The Law Plus Perfection

The Sum of Which is Christ

Matthew 5:21-48

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell. And 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 cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 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’; and anything beyond these is of evil. 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 him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to 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 in order that you may abe sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This is a copious amount of considerable context to cover and keep this missive within the 10 minute measurement. Therefore we will be hitting the highlights by using the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics: Context, aspirations of author to his audience, genre, expository exegesis of examples and then divide rightly the word of truth. The reason we must cover this considerable context, is that in order to see the picture Jesus paints of himself, we must see the last sentence of this segment, which begins with the conjunction, therefore. The following sentence summarizes the current content and is the conclusion of the curious content: Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Sometimes it is easier to start at the end, though I would never admit it. Also remember that this is not the end of this mountainous monologue, actually our​ Lord is only getting warmed up.

We will be looking at many literary devices​ in this mountainous monologue of Jesus. The first thing we should see is what we will cover second, which is also the conclusion. Form follows function and there is a foreign form of this composition. We have a hearing on what the ancients have said, followed by Jesus expanding on the ancient Law​ and then instructions to the people. For the most part, I will leave out the instructions, even though they are important to the text, other than a brief examination here. The reason is because while they are intregal to the context and follow the form, they fit within their own literary device–hyperbole, of sorts. The instructions are instructions but are not to be taken to literal extremes. Don’t pluck out your eyes! Back to the conclusion.

“Be perfect, your heavenly Father is perfect,” or some other such similar statements are made more throughout the Bible than statements such as; “born again,” “christian,” and “rapture” combined. “Be holy, for I am holy” is used over half a dozen times itself. Holy means, “set apart, big time” but perhaps maybe, somehow one could argue that holiness is possible. It’s not, otherwise Jesus died in vain. But perfect is absolutely out of the question. The reader, applying all that Jesus has said thus far, is condemned. Now, someone will likely think that I don’t believe we need to strive towards perfection. That is not what I wrote, that would be taking my written words out of context. So I will give you context that you can disagree with. Don’t strive towards perfection, give it all to Jesus. We can’t do it, he did it and will make us perfect. The argument has been made by many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, that theoretically, it is possible to be perfect. The Bible isn’t big on theory. Perfection is possible but not plausible, not in this lifetime, not according to this text. This text takes the Law, which no one can follow, and expands it to an even larger degree. The Law which no one can follow, is made a thousand times more difficult by the words of Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have perfection as our goal, we do, but the way to attain perfection comes through imperfections. Paul writes:

“But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.” If the law exposed the sin within Paul, how much more do the words of Jesus peel back the curtain to our hearts?

Compare and contrast the Law to the words of Jesus; “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Notice the juxtaposition between murder, which most people have not committed and saying, “you fool,” which all have done. Also notice the progressive process of punishment, whereas the offence is increased only slightly, but the judgement is increased exponentially. Are we to take this literally? Jesus uses a literary device, several, actually, that most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers fail to notice and navigate. For the first offense, one is guilty before the court, to the second offense, one is guilty before the supreme court. The third and final offense, one is cast into the fiery hell. Listen to the words; “whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Fiery hell is a cacophony, used to shock the reader to see the punishment for said offence.

Some other secondary literary devices we find within this mountainous monologue are allusion and analogy. When Jesus quotes very small portions of passages on the Law, the reader is intended to infer that the whole Law is being referenced–that is allusion. Analogy, on the other hand, is the comparison with which Jesus paints the picture of the Law condemning and that his words also condemn. Analogies are similar to similes. One can see, like Paul writes about the Law exposing covetousness, the one who is angry with his brother is guilty before the court like the one guilty of murder is guilty before the court. In turn, the ultimate literary device is the juxtaposition between murder and anger. This theme carries throughout the passage.

As we walk through the text, we continue to see the juxtaposition: “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” And, “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 cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” One more example; “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’; and anything beyond these is of evil.”

Yet the passage that leaps off the paper pages, (he wrote using personification and alliteration,) is the following: “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The juxtaposition between committing adultery and committing adultery of the mind typifies the juxtaposition between the Law and the words of Jesus. That is the Law as the type and the words of Jesus as the anti-type. The Law condemned, the words of Jesus condemn more. This doesn’t mean that we should not seek to love our enemies, be reconciled to our brothers or have hearts and minds that are pure. Certainly, that is “a” goal, but “the” goal is to walk in the Spirit, but Jesus has not led the reader there, yet. He has much teaching yet to come. As we walk through the mountainous monologue, look for the literary devices. Understand also that the Law and prophets and these words of Jesus point to Jesus himself. Jesus has great advice and instructions that should be followed but again, be careful to see the literay meanings.

The reader utilizing the CAGED method understands that the Bible cannot contradict itself. We, in the west, live in the best of times. We have a thousand Bible apps and study guides right at our fingertips. Nevertheless, this calls for great discernment as we see so much foolishness unfold on the inter-webbing that one may be inclined to unplug from the constant quarrels and confusion contained therein. (Unplug is anachronistic nowadays, is it not?) Using discernment and the CAGED method, one can dig deep in the Bible and mine for gold using our modern technology. Technology that many ascribe to the Antichrist. I am sure they said the same thing about the printing press and in fact, they did. Many people at the time assumed that it would be used to spread gossip, lies and smut. Remind you of anything? Nevertheless the reformers saw the great opportunity, we should do likewise. Yes, a filter is needed for that with which we read and post. The first thing, I say to myself, is KISS, keep it simple stupid. This also applies to this mountainous monologue.

We culturally misappropriate Jesus and his followers to our culture, climate and time. This is why our Vitamin A from the CAGED method is important. This helps us keep it simple because we better understand their time and tradition. We have a much clearer lens with which to see through our mind’s eye when we think of the author’s aspiration to his audience. Remember, the Law, though over-interpreted and under-followed, was still in effect. In fact, the court of which Jesus speaks, is literally the Sanhedrin, made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. We must understand that as Jesus said, the Law says this, but I say that, he is not merely expanding the scope of the Law but foreshadowing himself. I have lost count of the literary devices. The Bible is long-lasting, literature and not an instruction manual​ and needs to be read and considered in that way.

I am often asked, “are the ten commandments are still in effect?” The answer is, yes with a but; and no with a maybe. Yes, it is in effect for the city of slaves to sin but it is fulfilled in Jesus if they change their minds and hearts, believing in the Lord Jesus. It is not in effect for those who are citizens of the city of salvation because Paul writes, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head cover all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” The Law plus perfection was on every man, but to those whom Christ has approved, it is nailed to his cross. “Are we to remain in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be!” If the Law was in effect for for the believers, we’d cease to be believers.

As we continue through the mountainous monologue, we must continually call on the CAGED method. We also must see that Christ is painting a picture that only he can fulfill. Please don’t dream delusionally, one cannot obtain the perfection presented here on one’s own accord. It is, as Paul states, in accordance with grace. We can’t work for salvation but in the Spirit we will work. Do not let pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers tell you otherwise.

Is Jesus laying out​ on the table everything that is needed for one to have righteousness? Sort of, but it is not exhaustive, therefore we know his intent. He uses enough examples for the reader to say, “oh crap!” The aspiration of Jesus is absolutely clear, we can’t do it, Jesus can and did; and will slowly and methodically in us, through his Spirit and our humility.

…………………..To be continued………………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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