Read Matthew 5:21-26
Jesus teaches his disciples in this passage that obedience to the word of the law was not enough. The Pharisees believed that they were doing right by keeping the letter of the law but in their hearts they still hated their brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith. It was easy for them to look condescendingly down at those who weren’t good enough to be Pharisees and to despise those who weren’t like them.
Jesus once again goes beyond what was accepted at the time and tells his disciples that there is more to following God than just following the word of the law. The disciples should recognize the spirit of the law and the one who gave it. Bonhoeffer writes, “Only by knowing Christ as the Giver and Fulfiller of the law can we attain to a true knowledge of the law.”
Can we expect a non-Christian to be able to adhere to God’s law?
How far should a Christian go in adhering to God’s law, while acknowledging we are not perfect and will still break God’s law?
Once again our ability to adhere to God’s law lies in our relationship to him. The closer our relationship with God, the more difficult it will be to do something that will damage that relationship. For instance, many people have no problem stealing office supplies, whether it be a big or small item. These same people would probably never think of getting in their best friend’s wallet or purse and taking $10. The difference is the relationship that has been established.
When it comes to discipleship and brotherhood, we should recognize that not just our outward actions affect those around us but also our thoughts and actions. Bonhoeffer notes that this even affects our worship of God.
“When we come before God with hearts full of contempt and unreconciled with our neighbors, we are, bother individually and as a congregation, worshipping and idol. So long as we refuse to love and serve our brother and make him an object of contempt and let him harbor a grudge against me or the congregation, our worship and sacrifice will be unacceptable to God.”
You’ll recall that we are to love our neighbor just as we are to love God. We wouldn’t be naïve enough to think that we are in good shape if just we keep from showing hatred towards God. There’s a great difference between not hating God and loving Him. However, we take this very attitude towards our fellow man and Jesus tells us here that we must go further. Loving your neighbor is not just not hating our neighbor. Love goes much further.