Generally speaking, learning involves adding knowledge to existing foundations. For example, reading requires a knowledge of the alphabet; geometry provides a base for trigonometry, which in turn serves as a footing for calculus. Foundations and carefully constructed frameworks are critical success factors in education.

Occasionally however, students (and their teachers) are faced with information that challenges their foundations (e.g., a round earth that is not the center of the universe). Those able to understand and embrace these paradigm challenges discover and create whole new worlds. Imagine where we would be if mankind had decided to discard the possibility of human flight. How many would still believe flat-earth theory?

In Matthew 5:17-20 (the passage covered in our previous article), we find Jesus drawing on both forms of learning. First, He assures those listening that the Law and Prophets are foundational to the kingdom of God – that following and teaching the commandments of God is critically important. He then challenges their paradigm concerning the interpretation and demonstration of the Law provided by the Pharisees and Scribes by stating that entering the kingdom of God requires a greater righteousness.

There are several important lessons here, for both students and teachers:

  1. Strong foundations allow for paradigm challenges.
  2. Students need help understanding what is foundation and what is being challenged.
  3. Teachers are most often the creators of false paradigms.
  4. Transformation often requires significant paradigm shifts.
  5. Teachers must be willing to speak the truth in the face of potential opposition.
  6. Examples help tremendously – particularly when paradigm shifts are involved.

In Matthew 5: 21-47, being the best of teachers, Jesus gives ten examples to explain the righteous fulfillment of the Law required by God. We will cover each of these in turn over the next couple of weeks. But first, a few general observations.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1971) suggests the Pharisees had legalized God’s heart out of the Law, turning His commandments into rules for justification of behavior, rather than instruments for searching the hearts of mankind. Furthermore, instead of being humbled by them, the Pharisees used them for self-glorification, and the condemnation and oppression of others. They had made the Law into a foundation and structure for whitewashed tombs.

Said another way, God’s intention for the Law was to express His heart for His relationship with His people. Consequently, Jesus spends a considerable amount of the Sermon helping us understand that the Law is best understood with our hearts, not our heads. The Law is about motive more than thought and action; what goes on in the heart of kingdom citizen is the heart of the matter.

Oswald Chambers, in his book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (1995), similarly observes that the heart must lead the mind in our interpretation of the Law. As he puts it:

“We live in two universes: the universe of common sense, in which we come in contact with things by our senses, and the universe of revelation, with which we come in contact by faith. The wisdom of God fits the two universes exactly; the one interprets the other.”

Chambers goes on to break down this portion of the Sermon into four parts: Purity of the heart (vv. 21-30), the practice of that purity (vv. 31-37), purity of heart in the face of persecution (vv. 38-42); and manifesting the perfect heart of God through our expressions of love for everyone, including our enemies (vv. 43-48).

For years, I struggled to get my head around the sayings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, sadly resigning myself to a dissatisfying hope that it would make sense to me someday. Well, that someday has finally arrived, but not in the way I expected. Clarity did not come by way of increased mental ability, improved analysis technique, or the insight of those smarter than I.

Eventually, upon turning to God in desperation, I discovered two keys to understanding and doing the sayings of Jesus.

  1. Being willing. “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine… (John 7:17)”. It seems so obvious, but surrender is easier said than done. Our carnal mind resists vehemently. Mercifully, God responds to our willingness with His own, and His purposes will not be denied Him (Job 42:2).
  2. By grace, through faith. Ultimately, the Sermon on the Mount is about the kingdom of God and becoming a kingdom citizen. “Becoming a kingdom citizen” is synonymous with “being saved”. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the way we are saved is also the way we become citizens of God’s kingdom: we must exercise the faith we have been given – small amounts go a long way – to lay hold of God’s grace for understanding and doing the will of God.

Surrender and faith are matters of the heart. This, of course, is no coincidence. Jesus Christ came to set the prisoners free and to remove the yokes of religious oppression. It is with their heart that the followers of Jesus Christ come to believe the truth that will make them free. The kingdom of God and our entering in is a matter of the heart.

We will search out Jesus’ examples in subsequent articles. In the meantime, allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart for any resistance or unbelief. Root out and reject any involvement by your carnal mind in your consideration of God’s kingdom and your place in it. This is a pivotal point in the Sermon, as we transition from the descriptions of a kingdom citizen’s character to the practices that manifest from that character. Every moment invested in prayer and meditation will generate a healthy return.

In closing, be encouraged that if you read this article as a student to go back and read it again as a teacher, for we are all called to make disciples. The lessons here will serve your efforts well.

God bless you with His humbling and encouraging presence.

Humbly yours and forever His,


Chambers, O., (1995), Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers.

Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1971), Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company.