Published August 23, 2012
Matthew 5:17- 48
Bible Studies for Life, Sept. 9
God’s expectations for His children are high. He expects true righteousness of us. The words of verse 48: “Be perfect …” are intimidating to many. In many places in Scripture, “perfect” means “complete” or “mature.” Here, however, the meaning is clearly a personal righteousness because God is the standard.
Righteousness before God is impossible by ourselves. We must be credited with the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him. However with His power in us we can increasingly live a righteous life.
The group of people known as the Pharisees (“those separated”) believed the way to righteousness was rigid obedience to the Old Testament law and all the rules they had added to it. But their requirements had put people in bondage instead.
The Pharisees were legalists. That is, they believed they could earn and maintain right standing with God by a rigorous obedience to their rules. There are still legalists among us. They have reduced the Christian faith to a code of conduct.
Obedience to God’s standards is important, though not the way to righteousness. True righteousness does not come merely through adherence to a set of regulations. It comes through the power of Christ in our hearts who gives us both the will and the power to obey God (see Phil. 2:13).
We can also fall into the trap of measuring our personal righteousness by comparison with others, as did the Pharisees. Scripture forbids that kind of comparison (2 Cor. 10:12). The standard is Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:13).
Neither should we measure our conduct by the standards of modern culture or personal preferences. Rather we must keep our eyes on the Son of God as revealed in the Word of God. In order to meet this high expectation, we must …
Affirm Scripture’s authority - Matthew 5:17-19
Jesus said that achieving righteousness meant going beyond the letter of God’s Law. Lest anyone think that meant He was denying Scripture, Jesus affirmed His belief in the perfection and the permanence of Scripture. We must hold to the same high view of the perfection of God’s Word, because it came from God and because it has the power to build righteousness in us (1 Pt. 1:22).
Jesus said He came to “fulfill the Law.” There are several possible interpretations of that.
He fulfilled it by His teachings. The law gave a sketch of God’s plan. Jesus’ teaching filled it in. He fulfilled it in fully meeting its demands. He fulfilled it by being its fulfillment.
Both Old and New Testaments are inspired by God. Though we are not saved by keeping Old Testament laws, they have truth for us. The Old Testament still reveals the character of God to us, and thus makes us aware of our sin and our need of faith in Christ.
Rise above mediocrity - Matthew 5:20, 48
It seems ironic that the determined righteousness of the legalists would be described as mediocre, but that was true in the sense that it was measured by the full character of God.
Right standing with God is a gift; it is not based on our works. We become enslaved if we try to please God with our own efforts. Real freedom is having such a close walk with Christ that His will becomes our will.
The “Kingdom of God” means being in the place of God’s blessing because we are under His rule. To be part of God’s kingdom requires repentance and faith in Christ. Legalism may make us appear outwardly good, but that is not good enough. We need the inward goodness only Christ gives.
Go beyond superficiality - Matthew 5: 21-28, 31-39, 43-44
Jesus gave some specific examples of going beyond mere adherence to the letter of the law and being transformed inwardly. Since sin has penetrated to the core of our being, we must deal with it thoroughly through Christ’s power
► We are to deal with anger (v. 21-22).
Anger is not the same as murder, but anger can lead to murder. Anger leads us to denigrate the value of others. We must settle angry relationships by confession to God and others lest it destroy us.
► We are to deal with lust (v. 27-30).
Virtually all sexual sin begins with lust. Lust is uncontrolled sexual desire, designed to mentally use someone for our gratification (see James 1:13-15). Keeping a pure thought life is essential to being truly righteous. Literally “plucking out our eyes” would not cure the problem since sin has corrupted the heart. Changing the heart by God’s Word and God’s Spirit is the answer.
► We are to honor marriage (v. 31-32).
While Jesus does give an instance where divorce may be permissible, it is not required. Homes that are intact are still God’s best will.
► We are to keep our word (v. 33-34).
Some people are so intent on covering lies they go to great lengths to make people believe they are telling the truth. We are to mean exactly what we say because our hearts are pure.
► We are not to seek revenge (v. 38-39).
While the law allowed retaliation, Jesus encouraged a new attitude. It required Christ’s love and strength to take personal insult and hurt without retaliation. We are to let outward hurt and loving responses build our character.
► We are to love and pray for our enemies (v. 33-34).
This kind of love is not necessarily feelings but loving actions. There is no merit in loving those who love us. The proof that we belong to Christ is that we seek to treat all people lovingly as He does. These are high expectations, but they prove we desire full righteousness.
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