For the above reasons we must therefore pause and consider the fundamental principles contained in Christ’s teachings of the inner-man with respect to adultery (Matthew 5:27–32) and more broadly, how Christ wants his disciples to be motivated by “the righteousness that comes from God” in contrast with the righteousness of man (Matthew 5:20). The Lord Jesus Christ’s law of the inner-man with respect to adultery forms only one aspect of a broader interlocking theme encompassing six examples (Matthew 5: 21-48) by which the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) is contrasted with what Paul, the great interpreter of his Master’s words calls, “the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). This remarkable contrast, which forms such an important element of Christ’s introductory teaching, is played out until the very end between those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt” and he whom they mocked, “trusted in God”, and “saved others but cannot save himself” (Luke 18:9; Matthew 26:42–43). Christ’s teaching and example established a great gulf between false shepherds who were ravenous wolves, and the good Shepherd; between healthy trees that bear good fruit, and diseased trees that bore bad fruit; between those who do the will of the Father and those who the Lord declares “I never knew you”; between those who “hear and do his words” and those who “hear and do them not” (Matthew 7:15–27). To correctly understand Christ’s teachings with respect to divorce and remarriage, we must see how it forms a part of his broader doctrine, and in searching out the matter, we must accompany the Lord in his ministry to behold Yahweh’s “true religion”.
The Christadelphian No. 255, September 1885 “The Nature and Conditions of Fellowship in the Truth.”
Man’s religion has a tendency either towards a Judaistic spirit or a belief that “God’s grace is all sufficient for salvation”. This tendency can be present in the body of Christ, as is illustrated by the Lord’s warning to the seven ecclesias (Revelation 2 & 3). The Judaistic spirit is illustrated with the first of the seven, and the “Grace is all sufficient” by the last of Christ’s seven messages. Both are particularly applicable to the Christadelphian body of this age before the thief like Advent of the Lord.
The Laodiceans had a confidence but not a true faith, for what Christ describes as the Laodicean spiritual condition is the antithesis of faithfulness. True faithfulness is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen, as illustrated by that woman who knew she was “wretched, pitiable and poor”, who said in herself “if I only touch his garment, I will be made whole.” But the Laodiceans thought they were whole! (Matthew 9:22; Revelation 3:17). True faith encourages the hopelessly blind to be able to respond to Christ’s gracious, faith-inspiring offer of healing, “do you believe that I am able to do this?” The answer is emphatically “yes!” But it did not enter the mind of the Laodiceans that they were blind (Matthew 9:28–29; Revelation 3:17). Despite their wretchedness, love will draw the disciple to Christ to wash his feet (Luke 7:38) by responding to the needs of even the least of his little ones (Matthew 25:40). Though such a faith is convinced that any mountain blocking the disciples’ path to the kingdom (1 Corinthians 13:2) can be removed, Christ only deems as “the righteous” (Matthew 25:37; Luke 7:50) those who demonstrated that they understood “if I have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). The woman of Luke 7:37-50, in faith and love, washed the feet of the “Amen” or true “faithfulness” (Revelation 3:14; Isaiah 65:16). This love was the first thing to decline in those seven ecclesias and in its place there arose a harsh Judaistic spirit that was manifested in their treatment of others (Luke 18:9; 1 John 2:7–11).
The problem with the ecclesia in Ephesus was that they had relaxed their first love; the cause is implied in the opening title used by the Lord who “walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks”. The spirit of Christ was no longer seen in them that they might be constituted the ecclesia of the “living deity”. If as a “witnessing” community we are to burn brightly, then the light exhibited must be a reflection of “the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth” and makes plain that Christ is in us individually and as an ecclesia. The warning for us is that although Ephesus was an apparently vigorous, strong ecclesia opposed to error, and would not “bear with those who are evil”; they in fact did not exhibit the characteristics and very purpose of a lampstand! If they did not change, Christ, whose teaching they so vigorously defended, would come and remove their light stand! (Revelation 2:1–5). The spirit word and its power were not causing them to grow in love. They were industrious in defending the truth, but the truth was not working in them individually or ecclesially to reflect (i.e. make alive as a witness) “the glory of the only son full of grace and truth” ESV. They had forgotten and consequently fallen from their first love. They had abandoned that love which was evidenced by works that characterise their thankful appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 2:12–13). For that reason the Lord exhorts them to do the first works (Revelation 2: 6); works which reflected Paul’s exhortation—“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”(Ephesians 4:15–16).
“Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20)
The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’s inspired explanation of the law, to that which the law was designed to lead, even to the righteousness of faith. Israel however, “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3–4). Paul could therefore say that God made Christ “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Corinthians 1:30). In Deuteronomy 6: 20–25 a father teaches his son the meaning of the law, humbly describing that it was not by his wisdom or any man’s wisdom, nor by his might or any man’s might that he or Israel was delivered from the power of sin; that Yahweh had given commandments that we might fear Him for our good; that He will keep us to the coming of His kingdom and that “it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to do all this commandment”. This section of Deuteronomy 6 illustrates the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees—humble thankfulness for what Yahweh had done for a man who knew that there was nothing in him for which he could boast; except by the trials through which Yahweh had caused him to pass, he learnt about Yahweh “who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” and that in these things Yahweh delighted (Jeremiah 9:24). This knowledge transformed his life and filled him with a determination that as the heavenly Father is, so this humbled man, despite his sins, would be in the world.
In Luke chapter 18:9–14 the Lord Jesus told a parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt”. It was a parable about two men who went up to worship, one a Pharisee and the other “a sinner” (verses 10 & 13). The Pharisee separated himself from this sinner and “standing by himself, prayed” for all to hear, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector”. By contrast the tax collector who stood afar off, conscious of his fellow worshipper’s righteousness, adopting the spirit of Deuteronomy 6 prayed “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This humble confession justified this man, and is the “righteousness” which the Lord said must “exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” for entry into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5: 20). The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees nullified the spirit of the law and negated the first and greatest command expressed in the context of Deuteronomy 6, because this type of thinking is incapable of loving Yahweh and “thy neighbour as thyself” and therefore incapable of beholding “the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth”.
This digression I hope will help the reader appreciate that the Lord’s teaching on adultery of the heart (Matthew 5: 21–48) needs to be understood in its spiritual context and when taken as a whole, it is the way by which we might “enter the kingdom of heaven”. These general principles have a direct bearing on every aspect of the disciple’s relationship with the heavenly Father. The Lord Jesus Christ shows that true perfection of that relationship is governed by the nature of our inner self towards our fellow men and women. We can at this time only consider a few aspects of this most important part of our Lord’s teachings.