Jesus’ Six Examples of Surpassing Righteousness in Matthew 5

In my message at Eastbrook this past weekend, “Real Righteousness,” I utilized a chart that helped show how Jesus’ teaching on “righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (Matthew 5:20) is worked out in six examples. I’m including that chart here for those who asked to see it.

Again, Jesus is not replacing the Law but offering a teaching that fulfills the Law and surpasses the deficient righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (see “Contrasting Forms of Righteousness in Matthew 5: how Jesus’ way is different from that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law”). This is a righteousness that comes from inner transformation by God that leads to outer transformation of life with others. It is grace from start to finish, but we must let grace have its way in us. Understanding this righteousness is the key to what Jesus outlines in the rest of the chapter.

Theme & text“You have heard it was said…”“But I say to you…”
Murder & Anger
(5:21-26)
Don’t murderDon’t be angry toward others; instead seek reconciliation
Adultery & Lust
(5:27-30)
Don’t have sexual intercourse outside of marriageDon’t look at others with lust in your heart
Divorce
(5:31-32)
If divorcing, give the necessary certificateDon’t divorce in this way
Oaths & Vows
(5:33-37)
Don’t break oaths or vows used to convince othersDon’t use oaths or vows at all; just speak the truth about things
Retaliation
(5:38-42)
Repay injuries on par with what has been inflicted (lex talionis)Instead of harm, help the one who inflicts harm on you
Love for Enemies (5:43-48)Love neighbors and hate enemiesLove and pray for your enemies

Christ Contains the Law: insights from an early church leader on Matthew 5

While studying for my message at Eastbrook from this past weekend, “Real Righteousness,” I came across these words by an anonymous church father from homily 11 of an incomplete work on Matthew. I found these insights helpful in understanding how Christ does not abolish the Law but fulfills it. The author is commenting on the first of six examples by Jesus of true righteousness, here addressing anger and murder: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

This fulfilling of the law, depending on the circumstances, fell naturally into place. As Christ did and taught these things, he fulfilled the law–he did not do away with it. For Christ’ commandment is not contrary to the law but broader than the law. Christ’ commandment contains the law, but the law does not contain Christ’s commandment. Therefore whoever fulfills the commandments of Christ implicitly fulfills the commandments of hte law. For one who does not get angry is much less capable of killing. But on who fulfills what the law commands does not completely fulfill what Christ commands. Often a person will not kill because of the fear of reprisal, but he will get angry. Do you see then that the fulfilled law has the benefit of not being abolished? Consequently, without these commandments of Christ the commandments of the law cannot stand. For if the freedom to get angry is allowed, there are grounds for committing murder. For murder is generated by anger. Take away anger, and there will be no murder. Therefore whoever gets angry without cause commits murder with respect to the will, even if he does not actually do so out of fear of reprisal. The remorse may not be the same as if he had committed the deed, but such a sin matches the one who gets angry. Thus John in his canonical epistle says, ‘Everyone who hates his brother without cause is a murderer’ (1 John 3:15).

Consider the wisdom of Christ. Wanting to show that he is the God who once spoke in the law and who now commands by grace, he placed that commandment before all others in the law. And now he placed it at the beginning of his commandments. It was first written in the law: ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13). He immediately begins with murder, so that through a harmony between commandments he is found to be the author of the law and of grace. ‘Everyone who is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to judgment’ (Matthew 5:22). Therefore whoever gets angry with cause will not be liable. For if there is not anger, teaching will be of no use, nor will judgments be necessary, nor will criminal actions have to be held in restraint. Therefore just anger is the mother of discipline. Those who get angry with cause not only do not sin, but, unless they get angry, they do sin. Moreover, irrational patience sows the seeds of vice, nurtures negligence and encourages not only the wicked but also the good to do evil. Although a wicked person may be rebuked, he is not made to change his way; but a good person, unless he is rebuked, will come to ruin because evil rather than good prevails in his body. Anger with cause is not anger but judgment.”

[Anonymous, Incomplete work on Matthew, Homily 11, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 101-102.]

Contrasting Forms of Righteousness in Matthew 5: how Jesus’ way is different from that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law

This past weekend in my message, “Real Righteousness,” I focused on Jesus’ striking statement in Matthew 5:20:

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

While this statement has often plagued interpreters, I believe Jesus is redefining righteousness for his hearers by offering a stark contrast between His agenda and what people often viewed as righteousness. This new righteousness is different than the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law was old and deficient. Jesus is bringing a new and surpassing righteousness that is real on the inside and outside.

In his very insightful book, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7, Charles H. Talbert summarizes the contrast between the old and the new righteousness. I have rephrased and summarized here his insights on pages 64-65. The righteousness of the Pharisees and the scribes looked like this:[1]

  • they rely on birth instead of observance of God’s will (John 8:39)
  • they teach but do not practice what they teach (Matthew 23:3)
  • they focus on minor things and neglect major things (23:23-24)
  • they do what they do for human approval (23:5, 27-28)
  • they seek to evade the intent of the Law (23:16-22; 15:1-9)
  • they persecute God’s messengers (23:29-36; 12:14), failing to recognize God’s Spirit or to understand the meaning of Jesus’ ministry

The new, surpassing righteousness of Jesus embodied and taught His disciples was different. It looked like this:

  • instead of formal obedience, it aims for radical obedience (Matthew 5:21-48)
  • this righteousness does not seek human approval, but God’s approval (6:1-18)
  • this righteousness is neither greedy nor anxious but trusts in God’s providential goodness (6:19-34)
  • this righteousness is a lifestyle that walks the talk and is critical, not of others, but of the self as a means toward self-awareness and growth with God (7:1-12)

As Talbert helpful summarizes:

“For Matthew, living with a surpassing righteousness means living faithfully within a covenant relationship that encompasses both vertical and horizontal dimensions, and is only possible if such a life is divinely enabled. Left to our own resources, we cannot be faithful. So living justly is as much a  matter of receiving as it is of giving.”


[1] Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7 (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004), 64-65.

Real Righteousness: the old and the new

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our series “Becoming Real” on the Sermon on the Mount by looking at a very long portion of Scripture in Matthew 5:17-48. This long passage of teaching by Jesus looks at what it means to truly be righteous before God and in relation to others. Jesus has not come to abolish the Jewish Law but to fulfill it. He offers examples of what that looks like that are very important for us to consider.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“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.”  (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus’ Arrival and the Time of Fulfillment (5:17-19)

  • Jesus and fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets
  • The continuing value of the Law and the Prophets
  • Real righteousness in the time of fulfillment

Different Pathways of Righteousness (5:20)

  • What is righteousness?
  • Moving from exterior to interior (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
  • A contrast between:
    • The old, deficient righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law
    • The new, surpassing righteousness of Jesus and His disciples

Six Examples of Real Righteousness (5:21-47)

Theme & text“You have heard it was said…”“But I say to you…”
Murder & Anger
(5:21-26)
Don’t murderDon’t be angry toward others; instead seek reconciliation
Adultery & Lust
(5:27-30)
Don’t have sexual intercourse outside of marriageDon’t look at others with lust in your heart
Divorce
(5:31-32)
If divorcing, give the necessary certificateDon’t divorce in this way
Oaths & Vows
(5:33-37)
Don’t break oaths or vows used to convince othersDon’t use oaths or vows at all; just speak the truth about things
Retaliation
(5:38-42)
Repay injuries on par with what has been inflictedInstead of harm, help the one who inflicts harm on you
Love for Enemies (5:43-48)Love neighbors and hate enemiesLove and pray for your enemies

Living as Disciples of Jesus with Real Righteousness (5:48)

  • Disciples’ vision: the incarnate righteousness in Jesus the Messiah
  • Disciples’ power: the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit
  • Disciples’ goal: the completeness (perfection) of God’s character

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into this section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in one or more of the following ways:

  • Consider memorizing Matthew 5:17, 20, or 48 this week.
  • Take some time to prayerfully consider one or more of Jesus’ examples of surpassing righteousness. Let God search your heart and life about this. Reach out to a friend to discuss what you’re learning. Perhaps you could pray for one another about this.
  • Consider reading Dallas Willard’s article, “How Does a Disciple Live?” or his outstanding book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God

7 Ways to Lose Our Saltiness as Disciples

This past weekend I continued our series on the Sermon on the Mount by exploring our “Real Identity” as the salt of the earth and the light of the world from Matthew 5:13-16. In verse 13, Jesus says, “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” In our small group on Sunday afternoon, we discussed what it might mean to lose our saltiness. I’ve continued to think about this over the past few days and decided to compile a list of seven ways we can lose our saltiness as disciples. So, here we go.

Seven ways we can lose our saltiness as disciples:

  1. Stop reading Scripture. Scripture is a vital guide for the Christian life. It is “a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). When we stop reading Scripture, we can easily lose our way, thus faltering in the disciple-life. Without Scripture’s guidance we lose the salty savor of God’s life in and with us.
  2. Stop praying. If Scripture is the guide for our life as disciples, prayer is the lifeblood of our disciple-life. Prayer is our communication with God, but it is also the way in which we abide in Christ. The same way that branches abide in the vine, our discipleship is rooted in the life of God through prayer (John 15:1-17). If we want our lives saturated with the flavor and preservative of God’s life in us, then we must be people of prayer.
  3. Live so close to the world that no one can tell you’re a disciple. We sometimes talk of disciples as in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-15). While we understand that Paul wanted to become all things to all people so that he might bring people to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22), this did not mean he hid his distinctiveness as a Christ follower. Salt becomes less salty by being diluted. So, too, if no one can tell we’re disciples of Christ, then we may be on the pathway of losing our saltiness.
  4. Lack integrity and Christlike character. Disciples of Jesus are called to look like Jesus. We are to resist sin and exhibit the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:13-26). Peter said that the godly behavior and character of disciples will lead people to an encounter with God (1 Peter 2:11-12). If our daily lives does not point to Christ, then we may lack saltiness.
  5. Never talk about Jesus. Jesus called His disciples to be witnesses to Him (Acts 1:8). While we want our lives to be a witness to Christ, we also want to give witness to Him with our mouths. If we never say a word about Jesus to anyone else, then we lack what Paul describes as grace-seasoned speech: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
  6. Think only about your own needs. We lose our saltiness when we stop thinking of others’ needs and only think of our own needs. When Jesus was asked how He would summarizeGod’s law, He said it was loving God with all of who we are and loving our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:36-40). Salty disciples are aware of others’ needs, both material and spiritual, and reach out to care for those who are in need, both within the church community and beyond.
  7. Let other interests become more important than God and His kingdom. Just as love for neighbor is part of the summary of God’s law, so, too, is love for God for all of who we are—”all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). If people know more about the hobbies, sports teams, foods, political allegiances, causes, or even family we love, but never know our love for God, then there may be a lack of salt evident in our lives. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).