Big Idea: Obey God in your relationships, not just by doing the right thing but by loving and obeying from the heart.
According to the Keirsey Temperament grid, there are four basic temperament types. And the thing that separates one set of two from the other set of two is simple:
- Some people prefer the abstract. They would rather talk about ideas. That’s me, and maybe some of you as well.
- Some people prefer the concrete. They would rather talk about reality. I’m sure there are a lot of you here today who fit in that category.
One of the takeaways from this insight is that, in order to communicate well, we need both kinds of communication. We need to communicate the idea to reach the abstract people. But then we also need to talk about what that idea looks like in reality for the concrete people.
We’re in the middle of a series based on Jesus’ most famous sermon. I’ve been arguing that the main theme of this sermon is human flourishing. Jesus is showing us what it looks like to really live well as humans. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at one of the major themes that’s going to run through a good chunk of Jesus’ sermon: Don’t toss the law out. Take the law in. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-20:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
Jesus tells us that he has an extremely high view of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. He fundamentally disagrees with the idea that the first part of our Bible is outdated or outmoded. Jesus endorses all of it. We’re called to property understand, teach and obey the commandments that God gave us in the Hebrew Scriptures.
That’s the abstract idea. If you were here a couple of weeks ago, we looked at this idea and some of what it means for us today. But you may have been frustrated. You get the idea, but what does it look like in real life?
Well, you’re in luck. Jesus doesn’t leave us to try to figure this out. Jesus gives six real-life examples of what it looks like in two sets of three. And so we’re going to look at three examples today, and another three in a couple of weeks.
What does real obedience look like? What does it look like to properly understand, teach, and obey the commandments that God has given us in the Hebrew Scriptures? Here’s what it looks like when it comes to three practical issues in our relationships: anger, lust, and divorce.
Example One: Anger
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)
Here’s the three-part pattern that Jesus repeats in each of the six examples.
First, he says, “You have heard…” And then he describes a common understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures at the time. Some of the common understandings are accurate; some of them aren’t. This underlines an important lesson: we must begin by making sure that we understand what the Hebrew Scriptures say. If we don’t understand them properly, we’re done before we even start.
Second, Jesus says, “But I say to you…” Here, Jesus gives the true intent of the law. If we’re not careful, we will think that Jesus is contradicting what the Hebrew Scriptures say. He isn’t. In this whole passage, Jesus is unpacking the idea that he gave us back in verses 17 to 20. He’s not abolishing or changing even the slightest detail of the law; he’s fulfilling the law. So what does Jesus mean when he says, “But I say to you…”? It means that he’s interpreting the law. Jesus claims to have authority to property interpret what the law actually means. He gives the true intent.
Jesus is not opposed to the law; he came to fulfill it. In these verses, he doesn’t contradict the law. He shows what it looks like when it’s fully lived out. He gives us the proper intent.
Finally, he offers a practical example of what it looks like when it’s lived out. This is where the rubber hits the road. In the case of anger, here’s how the this looks:
- What they’ve heard: Do not murder. That’s pretty good, actually.
- The true intent: Jesus agrees with their understanding. We shouldn’t murder. But he goes deeper. The real issue with murder is that the act of murder comes from a homicidal heart. Being angry and insulting someone reveals that we have the same problem in our hearts that a murderer does.
- What it looks like in real life: Jesus gives three examples. When we’re angry with someone else, we’re liable to judgment. When we call someone a moron, we could find ourselves in court. When we call someone a fool, we’re in danger of hell.
In short, God cares about more than the physical act of murder. God cares about our hearts. As R.T. France says, “ordinary insults may betray an attitude of contempt which God takes extremely seriously.” Murders are simply resentments that have germinated. If you are holding on to resentment, you’ve planted the seed of murder in your heart.
What’s Jesus doing here? Is Jesus going hardcore? Not at all. Elsewhere, Jesus explained that the law is summarized in two commands: to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). That’s why the law exists. It’s a field manual on how to do this. The prophets in Israel continually called for Israel to follow God, not just externally, but from the heart. God doesn’t want us to just refrain from killing people while wishing they were dead in our hearts. He wants our inside and outside to match. God requires more than our obedience. God wants us to love him and others from the heart.
As we’re going to see all throughout this sermon, conflict is a serious matter. It leads to the destruction of relationships and families. It puts our souls at risk. Jesus is going to talk repeatedly about the danger.
I’ve seen this over and over. I’ve been a pastor for a long time now. When I’ve seen someone nurse anger, it’s led to decades of resentment. People who once seemed beautiful become ugly. I’ve seen marriages torn apart and children hurt. The fallout from anger is unpredictable. All kinds of people suffer from it, people who have nothing to do with the conflict itself.
That’s why Jesus urges reconciliation. If you have an unreconciled relationship, Jesus says to do everything in your power to reconcile that relationship. Of course, it takes two people, and the other person may not be willing to reconcile, but you do everything you can. Treat it as a matter of extreme urgency. There’s so much at stake.
Are you nursing a grudge against anyone else? I’ve been there! There are times when we simply don’t want to forgive someone who’s wronged us. And forgiveness is such hard work. We have to do it over and over again. But Jesus says we must. We must do the hard work of releasing resentment and pursuing reconciliation. Our souls are at stake.
Friends, this also has implications for how we operate as a church. You know the problem with church? People. I’ve never been in a church where there aren’t resentments and unresolved issues that brew. You know what kills most churches? Sometimes it’s a theological drift or a moral issue. Sometimes it’s a lack of missional focus on the community. Most of the time, though, it’s a lack of love. It’s letting things fester. It’s not doing the hard work of loving and honoring each other.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Don’t just settle for not murdering. God requires more than our obedience. God wants us to love him and others from the heart. So love from the heart. Take action today if you need to reconcile with somebody.
Example Two: Lust
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)
It’s hard to see the relevance of this topic! Here’s the three-part pattern:
- What they’ve heard: Do not commit adultery. Again, that’s pretty good. They have an accurate understanding of the law.
- The true intent: Jesus agrees with their understanding. We shouldn’t commit adultery. But he goes deeper. The real issue with adultery is that the act of adultery comes from an adulterous heart. Looking at someone lustfully puts us on the path to adultery. Although Jesus gives the example of a man looking at a woman, it applies to both genders.
- What it looks like in real life: Jesus says to take radical action. Eliminate what tempts you to gaze inappropriately. Forcibly deal with this sin, because it will lead you to final judgment if you don’t.
This is probably the easiest to understand, so I want to get practical with the application. Jesus doesn’t only desire sexual purity in our actions; he desires sexual purity in our hearts and minds as well.
Men and women are different, but this is an issue for both genders, although in different ways. What this means, of course, is simple but takes courage to obey.
Take radical action in what you watch and imagine. Don’t watch Game of Thrones or read steamy novels and then wonder why you’re struggling with sexual temptation. Take radical action and eliminate this temptation.
Take radical action in your relationships. As you date, you’re entering a world in which Jesus’ words make no sense to almost anyone you meet. Commit to finding someone who not only loves these words of Jesus, but loves Jesus too. Take radical action in your dating relationships to cross the lines that Jesus says not to cross. You’ll be going against everything that culture tells you — and it’s worth it, for your own sake and for eternity.
Take radical action in how you look at others. A man would often “check out” women while out. One day he sat in a coffee shop, and instead of looking at women, he looked at how the other men looked at women, and he was disgusted. Let’s commit to honoring others in the way we look at them. 1 Timothy 5:2 tells us to see “younger women as sisters, in all purity.”
God requires more than our obedience. God wants us to love him and others from the heart.
Example Three: Divorce
It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
Final example. This one is more complicated, and I wish we had more time to deal with it.
- What they’ve heard: If you divorce, give your wife a certificate of divorce. Okay, this is pretty bad. This time they have ignored the Scriptural teaching on divorce in Deuteronomy 24 and focused on the loophole as if it’s the main point. They twisted Scripture to be as permissive as they wanted.
- The true intent: God designed for marriage to be a lifelong commitment. Jesus emphasizes that marriage is a lifelong union and must not be broken, except in rare extenuating circumstances — Jesus gives us one here, and Paul gives us at another in 1 Corinthians.
- What it looks like in real life: Don’t divorce, except for when it’s biblically allowed. And if you do divorce for an unbiblical reason, don’t remarry.
This one raises all kinds of questions and requires some care in how we apply it. I come from a family in which my parents were divorced, and I’ve dealt with divorce over my decades of ministry. We need to return to this again in another sermon and explore it more fully. If you have been divorced and you’re struggling as you hear this, then please understand that divorce is not the unforgivable sin, and that we’d have to talk to explore what this means for you.
But without getting into individual situations, what Jesus is saying is this: take marriage seriously. Marriage is sacred. There are a number of implications I’d want to tease from this passage, but Jesus’ point is clear: take marriage seriously, and don’t buy into the world’s view of disposable relationships.
What it comes down to in all three cases is this: God requires more than our obedience. God wants us to love him and others from the heart. And it gets very practical. How do we obey God in our relationships? Not just by doing the right things, but by obeying and loving from the heart.
At the end of a sermon like this, I realize how far I fall short of what Jesus has said. I don’t know about you, but I have not done a good job of keeping Jesus’ commands in these three areas. My relationships have not been characterized by what Jesus describes.
So I’m doing two things. I’m confessing sin in a few minutes, and you’ll have the opportunity to do so too. Confess to God where you’ve fallen short, and ask for more grace.
And then join me in desiring to grow, not on our own power but with the help of the Spirit. Friends, we can change. God will transform us from the inside out. Our hope is a Savior who gave his life for us to make us new people so that we could be not just forgiven but transformed. Some to that Savior today, and ask the Spirit to change you.