Today we’re going to be studying the first half of perhaps the greatest sermon ever delivered by the Lord, the Sermon on the Mount. Next week we will take on the rest. In reality, we could spend the entire year on this sermon—there really is that much to talk about. In fact, there are literally hundreds of great books that have been written on the subject—tens of thousands of pages.
Of course, one of the greatest books is the Book of Mormon, where in 3 Nephi 12–14 we see Jesus preaching this same sermon, with some interesting and meaningful changes, to the 2,500 people gathered at the Bountiful temple square. It is instructive to note that Jesus, knowing that he only had a very limited time with the people in America, chose to repeat this particular message. That alone should push it to the top of our reading list.
Hopefully, today’s lesson will peak your curiosity a bit and encourage you to delve a little deeper into this amazing sermon.
Why is it so great? Well because it gives us a relatively full summary of what it means to be a follower of Christ—the Reader’s Digest version of How to Be a Christian. It is the step-by-step blueprint for us to use as we shape and develop our own character to become more like Christ. It will bring us closer to Christ and it will show us how to return to the presence of God and ultimately become perfected. And we’ll find just about everything we need to know in Matthew, chapter 5.
At this point of the Savior’s ministry, he we starting to acquire quite a few followers; some came to hear him teach while others came to observe his miracles.
By the way, which are you? Are you spending your time on earth trying to seek out the Master, become his disciple, and become more like him each day? Or are you just waiting around looking for opportunities to be entertained, to be with friends, to be fed, to be healed? In other words, are you here trying to get something from the Church or are you here trying to give everything to the Church? If you’re someone like me, sometimes we doing both.
At this time, the Lord had organized his church by calling and ordaining twelve apostles to help bless the lives of these early church members. He undoubtedly spent lots of private time instructing these apostles on doctrine and explaining their duties and responsibilities. All of the principles we’re going to talk about today were undoubtedly taught to the apostles first, before they were presented to the member of the Church. Some authors are confident that the Savior never intended the Sermon on the Mount to be given to the multitudes. But whether or not this sermon was delivered just to the Twelve, or to his faithful disciples, or to whomever was gathered at the mount, it isn’t really clear in the scriptures. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, because the entire world has access to it now.
Like most things the Savior said, those who have “ears to hear” will hear a different message than those who don’t. In other words, there are layers of meaning in these verses. I think this means that if you are living a Telestial law, you will have a Telestial interpretation; if you are living a Celestial law, you will have a Celestial interpretation. However, in all cases, following the Savior’s teachings will definitely make us better people.
Some people believe that the sermon was actually a collection of disjointed sayings, spoken in a number of different settings. But Elder McConkie believes it was “all all spoken by Jesus on one day, following the ordination of the Twelve.” (McConkie, B.R. Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, vol. 2, chpt. 41.)
It probably took place on a small mountain or hill near Capernaum or Bethsaida on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. If you stand near the top of one of those hills, like Mount Eremos, which tour guides call the “Mount of Beatitudes”, and you face the lake, your voice can carry about 75 yards to the people downhill, even if you’re not shouting. You can also gather lots of people together at some of these places. In fact, in 2000, Pope John Paul II delivered a mass from Mount Eremos to 100,000 Catholics who were gathered in its foothills.
Keep in mind that 1500 years earlier, Jesus, then known as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, delivered what became known as the Law of Moses on a mountain. Now, this same individual, clothed with a mortal body, ascended another mount and delivered new instructions and a higher law to the Jewish people. Furthermore, today, his disciples receive new instructions and enter into covenants that will enable us to become literal descendants of God from the modern mountains of the Lord—the temples.
In fact, if you read carefully, you will find that the entire Sermon on the Mount just might be a “temple text.” What do I mean by that? Well, we start off with people who want to not just be followers of Christ, but become part of the family of God. And how do they do that? They start by being washed in the waters of baptism performed by proper priesthood authority. They receive gifts, like the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and are given promises of what they may become if they make and keep specific covenants. They are also given a new name—Christians. Then, they are taught about the covenants they will need to make, covenants of obedience, sacrifice, love, fidelity, consecration. They are then taught how to pray. Then one day, after proving their knowledge through a lifetime of actions, they pass through a guarded and narrow gate and are admitted into the presence of the Lord where they find perfection. And all of this, is found in the Sermon on the Mount for those who have eyes to see.
But now, as far as our reading goes today, his audience consists of the 12 apostles, additional faithful disciples, and probably a fair number of people who were investigating the Church. In fact the scriptures say that the people assembled from “out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon.” Perhaps there are thousands of them. Therefore, this sermon is meant to instruct and counsel the newly ordained apostles, it is meant to open the door of spiritual progress for the new members of the church, and it is meant to be a beacon of light to all people, inviting them to find peace in this world and eternal joy in the worlds to come.
That’s a fairly tall order. But the Master, is about to deliver—as he always has and always will. So let’s jump right into the text now and read the Sermon on the Mount. We’re in Matthew chapter 5.
By the way, while you’re reading along with me, I’m going to read from the Inspired Version, which comes from the edits and additions that Joseph Smith marked up in a copy of the bible. Some of the edits are found in the Joseph Smith Translation or JST section of our scriptures. But you won’t find the verses we’re going to use today. Why? Because our church doesn’t own the copyright to the Inspired Version—the Community of Christ, the old reorganized church, owns it. And we only have permission to reproduce some of the content in our scriptures. But if you pay attention, you’ll be able to spot some of the differences. For example, let me read the first two verses of Matthew 5 from the Inspired Version. Follow along with me in your own scriptures.
JST Matthew 5:1–2
1 And Jesus, seeing the multitudes, went up into a mountain; and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him;
2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
The first 14 verses are called the “Beatitudes.” By the way, if you look down in the footnotes for 5:3a, the Latin beatus is the root of the English word beatitude, which means to be fortunate, to be happy, or to be blessed. These are virtues that, if we pursue and adopt into our own character, will help us become more like the Lord. Therefore they are Christ-like attributes.
If we possess these virtues, or have desires to possess them, and anxiously striving to obtain them, then we are worthy to receive further instruction from the Lord. In fact, as we discuss these virtues, think about the worthiness questions you are asked by the bishop. Specifically, think of the temple recommend questions. I think you’ll find some similarities between those and the Beatitudes.
The LDS King James Version of the New Testament features eight beatitudes. They all follow the same format, which is a phrase that states a condition, and then a phrase that states a result. However, the Inspired Version contains two more beatitudes. Here is the first one, inserted before verse 3 by the Prophet Joseph.
Beatitude #1: Be Obedient to Church Leaders
JST Matthew 5:3
3 Blessed are they who shall believe on me; and again, more blessed are they who shall believe on your words, when ye shall testify that ye have seen me and that I am.
By the way, something similar is found in 3 Nephi 12:1, which reads in part:
3 Nephi 12:1
1 Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants….
WHAT PRINCIPLE IS TAUGHT HERE?
That we need to always follow the brethren and the other leaders of the church. The Lord knew he wasn’t going to be on the earth forever and that his mortal ministry was going to be relatively short. So he called and ordained representatives to carry on his work and teach his gospel in his absence. And blessed and happy are they that follow the servants of the Lord.
The reverse is also true. Look at those people who choose to not follow the servants of the Lord. If we find ourselves out-of-phase with the teachings of the “brethren,” we also find that our lives are filled with dissatisfaction, turmoil, and usually lots of anger. It doesn’t take much before we fall into full-blown apostasy. Have you ever seen this phenomenon? I know I have. Too many times.
So the first beatitude is “Blessed are they that follow the servants of the Lord.” And the second one is like unto it.
Beatitude #2: Be Baptized
JST Matthew 5:4
4 Yea, blessed are they who shall believe on your words, and come down into the depth of humility, and be baptized in my name; for they shall be visited with fire and the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
Each of us who have chosen to become members of the church have experienced this first-hand. At some point in time we believed the words that came from messengers of Jesus Christ, exercised humility and faith like a child, and entered the waters of baptism. Then, we were given the supernal Gift of the Holy Ghost which visits us from time-to-time. I’m pretty positive there is nothing greater in life than being filled with the Holy Ghost and receiving a remission of our sins. In fact, remember what Alma said to his son Helaman after he humbled himself before the Lord:
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
And what do people do when they are filled with the Holy Ghost? They try to share the love they feel from God with others. They become missionaries. They become teachers. They become ministering servants. They go out and try to bless the lives of other people. And in doing so, they are blessed with happiness and joy.
So the second beatitude is happy are they who are baptized with priesthood authority and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
Hmm. So the first two beatitudes that are missing from the King James Version talk about the need to humbly follow the leaders of the church and participate in saving ordinances conducted with proper authority. I don’t know about you, but to me it seems almost a bit nefarious that these two critical beatitudes didn’t make the cut into the King James Version. Which is another reason why we should always thank God for a prophet.
Beatitude #3: Be Humble
JST Matthew 5:5 / KJV Matthew 5:3
5 Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit, who come unto me; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT?
To be humble and submissive to the Lord. It means that we recognize that there is a higher power, a higher intelligence, a higher authority, and that we need to be dependent on Him.
Far too often, when we don’t recognize that there is God who is actively involved in our lives, we erroneously perceive that we are alone and must rely on our own efforts to make it in this world. Then, as we become more and more successful, we eventually think that we have become the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas. Far too often pride comes into our character and pushes humility out the door.
And if there’s one big lesson we learn from the civilizations in the Book of Mormon, is that having pride never works out well in the end. So the Lord commands us to be humble; to not rely on the arm of flesh; to not set our hearts on the riches of the world. If and when we do that, we are promised the riches of heaven for eternity.
So the third beatitude is: “Blessed and happy are the humble.”
Beatitude #4: Seek the Comforter
JST Matthew 5:6 / KJV Matthew 5:4
6 And again, blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
HOW DOES THE LORD COMFORT THOSE THAT MOURN?
Through the Holy Spirit. It is a gift from a loving Heavenly Father who knows that our hearts have been broken and we are experiencing intense feelings of loss. Whether that loss is physical, like that which comes with death, or a spiritual loss like when a loved one decides to choose darkness over light, or emotional, like when we are hurt by our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. Loss is loss, and it always hurts, and so our loving Father gives us the most precious gift he has, his Spirit, which brings peace and healing to our hearts.
But it is more than that. It may very well be that the pain and suffering we experience from loss is an essential part of our mortal experience. Why? Because it forces us to face the question of the existence of God, the reality of the Plan of Salvation, and the hope we have of returning to the presence of God because of the Savior. It is through suffering that we discover what is eternally important.
Unfortunately, if we choose to blame God, become angry or bitter, or just take up residence out in the darkness, we cannot receive the Comforter. We must step back, even in our most sorrowful moments, and recognize that the Lord’s purposes are being fulfilled. Then the Holy Ghost can console us and our belief in the atonement and resurrection will strengthen and become the cornerstones of our faith.
Blessed are those who mourn, and come unto Christ, and receive the Comforter.
Beatitude #5: Be Meek
JST Matthew 5:7 / KJV Matthew 5:5
7 And blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE MEEK?
Look at the footnote 5a in your scriptures. Meek means being gentle, forgiving, or benevolent. According to Elder McConkie is also means to be God fearing and righteous (Mortal Messiah, 1:122). Notice that it doesn’t mean someone who is passive or has no backbone or courage—a doormat.
Moses was described as being “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth,” yet he had great power (see Numbers 12:3). So part of meekness is also having power or authority but using it gently, righteously, benevolently.
Elder Maxwell defined meekness this way:
“In daily discipleship, the many ways to express selfishness are matched by many ways to avoid it. Meekness is the real cure, for it does not merely mask selfishness but dissolves it! Smaller steps could include asking ourselves inwardly before undertaking an important action, Whose needs am I really trying to meet? Or in significant moments of self-expression, we can first count to 10. Such thoughtful filtering can multiply our offering by 10 as a mesh of reflective meekness filters out destructive and effusive ego” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Repent of [Our] Selfishness” [D&C 56:8], Ensign, May 1999, 230).
The world would tell us that the meek are weak and will never obtain wealth, status, and power. That may be true—by standards of the world. But in a few short years from now, the earth will be transformed from a telestial world to a terrestial world. Then, a little more than a thousand years past that date, the earth will be transformed again into a celestial world—and only the meek will inherit it.
Blessed are those who gently exercise power on behalf of others.
Beatitude #6: Be Righteous
JST Matthew 5:8 / KJV Matthew 5:6
8 And blessed are all they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
We all hunger for food several times each day. We all thirst for drink even more times each day. On average, we spend about an hour a day eating. We also spend lots of time trying to earn money to fulfill those biological needs. As Latter-day Saints, we know that we are not just biological creatures, but we are also spiritual creatures—living souls. We are dual beings. Then why don’t we also spend just as much time trying to fulfill our spiritual needs?
And what better way to fill those spiritual needs, then to be righteous enough to feel the presence of the Holy Ghost—the only divine being who can bypass the immensity of space and time and be everywhere at once and yet communicate the mind and will of God one-on-one with each of our spirits in deeply personal ways. What could be more fulfilling than to know the mind and will of God with regards to what He wants you to do next?
But to receive that gift, we have to really want it. We have to invest a significant amount of time and effort. It takes more than three hours a week. But blessed are those who are righteous because they feel the presence of the Holy Ghost.
Beatitude #7: Be Merciful
JST Matthew 5:8 / KJV Matthew 5:7
9 And blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.
I interpret this to mean that if we cannot forgive others then why should we expect the Lord to forgive our sins and weaknesses? Or in my case, many, many, many sins and weaknesses?
Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored.
If we spend our mortal lives developing the godly virtue of forgiving others, this same virtue will be reciprocated by God and restored to us when we are in a state of immortality. In other words, the more merciful we are here, the more mercy we will receive there. Truly the merciful are blessed.
Beatitude #8: Be Pure in Heart
JST Matthew 5:10 / KJV Matthew 5:8
10 And blessed are all the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
Having a pure heart and seeing God are all temple symbols. The 24th Psalm from the Old Testament says:
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;
The hill of the Lord is obviously the temple, and only those that are clean and pure in heart are given temple recommends. This idea is reiterated in the Doctrine and Covenants when the Lord talks about the Kirtland Temple.
16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
So what can we learn from all this? It is that after have been cleansed from the evils of the world, and have a heart that is pure and undefiled, and remain true and faithful to our covenants, will we finally be admitted into the Celestial Kingdom and into presence of the Lord.
Sacred history teaches us that there are many who have seen the face of God. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, Jacob, Moroni, the brother of Jared, Joseph Smith, Lorenzo Snow, are just a few of the thousands we can read about.
WHAT IS KEEPING US FROM HAVING THAT SAME OPPORTUNITY?
According to this Beatitude—a pure heart. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that after the Lord has thorough tested and proved a person, and that person remains determined to serve the Lord at all costs, then it will be that person’s privilege to have their calling and election made sure and receive the other Comforter. Now quoting the Prophet:
Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 149–51)
Wow. Truly blessed are the pure in heart.
Beatitude #9: Be a Peacemaker
JST Matthew 5:11 / KJV Matthew 5:9
11 And blessed are all the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.
Can someone really make peace? We might have certain family members who regularly step in and try to broker a peace agreement between two fighting family members. When governments can’t get along, the United Nations sends in peacekeepers who wear blue helmets and try to “keep the peace.” But I’m not sure that’s what the Savior had in mind. Remember, Christ came to bring peace on earth and good will to men. But not peace as the world understands it. He is talking about the peace that only comes from living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being worthy to have the presence of the Holy Ghost in your life.
Therefore, a peacemaker is one who invites the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who grants the peace. Let me say that again: a peacemaker is one who invites the Spirit; the Spirit grants the peace.
Endowed with the Spirit, the Lord’s disciples seek to resolve differences, they hate war and love peace, they invite people to forsake evil in all of its varieties, they flee from pride, envy, and greed, and they stand in holy places. And in those holy places they receive the “peace which passeth understanding”. They are adopted into the family of God. They are born again. They take upon themselves a new name. They are dressed as befitting the sons and daughters of God. And, if they remain faithful, are resurrected to become his sons and his daughters for all eternity. Truly the peacemakers shall be called the children of God!
Beatitude #10: Endure Persecution
JST Matthew 5:12–15 / KJV Matthew 5:10–12
12 Blessed are all they that are persecuted for my name’s sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
13 And blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
14 For ye shall have great joy, and be exceeding glad; for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
So after we have joined the Church, and made covenants, and have forsaken the world, it is quite natural that we will be persecuted. The world loves its own and hates the saints. It always has always been that way ever since Satan started using enmity to actively oppose the building up of the kingdom of God. In fact, the stronger he pushes, the stronger we push back. As the Israelites were being persecuted by Pharaoh, here’s what the Old Testament says:
12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.
We grow stronger and stronger as we face adversity. Whether it comes from Satan and his miserable minions, or whether it comes from the mere fact that we are mortal—we will be tried and tested over and over again. Then, one day, before we enter the presence of the Lord, we will all stand figuratively, with our arms and hands outstretched much like the Savior did before he died, and finally crucify the old man of sin. After we do that, we will be lovingly embraced by the Lord who will whisper comfort and peace and blessings to our souls.
Okay, that wraps up the Beatitudes. Keep in mind that if we obtain these virtues, that they do not just promise eschatological blessings—which are blessings that come after we die and are judged—but they also promise blessings that affect us in the here and now. And, more importantly, adopting these 10 virtues allow us to bless the lives of those around us and in so doing, we truly become like Christ.
Now that we know what is promised to those who seek to follow the Savior, let’s learn about the specific covenants and commandments. That’s what we’ll find next in Mathew, chapter 5.
A Light to the World
Now there are a number of things I want to point out so when you go back and read this chapter—especially with an eye at what goes on in the temple—I believe you will find new insights and new revelation that will bless your life.
Let’s read verses 13–16. Again, I will read from the Inspired Version, which is slightly different from what you have.
JST Matthew 5:15–18 / KJV Matthew 5:13–16
15 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor, wherewith shall the earth be salted? the salt shall thenceforth be good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of the world; a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
17 Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light to all that are in the house.
18 Therefore, let your light so shine before this world, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
What the Master is saying is that once we have decided to follow him, and begin to adopt some of his virtues into our lives while simultaneously purging out the vices, then we become Saints. And the symbols of the Saints are salt and light.
Why salt? Because salt has a seasoning, edifying, purifying, sanctifying, and preserving power. A little goes a long way. It usually loses it savor through contamination, not through age. We are to go forth and season the unsavory and tasteless world. We are to keep society free from corruption and decay. We are to help our brothers and sisters, both living and dead, to become wholesome, pure, and acceptable before the Lord.
Why light? Because light chases away the darkness and illuminates the good works and wise words of true believers. Besides letting us see, it lets us understand. We are to set an example of good works and charitable deeds. We are to search out those who are lost in the darkness and show them the way to safety.
But it is also more than that. In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.” Now, as part of creating a new heaven and a new earth, and creating a new household of God, he is commanding us to “Let your light so shine.” We are to become the light. We are to become the light that shines to the world. We are to reflect the Son of God in our own countenances. Then, and only then, do we literally become the sons (and daughters) of God.
A Higher Law
So after telling us what he wants us to become, the Lord now is going to reveal a higher law that is filled with greater principles that will enable us to obtain a higher degree of righteousness. He is now going to spell out exactly what it means to be obedient, what it means to sacrifice, what it means to love others, what it means to consecrate everything you have. And the Master is going to teach this in a very specific way. He’s going to first cite the older/lesser law, the Law of Moses, a Terrestrial law, and then he’s going to site the newer/higher law, the Law of the Lord, a Celestial law.
1. Murder and Anger
JST Matthew 5:23–26 / KJV Matthew 5:21–24
23 Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time that, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment of God.
24 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of his judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, or Rabcha, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
In other words, the Lord is saying, “They used to say ‘don’t kill,’ but I’m saying ‘don’t even be angry.’”
Anger seems to threaten your eternal salvation, which makes perfect sense, because when you are angry it is almost impossible to feel the Spirit. So there is no justification for getting angry.
For me, this is a particularly difficult law to follow. I’m fairly active, politically speaking, and like to keep my eyes and ears attuned to the actions and inactions of our elected officials so that we can get better ones in the future. I sometimes feel like I’m a fairly-adorable puppy who is being constantly poked and prodded by an abusive owner. Then, when I start to either snarl or whimper, I get kicked in the head. And I find myself tempted to vent my feelings in public or react with anger. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure my anger is warranted and justified. Perhaps I can take the abuse, but I also see that the owner is starting to abuse other puppies, and that’s just not right. So is my anger justified?
Not by celestial standards. We must take positive actions to resolve differences rather than negative actions conceived in anger.
JST Matthew 5:24 / KJV Matthew 5:22
24 But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of his judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, or Rabcha, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Did you notice what else was buried in verse 22? Here we see a reference to eliminating profanity and vulgarity—words that are spoken out of anger or words that are offensive. All of them, no matter how fetching they may be, need to be discarded from our vocabulary.
Even calling people names, like we do when we drive our vehicles, needs to stop. Chances are the person in the car in front of you really isn’t an idiot. After all, technically, an idiot is a “person so mentally deficient as to be incapable of ordinary reasoning”. Then again, may she is.
But there is still more to it than this. It is speaking ill of other people, even the Lord’s anointed, that is completely forbidden. In fact, in the early days of the Church you could be excommunicated for speaking evil of other members. It leads to disharmony and contention. It breaks the bonds that should exist among the Lord’s covenant people.
JST Matthew 5:25–26 / KJV Matthew 5:23–24
25 Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, or if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that they brother hath aught against thee,
26 Leave thou thy gift before the altar, and go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
We must do all we can to soothe the hurt feelings of our brothers and sisters if we want to stand blameless before the Lord. Chances are there is someone out there who has some bad feelings towards us. Now whether or not we are at fault, we need to do all we can to reconcile with them so that they can get rid of the anger they feel in their hearts. This isn’t merely a suggestion. We must do it before we can offer up our gifts of consecration to the Lord.
4. Avoiding legal entanglements
JST Matthew 5:27–28 / KJV Matthew 5:25–26
27 Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time thine adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
28 Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
These verses don’t mean that we are to compromise eternal principles and deny the truth. But we should be very conciliatory in order to avoid contention and lawsuits—things that might affect our ability to do good in the world. We should never bear grudges toward another person. In fact, we need to be proactive and resolve our differences quickly so that peace, love, and charity will prevail.
Elder Quentin R. Cook said:
I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements. If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstances, we become more like Christ. (Ensign, May 2010, p. 83)
5. Adultery and lust
JST Matthew 5:29–30 / KJV Matthew 5:27–28
29 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery.
30 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
In other words, the Lord is saying, “They used to say ‘don’t be immoral,’ but I’m saying, ‘don’t even think about it. You will become that which you think about.
7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.
This principle is well known in the psychological community. Your attitudes determine your behavior. Many psychological issues are caused by what I like to call, stinkin’ thinkin’. Most people are just trying to do the best they can in life, but for some reason or another, they either haven’t learned how to control their thoughts and behaviors or don’t want to learn how to do it. As a result, they move in the direction of their most dominant thoughts.
Furthermore, 50 years ago, researchers determined that the human nervous system cannot tell the difference between a “real” experience and an “imagined” experience (Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960, p. ix). Now-a-days, with more realistic images and interactions being served up to us on-demand, it is increasingly hard to discern reality from fiction, and truth from error, and we allow our minds and hearts to be deceived.
In an article published in the February 1991, Ensign, Larry E. Dahl said:
Although we cannot avoid all the stimuli, we can plead with the Lord to help us control and channel our thoughts. We can consciously avoid compromising situations and forthrightly resist temptation. Rather than allowing improper thoughts to linger—and enhancing and savoring them—we can dismiss them with a prayer or an uplifting hymn or song, and deliberately channel our thoughts into positive paths. (Ensign, Feb 1991, p7)
6. Casting sins away
So far Jesus has talked about sins of the heart, mind, and mouth. In this setting, he then says:
JST Matthew 5:31–34 / KJV Matthew 5:29–30
31 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart, for it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.
32 Wherefore, if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
33 Or if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
34 And now this I speak, a parable concerning your sins; wherefore, cast them from you, that ye may not be hewn down and cast into the fire.
Back in the ancient Near East, if you were making a promise or business deal with someone, you would often find some little animal and cut its throat or slit it’s belly open as a way of saying, “If I break this contract, then let this happen to me.” Perhaps Jesus was referring to this type of behavior but instead of applying it to an innocent animal, you would figuratively apply it to yourself.
Today, some people are quite literal in their interpretation of these scriptures and have lopped off body parts that seem to lead them to sin. But is that what the Lord really means? Or is he being very dramatic on purpose to illustrate how critically important it is to our spiritual welfare that we cast away our sins?
JST Matthew 5:35–36 / KJV Matthew 5:31–32
35 It hath been written that, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.
36 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery.
At that time it was really pretty easy to get a divorce. All you had to do was present a “bill of divorcement” and you were officially divorced. In Islam it is even easier, a man just has to say “I divorce you” three times to his wife. But Jesus was telling his followers that we aren’t following the old rules anymore. He expects more.
So according to this scripture, divorce is not permitted at all, except in the case of adultery. This is a rather strict law, which we have not yet fully implemented in the Church yet. Regarding this commandment, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
Divorce is not part of the gospel plan. Under the most perfect conditions there would be no divorce permitted except where sex sin was involved. In this day divorces are permitted in accordance with civil statutes, and the divorced persons are permitted by the Church to marry again without the stain of immorality which under a higher system and in a better civilization would attend such a course. (DNTC, 1:547)
8. Swearing oaths
JST Matthew 5:37–39 / KJV Matthew 5:33–37
37 Again, it hath been written by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.
38 But I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King; neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
39 But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
In other words, the Lord is saying “They used to say, ‘keep your oaths,’” but I’m saying, ‘keep your word.’”
During the Old Testament years, it was common for people to take oaths and invoke the Lord’s name as a way to prove to others that they were not lying. In fact, it became so commonplace that many people wouldn’t accept someone’s word without an oath.
But Jesus was here to reject the old and proclaim the new, which was that everything that everyone said should be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In other words, no one would lie. No one would bear false witness. Everything you said would be the “gospel truth.” Can you imagine what our world would be like if we all followed this commandment?
JST Matthew 5:40–41 / KJV Matthew 5:38–39
40 Ye have heard that it hath been said. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
41 But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
The Law of Moses allowed you to seek justice for offenses committed against you. For example, if you had some physical damage done to you, you could do some physical damage to the offender. A little quid pro quo.
But the Lord had something else in mind. He wanted to do away with the common way of reacting to offenses. And he started by telling us that retribution and retaliation just isn’t part of his program.
Even Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof noticed this. A villager was upset over the pograms that were being conducted against the Jews by the authorities, so he said to Tevye, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But Tevye responded, “Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.”
In fact, in the next couple of verses, the Lord expands on this idea and essentially says, “Not only should you forget retribution and retaliation, but you should do good. Give more than you have to give. Do more than you need to do.”
JST Matthew 5:42–44 / KJV Matthew 5:40–42
42 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have it; and if he sue thee again, let him have thy cloak also.
43 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him a mile; and whosoever shall compel thee to go with him twain, thou shalt go with him twain.
44 Give to him that asketh of thee; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.
By the way, at that time there was a Roman law that said that if Roman troops were passing through a conquered territory, the soldiers could demand that the conquered subject bear a burden or carry a load for them for the distance of one mile. And they didn’t ask nicely. And if you didn’t do it, you were beaten and thrown in jail for defiance—or maybe even “accidentally” killed. So when Jesus said that we should not only comply, but that we should volunteer to go the second mile, this was radical thinking!
One of the principles behind this commandment is that the saints should always be “subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates” and be found “honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law.” Sometimes that is hard to do, especially on April 15.
But another principle, and one that is perhaps more significant, is that we need to be charitable with our fellow brothers and sisters, and to always be willing to make a personal sacrifice on their behalf. After all, isn’t this what Christ does for us?
10. Love your enemies
JST Matthew 5:45–49 / KJV Matthew 5:43–47
45 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
46 But I say unto you, love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you;
47 That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
48 For if ye love only them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same?
49 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans the same?
Perhaps this is one of the most challenging commandments that the Lord has given his followers. To love everyone—including our enemies. This is the essence of the Law of the Gospel, as it is found in the Doctrine of Covenants:
Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THIS LOVE?
We pray mightily for it!
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Now we are at the end of one of the greatest chapters in the New Testament. In this chapter Jesus has told us about the 10 virtues that will bless our lives, and then he has given us 10 Celestial commandments that, if we obey them, will ensure that we acquire those virtues.
Now the Lord has just one more thing to say to us. One more challenge to offer. Let’s see what it is.
JST Matthew 5:50 / KJV Matthew 5:48
50 Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
Wow. If the Savior had not issued enough challenges in his sermon to this point, he certainly did it with this last statement.
The word perfect in Greek (teleios) means “to become finished or completed.” It is also a word that is used in the ancient religions to describe a person who has been fully initiated in the religious ordinances. But it is more than that, it also means that you live out the remainder of your days as someone who is true and faithful to those ordinances.
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave us some great counsel on how we can keep this commandment. He said:
When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave. (History of the Church, 6:306-307)
Brothers and Sisters, at this point we are less than halfway done with the Sermon on the Mount. There is much more to learn. We’ll talk about some of it in our next lesson, but we will never be able to do it justice here in Sunday School. It deserves an investigation that is much more deep and much more broad than anyone can teach. There are some things, and this one of them, that should be supplemented with many one-on-one sessions with you, your scriptures, and the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
I, for one, am so thankful for the Savior and for these specific teachings. It has encouraged me to try a little harder and to apply his teachings to my life and my relationships with others. I am absolutely positive it will be a life-long journey, and then a great deal longer, before I master the commandments. But I know, with His help, anything is possible!