Much of my experience with the study of history in grade school, Jr High, and High School had to do with memorizing certain things in history and dates and being able to cough them back up on the test. I had to learn the presidents, the order in which they served, and the years they were in office. We’ve had several presidents since I memorized them, and now I would have a hard time cranking any of them out to you. I remember a few here and there, but for the most part, most of those memorization activities haven’t stayed with me.
In those years, we did very little that I remember about interpreting what happened in history, maybe it was because it would be too political and they’d get too many calls from parents that didn’t agree with them. After I got in college though, I had one professor that would tell you what it meant. When he tested, you had to kick back what he had told you. You were graded on whether you were able to repeat back what he said and what the book said, including the footnotes in the book! Still there wasn’t much room for thinking.
I had another professor that taught history, and he was the one I tried to get my classes with. He would give you the dates, and he would lead a discussion in his lectures about his interpretation of why things happened and what it means for today. He interacted with us more and was more of a people person; he listened to what you had to say. When he got ready to test, he would ask about three essay questions that you would need to show a knowledge of the facts of history but be called to interpret them. When he graded though, whether you agreed with his interpretation or not, if you supported it with facts and he could tell you had put some thought into it, he would grade you well.
Our scripture today again comes from the Gospel of Matthew and begins Jesus’ instructions for conduct for His followers. Matthew is the only one of the gospels that sets up the dialogue as we have it here, “you heard it said…, but I say to you….” Matthew is setting it up in a way that is intended to present Jesus’ teachings of God’s will in a way that contrasts it with previous teachings; Jesus’ teachings here are to be seen as an authentic interpretation of the Word of God over and against all previous teachings (Interpretation Commentary). It is with the authority of the Messiah, the son of the Living God. Jesus is an interpreter of the law much like the history teacher that I liked, except Jesus interprets with the authority of the Messiah! Jesus is making the law come alive for His hearers and bringing it to a personal level. Jesus is a people person! Remember Matthew’s gospel is arranged topically rather than chronologically, thus all the teachings of Jesus are grouped together in Matthew’s gospel, so Matthew is very intentional at placing this teaching here. Remember, he writes to convince Christians that genuine faith in Christ must be demonstrated in daily obedience to Christ’s teachings.
The first teaching has to do with anger; Jesus say, “You heard it said you shall not commit murder, but I say to you …. “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, You fool, you will be liable to hell fire.” Jesus steps it up. The basic cause for murder is anger, but he says anger can cause other actions that are also worthy of the judgment of God! It is clear that both of these statements condemn abusive language! It matters how we treat each other, what we say about it other, and what we call each other! It our modern day, it matters what we post on Facebook; it matters what we call each other on Facebook. It matters what we tweet about each other! It matters what we call each other in tweets! That is a part of our conversation! Jesus makes no bones about it; we will be “liable to hell fire!” It matters how we live!
Jesus said, “you’ve heard it said not to commit adultery, but I say to you if you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.” The Hebrew word here for lust is not just an “idle envy,” but it is an intentional planning to obtain something for oneself (Interpretation). There is nothing new here about a prohibition against sexual sin; Jewish law had much of this in it. We are to live in monogamous relationships! What is new is the context with which Jesus is saying this. Women were being welcomed into the fellowship of the Church as sisters and in many ways as equals. Men would be working side by side with women; this was a new thing in that society. Jesus is intentionally using a word that separates just looking at women and looking at women to lust after them (to intentionally plan to do something about it). In this setting, men would look at women, but they weren’t to look at women to lust after them. “The new relationship with women among Jesus’ followers required of men a new kind of self discipline.” (Interpretation)
The next thing Jesus mentions is divorce. God’s ideal for us is that we live in monogamous relationships, but there are numerous cases where the marriage is no longer real: infidelity, neglect, abuse, failure to communicate, and etc. God or Jesus doesn’t intend for us to continue in an abusive relationship to avoid a divorce; God is a God of new beginnings! What Jesus is addressing here as much as anything is the unfair position divorce put on women in that society. If you divorced a women, you forced her to have to remarry for support from another man, so you were at fault here!
Lastly, Jesus addresses Oaths! The concern here is that we shouldn’t have to swear to keep our word! Our word as Christians should mean something! We should live our confession! Jesus was concerned with the free use of God’s name, heaven, and our head to prove we were going to be truthful. It was more than an in court occurrence for them; it was an everyday thing! I swear by God this is the truth! If Jesus was concerned about their free use of God name for this, how much would Jesus be concerned with how lightly we throw around God’s name as a by-word today?
In Concluding, Matthew is writing his gospel out of a concern that Christians are not living their confession. Jesus has interpreted the Law for us here; he has gotten very personal. Jesus has given us a lot of stuff to digest here; the way anger plays out in our lives, dealing with lust, guilt from divorce and maybe the desire for a new start, and keeping our word and using God’s name in ways that honor God! As we have considered Jesus’ teaching, are you feeling convicted that you need to come up and pray and ask God to help you better live your confession in some of these areas of concern today?