Putting Others first in Christ

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

The Sermon on the Mount is easy to understand but challenging to live. We have to really open our hearts to the message being taught by our Savior so that we may walk the way He would have us. James 1:22 – 25 encourages us to see ourselves in comparison to God’s word, to take that comparison to heart, and then do something about it. So as we’re looking through Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5 and 6, let’s do so in a way that allows each of us to become more spiritually complete.

Matthew 5: 33 – 48:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

These words continue the theme set up earlier in the chapter that Jesus wants something deeper than outward compliance. He wants us to change our hearts and the attitudes that motivate us. This is a fundamental shift in thinking.

Let Your Yes Be Yes

In Numbers 30:2, God’s law talks about taking pledges and making oaths. This was part of their culture, and it’s still part of ours in some situations. Jesus, however, says that oaths and pledges are unnecessary if we are fundamentally honest people. Jesus addresses this again in Matthew 23, when Jesus talks about the Pharisees placing oaths on various sacred relics and then giving different weights to those different oaths. Jesus goes on to say not to make any oaths at all. Just be a person of your word.

This shifts from a legalistic approach to our word and toward a more spiritual approach. This is not about external signs. It is a way of life and a reflection of your spirituality and your character. Our honesty then gives credibility to the message we bring. It reinforces the changing power of God’s word in a simple, immediately evident way. By our honest word, we show that we mean what we preach.

Others Before Self

Jesus then addresses the nature of personal vindication. Again, the law lays down fundamentals of equitable recompense when wronged. Jesus says instead to get over it and move on, for by this time, God’s people had taken rules that were meant to be applied to a legal system and made it personal. See Leviticus 19:17 – 18 for an example of how God’s people were supposed to keep personal feelings out of legal resolutions.

These concepts are not new, but Jesus is ensuring we understand the importance of love — even for those who don’t love us. Be generous; avoid vengeance; go the extra mile; bless those who hate you. This takes a major shift in our own concept of fairness. It means avoiding the easy way out and doing right by others, even when we don’t feel they deserve it. It’s not our place to dole out punishments to everyone we don’t like. Instead, we should be living peaceably and without animosity toward others anywhere.

Perfect As God Is Perfect

All of this leads us to spiritual wholeness. These teachings and others in the Sermon on the Mount lay down the template for what godly living truly looks like. That template abandons worldly reason and secular justice. It demands a complete self-sacrifice and a change in heart. Let your words and your actions agree. Let go of all resentment or anger you might have toward others, and be ready to do good toward all. In these ways, we grow closer to Christ and show Him to others through the way we live.

lesson by Don Larsen