In Matthew 5, the Lord Jesus is teaching us about the heart of Christianity. He’s taking us on a journey to find out the purpose of God’s law and how it applies to our Salvation.
The Pharisees had taken God’s commands and created a soulless religion that was void of God’s blessing and favour.
Outwardly the Pharisees looked like spiritual giants that walked with God every day, but God reveals to us that they were empty and unable to perform the duty they taught others to keep.
The Word of God teaches us that the law was a winding road, and its destination was Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:17 declares that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law.
Yet, what does this mean? What’s the purpose of the law for my life and yours, and what application can I gain from Matthew 5.
Let’s break these verses down and grasp a greater understanding.
The Pharisees Came Short of The Law
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus teaches us the problem, not only with the Pharisees preaching but also their practice. They were teaching others the need to keep the Law in order to be great in the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees claimed that they practiced what they preached, but Jesus reveals for us a completely different story.
Consider the words of John Philipps on this issue:
Woe to those who break the least of the commandments, and woe to those who lead others to do so. The Lord exposed the folly of the Pharisees who spent their time dividing the Mosaic law into “great commandments” and “least commandments.”Phillips, J. (2014). Exploring the Gospel of Matthew: An Expository Commentary (Matt. 5:19). Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Bible.
If they were going to be great in the Kingdom of God, they needed to KEEP all of the law and not segregate them into great or least commandments.
Ranking sins is something that we do very well in our society. We will take the law of God and emphasize certain laws and down-play others.
In our mind, murder is an outrageously terrible sin, and rightfully so, but what about lying or cheating – all of these sins are equally wrong and sinful in the eyes of God. There are different consequences for each sin; I know and accept. Yet, most of the time, we consider certain sins to be minor or least among all the other wicked things we could potentially do.
Friend, sin is sin to God! If the only sin we ever committed was a small white lie, Jesus would have still needed to come to Calvary and shed his blood for that one sin; because that one small, white lie would be deserving of eternal death.
The fact that I called it a white lie (which is how many justify it) is proof that what I’m writing about in the last couple of paragraphs is true.
The Pharisees were promoting a pathway to the Kingdom of God that didn’t exist. They claimed that keeping the law was how a Jew gained God’s approval. The problem with this doctrine? They couldn’t practice what they preached. They themselves were unable to fulfill what they were asking Israel to do.
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. Matthew 23:1-4
Jesus called them out on it. He said in Matthew 5 and verse 19, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
The Lord emphasis that a teacher must first practice before he preaches. He cannot instruct a man to follow the law when He Himself falls short of doing it—especially placing the law into different categories (great or least) and choosing which laws to follow and which ones to ignore.
The Children of Israel deserved to know the truth!
The Fulfillment of the Law is Found in Jesus
The law itself had a special purpose for humanity. Though the Children of Israel saw it as a heavy burden to carry, its purpose was to reveal the incredible standard of the Holy God to humanity. The law was not given to help us but to leave us helpless.
Jesus said this to the students of the Pharisees in Matthew 5:20, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The folly of the Pharisees was unclear to the multitude of people that watched from without, but Jesus could see their shortcomings. They weren’t even close to keeping the commands of God.
The Lord took the law even further from mere observance to their attitude in Matthew 5:21-22.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-22
What was Jesus saying? He taught us that the law wasn’t a measuring stick to see if we’re good enough, but an absolute declaration that we have come short.
The purpose of the law was to be a schoolmaster (teacher) to show us our need for salvation. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:25, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
When we look at the law, we see the huge space between humanity and a Holy God; this divide is so vast that it cannot be reconciled by anything that we do (Romans 3:23). Even our “good” is declared vile by a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).
Our sin displeases God, and as long as we are seen as sinners by God, we can not please Him (Romans 8:8).
With the law our standard, we must conclude that we are hopelessly lost and have no hope of entering God’s Kingdom (Romans 3:19).
This would be a pretty sad condition and an even sadder conclusion if we didn’t consider the greatest love story ever told.
Jesus, the fulfiller of the law, died to set us free from the law’s condemnation. As free, we now enjoy the blessing of being reconciled with God and having a close relationship with Him each day.
The Jews that were burdened by the law’s heavy standard could find a yoke that was easy and a lighter burden in Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:30).
This was the message that Jesus was teaching. Come unto me, was His declaration, everyone that’s under the heavy burden of the law.
Not Under the Law, Under Christ
As Christians, we are not under the law (Romans 6:14). Though we are lawbreakers, we are no longer under the law’s condemnation. We are robed in the righteousness of Christ and are declared by God Himself that there is no sin found in us. We are free in Jesus because of His Amazing Grace freely offered to anyone who places their faith in His finished work for Salvation (Learn more about eternal life).
The Scripture teaches us in Romans 13:10, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
The law of love is the working of the Holy Spirit in our life to reach further than what the law ever required. As we are lead by the Holy Spirit and bear His spiritual fruit in our lives, we move past a mere command but supernaturally bear evidence of Jesus Christ Himself living within us.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
The Christian life is no longer a burden or a list of DO’s and DON’T’s, but a relationship with God that is motivated by LOVE.
"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead" 2 Corinthians 5:14
A Christian shouldn’t be motived by a command, but by His love and gratitude toward the Saviour. His desire should be each day to please the one that died and rose again to save their soul.
That’s why it’s silly to argue over issues like, is tithing for the New Testament Believer? Of course! Tithing and offerings exceed further than a command to give 10% of our income, but a motivation to GIVE to God out of a heart of love and devotion.
It’s easy to turn our salvation into a heartless religion. We spend our days motivated by fear and not just loving God. Remember, that fear has torment (1John. 4:18).
If a husband spends his time giving to his wife so that she will continue to love him or love him more, then he’s going to lose heart in time and become disappointed, especially if that love isn’t returned. This isn’t how relationships work. We don’t give ourselves to gain love and approval; we give because of love. This makes all of the difference in the world.
God accepts us through Jesus Christ (Romans 14:18). We do not serve or follow His commands to be loved more; we obey Him because we love Him. We love Him because He first loved us.
If ye love me, keep my commandments. John. 14:15
Our relationship with God is the heart of our faith. The Pharisees didn’t have a relationship with God, they only had an empty religion.
The ministry of the law was to bring us to Christ. To show us our need and how we have come short of God’s glory. Through that wonderful ministry, we can enjoy a relationship with the Creator that’s both abundant in grace and mercy.