21 You know our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” 22But I promise you if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.
23So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.
25Before you are dragged into court, make friends with the person who has accused you of doing wrong. If you don't, you will be handed over to the judge and then to the officer who will put you in jail. 26I promise you will not get out until you have paid the last cent you owe.
27 You know the commandment which says, “Be faithful in marriage.” 28But I tell you if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, poke it out and throw it away. It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to end up in hell. 30 If your right hand causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
(Matthew 19.9; Mark 10.11,12; Luke 16.18)
31 You have been taught that a man who divorces his wife must write out divorce papers for her. 32 But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin. If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man's wife.
Christian living takes us to a place above and beyond anything we might have imagined here on earth. Jesus asks a lot of us.
These verses represent one of the most striking constructions in all of Scripture. Building out of Jesus’ statement in verse 17 that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, Jesus offers six parallel pieces: “You have heard it said … but I say to you …” In each case Jesus contrasts the law of earth with the law of heaven, such that we might act in ways that encourage the coming of his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven (6:9).” In each case, the second instance elevates the concern to the level of the heart.
The law is given to regulate life on earth. Knowing that it would be a very good thing if we did not kill each other, law prohibits murder. But Jesus says we should not even want to in our hearts. It would be a very good thing if we did not violate our marital commitments, refraining from adultery. But the law of heaven says we shouldn’t even want to in our hearts. The law ensures that we will honor the contracts and commitments that we make with one other. But Jesus says that citizens of heaven should be known for such honourable conduct that contracts and oaths would not even be necessary.
This is life above and beyond the strict call of lawful duty. It extends our obedience beyond what we do with our body to what we do within our hearts. If this sounds challenging, just remember that we operate on the basis of his grace, and that heaven would not be much of a heaven without a standard such as this.
Dear Lord, I confess that I often cultivate a truncated view of your expectations for me. I am far too easily satisfied, when it is clear that your expectation is far above the surface expressions we seem to think suffice. Help me to rise to the challenge that you have for me. Amen.
Kent is President of Northwest Baptist Seminary and Professor of Homiletics at ACTS Seminaries of Trinity Western University. His most recent book is Integrative Preaching (Baker 2017). He is also a columnist with Preaching magazine. Kent and his wife Karen, a chaplain, have three adult children and three grandchildren, and live in Vancouver, BC.