17 April, 2024

Jan 10 | Unconventional Wisdom

by | 4 January, 2021 | 0 comments

Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He also serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin. This lesson treatment is published in the January 2021 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)

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COMPANION RESOURCES

“Don’t Stay the Way You Are” by David Faust (Lesson Application)

Discovery Questions for Jan. 10, 2021

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Lesson Aim: Let love define your righteousness.

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In Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the most unlikely people (Matthew 5:3-12) have the most sway in the world (5:13-16). What comes next in the Sermon on the Mount is the thesis statement (i.e., the big idea). One way that Jesus fulfilled the entire Old Testament was to raise our understanding of what constituted real righteousness. Jesus did not abolish the old way; rather, he built on it. What Jesus said in this theme paragraph (5:17-20) was that every commandment of God matters, but we can never reduce our walk with God to a few favorite commandments.

When Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven,” the crowds and disciples must have thought, How would that even be possible? After all, the religious leaders were experts in extreme righteousness. Jesus gave six examples—also called the “six antitheses”—of how this real, greater, fulfilled righteousness worked in daily life.

Scholars differ on what Jesus was doing. Was he extending the law? Raising its standards? Was Jesus changing the law in light of his coming, interpreting its real intent, or correcting abuses in it? Maybe he was doing some of all those.

Murder: Sanctity of Life
Matthew 5:21-22

Conventional wisdom said you were righteous if you refrained from murder. But Jesus skillfully showed that anger lurks behind murder. Calling someone, “Raca” (blockhead or imbecile) or “You fool!” are expressions of anger. Everyone knows that words hurt worse than sticks and stones. Care enough about life to reconcile with people while you have the chance.

Adultery: Sanctity of Sex
Matthew 5:27-28

The seventh commandment is clear enough. Do not be intimate with someone else’s spouse. But Jesus indicated that dirty minds preceded dirty acts. Therefore, if a man looks at a woman lustfully—the Greek text has it as a purpose clause (i.e., looks at her with the purpose of mentally undressing her)—an immoral line has already been crossed. Intimacy begins in the mind before it ever makes it to the bedroom.

Divorce: Sanctity of Marriage
Matthew 5:31-32

Jesus did not use the full formula (“You have heard . . . but I say to you”) for this antithesis. He simply said, “It has been said.” This is probably because broken marriages often result from unfaithfulness (see the previous paragraph). God had made provisions through Moses to grant divorces due to the people’s hardness of heart (Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8). This also protected women from being abused. But Jesus indicated the problem with divorce wasn’t that it was being done the wrong way; rather, divorce itself was wrong. Any divorce, for whatever reason, is an indication someone has failed.

In his mercy, Jesus did agree that sexual immorality was a legitimate reason for divorce. Sexual immorality breaks the sanctity of the relationship; it creates carnage by victimizing the innocent spouse (makes her the victim of adultery) and also brings adultery into the new relationship.

Oaths: Sanctity of Speech
Matthew 5:33-35

The fourth way that real righteousness works in daily life has to do with the integrity of our speech. Vows mattered in Israel (Leviticus 27; Judges 11:29-40). They were to matter to the New Israel as well. We are our words. We will be justified or condemned by them (Matthew 12:37). The best commentary on this paragraph is Matthew 23:16-22. We shouldn’t need to underline the truthfulness of our words by saying things like, “I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles.” A yes is a yes, and a no is a no.

Eye for Eye: Sanctity of Fairness
Matthew 5:38-39

The law Jesus quoted in this antithesis was first given in Exodus 21:24. It was referred to as the “law of limited revenge.” It may seem cruel to us but, given the cultures of the nations that surrounded Old Testament Israel, it was viewed as being extremely fair. Wicked nations and kings were known for exacting huge penalties for rather small offenses. Jesus recast it in a way that served as a sanity check, but which also was proactively kind and generous.

Love for Enemies: Sanctity of Foes
Matthew 5:43-48

The Old Testament said, “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18), but it never said, “Hate your enemy.” That was added by some sly scribe. Jesus’ way turns enemies into friends and prays for one’s persecutors. God is kind to the ungrateful and evil (Luke 6:35), and he called his people to be mature in love like he is. God’s love is unconditional, and his wisdom is unconventional.

Mark Scott

Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He also serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin.

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