Raising the bar: Matt. 5:21-37

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By Steve Schroeder

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Matt. 5: 22

As one of the taller kids in junior high school, I thought I would be good at high jump. So I set up some posts in my backyard, hammered in some nails and found a stick that was long enough to rest on those nails. Then the challenge began. How high could I jump? I soon learned that landing on the lawn was painful. So I transitioned to practicing at school where we had a real high jump pit complete with soft landing pads.

The objective in high jump is simple—to see who can jump the highest by raising the bar one notch at a time. When we look at the way Jesus approaches Old Testament laws, we find him “raising the bar” with respect to morality and keeping the law. He sets the stage for this in Matthew 5:20 where he speaks about having a righteousness that “surpasses that of the Pharisees.” That’s really raising the bar! They already had such high standards. What could be higher than that?

But Jesus does not add more laws. He redefines familiar Old Testament laws in a way that calls for right motives that will inevitably result in a higher standard of conduct. For example, the law says that a murderer is subject to judgment (Matt. 5: 21). Jesus raises that bar to a new level, saying, “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (v. 22). For Jesus it was not simply a matter of making sure you don’t get so mad that you end up killing your brother. Rather, his standard forced a serious look at the heart: Why do I get angry with my brother in the first place?

He does the same thing with the law concerning adultery. For Jesus it is not just a matter of making sure that in our lusting we don’t actually commit adultery. He raises the bar by suggesting that we not even allow our eyes to desire someone.

We see this new kind of standard again when Jesus rejects the idea of casual divorce (simply filling out the right paperwork) and casual promises (you’re only obligated to keep your word if you swore by God when you made that promise). Jesus’ new way of living invites us to guard our mouths and say only what we mean. He challenges us to take our marriage vows seriously without looking for an easy out. He calls us to take the high road of guarding our hearts, our eyes and our minds long before we end up committing adultery or murder.

So instead of raising the bar so high that everyone is disqualified, Jesus raises the bar in order to make it clear that apart from his heart-transforming power we’ll never be able to jump that high.

 

Steve Schroeder is the pastor of Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kan.

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