SOME MISUSES OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

The Master’s magnificent message which we read in Matthew chapters five through seven has been dubbed “The Sermon on the Mount.” We are blessed immeasurably to have these words of Jesus recorded for us. Those who drink deeply from this section of the Bible can receive great guidance and assistance.

A recent, brief conversation with one gentleman reminded me that, as is the case with other passages of Scripture, some people use faulty reasoning when applying certain portions of the Sermon on the Mount. For our purposes, let me mention one example of such from each of the three chapters.

Matthew 5:20 – the message: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:20 – the misapplication: “If the Jews were commanded to tithe, and our righteousness has to exceed theirs, then we are required to give more than ten per cent of our income.” A bit later in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did mention giving alms (6:1-4), but what we read in Matthew 5:20 is not about our contribution of material things.

Matthew 5:20 – the meaning: Many of the Jews considered the scribes and Pharisees to be the most spiritual among them. Thus, for Jesus to say that His followers must have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, surely sounded like a very high demand to His listeners.

From other Bible passages connected with the life and teaching of the Christ, we learn that the way of the scribes and Pharisees was one of self- righteousness (Luke 18:9), hypocrisy (Matthew 23:2,3), pretension/outward appearance only – to be seen of men (Matthew 23:5,14,27,28), and omitting the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Such attitudes must be absent in the heart of anyone who wants to enter the kingdom/church. One who longs to please the Lord must have a noble and good heart (Luke 8:15). In addition, God’s way of making man righteous is revealed in the gospel (Romans 1:16,17). One who wants to be a citizen in the kingdom must be willing to accept His gospel plan for our righteousness, not the ways of the old covenant.

Matthew 6:5 – the message: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”

Matthew 6:5 – the misapplication: Not long ago a man got quite huffy when I knocked on his door and tried to share with him a tract about Jesus. He told me, “Religion is a personal thing, and I don’t think we ought to be spreading it. Jesus said to go into your room and pray by yourself, so we need to keep our religion to ourselves and leave other people alone.”

Matthew 6:5 – the meaning: Jesus was warning His disciples not to imitate the practice of some Jews whose prayers in public settings were “long and loud” in order to draw attention to themselves and cause others to admire them. By praying with no one else around, when it just a disciple and his heavenly Father, there is no temptation to pray with the intention of trying to impress anyone.

Jesus, however, was not forbidding praying in front of others in each possible scenario. He Himself offered a prayer in the presence of a multitude of people before feeding them (John 6:10,11). Paul gave thanks in the presence of many on board a ship (Acts 27:35). Jesus’ message was about the proper attitude in prayer, not the location of the one who is praying.

As far as spreading the word about Jesus goes, our Lord wants His followers to declare the gospel of salvation to every person (Mark 16:15,16). Not everyone whom we approach with the good news will be thankful and receptive, but we must keep sowing!

Matthew 7:1 – the message: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Matthew 7:1 – the misapplication: “Judging other people is wrong. We do not have the right to condemn anyone for anything that he does. We need to leave other people alone and just mind our own business.”

Matthew 7:1 – the meaning: Jesus explained that in whatever manner disciples judge others, they can expect to receive similar judgment/treatment from them (7:2). The judgment that Jesus is condemning is inconsistent/unfair judging (7:3,4). It is not wrong to recognize and acknowledge that a brother has a speck in his eye (7:3). It would be wrong, though, to see and speak about his speck, but at the same time refuse to deal with the beam/plank that we have in our own eye.

The judgment that Jesus condemns is harsh and hypocritical judging (7:3,4). In principle, His teaching also would condemn hasty and uncharitable judging, prejudicial judging (“prejudging”), and judging a person’s motive without proof that his intent is wrong. When you keep reading in Matthew 7, though, you plainly see that our Lord expects us to understand what is holy, identify dogs and hogs, and recognize false prophets (7:6,15). He wants us to practice “fang and fruit inspection” (7:15-20).

Let us maintain our love for Jesus’ teaching, keep studying diligently, and rightly divide His truth.

— Roger D. Campbell

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