Matthew 5:17-20 can be a bit of a hard piece of Scripture to fully comprehend. There’s a lot packed into it that can be looked at and dissected. Especially because it talks about the law, and God’s Word. It can also be a bit confusing if you think about parts of Bible verses that state that Christians are no longer bound by the law (like Romans 7:6). What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the law? Do I still need to be live even more righteously than a Pharisee? But of course, the Bible is inherent as God’s Word, meaning it makes no mistakes and does not contradict itself. Each Word given by God has intention and purpose. As I read through and prayed over this passage, there were two Discover Bible Study (DBS) questions that really stood out to me: “What does this passage tell me about God?” & “What does this passage tell me about humanity?” I pray that by taking a look at these questions, those of you reading will find it helpful or encouraging as you continue to process and think about this passage. May His Holy Spirit continue to guide us in understanding His Word and help us find conviction over how God might be calling us to align our lives to His Kingdom (a bonus td DBS question!).
Sometimes, when I look consider those two DBS questions and it feels difficult to answer based on the passage, it helps me to think: “Why was it necessary for me to read these words, or for them to have been said at the time?” I think God is intentional and purposeful in the Words that He gives, which means we can get a glimpse of who He is based on what He finds is important to tell us. And since the Bible is God’s Word given to us humans, there has to be something in what is said (or in our case, written) that informs us about humans or human nature!
When I reflect on this passage and consider why Jesus specifically mentions that He came to fulfill the law (which according to verse 18, will be accomplished before the end of time), I realize that there must be a great importance and significance to the law. Jesus didn’t come to make God’s previous word invalid. The fact that He goes into great detail to remind His followers that God’s Word (even the smallest stroke, the iota) needed to be accomplished reminds me that all of God’s words are important & holy. The fact that Jesus found it neceshumansary to state these things in verses 17-18 also reveal to me that it must have been a misunderstanding or perhaps temptation to think that the law no longer applies to those following Him. This reminds me that at the heart of the sinful nature of humanity is a sneaky desire to disobey God’s Word.
I think verses 19-20 remind me that God is righteous & that we need righteousness to be in His presence or to enter the kingdom of heaven. But I’m also reminded that humanity in its sinful state is incredibly far from God–and that righteousness through obeying God’s Word is basically impossible by human means. Jesus uses the Pharisees as an example of righteousness because they were a Jewish sect that were known to uphold the Word of God at an extreme decree. I remember reading in a historical commentary that they would go to the extent of tithing 10% of the spices they harvested from their garden, no matter how small the portion was. Even though the Pharisees upheld the law in its literal, legal sense, we see through His ministry that Jesus still found fault with them and the heart behind their righteousness. So if the Pharisees were considered the most righteous through obeying the law at the time, maintaining the law to an even greater extent than them would appear to be impossible for any other human! From this passage we can see that righteousness is important because God is righteous and holy, and that humanity is in need of righteousness to enter the kingdom of heaven (& to have a relationship with God), but that it’s basically impossible by attaining it through obeying the law on our own.
So how do we reconcile all these things together? From this passage and our DBS questions, I gathered that: All of God’s words are important, so God’s law is important; Human nature is to disobey God’s laws so obtaining righteousness by obeying His law is basically impossible; BUT God is righteous & we need to be righteous to be with Him. Well, I’m thankful that God was so gracious to us even with our sin and desire to go against God’s Word. I’m thankful that by His grace and mercy, He gave us righteousness and a renewed relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus, who fulfilled the law by living the perfect life that we couldn’t of uphold (even better than the Pharisees!) AND received the punishment we deserved for falling short with a sinful life. The righteousness I was given in order to have a relationship with God and to enter into the kingdom of heaven was obtained through Jesus, not by my own attempts to obey the law.
But at the same time, knowing that the laws given to us in God’s Word are important, I’m still thankful for it because it’s God’s Word. While I’m not bound to it in order to obtain righteousness, because of Jesus and because I love God, I desire to both still know it and obey it since Jesus also tells us later on in John 14:23-24 that those who love Him, know His words & obey Him. I wanted to share a quote that I previously wrote down from Pastor David Guzik that I think summarizes it pretty well:
The law sends us to Jesus to be justified, because it shows us our inability to please God in ourselves. But after we come to Jesus, He sends us back to the law to learn the heart of God for our conduct and sanctification.
As we continue to pray about and think on what this passage revealed to us about God and about humanity, I hope the following questions help you further consider how God may be calling you to align your life to Him and His kingdom. As His followers, may we desire to know Jesus more, and be transformed to be more like Him in all that we do. I also hope that this past Sunday’s message given to us by our guest speaker, Pastor Karen Woo, was also helpful for you as you study God’s Word!
- How do you approach the law (the commandments) given to us in God’s Word? Do you view it as something unnecessary or unimportant? Are you tempted to think that Jesus abolished the law? Consider why. Or do you feel that you value and desire to uphold it? In what ways? Take a moment to reflect on or pray through Psalm 119:9-16.
- How do your actions and how you live your life reflect that you have been made righteous and given salvation solely by the blood of Christ? Take a moment to reflect: Is what drives or motivates you to obey the word of God and do good works the ability to achieve righteousness or salvation? Or do you desire & choose to be obedient to God’s Word and to do good works out of thankfulness for the gift of grace & mercy, and out of your relationship with God? Consider Philippians 3:8-11.
- How is God calling you to know His law, and His Word more? How can you implement this into your current lifestyle & schedule?
- Consider John 14:23-24 and how Jesus reminds us that those who love Him, obey Him. Is God challenging you to obey His law or to repent from any sin? Take time to do so. I encourage you to share with a trusted brother or sister in Christ to receive prayer (James 5:16).
- Think about the people you influence by your actions or words on a daily basis. Are you teaching them the Word of God by word or deed? Or have you been perhaps leading them astray? Pray and ask God to guide & lead you in this.
Hungry for more?
Create an atmosphere to encounter God
During this historical time, we’ve been collecting songs along the way. You can find the playlists on SGPC’s Spotify profile (requires a free Spotify account). Listen to old favorites and discover new songs of the season! Spring off into some of the suggestions generated by Spotify or search for your own go-to songs. These also work well as background music for studying scripture (or anything else).