* In the Sermon on the Mount what does salt represent?
* How can a Christian be a light to the world?
* Did Jesus “do away” with God’s law?
* Why is physical obedience to God inadequate?
* Can a Christian love God and hate his brother?
In Matthew 5:2-9, Jesus gave the beatitudes. They express the frame of mind we should be in with respect to God and our fellow man. One who really puts these beatitudes to practice in his life will not be popular. The beatitudes are so out of line with what is believed and practiced by society today that one who applies them can only be regarded as odd. The principles expressed in the beatitudes are not the way the world thinks and operates. Jesus, then, went on to say that one who lives a Christian life will be persecuted. He said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, on my account. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12). The Apostle Paul wrote, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). So, those who truly practice Christianity will be persecuted.
What is the historical record of those who obeyed God? Many were persecuted and “. . . others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35). While the world in general professes religion, it hates the truth and those who practice it. The Apostle John wrote, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13). This is what Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:10-12 above. What makes Christianity unique is that it is difficult to practice. Millions profess it, but few are able to live up to it. Furthermore, those who really do try to live conscientiously are promised persecution. True Christianity is unique in that it is difficult to live up to and then awards one who does so with persecution. The majority of those who profess Christianity and attend the church of their choice today do so for social reasons. This is a decided contrast to Christians in the past, particularly those living under the Roman Empire. Many gave up their lives for their beliefs. But persecutions have not been limited to the Roman Empire. They continue right on down to our day, especially in those nations under Communism. Furthermore, there is a time prophesied yet ahead when vast numbers will be persecuted and martyred (Matt. 24:21).
Notice what Jesus said in John 3:20. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Light refers to truth. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Those who love light often experience persecution. When Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted . . .” He was referring to the end result, that is, the reward which will be given those who remain faithful to His Word (Rev. 20:4). But look at what they must first suffer. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, on my account” (Matt. 5:11). Why are the righteous so often maligned and falsely accused? The answer: Because they are so often misunderstood. What a righteous man says is often misinterpreted. Those who hate the truth will often jump to the wrong conclusion. All manner of evil will be said falsely against the righteous. Jesus said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22). What is accepted as the “correct religion” today is certainly not the truth Jesus brought. All Christians need to be aware of that fact. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,” Jesus said (John 15:18). So, the same treatment He received from the world is what true believers can expect.
But notice what Jesus emphasized. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:12). This text applies to those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, not those who are persecuted because of their sin. True believers should not expect to be exonerated in the sight of God for their faults. Peter wrote, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Pet. 2:19-20). James said the prophets were our example of suffering. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (Jas. 5:10). They were persecuted because they were the visible spokesmen for God. Likewise, we are not to hide the truth. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Those who let their light shine will be noticed. If they are noticed they can expect criticism and persecution. Jesus so promised!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasized the importance of setting the right example. “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” (Matt. 5:13). Salt is a preservative. Those who are the salt of the Earth are saving the Earth from corruption. If there were no salt on the Earth today the entire world would become corrupt. The minority of true believers who try to practice what Jesus taught are those keeping this world from utter ruin. But, what happens if salt loses it savor? It is useless, unable to be used any longer as a preservative. True believers must not allow themselves to become vapid and diluted by the concepts and practices of this world. When that happens, Jesus said, they will be cast aside and trodden under foot. As noted earlier, Christians are to be shining lights in this dark world. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 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. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). Paul told the believers in his day that they should “. . . be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Ph’p. 2:15). True believers are examples!
One who is a light reflects the truth that Jesus brought. In John 8:12, Jesus said, “. . . I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The true believer will reflect the life of Jesus Christ by his lifestyle. He will try to put the teachings of Jesus to practice in his life. He will be noticed. Conversely, if he professes Christ and does not practice what Christ taught, he will be recognized-as a hypocrite. Paul said he lived with a clear conscience (2 Tim. 1:3). He set the right example because he knew “. . . that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9). The world does notice true Christians. Let us never forget this. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). If we regard ourselves as followers of Jesus, we must pay heed to this admonition, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). Walking in the light means practicing the truth of God. It means living it, not merely professing it.
Obedience to God is another important matter. Yet, millions who profess Christ refuse to obey what He taught. Notice what Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to [make full]” (Matt. 5:17). Jesus came to make the law full-to expand it to its true spiritual application. But millions believe Jesus came to “do away” with the law of God. Nothing could be further from the truth! One of the purposes of Christ was to take the physical law, found in the Old Testament, and expand and magnify it into a spiritual law. “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isa. 42:21). The Sermon on the Mount shows the spiritual expansion of this physical Old Testament law. One of the biggest errors taught in this world today is that Jesus came to “do away” with His Father’s law. Notice Matthew 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.” Are heaven and Earth passed away? Of course not! What is meant by “till all be fulfilled?” A better translation would be “till all should, or may be, being fulfilled.” Since the tense here is indefinite, the text cannot be talking about anything “done away.” To translate it in the past tense is incorrect. God’s law exemplifies His nature. He is eternal. Therefore, His law is eternal; it will never be “done away.” His law will be continually being fulfilled forever! “Whosoever therefore shall be breaking one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven . . .” (Matt. 5:19). This does not sound like Jesus did away with His Father’s law, does it? The heart and core of Christianity is summed up in Matthew, chapters five, six, and seven. This is what it is all about. If we do not put these teachings of Jesus to practice in our lives, we are failing. This is why Jesus said, “But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 19).
Jesus went on to say that true believers had to go far beyond the obedience manifested by the scribes and Pharisees. Their obedience was physical only. In Matthew 15:1-9, Jesus demonstrated the problem the Pharisees had. They manufactured their own man-made rules and laws, substituting them in place of the Law of God. They obeyed a physical law of their own making. This they called the truth.
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:1-9).
Our obedience to God must be based on the spiritual intent of the law, not on the physical only. This is why Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They added all kinds of “do-s” and “don’t-s” to the physical law but had no understanding of the spiritual.
Now, notice how Jesus expanded the law to include the intent of the heart and mind. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother [lightly] 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” (Matt. 5:21-22). Jesus expanded the law of murder to include that which is in the heart and mind. Jesus showed that one who is angry over some immoderate or picky reason is in danger of condemnation. The spiritual intent of the law is far more demanding than the letter of the law. One of the worst habits we can acquire is fault-finding over all kinds of trivia, then becoming angry or upset. As far as God is concerned, this can be just as serious as killing someone. Jesus said if there is anger, it should be expressed over really large issues only. The expressions Jesus gave as examples of contempt in Matthew 5:22 demonstrate the different levels of accountability. One who used the term “Raca,” which was a term of contempt, could be called before the Sanhedrin. One who called his brother “fool,” an expression of highest insult, was in danger of destruction in hell fire itself. These expressions show what is in the heart and mind-an attitude of hatred-and are, in the sight of God, serious offenses. This is how the law was made full and expanded by Jesus. Controlling the tongue is a major task for all. The misuse of the tongue is as bad as using a weapon.
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). To have a proper relationship with God requires one to have a proper relationship with one’s fellow man. One cannot hate his fellow man and be right with God. Before we can worship God properly, we must first reconcile with our brother. Also, we must make an effort to get along with others. Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 5:25). So, there are times to make amends and thereby avoid the kinds of difficulties so many get into today. What this example demonstrates is that anger and the unwillingness to forgive lead to all kinds of disagreeable circumstances, often involving the legal system of this world. Jesus said to avoid it. These are some of the things Jesus emphasized in the Sermon on the Mount.