In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord describes the righteousness of the Kingdom. The importance of this Kingdom righteousness is found in Matthew 5: 20, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The Sermon on the Mount outlines the conditions of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. This verse links together the future and the present aspects of the Kingdom. The qualification for entrance into the future Kingdom is a present righteousness, a righteousness which exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. What kind of righteousness is this?
The righteousness required for entrance into the future realm of God's Kingdom is the righteousness which results from God's reign in our lives. The Kingdom of God gives to us that which it demands; otherwise, we could not attain it. The righteousness which God requires is the righteousness of God's Kingdom which God imparts as He comes to rule within our lives.
In our text the righteousness now demanded is set in contrast with the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees. This is significant because the Scribes and Pharisees were profoundly interested in righteousness. The Scribes were the professional students of religion. They were the men who gave their full time, like professors in a theological seminary, to the study of the Scriptures and whose main objective was the definition of righteousness. The Pharisees were those who accepted the teachings of the Scribes—their disciples who put their teachings into practice, thereby aiming to achieve a life of righteousness.
The Scribes and their disciples were motivated by the sole concern of achieving righteousness. Yet our Lord says that His disciples must possess a righteousness which exceeds that of the Pharisees. How can this be done? The Scribes had developed an enormous body of law to define what was right and what was wrong. They devoted more attention and study to the definition of righteousness than any of us do.
For instance, the law says that men should not work on the Sabbath Day. If righteousness consists of obedience to law, the law must be explicit. The question then arises, "What is work?' If conformity to the will of God is denied in terms of law, then one must know precisely when he is obeying the law and when he is breaking it. The Scribes and the Pharisees did not leave anything to private judgment or to the leading of the Holy Spirit They wanted a definition of what was right and what was wrong in every possible situation. Therefore they had compiled a great mass of tradition providing this necessary definition of righteousness which became embodied in the Mishnah and later still in the Talmuds.
What is work? Let me illustrate the problem. As I come home from worship on the Sabbath I see a dead leaf on a rose bush beside my walk. I stop and pick off the dead leaf. Have I worked? Probably not. Then I see a dead twig and I break off the twig. Have I yet engaged in work? Then I see another branch which I cannot break off, so I take my pocket-knife and I cut it off. Have I broken the Sabbath? There is still another branch as big as my thumb, too large for my knife, so I get my clippers and snip it off. Have I worked yet? The final step is to prune all my roses.
If I am living in terms of law, I must have a dictum from God's law that I may know when I am within the will of God, because my salvation depends upon it. I must know what is work and what is not.
Here is an actual illustration from Jewish rabbinic lore. A man keeps chickens. On the Sabbath one of his chickens lays an egg. Is it right to eat the egg or is it wrong? Is work involved or not? To the Scribes, this was a serious problem and the Rabbis debated the question and came to the following decision. If a man kept chickens for the purpose of producing eggs and they laid eggs on the Sabbath, work was involved and to eat the egg meant to break the Sabbath. But if he kept chickens for some other purpose and they happened to lay eggs on the Sabbath, no work was involved; the eggs could be eaten without breaking the Sabbath. This may seem humourous to us; but from the viewpoint of the orthodox Jew whose salvation depended upon keeping the law, the terms of his salvation were no laughing matter.
Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." What is the greater righteousness of the Kingdom? The answer is found in the specific illustrations of righteousness given by our Lord, which embody a number of principles or "laws."
First, we have the Law of Anger. "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ' You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment'" (Matt. 5: 21). Old Testament law, the rabbinic tradition, and modern law recognize that there are different kinds of homicide. Deliberate murder is not the same as accidental homicide; and while both result in the death of an innocent victim, there is a difference in motivation of the action and therefore a difference in degree of guilt which the law takes into account.
Jesus went much further. "I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire" (Matt. 5: 22, A.V.). The King James Version completely changes the meaning of the saying by translating: "Whosoever is angry with his brotherwithout a cause" The translation of the Revised Version says, "Anger is sin"; that of the King James Version says, "Unjustified anger is sin." The explanation of this divergence is simple. If you read these words in the oldest Greek Bibles in existence, you would not find the words "without a cause." These words are not in the text but were inserted by copyists because the language of our Lord seemed to be too radical. Who can avoid becoming angry once in a while ? Surely the Lord couldn't have meant that all anger condemns men to perdition. He must have had reference to unjustifiable anger, anger for which there is no provocation. The apparently harsh saying of the oldest Greek texts was softened by the addition of a single Greek word,eike, translated in our King James Version, " without a cause." However, this is not what our Lord said. "Whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment." This is the reading of our oldest Greek Bibles which were not known by the translators of the Authorized Version.
"Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council," i.e., shall be liable to trial and condemnation before the court. "Raca" is an Aramaic word which may mean "Empty head!" but we do not know enough about the Aramaic tongue to be sure of its meaning. In any case, it is a word of strong emotion, an expression of anger; and this is all that is necessary for our understanding.
"Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire." When I was a boy, I was very careful never to call anyone a "poor fool," even in jest, because I had read this verse. I was certain that if my tongue slipped and I happened to call someone a fool, I would be sure to go to hell. This is not quite the way this verse is to be taken, for again, we do not know precisely what the Aramaic word means. But the real meaning of our Lord's words is not found in the precise significance of "raca" and "fool." The point is that both words, and many others, are evidence of anger and contempt towards another; and it is this anger with which our Lord is here concerned, whatever form of expression it takes.
What did Jesus mean? Is anger as bad as murder? Is the hurling of an evil epithet at another which wounds his spirit as serious a sin as the hurling of an axe which spills his brains ? This cannot be our Lord's meaning, else we wreck the moral code. What Jesus meant was this: "Murder is sin, indeed; but I say unto you, Anger is sin." Here is the root of the matter: Anger is sin. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were deeply angry; and while you did not murder anyone, if you had given vent to your feelings you could have done so. If looks could split a man's skull, someone's head would have been laid open from ear to ear. Where there is such anger in your heart, where there is an evil attitude towards another, there is sin. Murder is anger full-grown.
The scribal teaching laid the emphasis upon the outward act. A man might harbour hatred towards another but not be guilty of serious sin if he restrained his anger. Jesus says, This is not true righteousness. It is not the outward act which is the all-important thing but the attitude of a man's heart. If down in the heart there is smouldering hatred and bitter anger which is expressed in nothing more deadly than words or even thoughts, in the sight of God one is a sinner and deserving hell. You may never have swung a club or thrown a stone or thrust a knife; but if the heart harbours bitterness, hatred, anger, Jesus said that you are condemned before God as a sinner.
The righteousness which the Kingdom of God demands is not concerned alone with outward acts of sin. It goes behind the act, behind the deed, to the heart, and deals with what a man is in himself before God. Kingdom righteousness says, What youareis more important than what youdo. Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.
Kingdom righteousness demands that I have no evil in my heart towards my fellow man. It is obvious that such a heart righteousness can itself be only the gift of God. God must give what He demands. If we know the righteousness of the Kingdom of God, the anger and the animosity which frequently rises within us because we are fallen human beings can be transformed into an attitude of love and concern. The righteousness of God's Kingdom is the product of God's reign in the human heart. God must reign in our lives now if we are to enter the Kingdom tomorrow.
We have next the Law of Purity. " You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (vv 27-28). Again, the greater righteousness of the Kingdom of God is a righteousness of the heart in contrast to mere rightness of conduct. The scribal law forbade illicit sexual relationships, and if one abstained from such sinful conduct, he was innocent. Jesus says that there is a higher standard which lays its demands upon men and women. It is the standard of God's Kingdom. It is a standard which cannot be formulated in terms of a legal code for it goes beyond the act to the intent. Before law, adultery is sin. Jesus says, "If in your heart there is lust, you stand before God as a guilty sinner in need of His forgiveness."
Do we dare to be honest with God's Word ? There are probably few who will read these words who could be condemned as adulterers or adulteresses in the strict sense of the word. But God's Kingdom does not stop with externals; it pierces to our thoughts and imaginations, to the purposes of the mind and the heart. It goes to the very reservoirs of our being. Jesus says, If there is lust, if you look upon a woman with evil desire, you stand before God as a sinner. Righteousness, sexual purity, begins in the heart.
How modern this verse is! In a day when sin is glamorized, put on display, when our social habits thrust temptation upon us, we need to come back to the standards of old-fashioned Biblical righteousness and purity.
The imperative need for a pure heart is emphasized in the words that follow. " If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (v. 29). It is very important to note that this verse and those which immediately follow cannot possibly be interpreted with rigid literalness. You cannot satisfy the righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount alone by fulfilling the external letter of its teaching. Suppose your eye is constantly leading you into sin, and you read this verse and say, "I am determined to solve this problem. The Bible says that if my eye causes me to stumble, I should pluck it out." And in a burst of determination you jab a sharp stick into your eye and destroy it. Is your problem solved? Will you then be free from the sin of lust? You will experience great pain and suffering, but your real problem has not been touched, for sin lodges in the heart, not in the eye.
The same thing is true of the next verse. "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should go into hell" (v. 30). Suppose you are constantly being led into sin by your hand, and you read this verse and forthwith say, "Here is the solution for my sin. I'll cut my hand off; then I will sin no more." Will that solve the problem? The problem is not in your hand but in the heart, in the mind.
What then does our Lord mean? If His words are not to be taken literally, how are we to understand them? They mean this: that if lust is your besetting sin, do anything necessary to find the solution to the problem, whatever the cost may be. If plucking your eye out would solve the problem, do it. If cutting your hand off would solve the problem, do it. Do whatever you must. Do not play with sin, do not toy with temptation, or it will destroy you.
It is obvious that here again is a standard of righteousness which transcends the level of human attainment. Who is free from temper? Who is pure and free from lust? Taken out of context, these words only condemn us to perdition. No man in any dispensation can fulfil them. Yet it is the righteousness which God's Kingdom demands; and the righteousness which God demands of us, He must give to us, or we are lost. The only life which can be made pure is the life which knows the power of God's Kingdom, His rule. Furthermore, only those in whom God now exercises His rule will enter His future Kingdom. This saying, apart from the grace of God, is not salvation but condemnation.
We must notice verses 31 and 32. "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Here is a teaching which flies in the face of our modern conventions. Today divorce and remarriage are casual matters. The standards of marital morality are often determined by convenience, not by the Word of God. This unbiblical standard is pervading our entire culture. How often a man or a woman puts away his mate because he has grown tired of her or he has found a new infatuation. Such conduct is becoming almost a modern fashion. God's Word says that is sin. Jesus said there is one ground for divorce. When one party is unfaithful and breaks the marriage vow, in the sight of God the marriage bond is broken. The Old Testament condemned adultery with the death penalty (Lev. 20: 10). The New Testament says that an adulterer is to be considered as one dead, and the innocent party is freed from his marriage vows as though his mate had died. But divorce for the sake of marrying another is sin, for it is rooted in lust. Our generation needs to return to a Biblical standard of purity in the relationship between the sexes for the foundation of a stable family life. This is the righteousness that belongs to the Kingdom of God.
We next meet the Law of Honesty. "Again you have heard that it was said to men of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; any thing more than this comes from evil" (Matt.5= 33-37)-
It is possible to take these verses superficially in a literal interpretation of the letter and miss the meaning altogether. Some people feel they satisfy the teaching of the passage when they never let themselves be put under oath in a court of law. However, the formal oath taken in modern legal procedure is not the context of this teaching. The setting of our Lord's words is something quite different. The Jew of antiquity was quite ready to put himself under oath as a show of his alleged goodwill and fidelity. To the Jewish mind, various objects possessed differing degrees of holiness, and an oath was binding only to the degree that the object used in the oath was thought to be holy. Thus according to the scribal tradition, a man might bind himself by a succession of oaths and yet violate his word without guilt. Jewish casuistry reached its climax in the scribal discussion of the validity of various oaths. This made a mockery of the basic ethic of honesty. It is this historical situation which provides the background for our Lord's teaching. Jesus said, "Do not swear by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor by thy head." These and many other objects were used in the taking of oaths.
What our Lord means is this: If you must take an oath before your word can be trusted, that very fact convicts you of being a sinner. The man who knows the righteousness of the Kingdom of God does not need an oath at all. His naked word is valid.
How modern this ancient teaching is. Its relevance is not found in the question of a formal oath in our legal processes. Here is a man who is punctilious about keeping the letter of his agreements, but if he can find a way to get around the letter and take an unfair advantage of his competitor, he prides himself for his cleverness.
Let the other fellow be smart enough to guard himself against that loophole! The righteousness of the Kingdom of God cuts squarely across such superficial hypocrisy. Let your word be your oath. When you say you will do something, let your neighbour be able to trust your word, both in the spirit and the letter of your promise. This is the Law of Honesty.
How the righteousness of the Kingdom, the Law of Honesty, tests our business ethics! In our competitive society, Christians often employ the world's standards in the conduct of their business rather than the standards of God's Kingdom! One would never know from the way some Christians conduct themselves in their business relationships that they knew anything about the righteousness of God. God wants us to bear our testimony with our lips; but even more important is what we are and how we live. "Except your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Let us consider one more illustration of Kingdom righteousness: The Law of Love. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one smites you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you" (vv. 38-43).
This teaching has been a stumbling-block to many. How can we possibly apply the Sermon on the Mount in this evil world and live by its standards? If any one interprets these words literally, he certainly cannot conduct a business venture or protect his own interests. Recently I passed through a small New England village where I lived as a boy, and I stopped at one of the two general stores to see a man whom I remembered from my boyhood. His name was on the sign over the door, but the store was locked up and inside all was confusion. I stopped at the other store up the street and asked, "What has happened to John X, that his store is locked up ? " I was told that John had been too kind and generous. He trusted everybody. He gave such unlimited credit that he became bankrupt. He had to go out of business because of his debts.
Is this not what the Sermon on the Mount tells us to do? If we should obey it with wooden literalness, this would be the inevitable frequent result. If the Western nations literally practised non-resistance and liquidated all military resources, we would at once find ourselves under a world-wide tyranny of Communism. However, we have already discovered that our Lord sometimes uses radical metaphors which were not intended to be taken with rigid literalness. He was concerned with the condition of the heart, with the inner attitude of mind.
Along with what is said in this passage are some other principles which have never been abrogated. Paul under inspiration insists upon the principle of law and order. In Romans 13: 4-5, he asserts that judicial procedures are of divine origin. Furthermore, our Lord himself did not fulfil the letter of this verse if it be construed with wooden literalness. In John 18: 19 ff., the High Priest asked Jesus about his teaching, and Jesus said, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me?" One of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, and said, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus did not turn the other cheek; he rebuked His assailant with the words, "If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" (v. 23).
We must therefore look beneath the letter of this teaching to discover its meaning. Furthermore, reflection will show that it would be possible to fulfil the letter of this teaching and yet completely miss our Lord's true meaning. You have heard about the pacifist who believed in physical non-resistance. He and a friend were walking down the street one day when the pacifist fell into a discussion with a third man which led to a quarrel. His opponent hit him in the face, and the pacifist literally turned the other cheek and was struck again. Thereupon he turned and walked away. His friend said to him, "I do not see how you could exercise such magnificent self-control to let yourself be struck twice. How do you do it?" The pacifist said, "I turned the other cheek, but you did not see how I was boiling inside." What he really wanted to do was to return blow for blow. He did not know the righteousness he professed.
Now, let us not be misunderstood. There are many situations where one will fulfil the very letter of this teaching. It is very possible that the context of this passage is to be found in an earlier saying of our Lord, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Matt. 5: 10). There come times when men will persecute you because you are a follower of the Lord Jesus (and notice that in Matt. 5: 10-11, the primary emphasis is upon persecution by word of mouth, not physical violence). You will meet opposition; and sometimes bodily harm will befall you because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. This does not often happen in so-called Christian countries; but in other lands, Christians still suffer physical persecution. When a follower of Jesus meets persecution because he is a disciple, he will never fight back. A missionary friend wrote that he had recently had some expensive dental bridgework done. One day as he was distributing Christian literature, he found himself faced by an angry crowd which threatened bodily violence. His first thought was, "Ought I not to protect my new bridgework?" He was not concerned about fighting back, but he was concerned about his financial investment. But he concluded, "No, I'll leave it to the Lord," and he elected the course of non-resistance. Incidentally, he did not lose his bridgework.
There will indeed be times like this when one will fulfil the letter of the law of love. But that is not the only element or even the most important element in this passage; for the righteousness about which our Lord was speaking is a righteousness of the heart. The righteousness of the Kingdom of God demands an attitude of heart which is not motivated by selfish concerns, which does not demand even one's legitimate rights. Our Lord looks for a complete freedom from any spirit of personal revenge. When one does you a wrong, when one speaks ill of you, when one has offended you, what is your reaction ? The reaction of the natural man, the reaction of the moral man, even of the religious man, is to get even and to square the account. This is not the righteousness of God's Kingdom. God's righteousness manifests itself in a heart attitude which is motivated by love for him who has done the wrong and which is free from the motivation of personal vindication.
The illustrations our Lord gives are radical instances of the expression of love. This love extends even to our enemies. " You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies" (vv. 43-44). Yes, love your enemies; not merely your friends or your kind neighbours, or even those who are neutral towards you; but love those who do you wrong. Love those who deliberately harm you. This is the supreme test of Christian character. I have seen situations where people in the Church of God do not put this principle into practice among themselves. I have witnessed among God's people bitterness and rancour and animosity and hostility and enmity. This is a denial of our true character. Jesus says, Your attitude, your actions must always be motivated by love. Complete freedom from the spirit of revenge and of self-vindication, returning love for hatred, repaying kindness for evil—this is the righteousness of God's Kingdom.
This love is not primarily a feeling or an emotion; it is concern in action. Love seeks the best welfare of the objects of its concern. The classic portrayal of Christian love is I Corinthians 13; and when Paul would describe what loveis, he tells us how loveworks, "Love is patient and kind." Love is goodwill in action. Love is concern in expression. We know from other teachings of God's Word that love may sometimes chastise and discipline. "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth" (Heb. 12:6, A.V.). Love does not mean the abandonment of justice and right; nor is it a sentimental benevolence which does not have the capacity for holy wrath. Our human problem rests in the difficulty—shall we say the impossibility—of extricating elements of personal pique and selfish vindication from holy wrath.
Our Lord's teaching has to do with the springs of one's personal reaction and character. Love seeks the best welfare even of its enemies. It can return a curse with a blessing. It can repay violence with gentleness. It can reward a wrong with kindness. It can act in this way because it is not motivated by a spirit of vengefulness but of concern for the other man. This is the righteousness of God's Kingdom.
A supreme manifestation of this law of love is found in forgiveness. Jesus taught us to pray, " Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6: 12, A.V.). You can truly forgive a man only when you act in love. If you do not look upon him with love, you do not really forgive, even though you profess to do so.
Someone may say, " This petition is not a Christian prayer. It is talking about a transaction with God. We ask God to forgive us in the measure and the degree to which we have forgiven others. This reflects a legal righteousness, not the righteousness of grace through faith. Christians pray, Forgive us freely for Christ's sake."
Let us think this through. If the righteousness of the Kingdom of God is a righteousness of human works, we must at once admit that the prayer has no application to anyone. Human nature does not forgive like that. It does not matter in what dispensation you look, you cannot find unregenerate human nature which will produce conduct like that demanded in the Sermon on the Mount. If this verse is based on legalistic ground, then anyone who attempts to live by it is condemned. We need God'sperfectforgiveness; and it is not human nature to forgive like that.
The Word of God has a way of explaining itself. In Matthew 18, our Lord explains what this forgiveness means. Peter had been troubled by Jesus' teaching about forgiveness. How could anyone forgive so completely? Finally, he came to the Lord and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Asmanyas seven times?"(v. 21). Nowseven is not a very large number, is it? But let us consider this situation. If somebody offends us in the same way seven times in succession, can we honestly forgive him the same insult seven times ? This is not a trivial offence.
But hear what our Lord says, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven" (v. 22). Seventy times seven? How many is that? Four hundred and ninety. Suppose someone called you a vile name four hundred and ninety times in succession. Every day, at 9.30 a.m., a business associate who dislikes you comes into your office, stands before your desk and curses you, four hundred and ninety times. That is nearly two years of working days. Could you forgive him? Would you want to forgive him? Only a heart filled with the grace of God could forgive like that.
Jesus illustrated the quality of forgiveness demanded by the Kingdom of God by a parable. "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents." In modern terms, that would be about ten million dollars. Here was a man in a hopeless situation. His burden of debt was so great that he had no hope of ever settling his affairs and meeting the debt. He was bankrupt. "And as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made" (v. 25). This was the ancient method of dealing with debtors. Bankruptcy meant not only the liquidation of all business resources; it included the liquidation of all personal resources and property; and beyond that, a man's wife, his children, and the debtor himself were sold into slavery that every possible asset might be realized by the creditor against the debt.
"So the servant fell on his knees, imploring, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything'" (v. 26). The debtor begged for mercy and forgiveness, and even though he knew he could never pay the debt, he promised to do so. "And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt" of ten million dollars. What amazing kindness!
"But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundreddenarii." A hundreddenariiis twenty dollars. While this was a substantial sum of money in that day, it was one which a man could repay in time. Ten million dollars of debt, twenty dollars of credit. He had just been forgiven this staggering ten million dollar debt; and he was then confronted by a fellow servant who owed him a mere twenty dollars. "And seizing him by the throat he said, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt" (vv 28-30).
Word of the unforgiving spirit of the forgiven servant came to the ears of his master. " Then his lord summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailors, till he should pay all his debt" (vv. 32-34). Then our Lord adds these sobering words: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (v. 3 5).
Yes, we do pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who sin against us." In this parable of forgiveness, notice one thing: God's forgiveness precedes and conditions my forgiveness of my fellow. The point of the parable rests in this fact. Human forgiveness is to be grounded upon and motivated by the divine forgiveness. My willingness to forgive is the measure of the reality of my profession that I have been forgiven. If I say that the Lord has forgiven me the twenty-million dollar debt of my sin, and yet I cannot forgive some brother a mere twenty dollars of a relatively trivial offence against myself, I make a mockery of my Christian profession. There is no reality in such a self-contradictory religion. Yes, wemustpray, Forgive us as we forgive.
This is the law of love; this is the Gospel of the Kingdom. The righteousness of the Kingdom is a righteousness which only God Himself can give. Perfect purity, perfect honesty, perfect love, perfect forgiveness: what man is there anywhere in any dispensation who can live such a life? If the righteousness of the Kingdom is a standard which I must attain in my own ability, I standforevercondemned and shut out of the Kingdom of God. No one, Jew or Gentile, by human merit can attain the standard of the Sermon on the Mount. The righteousness which God's Kingdom demands, God's Kingdom must give. It must be of grace or I am lost. Our Lord's own illustration of forgiveness shows that this is the divine order. I can really forgive only as I know God's forgiveness. I can manifest the life of the Kingdom only as I have experienced it. But as we have discovered in our earlier studies, God's Kingdom has entered Into the present evil Age and we may experience its life, its righteousness.
The righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount is the righteousness of the man who has experienced the reign of God in his life. This is the standard by which the disciple of the Lord Jesus is to live. He will attain it in so far as he has experienced the sovereign reign of God. He is to seek an experience which is completely under divine direction. The beginning of this experience is found in the new birth, Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3: 3). When one submits himself to the reign of God, the miracle of the new birth takes place within his heart. The Holy Spirit creates new life. As a new creature, the servant of God's rule will experience a real and evident measure of the righteousness of God's Kingdom in this evil Age. This is not stated but is assumed in the Sermon on the Mount. The righteousness of the Kingdom is a manifestation of the life of the Kingdom. Just as the fulness of life, which belongs to The Age to Come, has become a present blessing, so the righteousness of the Kingdom belongs to The Age to Come, but has been imparted to the sons of the Kingdom through Christ and the Holy Spirit.