Internal vs External Righteousness – Great Expectations – Part Three

In part two I focused on anger, lust, and divorce. In part three, although it is short, I focus on oaths, retaliation and loving your enemies. This is the last part from Matthew 5, next I will be moving into Matthew 6.


The telling of the complete truth at all times is so fraught with danger, that it is possible only to the one who trusts completely in God. Once my word is not regarded as reliable, I shall try to establish my integrity by the use of oaths; but these tend rapidly to become mechanical and virtually meaningless. The rabbis tried to counter this by laying down oaths which could be relied on. Jesus is concerned here, not with the demands of authority that under certain circumstances an oath be taken, but with the perfect honesty which will make oaths unnecessary. I, as a Christian, am entitled to expect that those who know me will accept my word, if I am invariably truthful. Why should a person judge, or other authorized person, who does not know me, accept my unwarranted statement that I am a Christian and release me from an oath, or affirmation which is an oath under another name?

The Old Testament recognized the useful role of swearing oaths in certain situations (Even God swore oaths: Gen 22:16; Jos 5:6; Ps 89:3-4,35; Isa 45:22; Jer 22:5; Eze 26:7). Jesus was urging the honesty and integrity in our speech that swearing oaths in support of assertions or commitments would not be necessary.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matthew 5:33-37

Matthew 23:16-22 is considered here also, this time it was spoken as a woe to the scribes and the Pharisees. When the teachers of the law and the Pharisees took an oath, they differentiated between what was binding and what was not. This allowed for evasive-oath-taking. Jesus rejected all subtleties by showing how foolish they were and by insisting that people simply tell the truth. I will dive deeper into this in a later lesson, because the entire context of Matthew 23 and the Seven Woes is extremely rich, that I’d like to go into greater detail in that in a separate blog.

Retaliation/Love Your Enemies

Any and every effort to explain these verses in terms of law is bound to fail. We are simply given a picture of how the regenerate will behave if they respond to their new nature.
The law, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth (Ex 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21) does not command revenge, but moderation in revenge, which should not exceed the damage done. While the high-priestly party among the Sadducees still applied the law literally at this time, most Pharisees insisted on the monetary equivalent’s being paid. These limitations prohibited exacting a great vengeance or having different penalties for different social classes. Jesus contradicted those who saw in this principle grounds for personal vengeance.

The context of verse 39 (do not resist the one who is evil), means that one should not seek justice for oneself. There is no suggestion that by inaction or silence we should encourage injustice to others. Nor is it implied that we should not lie our case in the Divine Judge’s hands.

In conjunction with this verses 43-44, sum up how we should respond to your enemies. Not only are we to show the love of Christ to our enemies, but we called to pray for them.
This very illustration is of the fathers love and we are to be abounding in love as Jesus teaches. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven (v45a NLT). We are called to perfection just as our Father is perfect (v48). This perfection does not speak of sinlessness, but that we are feeling towards the perfect in complete control by the Holy Spirit.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
Matthew 5:38-48 ESV

There is an old song says “They will know that we are Christians by our love…” Even non-believers can show love, but the love that we must show our enemies is the love in regard to favor, goodwill, and benevolence. In return, the effects of benevolence are expressed to wish well to or do good to. Ultimately, we are called to love others the way Christ loved us, in agape love. That doesn’t mean we would do to our enemies what would please them but we would do so but choosing to show them goodwill and benevolence, in the likeness of Christ (Father forgive them, for they know not what they do).

As you can see Matthew 5 is chocked full of a deeper hidden meaning of internal vs external righteousness by focusing on anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation and loving your enemies. These are extremely important because Jesus is setting a new standard, a standard of great expectations for what it means to be one of His disciples.
Likewise, Jesus continues His standards of great expectations in Chapters 6-7, the continuation of The Sermon on the Mount. Each chapter escalates on the other, setting the standard higher and higher.


One comment

  1. Fanning the flame · July 18, 2017

    Truly, it all comes down to love.Agape. When we are filled with Gods love it over flows into ever relationship we are in. Marriage, friendship, family, co-workers, fellow church members, even ppl on the the store. Like you said..”they will know we are Christians by our love”.(which is in scripture, I forget who said it..John I think, not sure) Love being an action. Love being demonstrated towards others.


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