Matthewby Mike Raiter
What do we do with the commands that Moses gave to Israel? There are all kinds of instructions-about not eating certain kinds of food, keeping the Sabbath, making sacrifices, etc. How do we interpret and apply them? Do we just ignore these parts of the timeless, inspired Word of God? Didn't Jesus say here that we cannot break even the least of these commands (v. 19)?
This is another important section of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus' words are foundational to understanding the Christian life, particularly how we understand and apply the Old Testament.
The answer is found in verse 17: ″I have not come to abolish [the law or the prophets] but to fulfil them″.
Matthew's gospel repeatedly shows us how Jesus' life fulfils the Old Testament. For example, Matthew tells us that Jesus' birth in Bethlehem fulfilled Micah 5:2. The law against murder is also fulfilled in Jesus, who reveals the true meaning and intent of this law: do not nurture anger against your brother (vv. 21-26). For adultery it is: do not harbour lust (vv. 27-28); and for divorce: God meant marriage to be permanent, do not undermine it (vv. 31-32).
Jesus dealt with the remaining examples (vv. 33-48) in the same way, revealing the true and intended meaning of God's commands to Israel.
In summary, true righteousness is a righteousness of both the heart and the life, the intention and the action, a person's character and the conduct that flows from it. Or, in Paul's words, ″Love is the fulfilment of the law″ (Romans 13:10). Those who love from the heart perform a righteousness greater than the Pharisees (v. 20). Their hypocritical righteousness was for display; the disciple's righteousness springs from the heart.
Jesus announces that such a disciple is ″perfect″ (v. 48). This does not mean sinless. The word means ″whole″, ″complete″, or mature. The ″perfect″ or complete Christian has a righteousness where the outward action mirrors the inward desire.
Perhaps you find this call to inner righteousness difficult. ″I really want to love this person, but I just find bitterness rising in my heart.″ Jesus understands this. That is why He began His sermon, ″Blessed are the poor in spirit″. The God who is rich in grace gives us all the resources we need to enable us to be what we are: His salt and light.
In light of what Jesus says, how should we be reading, teaching, and applying the law of Moses?
Think about Matthew 5:38-42. How would a Pharisee interpret the command, ″An eye for an eye. . .″? How should a disciple of Christ react to someone who has wronged him or her? How literally should we take Jesus' commands in verses 40 to 42? Is there an underlying principle Jesus wants us to understand?