Matthew chapter 5: 33-48 (continued)
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the men of old, you shall not swear falsely, but you shall perform your oaths to the Lord [as a religious duty].
But I tell you, ‘Do not bind yourselves by an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is the throne of God; or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. Let your Yes be simply ‘Yes,’ and your No be simply ‘No;”’anything more than that comes from the evil one.
You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. 3But I say to you, Do not resist the evil man [who injures you]; but if anyone strikes you on the right jaw or cheek, turn to him the other one too. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your undershirt (tunic), let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two [miles]. Give to him who keeps on begging from you, and do not turn away from him who would borrow at interest] from you.
You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, To show that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].
For if you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles (the heathen) do that? You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The last verse in this passage is a scary verse and when I read it I can simply say that it makes me catch my breath. I need to be ‘perfect’ like my Heavenly Father is. Perfect! That is a tall order. How can I be perfect? How can you be perfect? We know that there was only one perfect man, Jesus. He never sinned and He never failed. How then can we be prefect?
Before we get there let us look at the other verses in this passage and see if they can help us to figure this out. The Bible is its best interpreter and if you don’t understand something, just keep reading and searching and God will explain it somewhere else.
Do Not Swear by God’s Name, Speak the Truth Always, Verses 33-37
Simply put we are to mean what we say. We are not to be double tongued and two faced. Our words should be trustable? Why, you may ask? Because God is the God of truth and it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to lie. Thus as His children and as ambassadors of the kingdom of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) we should tell the truth and have such a reputation for telling the truth that people believe us and we respect them enough not to take advantage of their trust.
We not to swear to tell the truth by things that we do not have control over; neither by heaven nor earth both of which belong to the Lord. And we are not to swear even by the hairs on our heads simply because we have no control over our lives either. We live each day by the grace of God and some of us can’t guarantee that we will have hair on our heads to swear by.
Those will full heads of hair today are the bald ones tomorrow. Some with beautiful heads of hair in their youth turn gray in midlife and on and on. We simply do not have control over these things. Even with modern things like dyes and what not we can simply stave off the inevitable for a short time but we cannot change it.
Rather our words should have weight, when we say “Yes,” then that should mean something and have weight behind it. The same should be so with our ‘No’. If our words cannot be trusted we are no longer representing the Kingdom of Light. The devil is the father of all lies and liars we are told in John 8:44.
These are harsh words and they certainly cut me to the bone. I can honestly say that my words are not always truth. I often say things to “protect my own skin” as they say and if you are honest so do you. We swear to tell the truth when we are just covering our butts for lying. Often we swear to tell the truth knowing full well that we intend to lie. We make a mockery of the truth and of God when we identify ourselves as Christians yet we speak lies.
The truth, they say, will set you free, but it can also cost you a lot. In spite of the cost we should, with the power of the Holy Spirit in us, discipline ourselves to tell the truth and to be seen as trustworthy. It is very hard to tell someone the truth of the Gospel when they don’t trust the person delivering the message.
Do Not Seek Revenge, Seek Peace, Verses 38-39
In the Old Testament Law the rule of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was well engrained. In Exodus 21:23-25 we see these words:
“But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
The Jews of Jesus’ day and for generations before had lived by these rules. Compassion and forgiveness was not common as we see even in the lives of the religious leaders. They were always looking for someone to kill for a sin or sins. This would have been a cruel society that Jesus came into. Simple mistakes could have led to life changing injuries and maiming. This is not to dissuade justice or the law of the land. But people needed to learn how to forgive and how to move on.
Jesus often forgave people their sins, Luke 7:48 and Matthew 9:5 are some examples of this. This seemed to get under the skin of the Pharisees. They liked having a person’s failures to hang over their heads like an axe waiting to drop. But Jesus was quick to forgive and to encourage us to forgive.
In Matthew 18: 21-22 we find these words from Jesus:
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
The idea was that we were to forgive all the time. When we compare what God has forgiven us to what ‘sins’ have been done against us we have no excuse not to forgive and to forgive always. We are not only called to forgive we are told not to retaliate. Our forgiveness should be so complete that we do not feel the need to retaliate and even if we do we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will learn to suppress that desire to ‘hit back’ and ‘get even’.
Being a forgiving person is not a sign of weakness, but a disciplined meekness where we learn by the power of the Holy Spirit in us to put our rights aside for the good of the other. It is more important for the person to see the grace of God through us than that we get even.
What if God hit back? What if He did to us what we deserve? Well that was what the ‘eye for an eye’ was all about; it was never a rule to build a society on. It was a part of the Mosaic Law designed to show us our need for God’s grace, we see in Galatians 3:23-25,
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
You see the harshness of the Law was designed to drive us to Jesus and to fall on His grace. It was never to be the foundation of a nation. But men will always distort God’s rules and use it for evil. The religious leaders of the day used the Law like a hammer to subdue people and they kept their distance so that the common people could not see that they were sinners like us all. Jesus on the other hand lived among the people, they saw His righteous living and they knew He was different than the religious leaders.
We see these words in Mark 1:22:
“And they were completely astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching as One Who possessed authority, and not as the scribes.”
Forgiveness is the true foundation of any relationship. You see forgiveness is driven by love, we will always forgive people we love and we will not forgive those we don’t love. Those two are tied together; many times in the Scriptures we are told that “love covers a multitude of sins.” No greater example of love exists than that of Jesus dying on the cross for us. His death offered the opportunity for all people to have their sins forgiven before a Holy God.
When we love our neighbor we will forgive them. Thus the reminder from the Lord to “love our neighbor” and then in John 13:34-35 we are told that “it is by the way that we love each other that people will know that we are His disciples.”
This was a foreign teaching to many of the people of that day and frankly of many today. We are called to love each other; this is the basics of Christianity. But beyond that we are called to love our enemies, serve our enemies and to forgive them when they hurt us. Jesus, of course, would never ask us to do anything that He did not set the example of first. As He was dying Jesus said this in Luke 23:34”
“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.’”
Let’s follow His example; because of this a centurion was saved that day. This is the power of love and forgiveness.