Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship July 30, 2023

Message: The Radical Nature of Our Commitments | Scripture: Matthew 5:31-37 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

The Radical Nature of Our Commitments | Matthew 5:31-37 | July 30, 2023

Worship Songs: Every Step; Be Thou My Vision; The Everlasting Love Of God; Doxology

Discussion Questions

  1. Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What were your main takeaways? What, in further reflection, have you thought about regarding the sermon or the passage? Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
  2. Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
    1. Perhaps in your distrust that God intends his best for you in your current season of life?
    2. Perhaps in your desire to do what you (sinfully) want while making it seem both to yourself and others that it’s what God desires you to do?
    3. Perhaps in the simple fact that you do not spend enough time with him/caring to know him, his mind, his heart, and his love for you?
    4. Perhaps in how you fall short of submitting every aspect of your life to him (or not considering the ways you haven’t [yet] submitted every aspect of your life to him)?
  3. What was the basis for the Pharisaical command to provide one’s wife with a certificate of divorce in Christ’s day? Was it a sufficient basis for the certificate? Why/why not?
  4. What was Moses’ motivation in writing Deuteronomy 24:1-4? Where had the Israelites gone wrong in their use and interpretation of it?
  5. Why, ultimately, does the Israelite misinterpretation of these verses condemn them? Being loose with divorce laws does not necessarily mean that they’ve contravened/broken them (they may have been getting divorced a lot, but they may have “kept” the law by not remarrying their former husbands/wives). So, why did the people of Israel still stand under judgment in reference to this regulatory law (hint: it has to with our text in Matt 5:31-32, the seventh commandment, and the primary intention that God has in creation for things like marriage – see Matthew 19:3-12)?
  6. A Theological Application Question: Based on what you read in our text and in texts like Matthew 19:3-12, are there other grounds for divorce? For example, if a woman is in a highly abusive relationship [e.g. her life is threatened; the life of her children are threatened; etc.], are there biblical grounds for her to seek a divorce? Why/why not (try to use Scripture AND think biblically)? How should a church respond to grievous situations like this?
  7. Harder Question: I strongly believe that the point of these antitheses of Matt 5 (beginning with Christ’s statement in Matt 5:17-20) are meant to point us to the coming of a new covenant in which a new creation is brought about. Describe what that new creation is–how it affects us. Does everything change? Is anything still the same? If there are things that continue, what does (a good place to start is to see how I talk about certain things that continue even now in my sermon–think of God’s intentions)? If there are things that are discontinued, what does?
  8. In thinking about continuity and discontinuity, how are we meant to respond in our lives? Do we often treat the new covenant like it’s magic, where we’re suddenly given that which is new, which for many of us translate to something we don’t have to work hard at? Is holiness, under the new covenant, meant to be easy for us/assumed by us in our walks? One of the ways Israel went wrong is that because God said, “You are my people,” they assumed that they could be or do anything they wanted/live however they wanted. Do you see similarities with people who call themselves “Christians” today?
    • Do you see similarities with Israel in your own life? If yes, how so? If no, how are you leading others to a greater desire for a similar kind of holiness?
  9. In what way does God “own” us? Is it just by virtue of his creating us or is there more? Are you comfortable with the idea of being slaves to God/slaves to Christ? Why/why not?
  10. What does it mean to have integrity/be a person of integrity?
  11. Do you, personally, struggle with submitting yourself to the intentions of God in your life? Do you, personally, struggle with being honest and having integrity in the words that you speak and in the things you say you’ll do? Better yet, when people think of you, do they think of you who is someone trustworthy? Even better yet, in God’s eyes, knowing your own heart, would GOd say that you are someone who is trustworthy? Why/why not?
  12. The foundational question: why is the cross the ultimate display of God’s trustworthiness?
  13. How can we be better accountable to you in your desire to be a person of deep, unwavering integrity?
  14. Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
  15. Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.

Full Manuscript


If you are able, would you please stand as I read to you from Matthew 5:31-37.  TWoL: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘ You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’  But I say to you, Do not take an oath 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

I’m not sure if I’ve told you all this story before, but my first and only ever interaction with a client who came into our firm needing family legal services was a woman.  I don’t remember her name, but I remember she came in confidently, sat down at the table, and we went through her assets with her, discussed what she could expect in court with her soon-to-be ex-husband, and promptly began wrapping up the meeting, not wanting to waste any time, making it seem like all of this was a normal part of life. 

But then, just before walking her out the door, the lawyer I was shadowing folded his brief, looked at the client, and asked, “is there anything else we can do for you?”  And in that moment, this young, successful, confident, yet soft-spoken woman broke down in front of us—tears streaming from her eyes, thinking about this lawyer’s question, and I’ll never forget her response, “Is there anything I can do to make him come back to me?” 

I’ll also never forget my principal lawyer’s response, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but that’s not what you hired me to do.”  In that very moment, I knew I’d never go into family law not only because I was heartbroken for this woman sitting across from me, but also because I became overwhelmed with hatred and anger towards the man who was doing this to her.  What’s worse is that it would have been wholly possible for me to have to represent men like him if I made this my normal practice, and I could not stomach the thought.

For context, this woman in front of me was a victim of her husband’s adultery and was now being forced to divorce him because he wanted to be with this other woman while also demanding that she pay him, as the main wage-earner for their family, half of her salary for the rest of his life.  In essence, this man had reduced this lady sitting across from me into nothing but the means to get at what he really wanted in life, and the sad reality was that the law enabled him—and enables men like him—to do just that.  To reduce their marriages and these covenant bonds into nothing else but contracts, negotiations, and maneuvers to take advantage of one another, and because liberal governments, like Canada’s and like the United States’, have lost any sense of objective morality, these laws only continue to be expanded.  They only enable pigs, like that man, to be what they are without apology or need to take responsibility. 

Yet, as Christians, we are called to be more, and Christ tells us that this morning in our passage—that we are to keep our word not according to the world’s evolving and liberal standard but according to God’s standard—according to God’s Word.  And we’re to do that two ways, first, by rejecting the world’s interpretation of God’s intentions, and secondly, by accepting that he, alone, stands above and in ownership of all things, and thus, all that we do ought to be submitted to him.  So, consider now this command that we, as those who are called to greater righteousness, are to keep our word according to God’s Word . . .

1) By Rejecting the World’s Interpretation of His Intentions

Once again, here, Christ is speaking to us about fulfillment.  He doesn’t come to destroy what the law says, but to complete and fill in what we’ve been missing—both in our interpretation of it and in our blindness to whom it ultimately points us.  Because of Christ, we don’t only see that we’re sinners under the law but that that’s all the law could have done for us—tell us that we’re sinners.  We see this even in the most common-sense laws, such as the laws against murder or adultery.  Jesus proves that though we may not have committed the actual acts of murder and adultery in our lives, we are all still murderers and adulterers at heart because of our anger and our lust. 

What we needed, and what the law was pointing us to, was this Jesus who would come, reveal our misunderstanding of the law to us, and make it possible for us not only to see our sinfulness under it but to be changed from it—to receive new eyes, new hands, new hearts—so that we, like him, might also fulfill it in its entirety—in a way that supersedes all the law-keepers of that day through what he calls a ‘greater righteousness.’ 

And the way he effects this for us is through the provision of a new, greater, better covenant.  A covenant based not upon our ability to keep the law for our salvation but that saves us, first, by grace and gives us the gift of faith so that we can now do what is pleasing to God.  It is a covenant that he ratifies and eternally secures with his own Son’s blood. 

This idea of covenant is of particular importance for us today because of where we are in these antitheses—these two examples of divorce and oaths, I believe, are the central examples that Jesus wants to emphasize in order to show us not only how we prevent ourselves from doing what is right in God’s eyes under the law, but how he’s come to make it right—how he’s come to correct and fulfill the covenant, and our status under it.

So, he begins with the issue of divorce, “it was also said, ‘whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’”  Now, this is tricky to dissect here because there are a lot of things to consider contextually.  First, let me say that there’s a strong link to this text with a later text in Matthew 19:3-12, which we’ll discuss more about later.  But the original scriptural reference that Christ is making comes from Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  It’s the only place in the first five books of the Old Testament that brings up the issue of divorce, and even there, it says very little. 

In fact, so little is said about adultery in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that, in your reading of it, you will quickly realize that Moses is really only talking about what happens after a man and woman are divorced and not the rightness or wrongness of the act or the reasons that legitimate one.  The only reason that Moses alludes to in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 are the words עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר, which literally translated means, shameful or indecent thing, word, or act—read in context, the original passage says, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found in her a shameful word or act”—or “because he has found in her improper behaviour, then he shall write for her a document or certificate that ends the covenant [skipping a few verses], [and if she is divorced again by the man she later marries], her former husband … may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.  And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” 

So, do you see the problem?  For those of you in this room who aren’t lawyers, here’s a bit of insight into how their minds work—when there is a lack of specificity in the law, we lawyers will take that imprecision, regardless of how insignificant, and use it however it best advantages us.  I’ve done this a million times—my wife can attest to it.  We’ll be in an argument, and she will say something off the cuff, which isn’t really the point, but because she is indefinite with her words, I will pounce on her mistake, and I will make it the issue because it’s one way to get a leg-up on her and fluster her from what she’s actually trying to say. 

This is what’s happening in Jesus’ day for those reading Moses’ law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Moses’ focus here in this text isn’t to give the cause or reasons for divorce.  Rather, he speaks of the issue in those circumstances where it’s already happened because his focus, like in so many of these side, regulatory laws was the issue of inheritance—it was about the covenant land upon which God was meant to dwell with his children and not, specifically, the relationships between a man and his ex-wife.  It was about the land that had to remain holy and intact if the people of God were going to keep it. 

But if a man remarried his ex-wife, whom he had divorced, and who was now in the process of leaving her second or subsequent husband, he would have had to, in marrying her, create a second, lesser covenant—a weaker covenant with this woman because he could not now undo what this woman had done with another man after divorcing her—he couldn’t unstain her or cleanse her from within, so-to-speak.  That other husband would always be a part of her, and for this woman to be reembraced by her former husband with the hope of reconstituting their former covenant, such a thing no longer existed.

Yet, even more threatening than this was the fact that taking a woman back after her being in another man’s bed opened up the possibility of bringing the wrong man’s child into the home.  Remember, in that day, they didn’t have DNA tests, so if a woman goes out to a man of another family, or another tribe, or, God-forbid, another, pagan nation, then it’s possible, that she might come back to her former husband pregnant with that other man’s child to the ignorance of the former husband who would have believed himself to be the father.

Or perhaps the woman, out of desperation, hides the existence of an already born child or leaves the child with her second husband after their divorce, and when the time came—when the former husband dies leaving his land to his heir, this child, being his, legally speaking, would be able, without contest, to claim it, and thus, introduce a potential fracture into the covenant intentions and inheritance that God had put into place. 

This, I might add, is also why the law on divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 focuses so strongly upon women; it’s about preserving the land and God’s relationship to his people through that land, which he and they had worked so hard to consecrate, and if men weren’t discerning in their human covenant relationships, they could end up giving away the very thing that defined their divine covenant relationship. 

But this is what ambiguous language does to lawyers and people in general.  It takes us off the main point and allows us to introduce our own prerogatives and our own sinful interpretations into God’s words.  And this is exactly what happens with that indefinite use of the words ‘improper behaviour’ in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. 

Now, I want to be generous because there were some Jews who interpreted this passage rightly, and they knew what was at stake if divorce was permitted too liberally.  However, the prevailing, popular view in Christ’s day was to interpret ‘improper behaviour’ as broadly and liberally as you could, and when I say, “you,” I hope you know that I mean men.  Divorce, because of the liberalization of this law, had become a purely male right, and as such, men were using it to leave their wives for any reason they wanted—from not cooking a meal the way they desired to simply saying, “I don’t like you anymore.” 

All this was happening because these lawyers and teachers of the law wanted to suit their own agendas and their own lusts, and in order to do it, they based their creation of new laws for broad approval of divorce upon some obscure passage that they read separately from the context of the rest of Scripture.  They desired to read the Word of God on their terms and not on its divine author’s terms.  They wanted to do things their way, but they wanted to look good in the eyes of their followers while doing it, so they used Scripture to bend people to their will.

The result of which was that they kept the hearts of the people blind and hardened against the true intentions of God.  This is, in fact, what Matthew tells us later in chapter 19, as the Pharisees are interacting with Jesus, they ask in verse 7, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and send her away?”  To which Jesus responds in verse 8, “He doesn’t make this a command, rather because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed (or permitted) you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so intended.” 

In other words, God through Moses only provided them with Deut 24:1-4 because he knew what they would do—that Israel was an irreverent and stupid people—a people that would divorce and annul their covenants with one another for any reason.  So, this law was provided to curtail and control their natural, sinful impulses—to control human failure—to make sure both in divorce and after it that no one was threatening the continued, unstained covenant relationship of God with his people—a covenant that remained intact so long as the land remained intact. 

But now all of these people were damned to hell—broken in their union not only with each other but with God—because the world and these leaders of Israel were telling them that this desecration of the sanctity of marriage is what God intended from the start—that he wanted to make it easier for them—nay, that he commanded them to break a part what he had joined together—that he desired for them to treat their personal covenants loosely. 

It’s no wonder, then, why they couldn’t see the new covenant that Christ was introducing in his coming!  It’s no wonder why they didn’t desire his grace when it was being offered to them.  It’s because they had missed the main point of texts like Deut 24:1-4, and in their wandering off from what God intended, they sought, instead, to protect their own desires—their own hardness of heart, and they did it by saying God commanded this when his command was the exact opposite!  He wanted them to preserve their covenants and keep their word, not empty them of their value, but they couldn’t see that because in their obsession to do things their way, they couldn’t see him. 

And this, dear church, is the lesson Christ is trying to teach us here—not that there aren’t legitimate reasons for divorce—he affirms that there are.  He does not abolish this fact.  But more important than figuring out what those legitimate reasons are is the fact that what you do and what you commit yourself to must never deviate from how God intends you to do them and to see them through.  The point that Jesus is making here is that when we try to figure things out on our own—when we base our decisions, actions, and commitments upon what our hearts want, or what the world tells us is good for us, separate from seeking out the wisdom and will of God, we always lead ourselves and others to ruin.

No matter how inventive or creative our interpretations of God’s will are, we, ourselves, can never be God or replace him—though this is what the Pharisees and scribes were, essentially, doing.  We cannot outsmart his plans.  Yet, our hearts and our world want us to think that we can.  In fact, our hearts and our world want us to think that he’s told us to do this, and, brothers and sisters, we need to stop listening to them and start listening to God. 

We need to stop making rules for ourselves and living life on our terms, which ultimately condemns us, when God has a purpose for how we ought to live our lives—a purpose that will not only save you but satisfy you.  We need to come back to his original intentions for us in his words and not to use those words in a way that distracts us from him or in a way that twists them to pander to our sinful inclinations.  God’s words are to be used God’s way.

He has only ever given us his words—his law—to bring us to himself and make us more desperate for a relationship with him; not to be him or to replace him, and a complete embrace of divorce by these Pharisees, scribes, and unbelieving Jews was doing just that. 

But praise be to God, that this is what Jesus came to correct—to perfect—to fulfill—not only to set us straight on divorce, but on what it means to be in covenant relationship with someone else—on how seriously we are to take that, which leads me, now, to my second point: keep your word according to God’s Word not only by rejecting the world’s interpretation of his intentions but also by accepting that he, God, stands above and owns everything. 

2) By Accepting That He Stands Above and Owns All Things

This point can be made quickly because just like verses 31-32—verses 33-37 are about controlling human failure.  These verses speak about the number of different instances in the Old Testament that refer to the circumstances involving the making of oaths—articulated promises.  Yet, Jesus, like the command for providing a certificate of divorce, is telling us that those instances are instructing us to make oaths not because the oaths pleased God but because he knows that we are untrustworthy.  He permitted us under the law, which is proof of our sinfulness, to make explicit promises with our mouths so that we might be held accountable from being flippant—from bearing false witnesses as those who profess to be children of the one, true God.

My whole life, I’ve driven dying cars.  So, when we bought the car we’re currently driving—a new Toyota Rav4, we were introduced to all sorts of bells and whistles that we’ve never had before—one of those things being an alert that goes off if I start breaking too late, or if I’m at risk of hitting the car in front of me.  There have been times where I’ll be driving down the road, talking to Candace, and then all of sudden, everything in my car turns red and I hear this high-pitched beeping with one word flashing across the screen of my driver’s panel in all caps, “BRAKE!”

The thing is, though, that if all that function does is to warn me, and if all I learn from it is that there are times where I drive terribly, then it’s really quite a useless function because it’s only a matter of time before I get into a major accident and put not only my life in danger but the life of all my family who is in the car with me.  No, what needs to happen is that as my car screams at me, “BRAKE!” I’m to be jolted awake from my distraction, made more alert to my surroundings, and apologetic those whom I’ve put in harm’s way with the intention never to do it again.  

In the same way, this is what the laws on divorce and oaths—what all the laws of the Old Testament—are meant to do to us.  They were meant not only to signal us like car lights going off, screaming at us, “BRAKE!” before we crash and burn—telling us not to break our word, not to shirk our commitments, and not to tarnish our covenant relationships, but they were also meant to tell us that something greater is required—that a change must take place in me not only to refrain from doing what I shouldn’t do, but to actually have the intention, the urge to do what I’m supposed to do.  Not merely to avoid breaking my word but desiring to keep it.  Not merely to avoid shirking commitments but running to meet them.  Not merely to avoid the sullying of my covenant relationships but to see them flourish—to pursue my wife’s happiness above my own. 

This, then, is why Jesus has come—not to provide us with more controls for our human failure but to set aside the fail-safe provisions in favour of a bolder reimplementation of how God intended things to be.  He never intended us to fall back on oaths to prove our trustworthiness.  He never intended us to embrace systems of divorce for our broken relationships.  Rather, he always intended us to have a lifelong faithfulness in our respective marriages and to live with a simple truthfulness in our speech. 

Why?  Because, very simply, God has always been faithful in his love for us, and he has always been truthful and trustworthy in his revelation to us.  And Christ comes saying, “because he has been these things for you, how can you want to be anything else in response?”  And, church, this is the right question, but it is also the damning one because none of us have responded appropriately. 

Yet, Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He doesn’t come to damn us, but as we stand in the judgment of our sin, at the request of his Father, Christ comes to show us in a way more astounding and magnificent—in a way more show-stopping and heart-changing—than ever before just how faithful God’s love for us and how trustworthy his words to us are.  That when we were adulterers, divorcers and divorcees, sulliers of the land upon which our relationship with God was, literally, grounded, he sent his own Son to show us that he has never left us nor forsaken us.  No, in fact, he comes to pursue us, woo us, and win us back to himself when we were worthy of being abandoned. 

And when we were liars, profaners of the truth, swearing by the name of the Lord, yet willing deceivers and manipulators in our heart, God sent his own Son to tell us that he is the way, the truth, and the life—to show us that we can come back to him even when we’ve led so many others astray. 

And when we took that law of his and had mutilated it into a tool to justify our own sinful prerogatives and our own lusts and passions, God sent his own Son to die for us so that the full weight of guilt for our indiscretions, our falsehoods, our improper behaviours wouldn’t fall upon our shoulders but upon his. 

But, dear Christian, he didn’t do it simply to absolve you of the ways in which you’ve broken the law, but so that you might now supersede it in the new covenant, which he has made with you through his own blood—a covenant not dependent upon your preservation of the land, but upon its being graciously preserved for you in eternity through the person and work of your Saviour.  In him, we have our final rest.  In him, we have our perfect peace. 

And thus, we are able in a new, greater way to find fidelity in our covenant relationships to others—to bear with them for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.  And I’m not only speaking of marriage but also of the church. 

More than that, we are able in a new, greater way to do those things that we say we’ll do—not having to perform rituals or make additional statements in order to be held accountable in doing them.  We need not impress others with how well we make our vows.  Rather, we can show them God’s impression upon our lives simply by following through steadfastly, decisively, and joyfully.  No longer needing to swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or upon ourselves for God is over all and owns all, and he has given us new hearts not only to comprehend his authority but to serve him faithfully—to honour him sacrificially with our whole lives because of the sacrifice he’s afforded for us. 

This is the imperative given to those who are called to greater righteousness—that our lives might now be ruled with integrity—reflective, always, of the intentions of the One who is eternally faithful and unswervingly truthful over us.  We are to keep our word according to God’s Word and not according to our own because his Word has been spoken into us, and it has given us life in the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Hold fast to him, and let not man separate what God, in his holy wisdom and incomparable saving power, has joined together.

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