God's standards, His ways are higher
Matthew 5:27-48 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In today’s text Jesus sets forth God’s standards for our lives and conduct. It is a natural tendency for us to sort of rank sins from least to worst according to our own standards. The problem with that is we tend to skew the list in our favor. We tend to view the things we ourselves struggle with or have done in the past as more easily overlooked or forgiven than some of the greater sins of others. Jesus turns that type of thinking upside down, equating what might seem lesser sins to those people would view as greater. Take for example what Jesus says about divorce: “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” I myself have been divorced and remarried. My wife and I will celebrate 30 years of marriage later this year. We thank God continually for all that He has done for us. We minster together for the Lord. Still, we do not take lightly the seriousness of divorce. We acknowledge that God hates divorce and does see it as sin. We have had people challenge our qualification to minister, even our marriage and our salvation, based on their views, their doctrine, the standards they hold regarding the sin of divorce. I respect anyone’s right to their own view and their doctrine. If their doctrine disqualifies me from ministry, I will go somewhere else. I take the position with them that I will gladly speak freely and share scripture with them, but as for my salvation, my marriage and my eligibility to share the gospel, they will have to take that up with my Father and with Jesus Himself, who died on the cross for the forgiveness and redemption of my sins, the sins I acknowledge and confess.
In Matthew 7:1-3 Jesus says: “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” We should keep this in mind when we are tempted to judge someone else’s sin as greater and perhaps less forgivable than our own. Again to use the example of divorce and adultery, Jesus says: “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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Those who judge the adultery of one who is divorced will be judged by their own standard. The same is true in our relationships with others as Jesus shares in today’s text. God’s standards are beyond human standards. God clarifies for us through Isaiah, in Isaiah 55:8-9 saying: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” In Romans 3:23, Paul reminds us: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
This does not mean though that we should ignore, accept, embrace, tolerate or condone sin, either in our own lives or the lives of others. Jesus ends today’s text with a final statement about the standard of God we should attain to. He says: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” None of us can perfectly attain God’s standards through our own righteousness. Romans 6:23 is completed by verse 24: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. If we look at the lineage of Jesus listed in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3, we will find all sorts of sin present in His line. It includes murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, there are those born of incest, liars, cheaters; almost every sin present in the line of Christ. Jesus came not to continue those sins, but rather to redeem them. Through Christ, the one who is perfect, and His sacrifice on the cross, every sin can be forgiven. Every sinner can be redeemed. Through Christ and the cross, we can be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. The only sin which cannot be redeemed by the blood of Christ and the power of the cross, is the sin we choose to hold onto and not confess as sin. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for Your love and grace. Thank You for the cross which redeems us from sin. Because You, Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, took my place, I can be perfected in You. Amen