By J.R. Miller
Matthew 5:17-26; 38-48
We are not to think of Christianity as a new religion, distinct from that of the Old Testament. Rather, the one is a development from the other. Jesus was careful to say, "I came not to destroy--but to fulfill." Then He added, "Truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall pass away from the law, until all things be accomplished."
This is the law of all life. No particle of matter is ever destroyed. It form may be changed--but nothing of it passes out of existence. A log of wood may be burned in the fire--but it is not destroyed. Some of it lies in ashes and some of it escapes into the air in the form of smoke and steam and chemical elements--but not a jot or a tittle of the wood has been destroyed. All the wisdom of the ages still exists in the world. The songs men have sung, the words they have spoken, are living in the hearts and lives of our race. Our age is the inheritor of all past ages. Christianity holds all that was good and true and beautiful in Judaism. Jesus destroyed nothing of the religion of Moses. He was the fulfillment of all the prophecies. What went before Him was blossom; in Him the fruit appeared. The blossom was not destroyed--it only fell off because it had fulfilled its purpose.
The Old Testament is not antiquated and outgrown. It, too, is the Word of God. Wherever we find Divine truth--we are to accept it. Of course, there is a difference in the relative importance of Scripture words--there are least and there are greatest commandments--but he who breaks the least has grieved God and sinned against Him. He who obeys every Word of God, however small it may seem--has lifted himself up in the rank of God's children.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches the spirituality of all true obedience. The scribes and Pharisees were great sticklers for the letter of the law--but they went little farther. They missed its spirit. They interpreted "You shall not kill" literally as condemning murder--but they did not think of applying it to murderous thoughts. Jesus spoke startlingly, "But I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother--shall be in danger of the judgment." That is, anger is murder. So serious is this interpretation of the law, that Jesus says we cannot truly worship God while we have bitterness dwelling in our heart. Hatred must give place to love, when we stand before God. If we have wronged another, and the hour of prayer comes with the wronged yet unrighted--we must stop before the altar, interrupting our worship until we have gone to the one we have wronged and confessed and been forgiven. Perhaps we do not always think how serious an offense to God--an unforgiving spirit is. Quarreling is not only ethically unlovely; it is also wickedly and spiritually evil.
Acts are bad--but thoughts are taken note of, in the presence of God. There is sin in a lustful look--as well as in an unchaste act. Our thoughts have moral quality. Jesus enters into particulars and names certain sins which His disciples should carefully avoid. The Christian life should be without spot or blemish. One lesson He taught, was reverence in speech. "I say unto you, Swear not at all." He does not refer to oaths taken in the courts of law--but to profanity in speech. There is much irreverence in the conversation of many people in our day. Those who indulge in it often do it almost unconsciously. Some people--far too many--are recklessly profane. The profanity one hears in many places, even from the mouths of boys, is shocking. But there are any who think they never use profanity, whose speech is full of such forms of oaths as Jesus here refers to. We need to guard against every form of profanity in our speech, however veiled it may be.
"Hallowed by Your name," we say in the Lord's Prayer; we should be careful that God's name is always hallowed in our thought and in our conversation also, that it is never used lightly or irreverently.
Jesus made a plea also for simplicity of speech. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." There is a common tendency to exaggeration and over-emphasis in speech. Many people always try to say things in a strong and emphatic way. They are not content to say yes or no--and stop with that. They rarely tell anything precisely according to the bare facts--but color even the most common happenings. It would be a great deal better if we would learn to use simple words, without exaggeration of any kind. Someone says, "The more swearing, the more lying." It would be well if we would remember that in speaking we are always overheard by One to whom the least shade of dishonesty is repulsive, and who is grieved by any profanity.
It was the custom in the old days to return evil for evil, hurt for hurt, injury for injury. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," was the law. It is the common law yet with too many people. Our hearts urge us to seek revenge, and forgiving injuries is not natural with us. It is a law of the kingdom of heaven, which we are slow in learning. Even many who call themselves Christians, claim that they have a right to return evil for evil. A person who returns kindness for unkindness, who does an obliging act for one that was disobliging, is not commended as a manly man. The almost universal feeling, is that an offense must be retaliated. But that is not the way Jesus teaches us to do, when we have been wronged. "I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whoever smites you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." We are to endure wrong patiently. We are to forgive those who have injured us.
This is one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in becoming Christians, and in the cultivation of the Christian graces. It is hard when others treat us unjustly, to keep on loving them and to be ready any moment to do them good. Yet that is what Jesus did, and He wants us to be like Him. He suffered wrongfully, and went on loving. He taught that we should forgive those who have injured us. When one of His disciples asked Him how often they should forgive others, and suggested seven times as a fair number; Jesus told him that not seven times--but seventy times seven, they should forgive. That is, they should never cease to forgive.
The word of Jesus which tell us that when one compels us to go a mile with him to show him the way and give him help on his journey--we should go two miles, is suggestive of the spirit of all true Christian life. Some people do the best they possibly can do for others. They try to carry out the teaching of love in a very literal fashion. But they never go an inch farther than they are required to go; they never pay a penny more than the law demands. Jesus said, however, that we should cultivate this two-mile religion, doing more than we are expected to do, going father in helping others than we are required to go. Love should always abound in us. We are never to measure and calculate our kindness to others, giving just so much and no more. Generosity is to be the law of all our life. Anybody can go one mile with another--but we are to do more than others and go two miles.
The law of love to neighbors was taught in the Old Testament--but like other Divine teachings which were not easy, the people made their own glosses over the Divine Commandment, changing the sense to suit their own nature feelings. They interpreted this ancient law thus, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy." They defined neighbors to include only certain pleasant, congenial people, people who were kind to them, people whom they liked. Jesus taught a higher law. "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." According to His teaching, our neighbor is anyone who needs our help.
The parable of the Good Samaritan was Christ's own illustration and explanation of the meaning of the commandment to love our neighbor. It was a Jew who was hurt, and lay bleeding by the roadside. It was a hated and despised Samaritan who proved neighbor to him, stopping on his way, at much cost to his own interests, caring for the man, nursing him, and providing a place in which he might recover. No matter who it may be that needs any help ministry or comfort from us--we are not to ask about his nationality, whether he has been a good friend to us in the past, or not, or whether he belongs to our set--we are to help him, because he is 'our neighbor'.
The Divine example is referred to in enforcing the lesson. God is kind to the sinner as well as to the righteous man. "He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." When He finds anyone in distress, He does not ask who he is. He imparts blessing to all alike. Since God is patient with those who wrong Him and neglect Him, if we are God's children we must show the same spirit.
The Master thus sets the highest standard for His followers. It is not enough for them to be as good as other people are--they must be better. "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" was His question. Anybody can love those that love him. Anybody will greet those who greet him graciously. The Christian is to do more. "You therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." We should keep before us always the question, "What are you doing more than others?"
Christian boys among their friends must not be content to live as the world's boys do--they must do more than they do, they must be better than they are. The Christian carpenter must do his work better than the carpenter who does not know Christ and follow Him. The Christian girl must be more gentle, more patient, more thoughtful, and more unselfish, more kind, than worldly girls are, because she belongs to Christ. In all life's affairs, we must remember that having given ourselves to Christ, there rests upon us an obligation for a more beautiful life, for nobler service, for sweeter living, for larger usefulness, for Christlike helpfulness, because we represent our Master, and are called to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.