For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 ESV
The Pharisees were all about what looked good on the outside. They obeyed the letter of the law flawlessly, and they were quite proud of themselves for that! However, their hearts were far from honoring God. Inside, they were full of pride, greed, and corruption. Later, Jesus would say about them, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” Matthew 15:8-9 NLT
Jesus wanted to make it clear at the onset of his sermon that doing all the right things, or conversely, not doing all the wrong things, is not enough to make us right before God. Obedience and holy living are more than mere acts. They stem from a sincere and pure heart, and there is only one way to have a true heart transformation. Our only hope is to repent and allow Christ to redeem us by His blood as we put our faith and trust in Him. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
For those of you who are unsure of your relationship with Christ, you can make certain here, How Can I Be Saved? However, for those of you who already have a relationship with the Lord, the mindset of legalism can continue to be a stronghold. Our pretense of having everything all together on the outside can be a hindrance to being truly holy and pure within. Instead of having hearts after God’s heart, we become fixated on man-made rules and traditions. That leaves us cold and distant from God.
In Jesus’ day, the religious sect of the Pharisees was the supreme example of this legalistic fallacy. Jesus sure had a lot to say about them later on too! (Matthew 23)
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25-28 NLT
In Matthew5:12-16, Jesus quotes the commandment prohibiting murder, but He takes it a step further and forbids hatred, out of control anger, and name calling. Any kind of malice at all has its roots in the same place as murder. Instead, Jesus instructs us to resolve our differences and be reconciled to those with whom we have conflict. He even commands us to make things right with others before we bring our gift to the altar. That is how important this is to God!
Jesus goes even further in verses 17-20 to get to the root of adultery. While the 7th command is quite clear of the serious nature of committing adultery, Jesus explains that to look at someone lustfully is to commit adultery in our hearts. This is not something to play around with! Pornography is a dangerous practice that has torn many families apart and has destroyed numerous marriages, even Christian marriages. Habitually engaging one’s heart in sexual fantasy is being unfaithful to one’s marriage, yet some justify it by saying that they are not committing the physical act of adultery. Jesus made it clear that the root of adultery is in the heart, not in the act.
So, what was Jesus saying in verse 20 when he said that our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees? He is saying that righteousness is a condition of the heart, not a bunch of rules. We need to be genuine. Don’t give a false outward impression of being righteous and yet hold on to the bitter roots of sin deep within our hearts. We must be holy from the inside out. That begins with accepting the price Jesus paid for us on the cross and then submitting our hearts to him entirely. Then, our inner purity will show on the outside.
Ultimately, let us yield our lives to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to do the work within. He will form us more and more into the image of Christ!
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Galatians 5:16-26 NIV
Dear Lord, let us have sincere hearts that follow hard after You! Purify us from the inside out. In Jesus’ name.
(This is labeled “Week 3” Video, but it lays the foundation and introduces the main topic we will be discussing in weeks 4 and 5 as well. Enjoy!)
Week 4 Assignments
- Read Matthew 5-7
- Study Week 5: “You Have Heart That It Was Said…” Part 2, pp. 60-73; Matthew 5:31-48
- Attend a small group.
- Watch my video for this week.
- Memorize this week’s Bible verse, Matthew 5:23-24 ESV:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Week 4 Discussion Questions
Here is a sneak peek of the questions we will be discussing this week in our small groups.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:21-22 ESV
QUESTION 1: (Day 2) Do you think it is a sin to be angry? What is the difference between sinful and unsinful anger? Give an example each of sinful anger and unsinful anger.
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 ESV
QUESTION 2: (Day 3) What is Jesus teaching us here about fractured relationships? Should all relationships be reconciled? What should you do if the person with whom we want to reconcile has no desire to do so? What if the person is no longer living?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28 ESV
QUESTION 3: Jesus challenges the casual mindset toward sin and takes it much deeper, getting to the heart of the matter. What are some ways we are easily influenced by our culture to take the sin of lust, or sexual promiscuity, too casually? How can we take this sin more seriously and keep our hearts pure without being judgmental toward others who have different convictions?
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30 ESV
QUESTION 4: What do you think Jesus means by this statement? Do you think He literally wants us to tear out our eyes or cut off our hands? What are some examples of ways we can crucify our flesh daily, or to figuratively remove our eyes or hands?
QUESTION 5: What impacted you most in this week’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount?
- Skip Week 1 in the book; Optional video
- August 28 – September 3, Study Week 2: “Who Is Blessed?” pp. 14-29; Matthew 5:1-12
- Small groups: Introduction. No need to ready anything ahead of time.
- September 4-10, Study Week 3: “A People of Influence,” pp. 30-45; Matthew 5:13-20
- Small groups: Discuss Week 2
- September 11-17, Study Week 4: “You Have Heard That It Was Said…” Part 1, pp. 46-59; Matthew 5:21-30
- Small groups: Discuss Week 3
- September 18-24, Study Week 5: “You Have Heart That It Was Said…” Part 2, pp. 60-73; Matthew 5:31-48
- Small groups: Discuss Week 4
- September 25 – October 1, Study Week 6: “Secret Righteousness,” pp. 74-89; Matthew 6:1-18
- Small groups: Discuss Week 5
- October 2-8, Study Week 7: “Where Your Treasure Is,” pp. 90-105; Matthew 6:19-34
- Small groups: Discuss Week 6
- October 9-15, Study Week 8: “Do Unto Others,” pp. 106-121; Matthew 7:1-12
- Small groups: Discuss Week 7
- October 16-22, Study Week 9: “A Foundation That Endures,” pp. 122-137; Matthew 7:13-29
- Small groups: Discuss Week 8
- October 23-29: Catch Up Week and Finish Study
- Small groups: Discuss Week 9
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Let us continue being faithful and diligent in the Word. May we seek to know God and His ways. I hope to see you in a small group this week!