“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:16
Chapter 5 begins the first of five discourses that Jesus gives in the Gospel of Matthew. These sermons comprise the bulk of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel. The first discourse we will observe is called the Sermon on the Mount and took place on a mountain near Capernaum. This sermon is covered in chapters 5, 6, and 7. Jesus takes on the sitting posture of a Rabbi and begins to teach them what a disciple should be.
are commonly known as the “Beatitudes” which means that they are “blessed sayings”. This list of blessings gives us a framework for what a disciple looks like. Each attribute comes with a blessing. These blessings may not be fulfilled during our current lifetime, but they most certainly will be fulfilled in God’s future kingdom. These are not pick-and-choose attributes, but should be evident in the life of every disciple. They are not easy to follow, but they are still important. A good exercise is to read each beatitude and examine yourself to see if that attribute is evident in your life. If it is not, or if it is something you need to increase in, discover ways in which you can put it into practice.
Jesus switches from describing what disciples are to what disciples do. In , Jesus uses the image of salt to describe how disciples act. Salt is used to enhance our food. In Jesus’ time, most of the salt came from the Dead Sea and had impurities that caused it to lose some of its flavor. This describes how we must act: if we do not use the spiritual gifts that God has given us – if we neglect making God’s purposes our purposes – we become useless. Our purpose as disciples of Jesus Christ is to live in the way God has called us, but if we do not do this, we are not obedient to God and have lost our purpose.
Jesus also uses the metaphor of light to describe what disciples do (). One of the purposes of a disciple is to spread the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection and the salvation possible only through him. We reflect Jesus, who is the light, and share that light with others. It is futile for us to hide our light because light has a purpose – to illuminate the darkness. We reflect Jesus’ light through what we do and how we act. It shows others that there is something different about us.
In , Jesus says that he did not come to remove the Old Testament Law but to fulfill it. The religious leaders thought that Jesus was distorting the Law in what he taught during his ministry, but he was, in fact, showing the error of their outward-lived faith. Jesus holds his disciples, including us, to a higher standard than the Law. Instead of following empty, outward rituals, he examines the intentions of the heart. Those who do not follow Christ’s commands, as says, will not enter the kingdom of heaven. In each of the next sections of the chapter, Jesus quotes a command from the Old Testament Law and then gives further instructions. His purpose is to show that it is not just outward actions that fall under the judgment of God, but also our inward intentions.
In , Jesus teaches on the subject of anger. He equates murder with quarreling and dissent amongst people. Jesus even says that anger is deserving of the fire of hell. This consequence seems steep – after all, we have all had times when we have been angry with something or someone. There is a difference between sinful anger and righteous anger. When Jesus cleansed the temple in , he did so out of righteous anger. He was angry because the money-changers were using the temple for the wrong reasons. As says, we can be angry so long as it is not in a sinful manner. Anger becomes sin when our anger is specifically against a person when they have committed no moral wrong. The money-changers committed moral wrong by what they did, but little disputes between people can harbor sinful anger. Jesus says in that reconciliation is to be the action of a disciple instead of quarreling and disputing.
In , Jesus warns people about the dangers of lust. Lust is damaging to a disciple because it causes adulterous thoughts and intentions to invade the heart. Such thoughts can easily become temptations which lead to real-life actions and consequences. Jesus says that it would be better for us to gouge out an eye or cut off a hand than to lust. Obviously Jesus did not literally expect his disciples to dismember themselves every time they lust, but he shows the gravity of such thoughts. It is clear that lust is a perversion of the intimacy that God grants to a man and woman in marriage.
Just as lust can be damaging to that God-given intimacy, so too can that intimacy be damaged by divorce. Divorce is difficult for families and the church body. When sexual infidelity occurs, divorce is sometimes the consequence. In , Jesus explains why divorce is detrimental – because a husband and wife have entered together in a one flesh union by God, man should not seek to separate what God has ordained. To do so is to violate the union that God has brought together. The reason why divorce is permitted in the case of sexual immorality is because the adulterer has already violated the one flesh union. It is important to maintain fidelity between a husband and wife in a sacred one flesh union.
Jesus teaches that disciples should not make oaths with others (). Oaths can be harmful because, as fallible human beings, we can easily break our promises. What Jesus says in is that the integrity and reputation of a disciple should be so high that we should not need to make any sort of oath. Our integrity is our oath and we should be trusted to deliver on whatever we promise to others.
We often think that the “punishment should fit the crime” – we seek justice for wrongs done against us. Jesus, however, says that disciples are to have a higher standard (). Instead of seeking justice, we are to show the love of Christ by being merciful, gracious, and generous. This is completely counter-cultural. In a world of individualism, rights, and self-preservation, we seek to be treated fairly and honestly. Anything less of that is considered worthy of punishment or a lawsuit. Instead, we must continue to reflect the light of Christ by showing his love to others in every manner possible. If God held to the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” concept, we would all be in trouble. We have violated God’s commands and have been disobedient to him. We deserve his wrath and punishment, but he has extended grace and mercy to us. We should do the same to others ().
Finally, Jesus teaches on how we are to treat those who have wronged us or hate us (). We are to love them just as God loves us. In , Jesus says that God does not show partiality when sending sunshine or rain to people – he sends both to the just and unjust. So, too, we should not withhold our love – the love that we receive from God – from those who have mistreated us. If we only love those who love us, we are not expressing the same love that our master, Jesus Christ, shares with the whole world. Our ultimate standard that we are held to is the perfection of the Father. We must strive to be perfect as he is perfect.
Jesus is painting a picture of what a disciple looks like. We may not all look exactly like this…yet. We cannot follow all these commands on our own strength, but we must rely on Christ to help us and grow us into his disciples.