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Law and Love—Matthew 5:17, 23–24

Friday, October 28, 2011, 6:00
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Law and Love

November 6, 2011

Lesson: Matthew 5:17-48

Key Verses: Matthew 5:17, 23–24

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Introduction

The doctrine or teaching of Christ is most agreeable to the moral law of God. Christ testifies that He, the Savior and Lord, came to fulfill that law: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). There is full agreement between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Law given to Moses and the Prophets. Calvin wrote, “if a new kind of doctrine had been introduced, which would destroy the authority of the Law and the Prophets, religion would have sustained a dreadful injury.” By declaring a Gospel absent of the moral law of God, men preach a Gospel devoid of substance and hope, of grace and love: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that our salvation is in Christ alone; that forgiveness of sins and eternal life can be found in Him alone. Our life is in Christ, from a right moral character or nature comes a moral way of life, expressed in truth, righteousness, and justice. The Holy Spirit is our witness, saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord; I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them”; then he adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Heb.10:15–17). Those who know the forgiveness of sins through the precious shedding of the blood of Christ, delight in His law, meditating upon it day and night (Ps.1:2). The Christian sings loud, “O how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).

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The Law and Christ—Matthew 5:17–20

Jesus Christ answers his accusers, who claim that He is preaching a faith other than that of Moses and Abraham, saying, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” To ‘fulfill’ (Pleroo) means to complete or perfect, as used in Luke 9:31, which speaks of the witness of Moses and Elijah, who “appeared in glory, and told of his departing, which he should accomplish (fulfill) at Jerusalem.” This testimony given at the ‘transfiguration of Jesus,’ teaches that Christ would accomplish what He came to do, namely, the efficacy of His death on the cross of Calvary. All that the prophets and the law, speak of the coming Messiah, will be fulfilled by Christ. Thus, the law and the prophets are not destroyed, but are perfected, in Christ.

Christ adds to this understanding of the law the truth that the law will be part and parcel of the life of the Christian, now, and throughout eternity. He teaches, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot nor one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” The word ‘fulfill’ (Ginomai) speaks of an accomplishment, or what is to be or what is to become. This word is understood in God’s creation, for “The first man Adam was made (to become, fulfilled), a living soul” (1 Cor. 15:45). Our Lord will accomplish with and within His people that which will last eternally. We, as His people, are becoming living (redeemed) souls in Christ. The law (Nomos) is the divine law, which includes the moral law given to Moses, as well as ceremonial and judicial laws. All are fulfilled in His people in Christ. It opposes the law of works for salvation, saying, “For the law (Nomos) of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).

We are to grow in the law of God in Christ. Christ is fulfilling within us His law. We are, therefore, to respond to the same call that Moses spoke: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words (which include the Ten Commandments) which I command you this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children” (Deut. 6:4–9).

We are not to take the commandments and law of the Lord lightly. For Christ warns those who would turn from the law to a watered-down Gospel, saying, “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 them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, whoever displays what Christ is fulfilling in their lives will be called great. Thus our “righteousness shall exceed” those who rest only upon the works of the law, by witnessing to the grace of God in Christ, who is fulfilling all righteousness in and through us. So we enter into His kingdom. For He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The moral law is fulfilled in the life of His Church, by having it written upon the very soul of each and every true member.

Discussion: What does it mean for Christ to fulfill the law of God?

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Sin and the Law—Matthew 5:21–48

The Lord gives us illustrations of how He fulfills the law within us, as He confronted the scribes and Pharisees who were resting upon their own hypocritical understanding of righteousness. Calvin writes of “their corrupted doctrine,” and “hypocritical parade of false righteousness.” He continues, saying that the “principal charge brought by Christ against their doctrine may be easily learned from what follows in the discourse, where he removes from the law their false and wicked interpretations, and restores it to its purity. In short, the objection which, as we have already said, was unjustly brought against him by the Scribes, is powerfully thrown back on themselves.”

The illustrations begin with the understanding of judgment against those who kill. It is not just the outward act of killing (murder) that men must fear judgment, but the inward motivation of the heart. For “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment.” Therefore, in fear of judgment because of our evil thoughts against a brother, we are driven to repentance, that we might find forgiveness and, also, reconciliation with that brother. When we have thus not only been forgiven, but have forgiven and been reconciled in true reconciling love for one another, then we can come with our gifts to God.

This self-examination to determine the condition of our heart, and not just our outward practice of righteousness, is further explained in the act of adultery. It is not just the act of adultery that must be repented of, but the condition which brought about the act in the first place. For, Christ teaches, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The gravity of this condition of the heart is seen in the warning, “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” For, to let that sin fester in the heart will bring horror to soul in its unrighteous practice.

The same is spoken of divorce. To put away a wife, especially by those in Christian leadership, because of incompatibility, etc., “saving for the cause of fornication,” causes her to commit the adultery, and also the one who may later marry her. Ministers who act thus have shown their disrespect for the Gospel call. It is in our hearts that relationships between one another are best revealed. Whether it is in the taking of oaths, or in personal revenge, or our relationship to our enemies, let our hearts be examined that they are right before God to act in His righteousness, and not our own. Let our words be true as we say “Yea, yea, Nay, nay”; and let us not try to hide our true thoughts with false vows. Let us go an extra mile with someone to show that we do not things because we are compelled, but because we are of Christ and His righteousness. Let us show love and compassion to any who come hungry or thirsty, praying for those who persecute us. For it is not the situation that drives us to act, but Christ in us. For “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7).

Discussion: How is the love of Christ fulfilled in our daily relationships?

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Lessons are based on the International Sunday School Lessons for Christian Teaching, copyright © 2011 by the Committee on the Uniform Series.

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