Preaching Values in Matthew 5

Virtus E. Gideon  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 5 - Fall 1962

The Bible has long been described as the spring of preaching materials which never runs dry. If this is an accurate description of the Bible, how much more accurately is this statement a commentary concerning the inexhaustible preaching values of Matthew’s Gospel! This Gospel, in order to achieve the purpose for which it was intended, concerns itself with the vital themes of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Although the Gospel of Mark may be remembered rightly for its descriptive terminology, rapid movement of events and theme, and frank expression of ideas, the Gospel of Matthew must be most remembered for its emphasis upon the teachings of Jesus. All of Christendom can well agree with the decision of Jesus to call an ordinary tax collector to become a member of the apostolic band. Equipped with an alert mind, a sharp pen, and a heart of love and appreciation for the Master Teacher, Matthew became the figure who later employed his copious notes in the compilation of the Gospel which today bears his name.

Luke, the physician, becomes an important personage in the intricate discussions concerning the virgin birth. But one must remember that Matthew likewise underscores the ideas surrounding the concept of the virgin birth. Luke may be remembered for his contributions found in the accounts of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son, but the reader automatically turns to Matthew for his rewarding parables concerning the kingdom. Neither did the apostle so adept in note-making overlook the many teaching aids employed by Jesus.

Many commentators have noted that John recorded those signs which make the greatest demands upon faith, but the critic must admit that the, King’s miracles also have an important place in Matthew’s Gospel. The same is true of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. With vivid and striking detail Matthew informs his readers of these days of decisive victory for God’s kingdom.

These observations simply indicate that no preacher could desire a more inspiring account for preaching than Matthew’s. This Gospel is replete with accounts of the angel’s annunciation to Joseph, the visit of the wise men, the tyranny of Herod-to mention a few basic ideas of the birth and childhood of Jesus. The temptation and baptism accounts are followed by the most magnificent section of literature contained within the New Testament. Paul’s statement concerning love in First Corinthians 13 may rival the Sermon on the Mount in beauty, but not in familiarity or usage.

The Sermon on the Mount is defined by some critics as a message given on a single occasion and by others as a collection or summary of Jesus’ teachings.[1]Cf. John A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (“An American Commentary on the New Testament” Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1885), p. 83; William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (“Daily Bible Study Series” Philadelphia: the Westminster Press, 1961), I, 80; R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel of Matthew (“Tyndale Bible Commentaries” Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961), p. 58; Floyd V. Filson, The Gospel According to Matthew (“Harper’s New Testament Commentaries” New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), p. 75). Barclay likewise conjectures that Matthew 5-7 is a summary of the teaching addressed to the Twelve within a few days following their selection. Although numerous arguments may be offered in behalf of each position, the burden of the evidence seems to be in favor of the traditional interpretation. However, the time, place, and occasion of the Sermon become relatively unimportant for the present purpose. Because of the voluminous materials which Matthew included in his Gospel it is necessary to limit this study to Matthew 5, the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.


The Beatitudes

A series of sermons can be easily drawn from the beatitudes, which describe the characteristics of the citizenry of the kingdom. The beatitudes are excitingly and intriguingly stated; they are exclamations, not simple statements. Jesus introduces each of the beatitudes with the term “blessed.” Filson[2]p. 76. describes this term as an exclamation, “O the blessedness of!” This term does not prophesy some earthshaking event yet to come, but rather offers congratulations upon what now exists. No copulative verb appears in the Greek text, thus the translation-“Blessed the poor in spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Therefore, the emphasis is not upon a kingdom into which the Christian shall enter; he has already entered the kingdom! “Makarias, then, describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life. . . . The Christian blessedness is completely untouchable and unassailable.”[3]Barclay, p. 84. The term “poor” suggests destitution.

The first beatitude is defined by the additional phrase “in spirit,” which suggests that the disciples must realize their utter and complete dependence upon God. To do his will is to depend upon his power. “When Loss Becomes Profit or Spiritual Abasement Brings Royal Rewards” serve as seed thoughts for sermons based upon this beatitude.

“Blessed are they that mourn” begins the second beatitude, which is as paradoxical as the first. The mourning is not simply a reference to a grief produced by death, but this is similarly a reference which includes all of life’s sins, disappointments, defeats, trials, and difficulties which bring mourning. Jesus promises a comfort which is equivalent to the need of the heart. The comfort which God provides is not abstract, neither is it irrelevant. Tasker is incisive in noting that this is a kind of comfort in which “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”[4]pp. 61-62. “Sorrow’s Inherent Guarantee” would serve as an approach to this striking statement of Jesus. Perhaps another suggestion is “Grief Does Have Its Ally!”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Nothing could have been more out of character in the first century world, as well as in the twentieth century, than this alarming statement. Can world conquest belong to the meek? While Jesus world conceived of power in terms of the dreaded Roman Empire, he taught inheritance of the earth through meekness. Meekness is a term which means “gentle, humble, considerate, meek in the older favorable sense.”[5]William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 705. The emphatic construction in the Greek New Testament indicates that the meek themselves, not their superiors, shall inherit the earth. The contemporary idea of meekness is that of “spinelessness,” or that of a Mr. Milquetoast­ type personality. But the Greeks used this term to describe an animal which had become domesticated. He is subjected to the control of a master, not that his strength has fled, but rather that his will is subjected to the master. Meekness involves two things: (1) a proper view of self; and (2) a proper relationship to God, which, of course, issues in a proper relationship to fellowman. In this spirit of meekness the earth is inherited. The preacher will find the subject “When God Controls Your Life” suggestive. Other ideas are couched in the themes “The Meek’s Inheritance,” or “Why Your Inheritance Is Unclaimed.”

“A Satisfied Life” is portrayed by the two present tense participles which describe those hungering and thirsting after righteousness. These people are encouraged by knowing that they are advancing, and not retarding, the purpose of God. Barclay[6]p. 94. characterizes this beatitude as the “Bliss of the Starving Spirit,” thus expressing the strength of the terms “hunger” aid “thirst.” “A Recipe for Satisfaction” could serve as a starter for the development of this beatitude. The term “filled” is a form of chortazo, which describes the gorging of the birds in Rev. 19:21. This word can well mean “to eat one’s fill.”[7]Arndt and Gingrich, p. 892.

Still another suggestion is found in the articular construction of “the righteousness.” The article identifies righteousness as being a particular righteousness. This is “the righteousness” which is found in God. The object of one’s desires is most important. To desire wealth for the sake of service to God is vastly different from desiring wealth for one’s own selfish interest. “Longing for What?” could be an attractive subject based upon a careful study of the fourth beatitude.

The next beatitude is as startling as its predecessors. How may a merciful man obtain mercy in an age of rationalistic ambiguity and scientific advance? Merciful is the word from which the English “eleemosynary” is derived. But to be merciful means more than pity! It is rather the idea of sympathy, the ability to suffer with a person. The world knows little of mercy, the usual reply being, “That is tragic!” To be merciful is not only to weep with the new orphan, but also to meet his need. Is this too much to expect of people who have known God’s mercy and received his grace? Jesus answers, “No! The merciful shall be shown mercy.” “Mercy’s Glad Reward” underscores the emphasis of Jesus’ statement. “You Can Be Sure of Mercy” would serve as another approach to the teaching of this verse.

Matthew 5:8 presents one of the more interesting exegetical assignments of the beatitudes. Katharoi (clean, pure) is an adjective used to describe clean linen, pure or clean water, pure gold, clear crystal, pure bread (pure wheat without admixture), or a ceremonially pure person. This word is employed to describe a man who is pure, free from sin.[8]Ibid., pp. 388-89. Jesus also defines the sphere of this purity. It is “in heart.” To wash one’s face, even in clean water, is hardly enough. Jesus describes a purity in heart—a purity which permits no foreign matter. The pure in heart are those whose hearts are not diluted or contaminated. The Pharisees and scribes emphasized the externalities such as dress, contact, and conduct. Jesus is concerned with the heart because from it flow · the issues of life. “That which cometh out of a man, that defileth a man” (Mark 7:20). Martyn Lloyd-Jones[9]Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), I, 111. suggests that the best definition of purity is found in Psalm 134:11, “Unite my heart to fear thy name.” Thus, the pure heart is the undivided heart. This heart shall see God. The man of Jesus’ day was not often invited into the court of the ruler, but the man who is pure in heart has a far greater blessing in store.

The fulfillment of this beatitude is partially temporal and partially eternal. There is a sense in which the man who is pure in heart does presently have a vision of God which the impure could never have. Yet, John in 1 John 3:2 states that “when he appears we shall see him just as he is.” “Counting the Cost of Impurity” is a challenge to every man. “Cleanliness Where It Counts” suggests a sermon which probes the heart in a scientific, germ-conscious age. “The One Essential to a Vision of God” catches interest as does the question, “Can You See God?”

Jesus’ teaching materials continue to present an unfailing supply of pertinent and suggestive facts. The Teacher did not drone in a monotonous voice, nor did he employ time-worn and verbose descriptions to capture his audience. His words are crisp and challenging, as well as provocative and penetrating. The next beatitude is resplendent with these qualities. “Blessed the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.” “Life’s Most Difficult Blessing” or “The Uniqueness of Divine Sonship” might well be developed from these sterling words. Is there a blessing more difficult to possess than the blessing derived by peacemaking? The peacemaker is not only at peace with God, but he actually attempts to effect reconciliation between enemies. What a condemnation upon much so-called Christian character of the twentieth century! Barclay[10]p. 104. aptly notes that the emphasis is upon the peace-maker and not the peace-lover.

Crisis days produced by war and battle form an excellent backdrop against which the next beatitude is spoken. The physical kingdom permits no victory or superiority for the vanquished, but Jesus declares that a man who is persecuted for righteousness possesses the kingdom of heaven. .How unlike the earthly realm! But it must be noted that Jesus defines the persecution as a persecution related to righteousness. He does not teach that routine persecution brings with it blessedness, only persecution related to righteousness. This distinction must be carefully drawn. These persecuted ones belong to the only kingdom which abides and endures the rise and fall of political tyrants. The perfect participle dediogmenoi may well evoke the subject, “Persecuted, but Proud.” The present tense (estin) suggests the seed thought, “The Persecuted’s Unbroken Claim.”

Coupled with the preceding idea are Matt. 5: 11-12 in which the Master specifically defines the persecution. One element involved in this distasteful experience is the speech of the persecuted. The aorist tense “say” suggests, as do the terms “insult” and “persecute,” that this persecution may be an act or an occasional experience rather than a continual experience. The Christian needs to be warned lest he fail to understand the importance of an evil word infrequently spoken. The hotan (whenever) clause adds to the indefiniteness of the circumstances, thus the warning, “Watch Your Speech!” But Jesus carefully indicates that even the man persecuted by carelessly spoken words can rightfully anticipate reward—a reward expressed by the imperative mood (rejoice) and a causal clause (for great is your reward). Perhaps the subjects, “The Imperative of Persecution” or “God’s Reward for His Persecuted People,” could serve well as ideas around which to build an exposition of these verses.


Some Metaphors

One of the striking aspects of Jesus’ ministry is the employment of the commonplace to interpret and reveal the unknown and misunderstood. Christ’s teachings are filled with examples of clarity of expression and illustration-qualities sought by every teacher and preacher. Doubtlessly, his metaphors of Matt. 5:13-16 are the best known.

The first word of this paragraph is a personal pronoun employed for emphasis. “You yourselves (or you) are the salt of the earth.” The disciples are described as distinctive people. They are the salt of the earth. The proud Pharisees, the aristocratic Sadducees, the separated Essenes, the unruly Zealots, and the ambitious Herodians have their descriptions and characteristics, but the Lord’s followers are the salt of the earth. Salt not only differs chemically from the food into which it is placed, but it also flavors the food and makes it appetizing. “The Christian’s Distinctiveness” may serve as a topic by which to develop this verse. The negative aspect of the verse can well be epitomized by the subject, “If You Lose Your Distinctiveness.” A third approach could be: “What Is Your Aim-To Distract or Distinguish?” The Christian must either distract from the cross by his ill-disciplined life or distinguish the cross by his dedicated heart.

Every man who is familiar with rural life knows that salt is a preservative in addition to serving as a flavoring ingredient. The preacher may recall the experiences in which his father employed salt in the curing and preserving of meat prepared without the assistance of the local butcher. The thought, “How God Preserves Precious Values” provides a subject through which the preserving influence of the Christian can be developed.

Salt is also known for its purity. Even the whiteness of the chemical suggests something which is unstained and uncontaminated. The Christian is to be pure, his life clean, his conduct spotless. “The Importance of Purity” is a seed thought out of which a discussion of the Christian life can be developed. Young people would be interested in a development of the theme, “Is Purity Worthwhile?”

The second metaphor is introduced by the same pronominal construction as in 5:13, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus described himself as “the Light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). In the Sermon on the Mount he indicates that the Christian has a place of prominence and importance. Upon revealing that the disciples are the light of the world, Jesus is insisting that his followers are to be as he. Their faith in Christ makes it possible for them to reflect his testimony of grace, love, and concern. The most obvious characteristic of light is its illuminating quality. Verses 14-15 reveal the purpose of light-illumination. The city built upon the hillside cannot be hidden from the view of the weary traveler who trudgingly makes his way into the valley below. An additional illustration is the lamp which is logically placed upon a lampstand and not beneath a basket where its light would be wasted. The Christian life is evidently meant to be seen by men. The adage, “I cannot hear what you say because of what you do” expresses something of the meaning of this metaphor. “How Bright is Your Light?” is a likely subject in speaking concerning the needs of Christian testimony. “Obvious Discipleship” intimates the necessity of living one’s religious experience. The Christian life is not to be lived solely in the recesses of the heart but is to manifest itself upon the public stages of life.

Jesus’ penetrating application of this metaphor is found in verse 16. The houtos particle is modal, “in this manner let your light shine.” In this verse the particle points to the preceding statement and builds upon that idea. The verb (lampsato) is an imperative and its tense indicates an urgency or immediacy of action. This term may be used of a gleaming sword, of the lightning which illumines the sky, and is used to describe the face of the transfigured Jesus in Matt. 17:2. The dependent clause of this verse reveals the end of such living-men observe the Christian’s works, but glorify God. The adjective which describes works indicates that the works are not simply good in quality, but also are good in the sense of being appealing and attractive. These attractive works done before men glorify the Father. “When Your Light Shines” or “The World’s Only Light” are possible themes by which to develop these verses. Another seed thought, “A Good Deed in an Evil World,” could emphasize the importance of the Christian’s testimony. The aorist imperative (let shine) suggests the subject, ”Quick! the Light!”


Jesus’ Ethical Superiority

Matthew 5:17 introduces a second aspect of the Sermon. Jesus turns to discuss his relationship to the law and in so doing illustrates the superiority of his teaching to that of the law. The discussion is introduced by a construction (aorist subjunctive and me) which forbids the beginning of an action. “Do not even begin to think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. . .” The term “destroy” is used by Jesus in Matt. 24:2 to describe the destruction of the Temple. This word means to dismantle, to tear down, and to destroy.[11]Arndt and Gingrich, p. 415. It is the figure of detaching one stone from another stone. Jesus then came not to abrogate the law, to destroy it precept by precept, term by term, little by little. The converse is stated in the strong positive aspect of the statement. The strong adversative alla (but) is used to emphasize the sharp­ness of the contrast. Arndt and Gingrich[12]Ibid., pp. 676-77. define the word “fulfill” (pleroo) as making full, fulfilling, and completing. Thus, Jesus came to fulfill the law, to live the law before men. This emphasis is more arresting because of the aorist tense employed by the Lord. Jesus came to fulfill decisively the law. “Did Jesus Keep the Law?” or “Jesus and the Law-Pretender or Fulfillment?” may be used to delineate Jesus’ relationship to the law”

The following verse indicates the validity and eternal nature the law. Not one iota, or point of a breathing mark, shall pass away from the law. The obvious significance of even the most minute aspects of the law is underscored. Furthermore, a subjunctive of emphatic negation (ou me, a double negative, the strongest way in Greek to state a negative) forms a part of the context. Thus, Jesus says that neither “the smallest letter nor the smallest part of a letter” shall pass away from the law until all things shall become. There follows a warning against any man’ who destroys the least commandment and teaches erroneously. The converse indicates that the faithful teacher of the commandments shall be honored (called great) in the kingdom of heaven. “An Ancient Law in a Contemporary World” affords a possible sermon subject, as does “The Permanency of the Law.” “Success or Failure-Your Relationship to the Law Determines It” is an idea drawn from verse 19.

The legalism of the scribes and Pharisees is scrutinized in the words of Jesus recorded in verse 20. Again, the subjunctive of emphatic negation (ou me eiselthete) is the important construction. The verb “exceed” (perisseusei) means to be present in abundance, to be more than enough, and to overflow. The comparative is supplied by the phrase “scribes and Pharisees.” A legalism is not enough to satisfy the righteousness of God. “The Failure of Legalism” may well serve as a core thought around which to develop this verse. Another approach might be “The Legalist’s Greatest Disappointment.”

Matthew 5:21-48 illustrates specifically the superiority of Jesus’ ethical teachings to those of the ancients. The first teaching concerns murder. Jesus is careful to indicate that his teaching in no way contradicts the teaching of the Old Testament. However, he does note his dislike of the legalistic interpretation the scribes and Pharisees have placed upon the law. In verses 21-26 Jesus indicates that man’s attitude toward fellowman may be dangerously wrong even though no physical violence is involved. This rancorous spirit may express itself in anger or in speech, not necessarily in an overt physical act of direct personal violence against man. “Words Bring Judgment” may be a starter for an exposition of this text. Verse 23 is of particular interest in revealing the responsibility of the Christian in proper relationships to fellowman. The man who is in the very act of worship and who remembers the ill will held by another man automatically leaves his gift, finds the man, and restores the relationship. Then he returns to the experience of worship. “Relationship or Ritual?” affords ample opportunity for the discussion of the Christian’s relationship to fellowman and the often-accepted definition of worship-ritual and form.

The terse reference to divorce implies “The Sanctity of Marriage.” Admitting the difficulties posed by the modern interpretation of the marriage relationship, let it be noted that the sacredness of marriage requires more emphasis than it is receiving currently. “The Case for Chastity” can be better rooted than in a recent article appearing in a monthly magazine.[13]”The Case for Chastity” appears as a reprint in the Reader’s Digest, July, 1962. Perhaps one can employ the question, “Does Divorce Have a Penalty?” This is a question which seems to be answered too easily by many prospective divorcees. In a nationally syndicated column a prospective divorcee recently expressed the belief that divorce would not affect her because her children were so young that they would be unaware of the proceedings! “The Result of Divorce” could be based upon verse 32 and particularly upon poiei (makes), a word which can be used of a “state of living that one brings about.”[14]Arndt and Gingrich, p. 687.

The following illustration considers man’s speech, particularly man’s employment of oaths. The Jews were fond of oaths and punctuated their speech with various oaths designed to support their postulations. Barclay[15]pp. 156-57. indicates that oaths produced two unsatisfactory results in the time of Jesus. First, there was “useless” swearing, the taking of an oath which was totally unnecessary. Furthermore, there was the oath which could be defined as “evasive.” Only the oath which contained God’s name was absolutely binding. If one swore by Jerusalem, heaven, or himself, he was not obligated to keep the oath. Thus, evasion became a technicality employed by those who desired to escape the responsibility which had been produced by their oaths. To use God’s name was to support man’s word by the divine, a means of engaging God’s partnership.

But Jesus teaches that one cannot swear by heaven because heaven is God’s throne. The earth cannot become a part of an oath because the earth is God’s footstool. Jerusalem is the city of the King. Man cannot rightly swear by his own head inasmuch as his limitation prohibits his making a hair white or black. In a few sweeping statements Jesus precludes man’s swearing through leaving him nothing by which to swear! Jesus concludes the teaching with a verb (present imperative of eimi) which suggests that one is “to continue to permit” his speech to be “yes” or “no.” Anything beyond this is evil. The good man needs no oath; his character assures the veracity of his word. Innumerable oaths, whether based upon the divine or within the terrestrial sphere, cannot insure the word of an evil man. These moving words of Jesus suggest that one “Stop Swearing and Start Living!” “Startling Speech but Little Men” might serve as an idea around which to develop the teaching of these verses.

The next illustration of Jesus’ ethical superiority concerns retaliation, an envious and malicious spirit which manifests itself in exceedingly subtle ways. This spirit need not reveal its presence in vicious personal violence but can manifest its harmfulness through a selfishness which threatens to obliterate its victim. The law quoted by Jesus forms a part of Exodus 21:23-25 and is also found in Leviticus 24:19, 20 and in Deuteronomy 19:21. Historically, the law is known as the lex talionis, a “this for that” kind of law. This law appears in the Code of Hammurabi, al­ though with certain additional stipulations. This law, instead of being barbarian in nature, actually restricted vengeance and be­ came an encouragement to mercy. At least, this law restricted and limited revenge. Jesus’ teaching indicates that one is to go beyond the law of limited revenge and manifest a Christian spirit. This teaching concerns physical injury, property, and enforced service. In all of this Jesus speaks of “The Second Mile.” Four imperatives (turn [strepson], give [aphes], go [hupage], give [dos]) are employed. “Imperatives of a Christian Attitude” may afford an emphasis in dealing with a spirit of vengeance. Man, to be Christian, must be willing to minimize self, share his possessions, and render spiritual service.

The last illustration of Jesus’ ethical superiority demonstrates the place of love in the Christian life. The term agapao refers to the unselfish love, the love of highest esteem. This word is in sharp contrast with eras, a physical love, and philia, a love of personal affection, such as the love for a brother. Agapao is the word employed in the first two of the questions directed by Jesus to Peter in John 21. In verse 44 the present active imperative may be translated “go on loving.” The object of this love is man’s enemies. Moreover, Jesus says that one is to continue praying in behalf of the man who continues (present participle) persecuting him. This principle is illustrated by the fact that God is impartial in providing rain and sunshine for the righteous and unrighteous. God continues to provide sunshine and rain for man although he is not morally deserving. An additional emphasis is placed upon loving enemies by reference to the activities of the publicans. Even they, the most hated of Jewish society, love their brothers! Excelling love involves friendship for those other than brothers. Gentiles are friendly to each other! The “therefore” (oun) of verse 48 indicates that the exhortation is built upon the preceding statements-in view of God’s graciousness, the publicans’ attitude, and the Gentiles’ friendship, you yourselves be perfect (mature, complete) as is your Heavenly Father. “Maturity in Love” yields adequate opportunity for the discussion of love as Jesus has illustrated and defined its limits. One might employ the question “Is Friendship Enough?” to probe the Christian consciousness of love. The present imperative (love agapate), denoting a continuing action, evokes the thought “The Debt Which Is Never Paid.” One of the most demanding subjects to be drawn from this paragraph is derived from verse 44, “and continue praying for the ones who persecute you.” “The Christian’s Most Repulsive Task” or “An Oft-Neglected Command” may offer suggestions.

The Sermon on the Mount is resplendent with preaching materials. Matthew 5 is typical of the warmth, breadth, and practical nature of Jesus’ ministry. The preacher’s soul is fed by the Spirit as he studies these words of the Master. His people will likewise experience a satiation of heart.


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