Settle Matters Quickly (Matthew 5.25–26)


Regarding anger, Aristotle wrote, “We praise a man who is angry on the right grounds, against the right persons, in the right manner, at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”   Aristotle lays out five common-sense criteria that must be satisfied for anger to be justified rather than condemned. Although Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5.21–22 seems to condemn anger out of hand, a fuller consideration of the Gospels shows that even he was angry occasionally. According to Mark 3.5, for example, Jesus became “angry” at the “stubborn hearts” of his murderous critics. What Jesus condemns is … Continue reading Settle Matters Quickly (Matthew 5.25–26)

First Go and Be Reconciled to Your Brother (Matthew 5.23–24)


  Whenever you see the word therefore in Scripture, you should ask what it’s there for.   In Matthew 5.23–24, Jesus says: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”   What’s “therefore” there for?   Obviously, it connects Jesus’ words about anger (verses 21–22) to his words about reconciliation (verses 23–24). We should not be angry with our brother—whether biological or spiritual; instead, we … Continue reading First Go and Be Reconciled to Your Brother (Matthew 5.23–24)

Anyone Who Is Angry Will Be Subject to Judgment (Matthew 5.21–22)


It is relatively easy not to murder a man. I know. I am thirty-five years old, and I have never murdered anyone. Nor do I intend to in the next thirty-five years of my life. You probably haven’t and don’t too.   If righteousness consisted of not doing what the vast majority of us would never do anyway, then we’d all be extremely righteous. But Jesus calls his disciples to practice a righteousness that “surpasses” or goes above and beyond minimalist expectations of decent behavior.   Notice, in this regard, what Jesus says about murder in Matthew 5.21–22: “You have … Continue reading Anyone Who Is Angry Will Be Subject to Judgment (Matthew 5.21–22)

Unless Your Righteousness Surpasses (Matthew 5.20)


According to the rabbis, the Law of Moses contains 611 commandments. They touch upon every aspect of human existence, sometimes in embarrassing detail.   A while ago, reflecting on the number, variety, and intricacy of the Old Testament laws, a parishioner remarked how glad she was that Christians are “not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6.14). She did not believe she could remember, let alone obey, all those commandments.   Without knowing it, this woman had made two theological mistakes. The first was to think that the Law of Moses plays no role whatsoever in the Christian life. To … Continue reading Unless Your Righteousness Surpasses (Matthew 5.20)

The Least of These Commandments (Matthew 5.19)


Which Old Testament laws are Christians obliged to keep, which are they not obliged to keep, and why?   At first glance, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.17–20 seem to indicate that Christians are obliged to keep each and every commandment in the Old Testament. But, as I pointed out in yesterday’s devotional, we know that the New Testament Christians did not feel obligated to observe any number of laws.   Those very same Christians looked to the Old Testament laws for ethical guidance on other issues, however. In Romans 13.9­–10, Paul writes: “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not … Continue reading The Least of These Commandments (Matthew 5.19)

Until Heaven and Earth Pass Away (Matthew 5.18)


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-style-parent:””; font-size:10.0pt;”Times New Roman”;} According to Jewish rabbis, Moses’ Law contains 611 commandments. These commandments regulate every aspect of human life: spirituality, morality, calendar, dress, and even diet. Are Christians obligated to obey each and every one of them? In Matthew 5.18–19, Jesus seems to answer yes, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of … Continue reading Until Heaven and Earth Pass Away (Matthew 5.18)

Not to Abolish but to Fulfill (Matthew 5:17)


Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-style-parent:””; font-size:10.0pt;”Times New Roman”;} Jesus was an observant Jew. The Law of Moses shaped his life, regulating his spirituality, morality, calendar, and even diet. And yet, he practiced Judaism in such a way that some thought he intended to abolish that very same law. For example, according to Matthew 12.1–14, certain Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing his hungry disciples to pick small heads of grain on the Sabbath and for healing a man with a shriveled hand. They interpreted both actions as violations of the … Continue reading Not to Abolish but to Fulfill (Matthew 5:17)

Introduction to Matthew 5.17–20


Jews and Christians share many things in common. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Jesus Christ (Acts 3.13). The promise God made to Abraham to bless both his descendants and the world through them (Gen. 12.2, 3) finds its fulfillment in the salvation offered freely to Jews and Gentiles alike (Rom. 1.16). And we have the Old Testament in common, although Jews do not believe there is anything “old” about it. (And neither should we.) And yet, we have many differences too. We believe that God is a Trinity of Persons: one God eternally existing … Continue reading Introduction to Matthew 5.17–20

Let Your Light Shine Before Men (Matthew 5.16)


The Sermon on the Mount contains two statements that appear contradictory to a casual eye. In Matthew 5.16 Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” But in 6.1 he says, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”   These statements appear contradictory because of similar concepts and vocabulary. For example, “Good deeds” and “acts of righteousness” (literally, “righteousness”) describe basically … Continue reading Let Your Light Shine Before Men (Matthew 5.16)

You Are the Light of the World (Matthew 5.14–16)


One time, at elementary school science camp, I got scared in the dark.   To be more precise, my camp counselor scared the bejeebers out of me and my cabin mates. How? He took us on a nighttime hike into the forest. Once we were sufficiently far from the ambient light of the campgrounds, he instructed us to sit in a circle, turn off our flashlights, and be very quiet. Then he recited “The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. When he finished his recitation, he blew a whistle that sounded like a thousand fingernails scraping across a blackboard. (He … Continue reading You Are the Light of the World (Matthew 5.14–16)