Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on Matthew 5:20-48

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Unless your righteousness exceeds – Matthew 5:20

Unless your righteousness exceeds … In Jesus' day the scribes and Pharisees were known for their intensive study of God's laws and their obedience to every detail. From a Jewish perspective they were the most righteous people. Jesus shocked his audience by saying that to enter the kingdom of heaven required people to be even more righteous than them. In the rest of Jesus' teaching he explained what this greater righteousness looks like. It is having a whole heart for God, not just obeying the details of the Law. In each case Jesus commended what God has already said and then showed its meaning at the deepest level of the heart.

Greater Righteousness and Hate - Matthew 5:21-26

In this first example of greater righteousness Jesus challenged his disciples to pay attention to their attitudes and speech toward other people. Murder is clearly wrong, but God requires more from his people than not murdering. Absence of harm is not enough: Jesus' disciples are called to actively offer goodness in their words and relationships.

Greater Righteousness and Lust - Matthew 5:27-30

In the second example of greater righteousness Jesus upheld the importance of faithfulness in marriage – no one should commit adultery. The disciples of Jesus, however, will also pay attention to lust in their hearts. Lusting for someone else's spouse is contrary to God's kingdom — it brings God's judgment and interpersonal harm — so lust must be cut from the life of a disciple.

Greater Righteousness and Marriage – Matthew 5:31-32

The third example of greater righteousness is closely related to the second one (Matt. 5:27-30). In Jesus' day the rabbis debated each other about the grounds for a valid divorce. Many rabbis said that one could be righteous in divorcing one's spouse for almost any reason that caused offense. Jesus taught that only in the case of sexual immorality was a divorce valid. This important teaching protects the dignity and situation of women who have often been mistreated in divorce. See WCF 24.5; WLC 139.

Greater Righteousness and Speech - Matthew 5:33-37

Words are powerful. It is through speaking that God created the world and our speech matters too. Often in the name of religion people make righteous-sounding commitments. Jesus taught that making promises or vows outwardly but then failing to consistently do them is less than the righteousness that God requires. See WLC 99; HC 102.

Greater Righteousness and Retaliation - Matthew 5:38-42

The fifth example of greater righteousness addresses the human tendency toward revenge. Jesus is calling his disciples to a higher way of being in relationship to others. Rather than paying people back with evil, Christians should retaliate with abundant kindness.

Greater Righteousness and Love - Matthew 5:43-48

The sixth and final example of greater righteousness is the highest and most comprehensive one: the call to love. This addresses the same topic of the first example (Matt. 5:21-26) but here stated positively. The call to love corresponds with what Jesus says is the greatest commandment (to love God) and stemming from that, to love others (Matt. 22:34-40). This greater righteousness is rooted in God's own nature. God loves even his own enemies and so his children must do the same.

You must be perfect – Matthew 5:48

All of God's commandments and teachings are rooted in his nature. The call to godliness means the call to think, feel, and act the same way God does. This section of the Sermon (Matt. 5:17-48) is summed up with the command to be "perfect" like God is. This word can be easily misunderstood. It does not mean Christians must be flawless or sinless (an impossible task as fallen creatures) but consistent, wholehearted, devoted, singular in direction. The opposite of being "perfect" is being double-minded (Jam. 1:2-8). God is consistent and singular and so too should his children be. See WLC 7.

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