These chapters are the most intensely alluded to part of the Gospels.
Paul, James and Peter all pack their writing with conscious and
unconscious allusion to them. They had more than memorized them.
They were in their heart and deep consciousness; and they write
as if they expect their audience to have a like familiarity with
them (even though many of their readers / hearers were illiterate).
Yet how many of us can recite those chapters, let alone claim to
have them in our hearts? For Paul, just one phrase from these chapters
echoed in his mind throughout the years; thus " Judge not,
that ye be not judged" (Mt. 7:1) is at the basis of Rom. 2:1;
the whole of Rom. 14, and 1 Cor. 4:3,5. And Paul's extraordinary
ability to rejoice in his trials seems to have been rooted in his
sustained reflection upon Mt. 5:11,12: " Blessed are ye, when
men shall revile you, and persecute you...rejoice, and be exceeding
glad: for great is your reward...for so persecuted they the prophets"
. These words are alluded to in at least 5 verses in his epistles.
The following samples provide further insight into how Paul deeply
absorbed the teaching of these passages. I have written down the
implications briefly; you might like to make time to follow them
up for yourself:
- Mt. 5:17 = Gal. 5:14. Christ fulfilled the Law by His supreme
love of His neighbour (us) as Himself.
- There are times when Paul's inspired commentary opens up some of the Lord's more difficult sayings. "Be you therefore perfect" has always been hard to understand (Mt. 5:48). Paul's comment is: "Be perfected" (2 Cor. 13:11). This is quite different to how many may take it- 'Let God perfect you' is the message.
- Mt. 6:2,3 = 1 Tim. 4:8. The implication is that we aren't to
take Mt. 6:2,3 (" they have their reward" ) as implying
that we have no reward in this life. We do (cp. Mt. 19:29).
- Mt. 6:14 = Eph. 4:32. Jesus said: " If you forgive, you'll
be forgiven" . Paul subtly changes the tenses: " You've
been forgiven already, so forgive" . It's as if Paul is saying:
'Think carefully about Mt. 6:14. Don't think it means 'If you
do this, I'll do that for you'. No. God has forgiven you. But
that forgiveness is conditional on the fact that in the future
you will forgive people. If you don't, then that forgiveness you've
already been given is cancelled. This is what Jesus really had
in mind'. This would suggest a very very close analysis of those
simple words of Jesus, using all the logic and knowledge of Biblical
principles which Paul had.
- Mt. 6:24 = Tit. 1:9. Holding to God as your master rather than
mammon is achieved through holding on to His word.
- Mt. 6:25 = Phil. 4:6. How do we obey that command to "
take no thought for your life" ? By praying consciously for
every little thing that you need in daily life, e.g. daily bread.
- Mt. 7:21 = Rom. 2:13. Paul saw the " Lord, Lord"
people of the parable as the Jews of the first century who initially
responded enthusiastically to the Gospel.
- Mt. 7:22 = 1 Cor. 13:2. To say " Lord, Lord" without
really knowing Christ is living without love. Thus Paul
saw an association between a lack of true love and an external
show of appreciation of Christ's Lordship. Not doing what Christ
says is a lack of love, in Paul's mind. If we appreciate this,
we will see that those who are ignorant of Christ's words cannot
show true love. Biblically ignorant Christians need to think through the implications of this
- Mt. 7:23 = 2 Tim. 2:19. Depart from sin now, or you'll
depart from Christ at the judgment. This is Paul's classic way
of making plays on words; again an indication of how his writings
are partly a product of his own meditation upon and familiarity
with the Gospels.