Faithlife Sermons

Sermon on Mount 5

Sermon on the Mount
Part 5
"Foolish Vows, Love Your Enemy"
Last time we talked about anger, lust, and the 'big-D.' As Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount masterpiece, He addresses three more issues we all deal with---making unwise vows, and how to respond to an enemy. Let's read first what Jesus said about making an unwise oath.
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is Gods throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matt. 5:33-37).
Jesus is hearkening back to the Old Testament commands regarding oaths made in the name of God. "Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:12). "Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth" (Deut. 23:23).
An oath is a solemn affirmation or declaration, made with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed, and calling for His vengeance, and renouncing his favor if what is affirmed is false. A false oath is called perjury, or, as here in the Sermon on the Mount, forswearing.
It appears from this passage, as well as from the ancient writings of the Jewish rabbis, that while the Jews professedly adhered to the law, they had introduced a number of oaths in common conversation, and oaths which they by no means considered to be binding.
For example, they would swear by the temple, by the head, by heaven, by the earth. So long as they kept from swearing by the name Yahweh, and so long as they observed the oaths publicly taken, they seemed to consider all others as allowable, and could also be broken without negative repercussions.
This is the abuse that Jesus wanted to correct. One commentator writes, "It was the practice of swearing in common conversation, and especially swearing by created things that Jesus was rebuking." To do this, Jesus said that they were mistaken in their views of the sacredness of such oaths.
The oaths were, in fact, very closely connected with God; and to trifle with them was a way of trifling with God. Jesus said that Heaven is His throne; the earth His footstool; and Jerusalem His special abode.
The Bible warns, "Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few" (Ecc. 5:2).
And Jesus said that even swearing by your own head was wrong because that head was made by Him, and was so much under His control that we could not, by swearing by our heads in an oath, make one hair white or black.
To swear by these things, therefore, was to treat irreverently things that were created by God, and could not be done without guilt. It is interesting that in Palestine today the people still use the very same sort of oaths that are mentioned and condemned by the Lord. They swear by the head, by their life, by heaven, and by the temple, or what is in its place, the church.
And let's face it, if men weren't such chronic liars there would be no need for oaths. In my own experience I have noticed that the more a person feels inclined to say something like, "I swear to you by God I'm telling you the truth," they're likely not telling the truth. A person who has to constantly invoke God's name doesn't have much confidence in the truth of his statements.
It's important to note here that Jesus is not referring to judicial oaths, or oaths taken in a court of justice. It was merely the foolish and wicked habit of swearing in private conversation; of swearing on every occasion and by everything that he condemned.
Even Jesus himself did not refuse to take an oath in a court of law. Matthew 26:63-64 says, "And the high priest answered and said to Him, 'I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!'
64 Jesus said to him, It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.
And Paul often called on God to witness his sincerity, which is all that is meant by an oath. In Romans 1:9 he says, "For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers..."
Next, Jesus deals with the whole subject of how to respond to an enemy. Let's read His words:
Matt. 5:38-42 You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you not to 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 away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away."
Here again, Jesus looks back to those who "said of old times," 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' In Latin this is known as "lex talionis", the "law of retaliation." Though this Old Testament law was only intended as a direction to judges in court cases with regard to the penalties to be inflicted in case of violent and barbarous assaults; it had come to be interpreted among the Jews as encouraging severe revenge for every injury a man might receive.
Jesus then gives us a shocking command. "Resist not an evil person." He then offers three possible scenarios of what exactly He means--a slap on the cheek, a legal attempt to steal our tunic (shirt), and being forced to walk a mile while carrying someone else's load (which Roman soldiers regularly did with the Jews).
Much controversy has swirled around regarding just how far this "turn the other cheek" principle should go. What are the parameters for such a command? Taking into account all of Jesus' teaching, as well as the rest of the New Testament where, for instance, Paul advises, 'Avenge not yourselves,' here is what I believe is behind Jesus' words.
The Lord never wants His children caught up and ensnared in a spirit of anger, hatred, vengeance, or unforgiveness. So He has given us directions on how to "defuse" such dangerous and costly passions. His command to turn the other cheek and "resist not evil" is designed to keep our own hearts free.
When we as Christians take the tact of resisting not evil, we immediately display an utterly different spirit from that of the world. The godless world system revolves around vengeance, bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. When a believer manifests a different spirit altogether, it points upward to a real God.
By the same token, Jesus was not teaching the Christian to NEVER engage in self-defense, either when physically attacked, or in a court of law when wrongly charged, or in a relationship that is abusive. This was NOT his intent.
He said "if you're slapped on the cheek," not "when someone is trying to kill you." He said, "if someone is trying to take your shirt," not "when someone is trying to financially destroy you." He said, "When a soldier is compelling you to carry his load for a mile," not "When a soldier is trying to completely enslave you."
In other words, the offenses Jesus illustrates with are relatively minor. If I am attacked by a mugger on a street who begins to beat me, this is not where Jesus' words to "turn the other cheek" come into play. I should vigorously defend myself. God has built into all of his creation the response of self-preservation.
If I am wrongly taken to court on a major charge, I have every right to vigorously defend myself. For instance, Paul the Apostle stood up for his legal rights against the Philippian authorities who had wrongly imprisoned he and Silas as Roman citizens.
And his appeal to appear before Caesar is another example of Paul standing on his legal rights as a Roman citizen. Even Jesus protested the crowd that arrested Him saying, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me." (Luke 22:52-53).
So when slapped on the cheek (literally or figuratively), or unjustly taken to court for a minor offense, or when forced to walk a mile carrying someone else's load, don't succumb to a retaliatory, vengeful spirit. Trust the offense to God and "give him your coat also," which pours "coals of fire" on the offender, and assures that your heart stays free!
Jesus' further words on "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away," is in no way a command to never say no, to make unwise business decisions, or to allow yourself to be continuously taken advantage of. It is instead designed to teach the child of God to be free of covetousness.
Keep a loose grip on the things of this world, because you can't take anything with you. When you can genuinely and wisely help others out of what you have, do so. Don't be a Scrooge, counting your money at night while the hungry go without.
The rest of Jesus' teaching in chapter 5 continues along this very same vein. I call it the "Teflon" approach to enemies--no matter what they do, it doesn't stick to you!
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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you...
How can bitterness, anger, vengeance, or unforgiveness stick to you if you're blessing them, praying for them, and loving them? Jesus goes on...
45 "that you may be sons of your Father 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?"
47 "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
NEXT TIME: Genuine Giving and Powerful Prayer
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