* What was the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount?
* By what standard is man judged today?
* What did Jesus mean – cut off a hand, pluck out an eye?
* Should God’s name be used in swearing?
* Should Christians seek revenge?
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discussed the matter of adultery. This law and the other laws discussed in the Sermon on the Mount are found in the Old Testament. The intention of the Sermon on the Mount was to show the spiritual application of these laws-how they should be applied in the minds and hearts of Christians. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Jesus expanded the law of adultery to include lust in the heart and mind-that what one thinks is as wrong as what one does. The word “looketh” in the Greek language means “to contemplate,” “to weigh carefully.” The intention here, Jesus shows, goes beyond a mere fleeting glance. It means to seriously meditate, to spend time thinking about the matter. When one indulges one’s lusts to this extent, it is adultery in the sight of God. The Sermon on the Mount expands the letter of the law found in the Old Testament and shows man will be judged even by how and what he thinks!
What is the proper solution to the problem? Jesus described the solution in verses twenty-nine and thirty. “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 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” (Matt. 5:29-30). The phrase “if thy right eye offend” should be translated, as the margin shows, “if thy right eye cause thee to offend.” The eye does not make anyone offend. The eye is only the receptor to the mind, so the real problem lies in the mind of man. This same meaning applies to the hand in verse thirty. The hand does not make anyone offend; the hand merely does what the mind tells it to do. It is clear to see Jesus is not instructing us to dismember our bodies. People who are blind and people with no limbs still lust. What has to be removed is the cause of the offense. And what is the cause? It is the unconverted mind. What must take place is a change in the heart and mind of man. This alone frees him from the lusts and pulls of the flesh.
The word “offend” in the Greek language means “to scandalize.” Wrong thoughts and acts can bring scandal upon a man-all because the cause of the scandal is not removed. The acts of a man merely reflect what the mind is thinking. So, there are two factors to be considered here: One, the cause of the scandal must be removed, which means there must be a change of heart and mind; and two, one must shut one’s senses against those things that are dangerous to one’s spiritual well-being. To indulge in evil and dangerous thoughts strengthens these thoughts and makes one vulnerable to wrong acts. The more we indulge wrong thoughts the weaker we become, unable to resist the temptation to sin. Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). One can offend by what one thinks and by what one does. Verse thirty demonstrates the sinful use of an organ. But the problem is not the organ; the problem is the mind. Adultery always begins in the mind, and the mind must be controlled. This is why the mind must be changed.
This change comes about by conversion. One must repent and be baptized in order to receive God’s Spirit. This is what brings about a change in the mind and heart. During the Old Testament period, men were not held accountable for their thoughts. This is because God’s Spirit was not made available as a begettal from God. Since the time of Christ, God’s Spirit is available and all men are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30).
In the context of adultery Jesus addressed the matter of divorce in Matthew 5:31-32. While Jesus pointed out divorce was allowed in the Old Testament period, He now gave only one exception for divorce and remarriage in the Sermon on the Mount. (For a more detailed explanation refer to number seven of our Ten Commandment series.)
Next Jesus discussed the matter of oaths.
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: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil (Matt. 5:33-37).
“Forswear thyself” means, as some other translations show, “you shall not swear falsely,” or “to lie while under oath.” We call this perjury in our judicial system, and one can be prosecuted for it. Jesus is saying those who swear must be sure to tell the truth. The Pharisees were prone to forswear oaths on the least provocation, yet while making oaths they made allowances by mental reservations. While openly professing to swear honestly, inwardly they denied what they said. Jesus said this should not be done. What is even more important, He tells Christians not to swear at all! (v. 34).
God’s name is often employed in making oaths. In Exodus 20:7, we read: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” One who employs God’s name in making an oath and then violates that oath is guilty of violating the third commandment. One who does not live up to his oath takes God’s name in vain. This is a serious offense in the sight of God. Jesus emphasized, “Swear not at all!” To get around using God’s name in an oath, the religious leaders of His day came up with a series of substitutes-heaven, Earth, Jerusalem, thy head-as though this would make the violation of an oath less culpable. Yet, most of these substitutes reflect directly on God. Jesus said not to swear by heaven because that is God’s throne. He said not to swear by Earth because that is God’s footstool. He said not to swear by Jerusalem because it is the city of God. And He said not to swear by one’s own head because this is vain as there is no value in it.
Jesus said, “Swear not at all!” But what should one do when one must appear in court and is asked to swear? Most courts in the western world will allow one to affirm. A litigant or a witness does not have to swear. Jesus said, “Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay.” No further proof of your truthfulness should be necessary.
Jesus now addressed the matter of vengeance, or “getting even.” During the Old Testament period the law of lex talionis prevailed. This law was originally given for two reasons: 1) to curtail an already existing practice, and 2) to prevent vengeance from being far more severe than was deemed necessary for the offense. It is described in Exodus 21:23-25. “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Jesus quoted this law when He said in Matthew 5:38-39, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” How, then, did He modify the law of lex talionis? “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.” Notice, Jesus did not say the man was trying to kill you. Only that he is angry and strikes you. The response, turn to him the other cheek also. This is a real test for the Christian. One who can respond in this manner is truly practicing Christianity. This is putting to practice the spiritual intent of the law, what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.
Jesus, then, carried the matter further. He said, “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt. 5:40-42). Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized the need to settle issues before they get into court, but if it gets this far it is best to abide by the decision of the judge and not fight back. The same principle is true in the matter of being pressed into temporary duty. This was a requirement under Roman rule. Jesus said that if pressed into duty, one should go beyond what is required. In this way the spirit of true Christianity will shine before the unconverted. In addition to going beyond what is required of one, Jesus talked about charity. He said the Christian should be merciful and not turn his back on those who are truly needy.
Perhaps the most difficult teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is to love one’s enemies. Here is how Jesus emphasized it.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 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; 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. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).
Is it conceivable to have this kind of love in our hearts and minds? One who can, Jesus said, will be perfect. This tells us how far we have yet to go to really put the Sermon on the Mount into practice.