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Higher Standards in the Kingdom

A Higher Standard
City on a Hill – Part 5
June 23, 2019
Rev. L. Kent Blanton


  • Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matt 5:20
  • Verses that follow Matt 5:20 describe the kind of righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees
  • Jesus uses 6 examples of how the religious leaders of his day focused on legalistic, external obedience to God’s Word, but failed to embrace an inner obedience from the heart. This caused them to apply the law incorrectly.
  • Conversely, Jesus sets a higher standard that embraces and fulfills the true intent and motivation of the law.
  • 6 examples focus on human relationships and cite an OT text – “You have heard it was said . . .  but I say to you . . .
  • Last week we considered Jesus first example of greater righteousness – forsaking anger and pursuing reconciliation (Matt 5:21-26)
  • Jesus declared that to be angry with someone else is to have murdered them in your heart and to be deserving of the same judgment and punishment as physical murder
  • Questions:
  • Why should we forsake anger? Because at the heart of the command “do not murder” is the recognition that every person is made in the image of God and because of that is deserving of dignity. When we vent ungodly anger at another person, we are demeaning someone made in God’s image. We are committing identity theft as we rob them of their identity as God’s own creation.
  • Why should we pursue reconciliation with others who are angry at us? Because God, in Christ, has made it possible for us to be reconciled with him. God has not given us what we deserve for our sins; death. Instead, he has shown mercy toward us, forgiving us of our sins through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. When we intentionally pursue reconciliation with others, we reflect God’s merciful and loving character. We become a city on a hill that shines brightly reflecting a true picture of God to the world.

Today’s Focal Passage: Matt 5:27-37

A Higher Standard Regarding Lust (5:27-30)

  • Jesus moves from 6th commandment “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13) to 7th commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14).
  • In the OT, adultery involved sexual intercourse with mutual consent between a man, married or unmarried, and the wife of another man. But in v. 28 Jesus makes clear that he is addressing those who are married and unmarried.
  • Adultery was considered a very serious offense. The term, adultery, and the penalty, death by stoning, applied to the man and the woman involved (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22).
  • Adultery breaks bond of marriage God had intended to reflect the relationship between him and his people. It is a sin against another person and against God (Gen 39:9)
  • Jesus recognized that his world made women objects to be possessed. Lust robs a woman of her humanity and her value as God’s creation.
  • Jesus’ pronouncement reaffirms the OT commitment to the unity of marriage and takes it to its deepest intended meaning. Physical purity is insufficient. Purity requires exclusive devotion in every aspect of life.
  • Through lust an marriage partner rejects his or her spouse and gives oneself to another. The bond of oneness is ruptured. Adultery is not only physical sexual intercourse, but also mentally engaging in such an act of unfaithfulness.
  • Jesus uses two graphic and dramatic examples to illustrate the seriousness of lust: amputation of a right eye and a right hand.
  • Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation and amputation of body parts here. He is using hyperbole to show how serious lust is.
  • Why does Jesus use eyes and hands in his illustrations? Eyes and hands are primary offenders in sexual sin. The right side was considered the side of power and importance, and thus most valuable.
  • Lust has become normalized in our contemporary sex-crazed society. Pornography is like rocket-fuel for lust.
  • 2014 Barna Group Survey indicates born-again Christian men are tempted by and addicted to pornography in huge numbers
  • There is hope for those entrapped in lust. How can it be overcome?
  • Tell someone
  • Become accountable and receive prayer
  • Displace passion for lust with passion for God
  • The church must:
  • Talk about sexual matters
  • Become a safe place to discuss sexual temptations and sins
  • Provide forums for healing and restoration

A Higher Standard Regarding Divorce (5:31-32)

  • Divorce was widespread in the ancient world
  • In the OT, divorce was controlled by legislation, but not banned
  • OT legislation governing divorce (Deut 24:1-4)
  • OT divorce regulations God designed to . . .
  • Protect the sanctity of marriage from being defiled
  • Protect the woman from divorce without cause
  • Document the woman’s status as legitimately divorced
  • Much wrangling In Jesus’ day about legitimate grounds for divorce and word indecency from Deut 24:1
  • Men had virtually limitless power over women – example of burned toast!
  • Jesus reasserts God’s original intention for marriage as permanent union between a man and woman (Gen 2:24)
  • God hates divorce! (Mal 2:16) 
  • In Jesus’ ethics, adultery is unfaithfulness to one’s spouse or accommodating another person’s unfaithfulness to that person’s spouse. Just as lust is one form of unfaithfulness in marriage, so is divorce
  • One who divorces a spouse is just as unfaithful than the adulterer or lustful person – presumably deserves the same punishment of hell (5:29-30)
  • In principle, remarriage is adulterous because God rejects the validity of divorce (5:32)
  • However, like Moses, Jesus allows for an exception: marital unfaithfulness (Gk porneia)
  • Jesus uses a different word for adultery (Gk. moicheuo) in v. 27-28. Possible that porneia means something less specific than sexual infidelity but, following the Mosaic intention, more than something frivolous.
  • Meaning of porneia and, with it, legitimate biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage is hotly debated within the church today.
  • 3 primary views of interpretation for porneia
  • porneia only applies to the act of adultery; remarriage always adulterous
  • porneia include adultery or desertion; remarriage only adulterous if divorce illegitimate
  • porneia includes any sinful activity that intentionally divides the marital relationship (e.g. incest, homosexuality, prostitution, molestation, indecent exposure, physical/emotional abuse, etc.); remarriage only adulterous if divorce illegitimate
  • Jesus set a much higher standard than the mindset toward marriage and divorce in the culture of his day and of our day
  • Jesus asserts unequivocally the sacredness  and permanence of marriage
  • While the law, and Jesus, make concession for a broken world, Jesus articulates God’s will for a restored and reconciled world. The reign of God therefore does not treat divorce as a normative occurrence.

       Other Realities:

  1. Jesus doesn’t command divorce in the case of marital unfaithfulness, he allows for it as an action of last resort. The heart of God is always for reconciliation in all relationships, including marriage. True repentance can lead to restoration.
  2. God grieves alongside victims of unwanted divorce. He desire to enable forgiveness, healing, and restoration.
  3. A scripturally-illegitimate divorce or a scripturally-illegitimate remarriage is not an unpardonable sin. The remedy for all sin is the cross. Confession of sin leads to forgiveness and cleansing.
  4. Jesus is not advocating another divorce and return to previous spouse after an unscriptural divorce or unscriptural remarriage

A Higher Standard Related to Oaths (5:33-37)

  • Jesus says his followers are not to swear at all  – not referring to swearing or profanity, but invoking God’s name, or substitutes for it, to guarantee truth of what one says
  • The OT allowed a person to swear by God’s name substantiate an important affirmation or promise (Num 5:19-22; 6:2). An oath or vow was considered helpful to take commitments seriously 
  • The Law demanded fulfillment of sworn oahts (Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut  23:21-23). Though not required, oaths handled properly received approval from God.
  • Rabbis had developed a highly structured hierarchy of oaths in Jesus’ day. Some contended that only oaths that invoked God’s name were binding. To protect God’s name against inadvertent oath-breaking, many Jews used other items to swear by.
  • Some used oaths for deception. Oaths in something other than God’s name were considered less binding and thus offered loopholes for dishonesty
  • Jesus’ disciples should be people of such integrity of character and truthfulness of heart that whatever they say is absolutely believeable and dependable.
  • A simple “yes” or “no” should suffice (2 Cor. 1:15-24; James 5:12).
  • Oaths are intrinsically sinful. God used an oath when he promised to bless Abraham (Gen 22:17; Heb. 6:13-14). God took an oath when he declared Christ’s priesthood as one like Melchizedek (PS 110:4). Paul used God’s name in an oath (Gal 1:20).
  • Not sinful to swear an oath in court or to swear allegiance to a monarch, provided we remember that first allegiance is always due God.
  • Jesus point is not that oaths are wrong. His point is that a disciple’s simple word should be considered as trustworthy
  • He expects integrity of heart and speech without the need for oaths.
  • For those who embrace kingdom-rule, oaths are unnecessary.


  • Jesus called his disciples on the mountain and he calls us today to a higher standard.
  • Jesus standards require fleeing from lust, holding fast the sanctity and permanence of marriage and avoiding divorce, and that speaking words of integrity
  • If you choose to submit to God’s rulership, he will transform you from the inside out and empower you not just to aspire to, but to live out these higher standards
  • Jesus makes impossible righteousness possible
  • Jesus desires we be a city on a hill, shining brightly and reflecting a true image of God to a broken and desperate world.