Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I review what Jesus said about anger, adultery, and divorce in Matthew 5. In this chapter Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like for his Kingdom. We can learn at least two things in this week’s lesson. First, Jesus is more concerned about our relationships with one another than he is with us following the rules and regulations of The Law. And secondly, Jesus is asking us to truly live a righteous life. As Jesus reinterprets The Law using literary devices to make his point we should understand that righteousness is based in a love that does right by God and God’s created. This lesson is about relationships and the spirit of The Law, not the letter of The Law. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
When this text is written the Jewish Temple has already been destroyed and these Jewish Christians are a distinct people of God separate from the Israelites with a completely separate mission. Their mission is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Some of them have Jewish heritage. Some of them are Gentile. Some still have Jewish practices. But they aren’t entirely Jewish. They are becoming something entirely different from what they used to be. Matthew is written to give them that guidance and direction as they move from where they were to where God wants them to be.
Our text this week deals with relationships as Jesus talks about the Law. Notice how Jesus says “you have heard that it was said” and then he follows with “but I say unto you”. He’s telling them the Law says XYZ, but I say unto you 1, 2, 3. I think what we see in this text is that Jesus cares more about relationships than rules; even the rules of The Law. As Jesus continues to outline what righteousness looks like, he is showing us that righteousness is not a strict adherence to The Law; but more so a deeper spiritual righteousness that comes from a changed heart; A heart of love. This is about the spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law. How we handle and care for our relationships with others speaks volumes about who we are and what we value. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week How it Connects to This Week:
Last week I reviewed the second lesson of this five week series in Matthew. I explained how Jesus continued to outline what righteousness looks like for his Kingdom. I also noted how Matthew gives us an honest account of the tension between what I keep calling the “old school” Jewish hierarchy and these new Jewish Christians who aren’t worshipping in the same way or following the same practices as the “traditional” Jews are. In verses thirteen and fourteen of last week’s text Jesus described his disciples and by extension all of us who follow him as salt and then light. These two metaphors are descriptors that should help us understand how we should be and how we should be seen in the world. Salt is both a seasoning and a preserver. It seasons our food and makes it taste better. Likewise we should strive to make life “taste” better for those around us. Salt also preserves. We ought to preserve the good in our lives and encourage others to do the same. In preserving what is good we can become lights in a dark world. I also noted that Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words”. That’s a great explanation of what it means to be salt and light in this world.
I noted in verses 15 and 16 how we are encouraged to put our light on a candlestick so others may see our good works. In other words, our lights should shine bright. Don’t dim your bright light because others are intimidated, jealous, envious, or any other reason. Your good works, your example, your ministry, your life’s example should be to God’s glory
Verse 18 told us that nothing would be taken away from the Law; not one word, not one letter, not even a stroke of one letter will be taken away until all has been fulfilled. I noted how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. Also noted was Standard Lesson Commentary saying “God did not give the law intending that it would last forever. Ultimately it points to Christ, who makes perfect what the law could not perfect (Rom 3:20-31; Hebrews 7:16-19).
Verse 19 reminded us how Jesus declares those who break one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. No one can keep all of the commandments of the Old Testament. Jesus offers a better testament, a better covenant.
Verse 20 told us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. I noted how the Gospel According to Matthew is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees. There is tension between these Jewish Christians who are teaching a new way, a new covenant based in Jesus Christ and the “old school” Jewish hierarchy. Matthew is written to a community who “with much bitterness and conflict have withdrawn from the synagogue. It assists a now separate community in defining its identity and shaping its faithful way of life within the diversity of late 1st-century Judaism” (NISB). The point for us today is to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as our Savior.
As we continue to focus on the idea of a heartfelt covenant, this week’s lesson helps us understand how Jesus teaches us to love one another. This is the third lesson from the Gospel According to Matthew. As Jesus continues to outline some of the rules of his kingdom, in this lesson Jesus deals with some matters of the heart. He teaches about anger, adultery, and divorce. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches Us To Love One Another. Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Love One Another. The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:21-32.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
Verse twenty-one begins with “You have heard that is was said”. In this way, Jesus is reminding the disciples and listeners of what the Law said long ago. In our text this week Jesus does this three times. As he walks through each of these three examples he is making a point. He is essentially calling the disciples to a higher righteousness. A spiritual righteousness not based on strict adherence of The Law but on a deeper spiritual level based in love. His first example deals with murder. To commit murder is a shocking and atrocious sin. But notice how Jesus takes it to the next level. He says even if you are angry with your brother or sister without cause you are in danger of judgement. He’s making the point that relationship is important and anger against your brother or sister is dangerous. Anger can destroy relationships.
Verses twenty-three and twenty-four reinforces the point and makes it even more clear that Jesus is more concerned with our human relationships, how we treat each other, than he is with whatever gift we might bring to God. He is essentially saying stop what you are doing; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then bring your gift. Relationships are important!
Verses twenty-five and twenty-six deal with contentious relationships. The point here is that we should work out our differences quickly. Don’t let your differences fester. Don’t let your differences linger. Bad news doesn’t get better with time. So whatever needs working out, go ahead and work it out.
Verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight deal with adultery. Again, Jesus takes it to the next level when he says “whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. This is not about the letter of the Law. Jesus is teaching us about the spirit of the Law. We need a changed heart. A heart of love.
Verses twenty-nine and thirty deal with the relationship we have with our selves. Self-care is important. In fact, when we fail to take care of ourselves I argue that we are more likely to have “offending members” or causes of stumbling in our faith walk. It should be noted that plucking out offending eyes or cutting off offending hands is not to be taken literally. Again, Jesus is making a point. He is showing us that the righteousness of his kingdom goes beyond following rules. It goes beyond “gaming the system” to get or do what you want. The righteousness of Jesus is a matter of the heart; a changed heart. Also, Townsend Commentary notes that ““hell” comes from the Greek word gehenna. Gehenna appears often in Matthew to refer to the eternal destination of the wicked. Hell is not to be confused with Hades (Luke 16:32), which was the underworld for the dead known as Sheol in the Old Testament”.
In verses thirty-one and thirty-two Jesus returns again to this “you have heard it was said, but I say unto you” formula. This time Jesus deals with another matter of the heart; spousal relationships. Keep in mind that through much of history, in patriarchal societies, women were treated as property. Townsend Commentary notes that “Some of the rabbis allowed divorce on the grounds that the wife was displeasing to her husband or that the husband was attracted to a more beautiful woman”. Jesus is telling us that the spousal relationship should not be abused. The righteousness of Jesus’ kingdom is in large part based on doing right by others. As Jesus reinterprets The Law of Moses he takes it to the next level to make guilty the male who divorces his wife and the man who marries a divorced wife. Again, Jesus is driving home his point and I argue that this too should not be taken literally. Women are not the property of their husband. Jesus recognized that abuse and teaches his disciples and the crowd that spousal relationships are important.
Poetry, figurative language, literary and rhetorical devices, narrative, prose, proverbs, analogies, and other techniques are used in Scripture to instruct and ultimately draw us closer to God. Our text this week contains examples of literary devices used to make a point. When Jesus tells us to pluck out the offending eye or cut off the offending hand it is not literal. He is making a point. Notice how Jesus used metaphors of salt and light in last week’s lesson. Jesus’ use of literary devices helps us appreciate, interpret, and analyze his teachings. I especially like how Rev. Wil Gafney PH.D. explains a portion of this text, writing “Sometimes Jesus says something entirely contradictory to the text. Mostly he seems to be making it harder to do the right thing and some of what he says just seems flat out impossible. In the passages he reinterprets in our gospel today, Jesus accepts the basic meaning but recrafts them to say surprisingly more than they previously said. Jesus takes biblical interpretation to a whole other level”. Yes, that’s the point! As Jesus reinterprets parts of the The Law, we should see beyond the mere words on the page and hear the call to true righteousness. Righteousness rooted in relationship and love. Jesus doesn’t do away with the old covenant, he makes it better.
Key Characters in the text:
Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity. He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God.
Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles. Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person. As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government. This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
Beatitudes – Teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lives and dispositions of his followers.
Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil. Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees. It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ.
Patriarchy – A male authority system that oppresses and subordinates women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. What righteousness looks like.
2. What did I say?
1. Discuss how anger can destroy relationships.
2. Discuss why relationships are so important in Jesus’ Kingdom.
This week’s lesson teaches us at least two things. First, Jesus is more concerned about our relationships with one another than he is with us following the rules and regulations of The Law. Secondly, Jesus is asking us to truly live a righteous life. This is about the spirit of The Law, not the letter of The Law. Righteousness based in an ethic of love ought to be our guiding light. I can think of no example when doing right by God and doing right by God’s created will lead us away from righteousness. That’s our task, that’s our goal; to do right in love.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount using the same “you have heard that is was said, but I say unto you” formula. Jesus continues to make his point to the disciples and listeners about what true righteousness look like. As he makes his point Jesus teaches about transforming love. Next week the text continues at Matthew 5:38-48. As we keep in mind the idea of a heartfelt covenant I will outline some of what transformative love looks like.