In the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, Jesus gave teachings that were different from the commonly held teachings of His day. For example, Jesus taught in Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. The sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 states “You shall not murder.” The commonly accepted teaching was that you were not guilty before God unless you actually killed another. To be angry with your brother without a cause implies that you do not like him and perhaps even hate him. To say to him “Raca!” is to call him empty or worthless; it is a term of great contempt. To say “You Fool!” was to call him evil or a rebel against God. To be angry with your brother without a cause or to say to him “Raca!” or to say “You Fool!” did not physically kill him. But Jesus taught that such a spirit of contempt for your brother makes you guilty before God.
Jesus went on to teach in Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The seventh commandment in Exodus 20:14 states “You shall not commit adultery.” The commonly accepted teaching was that you were not guilty unless you actually committed the act of adultery. But Jesus declared that with God, looking lustfully at another woman was just as bad as physically committing the sexual act.
With these two examples, I believe that Jesus is teaching a very important principle. The Jews of Jesus’ day were guilty of trying to keep the letter of the law without keeping the spirit of the law. By the “spirit of the law”, I understand that God’s requirement for righteousness and holiness of His people extends beyond what was written in the law. God, through Moses, had given many commandments and regulations. The scribes and Pharisees attempted to keep every rule as much as they could but they had missed the true meaning behind the rules. Matthew 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” They were making sure that they gave to God a tenth of their garden herbs in an attempt to completely keep the law. But they had missed the spiritual principles of justice, mercy and faith.
You and I can be guilty today of the same kind of attitude that the scribes and Pharisees had. We can take the commandments and admonitions we have under the New Covenant and follow the letter of what is written, but miss the spiritual principles. For example, it is stated in Hebrews 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” It is easy to take the position that one should not miss an assembly of the church whenever it meets. A person might be judged as a faithful Christian if he attends all of the assemblies. While that person could physically be present at an assembly, his heart might be somewhere else; he might only reluctantly be at the assembly and when the assembly is over, leave as soon as possible. Yes, we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. But what are the spiritual purposes of the assembly? One of the main spiritual purposes of the assembly, as stated in Hebrews 10:25, is to exhort one another to remain faithful and zealous for God. We should want to be at the assemblies because we love our fellow Christians and we want to do what we can to encourage and exhort each other.
My encouragement to you is to find out what God really wants from you. What are the spiritual principles behind the commandments and admonitions of the Bible? Instead of murdering or having contempt for your brother, love him with a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22). Instead of committing adultery or lusting for a woman, walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh (Romans 8:4). Seeking God’s spiritual principles should apply to all areas of your Christian walk from your praying to your giving to how you dress yourself. Seek to discover in all areas what pleases God. Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Jesus always did what pleased His Father (John 8:29); follow His example. Don’t just keep the “letter of the law”. Have the attitudes, the actions and the faith that He desires. Avoid anything that might displease Him. Serve God from you heart. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).