Lesson for Nov. 6, 2011: Living in Harmony with Others (Matthew 5:17-37)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for November 6) is written by David Eichenberger, a graduate of Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University who lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Living in Harmony with Others (Matthew 5:17-37)

By David Eichenberger

(Note to teachers: The italicized sections are questions designed to help involve your students in the learning process.)

 

A much-quoted rhyme provides a fitting description of the challenge of living at peace with those around us:

To dwell above with saints we love

O, that will be glory;

But to dwell below with those we know—

Well, that’s another story!

Getting along with others is a lifelong challenge; it’s something Jesus has called us to. These words of Jesus from today’s lesson come from his Sermon on the Mount, and the original audience heard them about 60 seconds after the Lord proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Make peace! That’s just one of the ideals Jesus is calling us to in this sermon . . . but hold on, it’s about to get really interesting! In the text we are considering, Jesus is discussing murder, adultery, divorce, and keeping our promises. Wow!

What are some factors/obstacles that make living in harmony with others so difficult at times? (Give each person a minute to make a list of five reasons, then call time and compare lists.)

Let’s consider three important questions as we study and discuss today.

 

Which plan will you follow?

Whose map, atlas, or GPS will you choose as you travel the road to harmony? Jesus makes it quite plain that his path is different. In addressing all four subjects, the Master begins with the words, “You have heard that it was said . . .” (vv. 21, 27, 31, and 33) and then shortly follows up with, “But I tell you . . .” (vv. 22, 28, 32, and 34). He precedes these words by telling his audience, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets . . . but to fulfill them” (v. 17). Jesus is not bulldozing the Old Testament foundation that has been established; rather, he is building upon it.

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Living in harmony with others works best when we do it Jesus’ way. This principle applies to all of life. Whose plan will you follow? The source of greatest conflict will most likely be directly between you and Jesus. That’s right. Often the Bible will make it very plain what God’s desire is in a matter; the problem is that it often goes directly against our feelings, background, and wishes.

How can we make a decision to do things Jesus’ way and then stick with it?

 

Will you address symptoms or problems?

If you were plagued with painful headaches, would you prefer to receive medicine for the pain, or to find out what causes the headaches and put an end to the problem? Of course we would like both! And with Jesus’ approach, we usually can have both. Jesus said the law told us not to murder, but he is telling us to deal with the anger that leads to the life-destroying act (vv. 21, 22). Jesus reminds us that the law prohibits adultery, but the real culprit, the spark that bursts into flame, is lust (vv. 27, 28). Our good shepherd talks about divorce, but addresses the heart issue of keeping our promises (vv. 31-37).

How does Jesus fulfill the law rather than destroying it in the specific cases he discusses? Does this approach make sense to you? Does this give you a winning strategy rather than simply a list of sins to avoid?

 

Will you focus on time or eternity?

We are familiar with the expression, “short-term pain for long-term gain.” We know it can apply to everything in life from becoming more physically fit to getting out of debt. It also applies to the challenge of living in harmony with others. When telling us to control our anger, Jesus guides us to seek out someone who has something against us (vv. 23, 24). That isn’t my idea of a good time! I would rather just promise God I will never break the sixth commandment (do not murder—Exodus 20:13). In the short term, my approach might lead to harmony—for awhile—but following Jesus’ teaching can make a difference for eternity.

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In the short term, Jesus’ approach may lead to less harmony rather than more, which will lead us to avoid the very path Jesus lays out for us. But in the long term, Christ’s plan is truly the winning strategy. It is important to note that Jesus never called us to be peacekeepers, but peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

What are some of the differences between keeping peace and making peace? Why do you think Jesus placed the emphasis on peacemaking rather than peacekeeping?

 

An extreme emphasis on surface peace or harmony can actually keep us from reaching our true goal of genuine harmony. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a missionary to Japan. Even though Christian missionaries have spent decades trying to reach the Japanese people with the good news of Jesus, only about 0.5 percent (yes, half of 1 percent) of the people claim to be Christians. I asked the missionary why he thought that was the case. Interestingly, he believes one of the major reasons for this is an extreme emphasis in Japanese culture for the people to live in harmony with one another. He said the Japanese believe such harmony is necessary for their physical survival.

To convey an idea of how crowded Japan is, he said that nation’s 130 million people live in an area about the size of West Virginia! Because of that, the Japanese emphasize keeping peace and getting along at all costs, and part of the result is that they will not even consider the claims of the gospel because it would cause conflict.

Living in true harmony with others can happen only when we follow God’s perfect plan: put Jesus’ teachings above our feelings; address the problem rather than the symptom; and focus on the long-term, rather than a short-term, solution. Now is the time—God is calling YOU to do it! Will you answer the call?

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*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS
October 31: Hebrews 10:11-18
November 1: Psalm 32:1-5
November 2: James 5:13-18
November 3: Luke 6:37-42
November 4: Matthew 18:21-35
November 5: Luke 7:40-47
November 6: Matthew 5:17-26

 

ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER:

David Eichenberger, a graduate of Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, has now invested more than half a century in trying to “live in harmony with others.” Any success he has experienced at it is because of the grace of his Savior, the patient encouragement of his parents, the blind eye of his siblings, and the unconditional and amazing love of his wife, three kids, and four grandchildren!

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