Jesus continues his list of examples of kingdom life in Matthew chapter 5. Several things become very clear from this section. First, the Kingdom of God is more than skin deep. It’s a heart change starting on the inside and flowing out into how we live our lives in every arena. Second, relationships, not rules, make up the central concern of the Law. Jesus has not brought a new law, a new set of rules for us to follow. No, He has brought examples for us so that we understand what this new way of living looks like.
It was said, 'WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
In Marks’ Gospel, Jesus explains that Moses allowed the Israelites to issues certificates of divorce only because of the hardness of their hearts. Kingdom law presumes a heart of flesh over a heart of stone, a heart receptive to God’s call and His desires. The divorce practices of Jesus day had degenerated into the no fault divorce we find today, but with more devastating results. Today, divorced mothers often find themselves a part of an underclass of citizens. Unshared family responsibility coupled with, for a number of reasons, lower earning capacity makes single parenting for mothers a daunting task.
What if we added the exclusion and social stigma of first century Judaism to the mix? What if a woman had no property rights and a certificate of divorce might mean living on the street corner? Jesus theme continues by suggesting change that values wives as more than cooks and cleaning women. Such change requires men to break out of their hard heart prisons and decide to make decisions for the benefit of their wives, to love them as their selves.
Beyond the devastating effects of divorce in His day, I believe Jesus had another reason for characterizing the distinctives of Kingdom marriage. When asked by the Pharisees why His disciples did not fast they did, Jesus responded that the groom’s friends don’t fast while he remains with them, only after he leaves. He may not have pointed directly at His role as the groom of the church, but later portions of the New Testament make it clear that the Church is the bride of Christ and that marriage is more than convenient social arrangement. It presents a picture of the union of Jesus and the Church. In addition to providing the foundation of society throughout the ages, it provides us with a constant reminder of where history is going.
Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.
It always annoys me when someone says “I’m going to be completely honest with you.” What? You haven’t been honest with up to this point? In order to rely on what you say, I need to wait for you to announce that the following words are the truth? That kind of approach to relationships makes growing them a little tough and it's similar to the place of oaths in Jesus’ time. They had become a means to emphasize that what one said equaled the truth. As noted above, that begs the question of when a person operates in truth mode and when not.
Most of us will probably read this passage and think to ourselves, “I’m truthful,” but let’s dig a little deeper. What do we mean by “truthful?” For example, if I want someone to do something for me, can I exclude facts in my request that I believe may cause them to refuse? Can I express my request with words that will technically communicate what I want, but could also communicate something much more favorable? Can I tell them everything, but emphasize the good parts and downplay the hard parts? Should my truth telling change depending upon my audience – say, my best friend versus the other party in a business negotiation?
Jesus presents a simple solution: integrity. Let you yes mean yes and your no mean no. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Only with integrity can we expect to build meaningful relationships with others and with Jesus. But, integrity will not happen by itself. We must have good soil to grow it in and we must cultivate it. Good soil is free of debris, and so we must clear out the relationship debris in our lives. If I engage in relationships to get something from someone else, that motive will challenge my ability to grow integrity. Rather than concerning myself with the needs of others, I will focus on what they have that will meet my needs and how I can get my hands on it. Integrity may or may not help me in that quest and thus I may or may not employ it. Even when sincere caring for others motivates my relationships, integrity will not automatically grow. I need to work at it, remind myself of its importance and consciously employ it.
Integrity does not demand that I tell everyone everything. Jesus Himself had degrees in His relationships which impacted what He shared. He shared with the disciples things He did not share with the crowds and Peter, James, and John experienced things with Jesus that the other disciples did not. However, Jesus did not withhold information that a person needed to in order to make a decision to follow Him. In legal terms, He did not withhold “material” information – the kind of information that if withheld, could change a person’s decision.
Integrity does not demand that I only express the truth in naked form. For example, I have a friend who faces very real integrity challenge. He knows the importance truthfulness in relationships, but always wants to spin his message to others. If that friend came to me an asked my help with his integrity issues, I would not lead with “wow, you’ve finally gotten to the point where you realize everyone thinks your working an angel every time you talk with them.” It’s true, and I might think it, but to say it would only harm my friend and his desire to deal with a significant personal problem. My love for him and my desire to make decisions for his benefit will temper my how I communicate the truth.
You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
Jesus continues in this passage to say that if someone wants my shirt, I should give him my coat also, if someone asks me to walk one mile with him, walk two, and if someone wants to borrow from me, give freely. These few verses in particular seem to draw believers in the trap of new laws from Jesus. Some say we should never defend ourselves because Jesus requires us to turn the other cheek. Or, we ought to give our possessions, time, and money away regardless of our other obligations because Jesus taught so in this sermon. Remember, Jesus said the Law will remain intact. He came to fulfill the Law, not bring new ones.
Instead, these represent examples of life in the Kingdom of God. One who has kingdom life, whose heart Jesus has transformed will act differently. He will not demand his right to return a slap to a neighbor who has slapped him, or his right to his possessions in the face of one who needs help, or his right to use his time as he pleases when another intrudes, or his right to spend his money on whatever he chooses. God does not demand these things of us, but our changed hearts will compel us to act this way.
You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .
You probably have the idea by now that the Law in the kingdom means much, much more than previously thought. This short statement and the verses following which explain further capture the flavor of this entire section of the sermon. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” If we live the same as everyone else, what does following Jesus matter? God intends something much different. He intends a transformation of our hearts that results in kingdom living, a lifestyle that stands out. It shines like a light on hill and people can’t miss it. It seasons an otherwise meaningless existence and draws in crowds for another taste.
The murmuring around the water cooler that comes to a halt when I walk up won’t consist of complaints about my overbearing religiousness. No, it will be stuffed with whispers about how I’ve changed. And, behind each of those comments by the folks I interact with will squirm a quiet nagging question, “how can I change like that?”