From Glory to Glory
The Manifestation of Christian Character — Matt. 5:17-37.
“Our Lord is going to expand the great moral principles of the law onto commandments that flow from Himself and not merely from Moses” (Wm. Kelly). In so doing, He draws a clear contrast between the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees and the righteousness of the subjects of His kingdom. The first is outward, external, and ceremonial; the second is inward and flows from a new creation in the power of the indwelling Spirit (V. 20). He then gives four illustrations of the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees.
This righteousness recognizes the eternal nature and sacredness of truth (Vv. 17-20).
The four examples of holiness given in these verses express their perfection in the person of Christ even as did the seven virtues of verses 3-9. He did not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them. The word “fulfil” suggests that He during His life time was the actual embodiment of the ethical standards of God revealed in the Old Testament. In addition, it suggests that He was the substance of all their shadows, the antitype of all their types, and the fulfilment of every jot which was written concerning Him. The Christian, like His Lord acknowledges the unchangeableness of the moral law of God. The Spirit of God in accord with the instincts of the new nature teaches that all in the Old Testament not connected with type and shadow is transferred to the New Testament, and there finds its fulfilment in them “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).
This Righteousness Recognizes the Sacredness of Life (Vv. 21-26).
“Thou shalt not kill,” saith the law, but the Lord Jesus looks right into the heart and sees there the sins that lead to this capital offence and teaches us its awful hideousness. In doing so, He interprets the inner meaning of the law by exposing the sins of the heart. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
The expressions “The Judgment,” “The Sanhedrin,” “Gehenna,” (V. 22) describe the courts of law existing then among the Jews. The first dealt with minor crimes; the second, with more serious crimes; and the third, with the outrageous crimes which brought execution and consignment to the valley of the sons of Hinnom. Because this valley was the scene of social abandonment and execution, it became the symbol of the eternal punishment of the wicked. “In Christ’s kingdom unwarranted anger is equivalent to the first; contempt, to the second; and vehement passion, to the third” (F. B. Meyer). Thus, our Lord searches out the sins that lead to the acts of anger, contempt aggravation, and grievance (Vv. 2224) and states that there should be no place for them in the lives and characters of His own. Here, too, we are taught that reconciliation with the Christian brother whom we may have wronged is more to the heart of the Father than all the gifts we might place on the altar.
The nation of Israel apparently is indicated in verses 25-26. Her hatred and rebellion against her own Messiah resulted in His becoming her adversary. It is the truth of Isaiah 63:9-10 repeated. Consequently, she has been delivered to the Judge, the Father of the Messiah, with the sad result that her peoples have been cast into prison (rejected to be punished in their dispersion among the nations) where they will remain until the uttermost farthing is paid. Compare this passage with 1 Thess. 2:16.
This righteousness recognizes the sacredness of the home (Vv. 27-32).
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” In verses 21-26 our Lord deals with that which leads to violence; here He deals with that which leads to corruption. Violence and corruption are twin evils of human nature. They are the two evils that brought judgment in Noah’s day (Gen. 6:12-13). Moreover, they will bring God’s judgment again, but this time upon the entire world. The Christian must deal with both evils at their root in his thought life. Man interpreted the law to mean the act; our Lord interpreted the law to mean the condemnation of the thought behind the act.
The cutting off of the members of the body mentioned in verse 29-30 sets forth a heart thoroughly exercised in self-judgment. There must be the excision of everything that is hurtful to the soul (Wm. Kelly). It is our communings that make character; if we think of earthly things, we become like them; but if we think of the things of the Lord, we become like Christ.
It becomes obvious that the devil follows a well-planned attack on the human race. He distorts truth, cheapens life, destroys the home until violence and corruption permeate the whole of society. Thank God his conquests do not affect the Kingdom of our Lord! There the atmosphere is pure and love is the antithesis to all that marks the kingdom of darkness. Love is the great grace in the Household of Faith. When love, “fair, luminous and pure,” reigns in the heart, it sweetens the disposition, transforms a house into a home, and distinguishes the Church as a colony of Heaven upon earth.
This righteousness recognizes the sacredness of honesty (Vv. 33-37).
“Swear not at all.” This charge has no reference to the taking of an oath in a court of law; it refers to our communications with one another. Such should be our character that when we speak no doubt would be cast upon the veracity of our statement. It never should be necessary for the Christian to substantiate the truth of his words by an oath. “Words of truth and soberness” should mark the subjects of the Kingdom of God. The Lord makes reference here to the third and the ninth commandments and exposes the sin of lying. We are to have our loins girt about with truth, meaning that our strength in resisting the devil and his horde is in absolute honesty and sincerity. Lying is the sin of deception. The formation of the image of Christ in the soul will reflect itself in transparency of character. “Deceiving and being deceived” marked us as children of Adam; likeness to Christ distinguishes the children of the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Measure Of Christian Character - Matt. 5:38-48.
The question now arises, how far are we to go in our obligations to others? The answer to this portion of our chapter is much more extensive than the world expects. The spirit of retaliation is to be mortified (Vv. 3842). This means the putting to death of any vindictive feeling that might arise in the heart. The righteousness of the King’s subjects is marked by two things: first, it exceeds anything that is produced by human nature; and, second, it induces motives which originate in the imparted nature of God which is love. Thus the turning of the other cheek and the yielding of the cloke are the disciplining of a spirit of vindictiveness within. The going of the second mile and the spirit of charity (Vv. 41-42) surpass in practical righteousness even the expectations of the world. All this can be done only by hearts that are living in the light of God’s purposes. Persons who are walking under His conscious protection are sure that a day is coming for the vindication of all right and the punishment of all wrong by Him to Whom vengeance belongs. This spirit of the Kingdom must be manifested, not only toward our friends, but also toward our enemies. In its manifestation, we reveal the nature of God and fulfil the word, “That ye may be the sons of your Father.” This follows the perfect pattern set by our Father in His dealings with His enemies (Vv. 43-48). To deal with our enemies as the Father deals with His; He does good to them that hate Him; He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and His rain falls upon the just and unjust. The law said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” but the Scribes had added to this something God had not intended, “and hate thine enemy.” Now the Lord Jesus interprets the word neighbour to mean either friend or foe. He supports this by the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the priest and the Levite, the representatives of the law, are seen as coming short of the ethical requirements of the moral law of God (Luke 10). We only display our sonship with the Father when we act toward our enemies as He does. When we keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21), we are walking in fellowship with God, “For he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). We thus are brought back to what has already been stated that the two pillars upon which the whole ethical teaching of God depends are love to God and love to man. Love will not commit adultery; love is honest and will not lie; it is not vindictive, and it will bless in the midst of cursing and bitterness.