Anger, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths

By Mary Jane Chaignot


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Matthew 5:21-26 (Anger)

  • Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘you shall not kill,’ but I say anyone who gets angry with his brother is subject to judgement.”
  • The King James Version adds, “everyone who is angry without a cause,” which suggests anger with a cause is all right.
  • The best manuscripts do not have that addition.
  • Greek has several words for “angry.” This one means “a temporary madness.”
  • It is written as a present tense participle, meaning someone who is being angry. It’s the long-lived kind.
  • Effort is required to stay angry in this manner. It’s like resentment.
  • Jesus is saying that doing this is accountable to God; it’s public to God.
  • This first level of anger is one of resentment—a grudge.
  • That can escalate into the second level—name calling, words of irritation or exasperation—like “you idiot.”
  • Finally, the third level of anger explodes into telling someone off. It’s a violent attack, a curse (NLT), or calling someone worthless (CEV). “You fool” (KJV) was one of the worst things you could utter because you were saying that the person wasn’t even worthy of having honor, which was hugely important.
  • These three levels each merit a response; and the response, just like the anger, escalates.
  • First is judgment; then there is the council; and lastly, there is hell.
  • Whoever tells someone off will have to face the fire of hell.
  • But what if this happens to us? Sometimes, we do get angry.
  • Jesus gives us a way to get right again.
  • First of all, if we are on our way to worship God and there remember that our brother has something against us, we are to leave the altar at once. First, we are to go to and be reconciled to our brother.
  • All of these verbs are in the aorist—a form of the verb meaning once. Here it signifies a new pattern of behavior, a new beginning.
  • Jesus is saying that we are to serve God by serving others.
  • Our human relationships affect our relationship with God. And then, we are to go back and worship; here, worship is in the indicative, implying continuous action.
  • If we choose not to take this route and don’t resolve the issue with our brother, Jesus offers another example.
  • “Settle matters quickly with your adversary.”
  • This command also comes with a warning that if we don’t, the judge may hand us over to the officer to be thrown into prison.
  • This can be seen from two levels. It can be at the very human, physical level where we are hauled into court before a judge. But this could also be thought of in a more eternal, spiritual way. This judge is outside the human legal system.
  • This warning is severe and ends on an ominous note. The longer we choose to stay angry and not try to resolve it, the worse everything gets.

Matthew 5:27-30 (Adultery)

  • The next command has to do with adultery and lusting.
  • Jesus states, “Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery.”
  • Scholars disagree whether woman or wife is a more accurate translation.
  • What does it mean to look upon someone? “Look,” like the anger of our previous discussion, is written as a present participle.
  • It doesn’t mean glance; it doesn’t mean notice. It means stare—a prolonged, sustained look.
  • Moreover, it is looking to lust after her. “Lust” is written as an infinitive with a particular preposition. It has to mean purpose. The person is looking at someone in order to lust.
  • This is not a casual admiration of someone walking down the street. It is staring with the intent to possess.
  • It seeks mastery over another person, puts them down, uses them for one’s own pleasure. It speaks to intentional looking with the aim of breaking another’s marriage.
  • This is an important point in that this command does not seek to curtail the natural interest in members of the opposite sex, nor does it speak to the intimacy naturally expressed within a marriage.
  • It does, however, recognize that marriages face many dangers, and sexual laxity figures prominently in many of them.
  • This command is very hard to keep. It humbles us (as do the other commands). So in a very real sense, this command is pointing us right back to those first beatitudes, which pick us up and move us out.
  • This is describing a process, and hopefully along the way there will be progression. Because of the beatitudes, we have the ability to keep this command.
  • We can see the enslaving power of pleasure as internal bondage. And we can be liberated from that.
  • But what if it happens to us? What if we do find ourselves in the situation of looking upon someone to lust after them?
  • Just as Jesus gave some solutions for dealing with resentment, that anger we were nursing, he also gives some solutions for this difficulty.
  • However, they are pretty strict. Jesus says, “Pluck out that eye, cut off that hand.”
  • If something is causing difficulty, get rid of it. He does not suggest a band aid approach; rather, he commands amputation.
  • There is a great line, “It is better to go limping into heaven, than leaping into hell.”
  • These are not gradual, gentle measures; they are decisive, perhaps even brutal.
  • The metaphors of hand and eye suggest that the cure is not easy.
  • The metaphors are a very forceful image of the drastic measures which we need to employ.

Matthew 5:31-32 (Divorce)

  • The next command involves divorce.
  • Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
  • For the Jewish people there was such a thing as the Mosaic bill of divorce (See Deut. 24:1-4). It requires that the man who wants the divorce has to give his wife a document that allows her to remarry.
  • Its purpose is to prevent men from just walking away from their wives, who are then damaged goods, who have no place in society, no stability, no security, no anything.
  • This document allows the wife to remarry, to get into a new family, to have a place. It also prevents the first husband from exerting any further claims upon her, from having any influence upon that second marriage.
  • Oftentimes, it was abused.
  • During the time of Jesus, there were basically two schools of thought on the subject of divorce. Their differences hinged upon the phrase, “some indecency” found in Deut. 24.
  • The school of Hillel focused on the word “some,” claiming that any reason would suffice.
  • The school of Shammai, however, was much more conservative and focused on the word “indecency.” The only acceptable reason for divorce is sexual infidelity.
  • Jesus follows the more conservative position.
  • Moreover, in antiquity, the husband usually commits adultery against another husband. A woman commits adultery against her husband. Men didn’t commit adultery against women.
  • Jesus’ words reverse that societal standard by declaring that the husband is committing adultery against her, against the woman. It declares that she is a person of full dignity, that she is not property, something to be disposed of at will. Hence, she can be the victim of adultery.
  • Jesus does make an exception here for sexual infidelity. In a sense, the divorce has already happened; the marriage has already been destroyed. The couple is now just making it legal.
  • So what happens when people divorce and want to remarry? There is nothing like a failed marriage to drive us right over to those first two “need” beatitudes.
  • When we stand before God poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt, and in mourning, we have to remember the promises.
  • The poor in spirit inherit the earth; the mourners get comforted.
  • True repentance and amendment of life finds forgiveness and blessings.
  • That forgiveness has to be complete—with deep, deep anguish and repentance for sins.
  • But with such an attitude, there is forgiveness of sins and acceptance, and an opportunity of a good life, and even a new marriage.
  • Such a concession made to human weakness, however, does not represent the original or unconditional divine intent.

Matthew 5:33-37 (Oaths)

  • The next command talks about oaths.
  • Jesus says, “It has been said, ‘Don't break your oaths,’ but I say, ‘Don't make any oaths.’”
  • At the heart of this command lies the issue of speech. The trustworthiness of what we say is as important as the trustworthiness of our temperament and our morals.
  • An oath represents a debt to God and to man. Jesus is affirming the sanctity of that.
  • But what he demands is unrestricted truthfulness of every single word. There is to be no distinction between words that have to be true and those that don’t.
  • The Christian is answerable for every word, not just the ones that are uttered under oath.
  • If no one ever lied, there would, of course, never be a need for an oath. But if truthfulness is only assured under an oath, then lying is given a legitimacy.
  • Jesus is saying that we can’t split hairs about which words are binding. He is fighting for the integrity of all speech.
  • He continues, “Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.…”
  • It helps to understand that people didn’t ever want to use the name of God frivolously. So they came up with all sorts of things they could say without ever using the name of God.
  • Yet who could swear by heaven and not immediately think of God? The connection is made stronger with the metaphor that heaven is God’s throne. It belongs to the realm of the divine and is not under our jurisdiction or influence.
  • Much the same thing can be said about swearing by the earth, identified as God’s footstool. Contrary to much wishful thinking, there are many things on the earth outside of our domain.
  • The earth is simply not under our command. Likewise, Jerusalem is God’s city. Swearing by Jerusalem was a little bit different because the word “by” is different.
  • Actually what it means is towards Jerusalem. So if someone swore by Jerusalem and happened to be facing in the wrong direction, it didn’t count. That’s a great example of splitting hairs.
  • “And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
  • The person who swears by his or her own head is being particularly arrogant.
  • We simply can’t list ourselves as a warranty as if we have final control over our own lives. God is sovereign.
  • Now there are times when we do need to take an oath. The world may require oaths from its citizens.
  • Take that oath with utmost simplicity, and a little queasiness. The disciple must be absolutely and transparently honest.
  • “Yes means yes,” “no means no.” Everything else is commentary. At issue is the truthfulness of every word.
  • Speech beyond clear “yes or no” is somewhat devilish in that it seeks to impress with learning, cleverness, or qualifications.

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