These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, teaching points, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Matthew 5:33-42 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Teaching Points
I. Be honest and don’t make oaths (33-37)
II. Do not seek personal retaliation for wrong suffered (38-42)
I. Be honest and don’t make oaths (33-37)
In what way did Jesus give them a new or higher standard here?
What types of things did people swear by according to these verses?
Why does Jesus say they shouldn’t make such oaths?
What is the reason people make oaths at all?
What reasons can you think of why making oaths is not a good idea?
What might cause someone to doubt you to the point when they would want you to make an oath to “prove” your intentions? So then what is the broader principle? (Honesty)
Can you think of anyone in the Bible who regretted their vows?
Have you ever regretted anything you have said? How you can watch your speech so that you don’t say things you will later regret?
What does verse 37 mean? What does it mean that “anything beyond these is evil?”
Old Testament verses on swearing:
Deuteronomy 23:21 (see also verse 23) – If you make a vow, do not delay in fulfilling it.
Leviticus 19:12 – You shall not swear by my name falsely.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 – When you make a vow do not delay in paying it.
Psalm 76:11 – Make your vows to the Lord and perform them.
- In the Old Testament law it was clearly wrong to make false vows. We have seen in the cross-references that there are many warnings about making vows and then not fulfilling them. These warnings are true. We should not make vows/oaths/promises that we cannot or may not keep. Jesus is not disagreeing with this fact, but He raises the bar even higher.
- Make no oath at all – In the time of Jesus making oaths had become more popular. What was originally a wow to make a solemn covenant before the Lord as seen in Psalm 76:11 had developed into a widespread problem of making oaths. In people’s routine everyday communication with each other they would make oaths to convince each other of the truth and sincerity of their words. But the rabbis had developed a complicated system for determining whether or not oaths had to be kept. Generally it was considered that only oaths made in the name of God had to be kept. Swearing by the gold of the temple or the throne of God or people or His footstool or the rocks in the wall of Jerusalem sounded very impressive, but were not considered binding. In those cases people could say whatever they wanted, but then break their words because they had an “out” clause. It seems that based on the historical context, Jesus is prohibiting these types of oaths. He is reminding people that the Creator is always present. He hears what you say and He also sees your heart. Clever word games does not excuse lying and if you say you are going to do something, no matter what words you use, and then you do not do it, it is a lie. In American culture some people believe that if you cross your fingers while you make a statement you do have to keep it. This kind of making promises with no intention to keep it is the social issue that Jesus was speaking out against. Most Christian scholars do not believe that Jesus was prohibiting all oaths here (Genesis 26:3, Psalms 132:11: In these verses God made an oath.) Also note that in Acts 18:18 Paul took vows and in Revelation 10:5-6 an angel swore an oath. In light of the whole teaching of Scripture the conclusion of the Westminster Confession of Faith that says oaths are appropriate only in “matters of weight and moment” seems to be the correct understanding. So what do we learn:
- Do not add words or expressions to your statements to convince people of their truth or to give yourself.
- Avoid phrases like “I swear on my mother’s grave” or “cross my heart and hope to die” or similar ones in your own culture.
- Even when you make vows (such as a marriage) you should make clear and straightforward statements of your commitment to your spouse.
- Think before you make promises. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Don’t make promises easily. Don’t agree to do something unless you are going to follow through. If you say something, do it. Set reminders for yourself if necessary so that you won’t forget.
- Be honest. What kind of person will feel the need to make oaths more often? It is a person who is viewed as untrustworthy. Liars have to work hard to convince people they are telling the truth this time.If you are a trustworthy person and have proven yourself to be so, others will know that your word is your bond.
- Do not lie or deceive in negotiations. For example some people say too a clerk, “the most I will pay you is 20 yuan,” but then 2 minutes later agree to pay more. Do not say things like “the most I will pay you is…” unless it really is the most you will pay. Be careful of making deals or signing contracts you will later regret. Read the fine print and understand. Your signature is like a vow. These days people break their word easily and for almost any amount of money. They may only keep their word if a contract forces them to and they know they will be caught and punished by the law if they don’t. God holds us to a higher standard. Our standard is not “will I be caught?” We will go before a higher judge than any in this land. We will stand before God and give an account of what we have said and what we have done. Let us not look for loopholes to get out of what we have agreed to. Instead let’s seek to be honest and transparent and men and women of integrity.
- Think before you speak. This applies to every kind of speech, not just promises.
- Parents, keep your promises to your children. Did you tell them you will read them a story later? Do it. Did you tell them you would take them out to play? Do it. Many parents routinely break their promises to their children. I have heard parents in Gymboree promising children things after class in order to keep them quiet during class. For example, they may promise to blow them bubbles after class to get them to cooperate. But after class they don’t do it. Another parent brought his child to our house and he kept telling his child they would leave in a certain amount of time (maybe 10 minutes). But they didn’t, again and again. He freely admitted to us that he often used lying as a tool to get his son to cooperate. Other parents tell their children they will abandon them if they don’t obey. Of course they don’t. You should tell the truth to your children. If you lie to them they will learn it. You will become untrustworthy and they may not believe you in important things. They may also become very disappointed if you often let them down and it can hurt your relationship with them long term. Another example: many Western parents teach their children that Santa is real. It is lying to your children. When they find out Santa is not real, may they question whether God is real?
II. Do not seek personal retaliation for wrong suffered (38-42)
What is the new standard or idea Jesus is giving people here?
How were they understanding or misunderstanding this phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”
What was the original purpose of this phrase?
What can we learn from this about how people sometimes misuse the Bible?
So what is Jesus teaching in verses 39-42?
Do we allow people to do evil things to us?
Do we allow people to rob from steal from, or abuse others around us?
Should Christians have been pacifists in WWII when Nazi Germany was committing heinous acts all over Europe?
How can we discern when to “take a stand” and when to “turn the other cheek?”
Exodus 21:12-36 – Laws about personal injury (23-25).
Romans 12:17-21 – Do not take revenge.
1 Peter 3:9 – Do not repay evil for evil.
Leviticus 19:18 – You shall not take vengeance. Love your neighbor.
- You have heard that is was said “an eye for an eye.” – It seems that the people during Jesus’ time had taken this phrase out of context. They used it as permission to retaliate against others in like manner to which they had been mistreated. They viewed it as permission to punch those who punch you, push those who push you, mock those who mock you, cheat those who cheat you, etc. The issue is that they had taken this phrase out of context. In Exodus 21, these were laws about how to deal with people who were criminals. The judge or the court was to punish people by taking into account what they had done. They were to punish them in like manner and to an equal degree of the crime that they had committed against others. In the recent movie Beauty and the Beast and old man takes a rose from a garden and the owner of the garden (the Beast) throws him in prison and says he has to stay there the rest of his life. It is an example of an unreasonable punishment that didn’t fit the crime. In a similar way if a person committed murder and the court decided to confiscate his cookies, it is not fitting of the crime. This law was served to guide the court/judge in sentencing of criminals. But people in Jesus’ time were using it as an excuse to take personal revenge. That was not allowed. Even the avenger of blood had to take the criminal to a court and present his case.
- Jesus teaches not to take personal retaliation – Jesus is speaking to the issue of personal rights. He is speaking about mercy and forgiveness. How can we apply what Jesus is teaching us to our lives today? Can you think of examples?
- When someone pushes you on the subway, do not push them in return.
- When someone insults you, give a blessing instead.
- When someone doesn’t pay you back via wechat for the meal you bought them, instead of reminding them, buy them another one the next time.
- When a co-worker doesn’t do his fair share of the work, instead of complaining, work even harder.
- When you are assigned with other students to do a team project and the other students don’t do anything, graciously just do the work without complaining.
- We can stand up for what is right – This passage is not teaching us that Christians should just stand by silent and quiet while criminals rampage. We can report criminals to the police. We can stand up for the rights of orphans or beggars or people who are being exploited. I believe we could even fight in righteous wars to stop heinous governments like Nazi Germany. There is a proper place for judgment and justice and that is a court of law. This is why God gave governments a sword (Romans 13:4). But He did not give one to you.
- How can we tell the difference or know when we should stand up and when we should turn the cheek? I believe we can ask the same questions that we asked about anger (5:21-24). Are you angry because someone has done something to you? If it is a personal issue, extend grace, mercy and forgiveness.
- So what can we learn and put into practice from this passage?
- Value others above yourselves.
- Treat even enemies with respect and kindness
- Trust in God to provide what you need
- Go above and beyond what is asked of you
- Loving God and others is more important than face, personal rights, or property
- The principle of love (as seen in the following verses) is the most important thing to remember. For example, someone who was trying to follow to the letter Jesus’ instruction might say I can hit him back now because he hit me in the nose or the ear or has already hit me on both cheeks. At that time hitting on the cheek was a personal insult or indignity, a way to shame the person hit. Jesus is saying that you shouldn’t care about your own honor or dignity or face. You don’t need to retaliate or defend your honor. Offering the other cheek would show that the person does not value human honor.
- In today’s day and age people care a lot for personal rights. They fiercely stand up for their rights in every are of life even the minute and absurd (suing for getting hot coffee or broken cookies.) We need to go the opposite direction of this trend and ask what is the best testimony for Christ? How would He respond? What is the loving response?
- Do not have the attitude “it is not fair!” Do not care about your share or keeping things even (did your friends give you as much for your wedding as you gave them and such kind of thinking).
More to come soon
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