sin when betrothed

(i) Divorce if fornication during betrothal period takes place is allowed.

(ii) Divorce for any other reason, (including unfaithfulness after formal marriage), is not allowed.

Advantages of this position are as follows:

(i) It does not contradict Mark 10:11,12.

(ii) It maintains the permanence of marriage until the death of one of the partners.

(iii) It preserves the distinction between fornication and adultery.

(iv) It encourages holiness of life and relationships, and does not give any excuse to those who wish to divorce.

We shall proceed with the passage on the assumption that fornication refers to sin during the Jewish betrothal period.

5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife- here is the contrasting teaching of the King. He is setting Himself in direct opposition to the scribes, with their lax attitude to divorce. The situation with the man spoken of here is that he has not plucked out his right eye, and has lusted after a woman. He then proceeds to reach out with his right hand a write a bill of divorce, thus putting away his lawful wife.

Saving for the cause of fornication- this is the well-known “exception clause”, as many call it, which some feel gives them grounds for advocating divorce. They would argue that fornication and adultery are the same, and if a wife is guilty of unfaithful conduct, her husband has the right to divorce her. If it be asked why this should be so, (bearing in mind that other scriptures insist that marriage is only ended by the death of one of the parties to it), then the answer usually given is that “unfaithfulness breaks a marriage”. But this is not the case, since a wife is bound to her husband until his death, and when they formally married they embarked upon a life-long process of becoming one flesh.

It is important to notice that this clause is only found in Matthew’s gospel. Now the truth of God is the same for every believer, yet in the early days of the church some believers might only have Mark’s gospel, some only Luke’s, some only Matthew’s. It cannot be that only the latter are allowed to divorce, whilst believers who only have Mark or Luke are not, for there is no exception clause in these two gospels.
We are surely forced to the conclusion, therefore, that Matthew’s account has something distinctive about it. It must relate to a situation particular to Matthew’s gospel, or else those who had the other gospels would be governed by different principles. When He commissioned the disciples to go into the world, the Lord required them to teach “all things whatsoever I have commanded you”. They were to teach all things, not just some things. They were to teach Matthew 5 truth as well as Mark 10 truth, for they were not at variance.

A reading of Matthew 1:18-22 prepares us for the teaching of the Lord Jesus regarding divorce, and will enable us to be aware of what “except for fornication” must mean, if it is not to conflict with the teaching that marriage is life-long. It relates to the Jewish practice of betrothal being classed as a legal relationship, with the parties concerned being called man and wife, as we see in the case of Joseph and Mary. But because Joseph and Mary were not formally married, (even though Mary is Joseph’s “wife” under the terms of their betrothal, Matthew 1:20,24), the sin Joseph at first supposed, (wrongly), Mary had committed was fornication, not adultery, for that latter sin is on the part of a person who is married to another formally. Such a situation did not pertain for those for whom Mark and Luke wrote. They wrote especially with Gentiles in mind, as is seen by the fact that Mark mentions the Gentile practice of a woman divorcing her husband, 10:12, something that was not allowed in Israel, and Luke is writing to a Gentile to confirm his faith, 1:3. For this reason they do not mention the exception clause, thus showing it to be a matter distinctive for Jewish readers at that time. It is not that Mark and Luke are not for Jewish readers, but that Matthew’s gospel is set against a Jewish background.

Causeth her to commit adultery- notice the careful distinction that is made here between fornication and adultery. This distinction is found again in Galatians 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, where the two sins are found together in a list, showing they must be distinguished. Indeed, the Lord Himself distinguished them in this very gospel, when He listed some of those sins that proceed from the heart of man, 15:19. Fornication is immorality in general, whether between unmarried men and women, or when one is married and the other is not, or men and men, or women and women, or indeed other vile and unmentionable sins. Adultery is more limited, being an act of immorality between a man and a woman, one or both of whom are married. The origin of the words indicates this, for the word fornication is derived from the Latin word “fornix”, which denotes the vaulted room tenanted by harlots. Adultery, on the other hand, is formed from the Latin expression “ad alterum”, meaning to go or mix with another. Hence to adulterate a substance is to mix it with another so as to corrupt it. An adulterer mixes another woman with his lawful wife, thus corrupting his relationship with her.

The woman who has been divorced even though she was innocent of moral sin, commits adultery if she marries again, and it is the husband who divorced her that has caused her to do this.

So apart from the “exception” there is no divorce allowed, according to the King. If a man should persist, and divorce his innocent wife, then he forces her to commit adultery, for it is assumed that she will marry again. Clearly the divorce is not valid, and the marriage still stands, and the wife has now two men in her life, and with the second one she is committing adultery.

No doubt some may respond by saying that the man is not committing adultery if his wife has engaged in fornication, because his divorce has simply confirmed that the marriage was at an end because of his wife’s unfaithfulness. But we may see from 1 Corinthians 6:16 that physical joining does not form a marriage, for marriage is far, far more than the coming together of a man and a woman in physical union; it is a continuous process of merging into one flesh.

Nor does unfaithfulness break a marriage, because of the teaching of Romans 7:2 and 1 Corinthians 7:39, which both say that a woman is joined to her husband as long as he is alive. The apostle Paul claimed that the things he wrote to the Corinthians were “the commandments of the Lord”, 1 Corinthians 14:37. So the teaching of 1 Corinthians is as binding as Christ’s words in Matthew 19.

And whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery- if, for the sake of argument, we allowed that the fornication of the first part of the verse is the same as adultery, (and therefore takes place after formal marriage, and is grounds for Divinely-recognised divorce, and the marriage is over as far as God is concerned), why does another marrying her count as the sin of adultery? According to this view, the woman is as if she is single again, and another man can marry her legitimately. Yet the King here labels it adultery, and therefore the “marriage” is not legitimate. So if a woman is unfaithful during betrothal under the Jewish system then current, she may be divorced, but if she is unfaithful when fully married she may not.

Verses 33-37 “Thou shalt not forswear thyself”.

5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time- we come now to the third thing that the King highlights as being said of old time. This is not a recent innovation therefore.

Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths- to forswear is to commit perjury. In other words, in a legal setting, to state something which is false, and thereby incur the condemnation of the law for lying. There are four passages that have a bearing on this statement, as follows:

1. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”, Exodus 20:7.

To impress upon them the importance of this God went on to give them the warning, “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain”. In no circumstances, whether in oath-taking or not, is the name of God is to be used insincerily.

2. “And ye shall not swear by My name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord”, Leviticus 19:12.

Here we have a man who is swearing to do something with no intention of carrying it out. This amounts to profaning the name of the Lord, for he vowed to the Lord, and has associated God’s name with falsehood and insincerity.

3. “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth”, Numbers 30:2.

In this case, the man vows to the Lord, and solemnly swears on oath, but afterwards goes back on his word and his vow. This, also associates the name of God with unfaithfulness.

4. “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin unto thee”, Deuteronomy 23:21.

The man swears to do something, fully intending to do it, but is slow to do so. This is to sin. We see how seriously God viewed the oaths made in His name, for they touched upon His glory. To not fulfil them was a slight upon Him.

5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

But I say unto you- we might wonder how the King is going to “fulfil” these commandments. Surely they are straightforward, and not capable of misunderstanding or wrong application. The answer is that He sets them aside! He has every right to do this, for He is King of Israel, and that title is used of God in Isaiah 43:15. His kingdom is founded on right dealings, and His subjects will not need to bind themselves by oath, for they will be determined to carry out God’s will. When the kingdom is set up, His subjects will have resurrection bodies, incapable of sinning. There will be no need, therefore, to confirm their promises with an oath of any kind. They anticipate that time by refraining from oath-making now, by the power of the Spirit.

Swear not at all- it should go without saying that the true subjects of the King will not engage in that which is dishonest. Their character should be of such a sort as guarantees the truthfulness of their testimony. Having said that, we should notice that when He was on trial, the Lord Jesus was put under oath by the High Priest, and responded to his question, Matthew 26:63. The prophet said that “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth”, Isaiah 53:7. When it was a question of His own honour, He would be like a sheep dumb before her shearers, as the prophet had said. Men are here seeking to shear Him of His glory, and He remains silent. When it is a question of the glory of His Father, or the defence of the truth, or the safety of His disciples, He will speak; but not otherwise.

We read, “And the high priest answered and said unto Him, I adjure thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God”, Matthew 26:63. He was obliged to answer, therefore, as a godly Jew, for it was a trespass against the law to not answer. The word is, “And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity”. By “voice of swearing” is meant “the voice of one who is putting you under oath”. So because He magnified the law, and made it honourable, Isaiah 42:21, He responded when put under oath is a court-of-law situation.

We read that “men swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife”, Hebrews 6:16. So it is that when God swore to bless Abraham, He swore by Himself, for there is none greater than Himself, verse 13.

Neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne- God said through the prophet, “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool”, Isaiah 66:1. Because it is His throne, it is vitally connected with Him. To swear by it is no different than swearing by Him, and if this is done, it makes God the guarantor of something that may not be true or honest. This cannot be allowed, for He is thrice-holy, and the God of truth.

5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

Nor by the earth; for it is His footstool- just as heaven is His throne, the earth is the footstool of that throne, and is therefore as much associated with Him as His throne. To swear by this is likewise banned.

Neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King- the Jews swore by heaven and earth to avoid swearing by God in everyday conversation. They also swore by Jerusalem, forgetting that Jerusalem is the city of God, Psalm 46:4, and also is “the place of the Name” in the ultimate sense because the Messiah will reign from there, and “His name shall be called…the Mighty God”, Isaiah 9:6. So to swear by Jerusalem was as much swearing by the name of God as swearing by His throne, for it was the city of the great King, associated with the Messiah Himself, who is equal with God.

5:36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

Neither shalt thou swear by thy head- perhaps to swear by part of ones-self is allowed? Surely this does not involve God in any dishonour, even if the oath is not genuine? But this too is forbidden, for the following reason.

Because thou canst not make one hair white or black- when God is invoked in an oath, whether directly or indirectly, (“heaven”, “earth”, “city”), it is supposed that this strengthens the certainty that what is sworn is true and will be carried out. But the mouth that swears is part of the man’s head, and therefore he is simply asking others to take his words at face value, without offering any guarantee or certainty whatsoever.

So who is it that is using himself as the guarantee of his word? It is someone who is a mere creature of time. A man with black hair grows old, and his hair turns white. He may dye his hair but it is the dye that is black not the hair. Another man has already grown old, and would love to return to having black hair. He, however, can no more go back in time than the first man can stop going forward. They are both helpless creatures, and the colour of their hair shows it. How can the head that has the hair be used as a guarantee in that situation?

5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay- the true believer should not need, in ordinary conversation, to support his word with an oath. It ought to go without saying that his word, whether in assertion or denial, is to be relied upon.

For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil- to add an oath to these assertions is to betray false motives or evil intentions. It suggests that the things added come from a guilty, (and therefore evil), conscience.

Verses 38-42 “An eye for an eye”.

5:38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

Ye have heard that it hath been said- another instance where the saying is not said to be “of old time”. This is a recent construction put upon the words by the scribes.

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth- this expression was used originally in three connections, as follows:

1. “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be sorely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe”, Exodus 21:22-23.

2. “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him”, Leviticus 24:19,20.

3. “If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”, Deuteronomy 19:16-21.

These three cases show that injury done to a person must be avenged under the law. The scribes recognised this, and so the Lord is able to quote their use of the scripture in this way. When He was tried, however, false witnesses were brought, and no doubt under duress gave false testimony about Christ. This should have resulted in the trial being stopped and the witnesses crucified, for according to Point 2 above, what would have happened to Christ should have happened to them instead. The hypocrisy of the scribes is evident in that they did not require life for life in the case of Christ. But it is also true that when He was on the cross He asked His Father to forgive those who had put Him on the cross, including the false witnesses.

From the fact that the expression is “said by them”, and not “said by them of old time”, we may deduce that the scribes were currently putting a malicious slant on the words, and were being unduly harsh. We could envisage a situation in which an Israelite accidentally caused a man to lose his tooth. To require that the man should have his tooth broken in return, is unduly severe.

It is the extension of the law to cover any situation that the Lord is concerned about, for it is still true that a murderer should be capitally punished. The powers that be are expressly said to be “not a terror to good works, but to the evil”, Romans 13:3. The apostle goes on, “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”, verse 4.

5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil- the King is not undermining just government, for society would break down if laws were not enforced, but He is commanding His subjects not to take the law into their own hands, and hastily try to get personal revenge. Believers are to resist evil in the sense given by the apostle when he wrote, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them”, Ephesians 5:11. We may resist evil by our prayers, our lives, our attitudes and our conversations with men.

But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also- the law regulated the response to physical violence, but the act of smiting on the cheek is the cause of mental injury. The apostle Paul wrote, “Ye suffer…if a man smite you on the face”, 2 Corinthians 11:20. Notice it is the right cheek that is smitten first, so if the attacker is facing you, and is right-handed, he has hit you with the back of his hand, the bony part. It takes great forbearance to then deliberately turn the left cheek for another blow, which will probably come from his hand striking upwards. This is not the reaction of the natural man to provocation and attack, but is the sign of a new nature, which is fitted for entry into the kingdom.

5:40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat- no man has the right to deprive another of his property, least of all the coat off his back. He certainly has no right to do it through the law-courts, but such is the situation described here. The smiting on both cheeks was doubly insulting; this is doubly unjust.

Let him have thy cloak also- far from contesting the case however, the believer, if he acts like his King, will volunteer to give the man his outer coat. Again, the action of a true subject of the King.

5:41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain- this is possibly a reference to the fact that citizens were required at times to assist the authorities when they were asked. The attitude is to be one of willing co-operation, despite the possible inconvenience. Our Saviour not only came from heaven to Bethlehem, but He went “the second mile”, and went from Bethlehem to Calvary.

These three examples illustrate what the apostle meant when he wrote, “Let thy moderation be known of all men”, Philippians 4:5. And as he reminded the Galatians, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law”, Galatians 5:22,23. There is a law against the works of the flesh listed in verse 19-21, but believers are at liberty to show the fruit of the Spirit.

5:42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Give to him that asketh thee- generosity of spirit is to mark the true believer. We might think that we need to decide who receives from us, and perhaps resent being asked to give. We are to overcome that attitude, (which is natural), and react with spirituality. Note that there is no requirement to give exactly what is asked. The man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple asked Peter and John for alms. Their response was to give the man a better thing, namely health and strength to earn his own living, so that he was not dependant on begging. They did this in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, thus introducing the man to the gospel. We cannot imagine he went back to begging afterwards, but he might have continued begging if Peter and John had given him money. What he might have spent the money on is also a consideration.

And from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away- when a person asks for a gift, there may be a certain sense of satisfaction when the gift is given, and a feeling of pride that we are in a superior position to the one who asks. With a request to borrow something that feeling is not so strong, so the request is not so likely to be granted. There is also the fact that when something is asked for outright, we are resigned to not receive anything back, but with borrowed things there is an expectation of a return. In a strange sort of way we might be more reluctant to lend than to give. This is to be resisted, commands the King. This is in line with what the law required anyway, with the words, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thy hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land”, Deuteronomy 15:11.

Verses 43-48 “Thou shalt love thy neighbour”.

5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

Ye have heard that it hath been said- we now come to the final matter, and again there is no “of old time”, suggesting the scribes had put a construction on the original words of the law.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy- two statements are brought together here, one from Leviticus and one adapted from Deuteronomy, so they are not found in the form the scribes quoted them.

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord”, Leviticus 19:18.

When speaking of Israel’s enemies, the Ammonites and the Moabites, God said, “Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever”, Deuteronomy 23:6. This was because they did not assist Israel in the wilderness, and also sought to curse them by hiring the false prophet Balaam.

It seems the scribes had intensified this command to not seek their prosperity into a command to hate their enemies. This fostered a spirit of animosity and national pride, and is contrary to the attitude of the King, who prayed for forgiveness for His enemies.

So there is the positive command to love one’s neighbour, and since the enemy is a neighbour, this extends to him as well. The believer is exhorted, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men”, Romans 12:18. Some men refuse to be at peace with us, but as long as we are not the cause of the trouble, we may have a clear conscience.

The lawyer who came with a question about how to inherit eternal life, was told that he should love the Lord his God, and love his neighbour as himself, Luke . When he asked who his neighbour was, the Lord spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan, and finished with the words, “Go thou, and do likewise”, Luke 10:37. So a neighbour is one to whom we may give help when he is in need. And this is to be done to the same extent as we love ourselves. It is not wrong to love self in the right sense, for as the apostle wrote, “no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it”, Ephesians 5:29. We must ensure, however, that we do not love ourselves more than others.

5:44 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;

But I say unto you, Love your enemies- here the word of the King is set directly against the word of the scribes. They said “Hate!”, He says “Love!”. He is the perfect manifestation of the God who is love, 1 John 4:8, and He expects those who share the nature of God to be like Him. They might have thought that loving one’s neighbour only extended to those who were not their enemies, and as long as they did not actively hate their enemies, they were fulfilling the command.

Bless them that curse you- here an enemy is forcefully expressing his enmity. The response of the true believer is to bless in return. The best way of doing this is to share the gospel. The apostle Peter repeated this exhortation in the words, “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are hereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing”, 1 Peter 3:9.

Do good to them that hate you- the response to enemies is not just to be in words of blessing, but in deeds of kindness. As the apostle Paul wrote, adapting the words of Proverbs 25:21,22, “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head”, Romans 12:20 He added, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”, verse 21.

And pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you- this was the attitude of the King, even when He was upon the cross, put there by His enemies wrongfully. “Father, forgive them” was His response, and He has left us an example, “that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”, 1 Peter 2:21-23.

5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven- no-one becomes a child of God by works, even good works. The idea is that those who act upon the commands He has given, will find that the character of their Father is seen in them.

For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good- our Father is completely impartial in the way He deals with the men of earth. The sun is His sun, but He shares its benefits with all, whether they are evil or good. This is one example of how God deals providentially with men, and shows His character as Creator.

And sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust- note the reversal of the order, showing impartiality even in the usage of words; evil/good, then just/unjust. So if we act likewise, showing impartiality in the matter of doing good, then we shall have learnt from our Father, and be rightly called His children.

5:46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? This implies that God will reward those who love their enemies, so they will not lose out at all. To simply return love shown is normal and natural, and need not expect a reward, unless it be in the form of gratitude by those loved.

Do not even the publicans the same? The danger of only loving friends is that there may be an element of self-interest in it, expecting a return. One of the features of true love is that it does not seek her own, 1 Corinthians 13:5. It is a sad thing if a believer only acts like the selfish men of the world. Publicans, (tax-gatherers), were despised in Israel, but even they were not so hardened that they did not show love to one another.

5:47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Even unbelievers in the world greet their fellows as a matter of courtesy. It is not a matter of spirituality at all for them. If believers greet fellow-believers, they do not surpass unbelievers, but simply do what they do. Whilst the believer is to be separate from sinners, he should not isolate himself, or else how can he pass on the gospel?

Do not even the publicans so? The despised tax-gatherers salute their brethren, and in their case it is fellow-feeling on the part of those who feel themselves isolated in society. They derive some benefit from it therefore in the form of comfort.

5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect- every characteristic of God is complete and absolute, and He is our example in our relationships with others. We may draw lessons from worthy saints as they are described in Scripture, but their example is not perfect, and we have to be selective if we wish to follow their example. With our Father this is not the case, and we may imitate Him in all ways. Of course, now that the pathway of the Lord Jesus has been completed, He is the example, too. He is God manifest in flesh, and to follow Him is to follow God.

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