STUDY SEVEN: THE RADICAL ETHICS OF THE KINGDOM

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

Our King calls us to a radical new ethic – a radical new set of moral principles appropriate for his kingdom.

As we have seen in the previous study, Jesus is not interested in a superficial spirituality or a ritual religion that does not reach the heart. In Matthew 5:17-48 he calls us to a conformity to the heart and the spirit of God’s law, to a ‘righteousness’ that exceeds the external righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees [Mat 5:17-20]. He challenges us to look behind written laws to the deep principles which the written laws express, and to base our ethic on those deep principles. Not only this, he challenges us to look behind the forbidden extreme actions to the attitudes and thoughts that generate those actions.

 

A. BEHIND AND BEYOND MURDER - Matthew 5:21-26

RADICAL ETHIC #1: PEOPLE BELONG TO GOD, CREATED TO BEAR HIS IMAGE: HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE

A.1 BEHIND ‘DO NOT MURDER’
Murder is the ultimate rejection of a person, the ultimate expression of hatred, contempt and disrespect of another human being.

Discuss the relationship of each point below to murder.

Physical violence

[Exodus 21:12-27]

 

 

 

Negligence leading to death or injury

[Exodus 21:29-32; Leviticus 19:16b]

 

 

Anger, contempt, disrespect, malice,

slander

[Matthew 5:21-22;

Ephesians 4:31]

 

Hate

[1 John 3:15]

 

 

 

Now read and discuss Genesis 9:6b and answer these questions:

What is the underlying reason for God’s prohibition of murder?

 

How does it help us to understand how all kinds of physical violence are outlawed by God?

 

How does it relate to attitudes that destroy another person?

 

 

 

A.2 BEYOND MURDER

People are precious to God on two counts:
• He created them in his image [Genesis 1:27] and sustains them by his word [Col 1:17; Heb 1:3]
• He gave his only Son to die for them [John 3:16]

When we are tempted at any of the points listed above – physical violence, anger, hate, malice, slander, contempt, disrespect – we are acting contrary to the heart of our God, and despising and destroying a person made to bear his image, a person created to bring glory to his name, and a person whom he loves so much that he sacrificed his Son for that person’s redemption. There is no person on the earth unloved by God. There is no person on earth whose suffering and whose death does not cause pain to God [Ezekiel 33:11]. 

So Jesus calls us beyond the commandment against murder to an ethic that recognises that murder is just the ultimate expression of a long string of inappropriate attitudes and actions towards the other person; to an ethic that recognizes that this person against whom we have these negative feelings, is God’s creation, made to be God’s image-bearer, and, potentially, the beneficiary of the death of Christ and God’s special treasure. He calls us to an ethic in which we recognize that when we despise and destroy another, we are despising our heavenly Father and his love.

This person belongs to God:
We have no right to commit violence against him.
We have no right to harm him by our negligence.
We have no right to hold him in contempt or disrespect.
We have no right to be angry towards him.
We have no right to slander him.
We have no right to hate him.

Rather
We have the responsibility to preserve his life.
We have the responsibility to preserve his reputation.
We have the responsibility to respect him.
We have the responsibility to forgive and to love him.
We have the responsibility to ensure there is nothing between us that will result in destruction.

For this reason, Jesus says: if someone has something against you, you go and make peace [Matt 5:23-26]. You do whatever it takes to defuse a situation in which anger, hatred and conflict are potential outcomes.

 

B. BEHIND AND BEYOND ADULTERY - Matthew 5:27-32 

RADICAL ETHIC #2: GOD CREATED YOU, OVER AND ABOVE ALL ELSE, FOR A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIMSELF: KEEP YOURSELF SEXUALLY PURE IN THOUGHT AND ACTION

B.1 BEHIND ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’

We have seen above that behind God’s command ‘do not murder’ is the high value he places on human life. When we look behind his command ‘do not commit adultery’ we see, in addition to this value God places on our neighbour which requires an appropriate respect for our neighbour, that God also values us and our relationship to himself.

[Before you discuss the verses in this box, read the instructions in the next box as well.]

Reflection and response: Discuss the verses below, looking for answers to these questions:

[1] What do these verses say about the spiritual condition of people who are ruled by their sexual desires?

[2] What is the source of sexual sins?

[3] What spiritual truths make indulging in sexual sins wrong?

Leviticus 18:24-25

 

 

 

 

Matthew 15:19-20

 

 

 

Romans 1:21-32

  

 

 

Romans 13:11-14

 

 

 

 

1Corinthians 6:13b

 

 

 

 

1Cor 6:18-20

 

 

 

Galatians 5:16-25

  

 

 

Ephesians 5:3-7

 

 

 

Colossians 3:5-10

 

 

 

 

1Thess 4:1-8

 

 

 

2Peter 2:1,13-18

 

 

 

 

Rev 2:14,20

 

 

 

[A note on the meaning of ‘adultery’ and ‘fornication’: Generally ‘adultery’ is used to refer to sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his/her marriage partner. The word ‘fornication’ [often translated ‘sexual immorality’ in the NIV] covers all kinds of sexual sins, including adultery. The word is actually ‘pornea’ – from which our word ‘pornography’ is derived.]

‘Adultery’, like ‘murder’, is just the tip of an iceberg of sin. Behind [and beside] adultery, is a whole range of sexual sins. The mindset of contemporary Australian society is so dominated by sex and sexuality that it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to explicit sexual sins. This constant exposure tends to deaden the Christian conscience and weakens our ability to discern what are acceptable and what are unacceptable behaviours and attitudes in the sexual area.

As you read through the texts listed in the table above, make a list of every sexual action and attitude that God considers wrong. Also check out the verses listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Leviticus 18:1-23; Leviticus 20;10-21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1Timothy 1:10.

From the above scriptures we learn that the sexual sins are an expression of the rejection of God and of God’s perception and definition of ‘human’:

  • When humans reject God as God, and embrace either no god or false gods, sexual desires tend to become dominant in their lives and to usurp the place of God in their lives.
  • When contact with God is lost, a destructive process sets in in which the dignity which God bestowed on humans is increasingly lost and in which our self-perception is reduced to an idea that we must be sexually stimulated and satisfied at all costs, and in which our perception of others is reduced to viewing them as sexual objects to be used, misused or abused to fulfil our own desires and then to be discarded when they no longer stimulate or satisfy.
  • Sex becomes addictive: God ceases to be the source of meaning, joy and comfort. Sex takes over the role of God and is an insatiable task-master, constantly demanding more and more, always lusting for new avenues of excitement and fulfilment, but never satisfied.

 

B.2 BEYOND SEXUAL SINS

Jesus calls us beyond sexual sins and beyond the focus on sexuality that produces sexual sins. As we have seen in the discussion above, God’s creative purpose, and God’s saving purpose in Christ, give us an identity, a purpose and role that are far beyond the sexually oriented identity and goals that characterize our society. As disciples of Jesus Christ we need to orientate our lives around God’s perspective revealed in the verses above:

  • When humans acknowledge God as God, the importance of this relationship with God takes precedence over sexuality.
  • We are on this planet for God, not for our own satisfaction.
  • We do not belong to ourselves – we belong to God, who has purchased us by the blood of Christ and made us his own possession.
  • As believers in Jesus Christ, we are the dwelling place of the Spirit of God – God’s temple. Therefore the purity of our bodies and what we do with our bodies should be very high on our priority list.

Thus, beyond adultery, beyond all sexual sins, is our relationship with God – by virtue of creation and by virtue of salvation. Sex is part of the way he created us, but he did not create us to serve sex. Within the marriage relationship, the sexual act, practiced within the boundaries of God’s value of your marriage partner and God’s high calling of you personally, is ordained, approved and blessed by God. In any other context it is contrary to his purpose for us. So strongly is his opposition to sexual impurity and ‘freedom’ that Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5:27-30 challenge us to an incredible commitment to sexual purity:

  • In which even lust is perceived to be as sinful as adultery for it is the evidence of an impure heart
  • In which we would rather be blind than be sexually tempted by what we see
  • In which we would rather have no hands than be tempted to use our hands in sexual sins
  • In which we understand that sexual impurity is so hateful to God and so contrary to God’s will for us that, apart from God’s mercy, it would put us in hell.


B.3 A RELATED ISSUE: THE DIVORCE QUESTION [Matthew 5:31-32; see also 19:1-12]
Closely related to the sexuality question is the question of divorce. Jesus points out here that divorce for any reason other than marital unfaithfulness is not an option for his disciples. What is his reason for this strict ethic that cuts right across the mentality of our age? Jesus said:

[1] Marriage makes two one [19:5-6; Genesis 2:24]. The marriage union is God-ordained and God-made.
[2] No one should separate what God has joined. 
[3] If a man divorces his wife he causes her to commit adultery. [He is forcing her to break the marriage union by ceasing to live with him physically].
[4] Anyone who marries a divorced person commits adultery. [Because in God’s eyes the marriage still exists.]
[5] The Biblical laws about divorce were not God affirming divorce but God putting rules around the way in which divorce was practiced, because men in their hardness of heart, were divorcing their wives for insignificant reasons, and leaving them with their reputations wrongly damaged.

 

C. BEHIND AND BEYOND SWEARING - Matthew 5:33-37

RADICAL ETHIC #3: YOU ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE GOD OF TRUTH: AIM FOR TRUTHFULNESS AND INTEGRITY

The ‘swearing’ referred to in Matthew 5:33-37 is swearing an oath. Today people ‘swear on the Bible’ in court – that is a form of oath taking. When people say things like ‘so help me God’ or ‘by Crikey’ or ‘by God’, or ‘struth’ (which is short for ‘God’s truth’) – these are modern left-overs of a generation that used such phrases to add emphasis and integrity to their word by invoking the name of God in an oath.

In his teaching here Jesus points out that behind the swearing of oaths there is actually a lack of honesty and integrity, because if we were people who were known for our honesty and integrity there would never be any need for us to swear an oath to borrow integrity from the name of God.

Study the verses below. What do they teach us about the dishonesty, lack of integrity and deceptiveness that are behind the perceived need to swear an oath?

Exodus 20:16

 

 

Exodus 23:1-8

 

 

Leviticus

19:11-16a

 

Deuteronomy

19:15-20

 

Proverbs

6:19; 24:28

 

Proverbs

12:17; 14:5; 17:4

 

Isaiah

59:4, 14-15

 

Jeremiah 9:3-6

 

 

John 8:44-47

 

 

Ephesians 4:25,31

 

 

Now study these verses and discuss the honesty and integrity that is to characterize the people of God, so that there is never any need to call on the name of God to enforce one’s integrity.

Job 1:1,8; 2:3;

[‘upright’ = ‘straight’]

 

Job 12:4

[‘righteous’ = ‘truth, integrity’]

 

Proverbs 24:26

 

 

Zechariah

8:16-17

 

Ephesians 4:25

 

 

Ephesians 5:9

 

 

Matthew 5:37

 

 

 Why does God value honesty and integrity and hate dishonesty and deception? Because he is pure truth, he is ‘straight’. Conversely, the devil, his enemy, is the great deceiver and the father of all lies and deception.

Read and discuss the verses listed below

The nature of our Father in heaven

The nature of our enemy and former master

John 1:14; 8:12, 32; 14:6;

Exodus 34:6 [where ‘faithfulness’ = ‘truth’];

Deuteronomy 32:4 [where ‘faithful’ = ‘true’]

Psalm 31:5;

James 1:17

 

 

 

 

John 8:42-47

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

Revelation 12:9; 13:14

Revelation 19:20

Revelation 20:3,8,10

Now discuss the inappropriateness of the children of God, who is truth, displaying the characteristics of Satan, who is the arch deceiver.

 

 

 

 

D. BEHIND AND BEYOND ‘REVENGE’ [Matthew 5:38-48]

RADICAL ETHIC #4: TRUST GOD TO LOOK AFTER YOUR 'RIGHTS': DISPLAY THE NATURE OF YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER BY LOVING YOUR ENEMIES

In the Old Testament the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’ is mentioned in three contexts:

[1] Exodus 21:22-25: in the case of a pregnant woman being seriously injured by men who were fighting. Whatever injury she sustained was to be inflicted on the one who hurt her.
[2] Leviticus 24:17-22: generally applied to all injuries.
[3] Deuteronomy 19:16: in the case of a false witness in court, whose intention was to harm the accused.  Whatever he had planned to do to the accused was to be done to him.

The obvious intention of these extreme penalties was a preventative measure to [1] discourage accidental injury to pregnant women, [2] set the legal penalties to be imposed, and [3] discourage false testimony in court aimed at ‘getting back’ at anyone. The original ‘eye for an eye’ was not a general mandate for private revenge and retaliation; it was a rule to be imposed in the courts of law. It would seem, however, that it had degenerated into a popular validation for retaliation.

At the bottom line, this issue is about what we see as our ‘rights’, and we can identify here six different perspectives of ‘our rights’:

Perspective 1: In which I view myself as having the ‘right’ to harm my neighbour just because I want to, and will use and misuse the legal system to bring him down one way or another [as in Deuteronomy 19:16].

Perspective 2: In which, believing that my neighbour has done some harm to me, see it as my ‘right’ to personally pay him back in like measure [opposite of Matthew 5:39].

Perspective 3: In which, when my neighbour has harmed me, I use my legal ‘right’ to bring him to justice through the appointed legal channels, and leave the penalty to be imposed to the legal system.

Perspective 4: In which, even though my neighbour has harmed or wronged me, I chose to be merciful and do not take him to court, which I could in fact do by ‘right’.

Perspective 5: In which, when a legitimate demand is made of me, I am not restricted by my legal ‘rights’, but do much more than I legally need to [this is the meaning of the references in Matthew 5:40 and 41].

Perspective 6: In which I do not consider my ‘right’ to some return more important than my neighbours’ genuine needs. [Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:34]

Of these perspectives, number 3 is the legal median. Before that median is sin; beyond that median is an increasingly Christlike attitude to ‘my rights’.

Reflection and response: From the verses below discuss the attitude that the Lord wants his disciples to have towards ‘rights’ and retaliation. Link your discussion back to ‘the meek’ in the previous study.

Leviticus 19:18

 

 

Deut 32:35

 

 

Psalm 94:1-11

Psalm 135:14

Proverbs

20:22; 24:29

 

John 13:12-17

 

 

Romans 12:17-19

 

 

Philippians 2:6,7

 

 

Jesus thus calls his disciples to a radical ethic concerning their attitude to their ‘rights’, which goes way beyond the attitude to rights which is legally legitimate, and has nothing in common with the attitude to ‘rights’ evident in many who do not know God. Having made this clear he then takes it further and teaches that instead of exacting revenge and standing on our rights we should actually love our enemies [5:43-48]. He gives us several reasons for this high call:

Study Matthew 5:43-48. List below the reasons and motivations Jesus gives for this extreme call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?

[verse 45]

 

 

[verse 46-47]

 

 

[verse 48]

 

 

 

REVIEW AND CHALLENGE

Reflection and response:

The radical ethics of Christ’s Kingdom

How does this Kingdom ethic compare with the ethical values of contemporary society?

How does this Kingdom ethic compare with contemporary Christian practice?

#1 People belong to God, created to bear his image: handle with extreme care.

 

[Attitude to human life]

 

 

#2 God created you, over and above all else, for a relationship with himself: keep yourself sexually pure in thought and action

[Attitude to sexual purity]

 

 

#3 You are the children of the God of truth: aim for truthfulness and integrity

 [Attitude to truth and integrity]

 

 

#4 Trust God to look after your ‘rights’: display the nature of your heavenly Father by loving your enemies  

[Attitude to rights & responsibilities]

 

 

 Can this radical ethic work today?

What are the difficulties?

what would be the results if all Christians lived up to this ethic?