But I Say to You ….

From my sermon to be preached on February 16, 2020, based on Matthew 5:21-37 (and Deuteronomy 30:15-20.


  • “But I say to you…” – In this phrase, Jesus makes it clear that he was not a traditionalist. He did not interpret the scriptures literally. – You have heard it said….but I say to you. … Jesus knew what the scriptures said, but went beyond the mere words to get to the heart of what God meant.
  • In our day, the deepest divide in the Church is between those who hold to a traditional, often literal interpretation of the Bible and those who know what it says but understand the heart of its meaning to be something more.
  • In the words from Deuteronomy, we heard first a call to obey the commandments, decrees, and ordinances of the Lord. Then we hear these words: Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lordyour God, obeying him, and holding fast to him. – We are not to live just by obeying the law, but by obeying God and holding fast to the Lord. To live in the heart of God.



  • In the verses from Matthew, Jesus says that it is not just what we do that is important, but what is in our heart. As I read it, he speaks of 3 things:
  1. Anger (vv.21-26)
    • Do not murderdo not act in anger
    • Do not kill with malice or neglect – but do not act on your anger so that you harm in any way
    • When you know you are holding anger or bitterness in your heart, go and settle it quickly and be reconciled.
  2. Faithfulness (vv.27-32)
    • Do not commit adultery … do not be unfaithful in your heart
    • Richard Foster – Sex, Money, and Power – monastic vows: chastity, poverty, obedience … matters of the heart, not just the body
    • Many of us are divorced and remarried. – Jesus addresses the intent, the heart. – The Jewish law allowed a man to divorce his wife for almost any reason but just giving a “certificate of divorce” and sending her away. Jesus says it is about faithfulness of the heart and soul.
  3. Honesty (vv.33-37)
    • Do not break your oath …. Do not make an oath at all.
    • Let your “yes” be “yes and your “no be “no.” …. Mean what you say. Be honest.
    • Mark Twain: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything” … Our word, our honesty, is what matters.


  • Jesus taught in the same way about many things. …. The words we speak come from the heart. Our actions show what is in our heart. … If we are to judge ourselves or others, judge not by the “letter of the law” (you have heard it said) but by the heart of God (but I say to you).
  • The two concerns most divisive in the church today are abortion and homosexuality.
    • Is abortion only of law and the act itself, or is it a matter of the heart and why a woman would choose it?
    • Is homosexuality only a matter of a physical action from a traditional view, or is a matter of the heart and of love and commitment between two people?
  • Other social and political choices are dividing Christians today as well. George Lakoff has described it in these terms – “strict father” (those who value law and favor retribution for wrongdoing) or “nurturant parent” (those who value the heart, and compassionate, restorative justice).
  • As I understand Jesus, he knew the scriptures and lived by them. But he went beyond the words themselves to the heart of what God wants. You have heard it said …. But I say to you. – May we follow Jesus.

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