But I Say Unto You
Biblical Research Monthly, January 1977 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
Woven closely into the entire fabric of the Sermon on the Mount are the facts which prove that Jesus was conscious of being God in human form. They are so much a vital part of it that to remove them from the rest of the message would be to wreck the entire discourse.
The Expression, “I Came”
“Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Solemnly Jesus warned His listeners not to think that He had come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them — in the spirit and the letter of the Law. What is implied in that expression, “I came”? It seems obvious that He had come from somewhere else — had left that place — and had come to this place, earth. His purpose was to fulfill the law and the prophets, to bring them to the fullest expression of import and meaning. On another occasion Jesus spoke in a similar manner, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13b). Again He declared, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 N.A.S.). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is often quoted as saying that He had been sent by God the Father to this world to do His will. These statements of Matthew, read in the light of the luminous record of John on this point, show exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “I came.” For only one who had been in heaven and who was God could and would speak truthfully in terms such as Jesus used on different occasions. Critics say that, apart from 11:27 which they consider an interpolation, Matthew did not recognize Jesus' divinity and that John alone presented it as fact. There are, however, other indications. Taking the words of the Commandments — the words of God — Jesus said again and again, “Ye have heard that it was said ... but I say unto you.” By His language and His teaching, Jesus put Himself on an equality with God. While He had limited Himself so that all the impressions that He received from the outside world came through His five senses, yet He did not forget — He knew He had come from the “other world” and that He came here for a definite purpose. We see this also in the authority of His words in Matthew 7:21-23.
Our Lord insisted that His disciples must possess and demonstrate a righteousness that is superior to that which the scribes and Pharisees had. Their's consisted of the outward observance of laws and ceremonials. That which He requires of His children is of a higher type, as illustrated in this discourse:
Ye have heard that it was said to 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 every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca [A.S.V. footnote: an expression of contempt], shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24)
The commandment to do no murder is a quotation from the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. Here Jesus traces the causes of murder to the thoughts and intents of the heart. In view of the grave danger of anger developing to become the master, our Lord urged the intended worshiper to first be reconciled with a brother who had anything against him, after which he would be in the right spiritual condition to serve God. Jesus then refers to a gloss, which was probably added by the leaders of Israel, saying that whoever murders is liable to court action. But Jesus tells them, “But I say unto you” that the one who is angry with his brother is liable to court action and whoever says to his brother “Empty head!” is liable to the Sanhedrin and whoever says, “You stupid one!” shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire. Jesus thus puts His authoritative statements on a level with what God had said and above those of Israel's leaders.
Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Going behind this commandment forbidding the literal act of committing adultery, Jesus speaks of the desire in the heart to do so. If one looks upon a woman to lust after her, he has in his heart already committed adultery and is guilty of that sin before God. The time was now ripe for God to trace this overt act back to its genesis in the evil desire of the secret parts of the heart. In discussing this point, Jesus again places His words on an equal with the words of God.
The Lord then called attention to the law as found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 regarding divorce, and gave fornication as the sole excuse for it. This is a passage about which there has been much controversy, some believing that one whose mate has been unfaithful is free to divorce and remarry, others insisting that even the innocent party is not allowed, scripturally, to remarry. I cannot settle this question. References for further, prayerful study are: Mark 10:11,12; Luke 16:18; Matthew 19:3-12; Romans 7:1-4.
Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths (Lev. 19:12a): but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one (Matthew 5:33-37).
The Old Testament law states that if an oath is made it should be carried out. One should be faithful and true to that oath and not use “the name of Jehovah thy God in vain” — another of the Ten Commandments which is also involved in this. But Jesus said, “I say unto you, Swear not at all.” On the contrary, believers are to live in such a way that their words will be accepted at face value. At the trial of Jesus, the High Priest put Him on oath by saying, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63b). Jesus had answered not a word until placed in this position before a legal body, and then He spoke: “Thou hast said [the equivalent of an affirmation — a regular method in Greek of saying yes]: nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” This prohibition against taking oaths does not seem to refer to an official oath as required by a government; however our country is considerate of those who feel it does, and allows them to affirm. One must be true to his convictions, standing for them firmly, but always in a Christ like spirit.
“Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. ... Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
This Old Testament passage was taken from the legal code of Israel — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24a). If, when it came to trial, witnesses established that a man deliberately knocked out the eye of another, the court would order the officials to put out his eye; the same would be true of a tooth. But when it came to an execution, it was to be carried out by stoning and of course could never be ordered without the guilt of the accused being established in court by at least two or three witnesses. The court would then require that those witnesses throw the first stones. Knowing that if their testimony convicted the condemned man they would have to throw the first stones should have made a very good check on the witnesses — and thus reduce murder cases to the minimum in Israel. However, instead of recognizing this legislation as one of the laws of the land to be enforced by the courts, many persons were using it as justification for taking revenge — a misinterpretation and misapplication of the law. Again Jesus went behind the overt act to the thought and intentions of the heart or mind and urged His disciples to act accordingly; again He placed His statements on a level with the law of God.
Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the Just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? ...” (Matthew 5:43-47)
Leviticus 19:18 reads in its entirety, “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Jehovah.” But what they had been hearing was “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.” This addition is what is called a “gloss.” It is not what was originally said in the Bible or by God. You will remember that in the Garden of Eden when the serpent questioned Eve regarding the fruit of the trees she added to the simple command of God that they not eat of a certain tree (Genesis 2:17) by saying, “God hath said Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it” (Genesis 3:1-3). Doubt always leads people to add to, change or modify. Deuteronomy 4:2 declares, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you.” The book of Revelation makes this statement at the end, “... Of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the Plagues ... if any man shall take away from the words of The book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part …” (vss.18,19). Since the Bible is one solid unit, the book of Revelation completing the revelation of God this statement naturally applies to the whole. We are not to add to or eliminate from the Word of God. In rebuttal to the added words, “Thou shalt hate thine enemy, Jesus said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies ... pray for them.” Just as God gives sunshine and rain to the Just and Unjust, we are to be kind to all praying for the salvation of those that persecute us.
Our Lord concluded His teaching on this subject by urging:
Ye therefore shall be perfect,
as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
He is, of course, speaking of the perfection of love, which we are to evidence toward friend and foe alike. Can one live a perfect life, as here enjoined? I believe that the word perfect means perfect. This is a command. I believe in the depths of my heart that ample provision has been made for the Christian to live a perfect life. God never asks His people to do anything they cannot do. We may assume therefore that He will supply the necessary strength and power. There is a force or power called “sin in the flesh.” What I would not do, that I do. What I want to do, I fail to do. If that is my experience, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me, sin in the flesh. Wretched man that I am! (briefed and paraphrased from Romans 7 vss. 15-21, 23, 24). Anyone in such a condition is indeed wretched, and there is no doubt about it. But can we get deliverance from that? Yes — through our Lord Jesus Christ! Deliverance from this defeated life is provided:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. ... God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)
What Paul says in these verses is assumed by Jesus when He says, “You shall be perfect.” This does not mean that one can come to the place where he can't sin — he can never get to that point. However, he can be brought to the place where he does not sin: “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no [does not continue to practice] sin” (1 John 3:9a). But when one has not been allowing Christ to strengthen him and strays from the path of righteousness, he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins and also for the sins of the world. It is not in our striving or trying, but in our trusting Christ to do it: “Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The good work was begun in us at regeneration; Christ is working to bring influences to bear upon us that will mold and shape us, bringing us to perfection. We will be perfect at the coming of the Lord — that is a promise. But we are to avail ourselves of the power that is within reach now. It is a command.
Regardless of how close we get to the Lord, is there not a conflict within our being?
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.” (Galatians 5:19-24)
“But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh ...for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:16,17). The flesh is always pulling down — like gravitation pulling at the magazine in your hands. It doesn't fall because you are counteracting the downward pull. This downward pull of sin in the flesh is there all the time, but the power of God says, “I will hold you up if you will just let me.”
Let us think of it from the standpoint of 1 Corinthains 13, where we see that love does sixteen different things: Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth (vss. 4-8a). Right in the midst of Paul's discussion of spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14) he discusses love. In doing so he shows that love is a force, an energy, a dynamic; it is a spiritual power and it comes from God. It is that power that is put into the heart and soul of the believer. There were many spiritual gifts, as can be discovered by reading these three chapters, but speaking in tongues, miracles and all these other gifts are temporary. The three lasting gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to all of God's people who are willing to receive them are faith, hope and love. Of these, he states that love is the greatest endowment that can be conferred upon anyone. We see that love is a power. Love is a force. It suffers long, and it is kind, envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly — these are manifestations of that love. The Holy Spirit of God will put that love in our hearts if we will just let Him. Then we can carry out this commandment of Jesus — “Ye, therefore, shall be perfect.”
At the same time, the Bible recognizes that people will not avail themselves of the perfect work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit in the heart and so it makes provision for that: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins.” You can be, and you can have the power of that love working in your life every day, every hour and every minute and thus be lifted and held up above sin. But whether or not we fully avail ourselves of that, God is working out everything. He will make us perfect by the time of Jesus Christ.
Throughout this entire sermon, rays of divine glory flash forth from Jesus as He delivers His great manifesto. He put His words upon an equality with those spoken by God through the prophets of the Old Testament and in doing so, Christ's consciousness of being on an equality with God is seen. He gave His teaching in such a way as to show that He was speaking truth in its finality. Our Lord Jesus Christ was God in human form. He was the God-man. He spoke with authority and power. His words are spirit and they are life. He alone has the power of life and death. By His grace it is our privilege to follow Him, to glorify and honor God through Him.