As a family dealing with multiple food allergies and dietary restrictions, we are constantly checking labels and ingredients to make sure the food we’re putting on the table is safe for consumption. Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients on the label of some of your favorite food items? Some of the food items we know and love that look so appetizing often include ingredients that are unappealing if not downright unhealthy. We would do well to take a closer look at what’s really on the inside.
In a way, this is what Jesus is doing in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. While he’s not concerned with the ingredients of our food, he is concerned with the ingredients of our hearts. Jesus is contradicting the Pharisaical approach to the Law, which was primarily “outside-in.” Put another way, the Pharisees were more concerned with their outward appearance of law-keeping than the innermost attitudes, desires, and thoughts that drove their external behaviors.
Not so with Jesus. In Matthew 5:27-37, Jesus is getting “under the hood” to the heart of the matter. On the surface, as long as you’re not committing adultery, not divorcing your wife, and not swearing falsely you would appear to be living righteously. But Jesus calls his followers, the citizens of God’s Kingdom, to a greater righteousness (Matthew 5:20). The righteousness Jesus is calling his followers to gets underneath the outward appearance of law-keeping to our hearts’ motivations for law-keeping.
Not committing adultery is good; but putting lustful desire to death is a greater righteousness.
Saying no to divorce is good; but committing to a life of faithfulness and purity with your spouse is a greater righteousness.
Refusing to swear falsely is good; but being a person of integrity in all your conversations and dealings is a greater righteousness.
Each of these topics is certainly worthy of deeper, more nuanced discussion. But at the heart of the matter is the matter of our hearts—the attitudes, desires, and motivations that drive our external behaviors. So, how’s your heart?
At the end of the day, the reality is our hearts are marred by sin (Jeremiah 17:9). In and of ourselves, we don’t have the quality of righteousness that “exceeds that of the Pharisees” (Isaiah 64:6; Matthew 5:20). Thankfully, the good news of the gospel is that the same Jesus that calls us to a greater righteousness also supplies us with that righteousness: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).