THE CONTEXT OF THE SERMON
The Audience for the Sermon
● The Lord was speaking to His loyal followers or disciples (members of the Church). This was not a general address to the multitudes (Matthew 5:1–2).
● This portion of the sermon was directed to the Apostles and others who were called to full-time service in the kingdom. The counsel given here would not apply to the general membership of the Church (Matthew 6:25–34).
● The Book of Mormon makes it plain that this counsel was for those who were to be in full-time service (3 Nephi 13:25–34; 14:1).
● Elder James E. Talmage said, “Some portions of this comprehensive address were expressly directed to the disciples, who had been or would be called to the Apostleship and in consequence be required to renounce all their worldly interests for the labors of the ministry; other parts were and are of general application.”
The Location of the Sermon
● The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3–11).
● The Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20–36).
— There is some debate among scholars concerning whether these two sermons are the same one. Luke places it after the call of the Twelve while Matthew seems to place his before. However, Matthew does not actually refer anywhere to the call and ordination of the Twelve; he merely names them when they are sent out as missionaries.
— Some say Matthew’s account was not a continuous sermon but a later compilation of Christ’s teachings.The Book of Mormon, however, shows that it was one sermon.
The Purpose of the Sermon
● The Sermon on the Mount was essentially a sermon on how to perfect one’s life following baptism— rising above the meager requirements of the law to more God-like behaviors.
● President Harold B. Lee said, “Christ came not only into the world to make an the sins of mankind but to set an example before the world of the standard of perfection of God’s law and of obedience to the Father. In his Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character which was perfect, or what might be said to be an autobiography, every syllable of which he had written down in deeds, and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives.”
● These teachings were so important that the Savior repeated them to the Nephites.
— The sermon found in the New Testament (Matthew 5:3–12).
— The sermon found in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 12:3–12).
— Jesus made it clear to the Nephites what is necessary to obtain His promises (3 Nephi 12:1–3).
The word beatitudes comes from the Latin beatus which carries the meaning “fortunate,” “happy,” or “blessed.”
Principles of Personal Righteousness
— President Harold B. Lee said, “To be poor in spirit is to feel yourselves as the spiritually needy, ever dependent upon the Lord for your clothes, your food and the air you breathe, your health, your life; realizing that no day should pass without fervent prayer of thanksgiving, for guidance and forgiveness and strength sufficient for each day’s need.”
● Blessed are those that mourn (Matthew 5:4; 3 Nephi 12:4).
— True disciples will be comforted when they are afraid or sorrowing.
— The Lord provides comfort through the Holy Ghost (John 14:26–27; Mosiah 18:8–9).
— President Harold B. Lee said, “To mourn, as the Master’s lesson here would teach, one must show that ‘godly sorrow that worketh repentance’ and wins for the penitent a forgiveness of sins and forbids a return to the deeds of which he mourns.”
● Blessed are the meek (Matthew 5:5; 3 Nephi 12:5).
— True disciples are meek, meaning gentle, forgiving, or benevolent (see footnote 5a).
— How we can develop meekness (Mosiah 3:19; Alma 7:23; 13:28).
— President Harold B. Lee said, “A meek man is defined as one who is not easily provoked or irritated and forbearing under injury or annoyance. Meekness is not synonymous with weakness. The meek man is the strong, the mighty, the man of complete self-mastery. He is the one who has the courage of his moral convictions, despite the pressure of the gang or the club.”
● Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:5; 3 Nephi 12:6).
— True disciples hunger and thirst for righteousness.
— Compare Matthew 5:6 to 3 Nephi 12:6 and note how God responds to such a person.
— President Harold B. Lee said, “Did you ever hunger for food or thirst for water when just a crust of stale bread or a sip of tepid water to ease the pangs that distressed you would seem to be the most prized of all possessions? If you have so hungered then you may begin to understand how the Master meant we should hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
— President Harold B. Lee said, “Only if you are the pure in heart will you see God, and also in a lesser degree will you be able to see the ‘God’ or good in man and love him because of the goodness you see in him. Mark well that person who criticizes and maligns the man of God or the Lord’s anointed leaders in his Church. Such a one speaks from an impure heart.”
Principles of Righteous Behavior Toward Others
● Blessed are the merciful (Matthew 5:7; 3 Nephi 12:7).
— True disciples are merciful—caring about the needs of others and always ready to forgive them.
— Those who are merciful toward others will receive mercy in the day of judgment.
— President Harold B. Lee said, “Our salvation rests upon the mercy we show to others. Unkind and cruel words, or wanton acts of cruelty toward man or beast, even though in seeming retaliation, disqualify the perpetrator in his claims for mercy when he has need of mercy in the day of judgment before earthly or heavenly tribunals.”
— President Harold B. Lee said, “Peacemakers shall be called the children of God. The trouble-maker, the striker against law and order, the leader of the mob, the law-breaker are prompted by motives of evil and unless they desist will be known as the children of Satan rather than God.”
● Blessed are those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake (Matthew 5:10–12; 3 Nephi 12: 10–12).
— True disciples do not let persecution divert them from their eternal goals.
— See Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:35 for the Lord’s instruction on how to respond to persecution.
— President Harold B. Lee said, “To be persecuted for righteousness sake in a great cause where truth and virtue and honor are at stake is god-like.”
PERFECTING THE LAW OF MOSES
Metaphors of Salt and Light
● We are invited to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13; D&C 103:9–10). What is the purpose of salt?
— Salt is a seasoning that improves that with which it mixes.
— Salt is a preservative that prevents decay and disintigration.
— Carlos E. Asay said:
“A world-renowned chemist told me that salt will not lose its savor with age. Savor is lost through mixture and contamination. Similarly, priesthood power does not dissipate with age; it, too, is lost through mixture and contamination.
“When a young man or older man mixes his thoughts with pornographic literature, he suffers a loss of savor.
“When a priesthood bearer mixes his speech with lies or profanity, he suffers a loss of savor.
“When one of us follows the crowd and becomes involved in immoral acts and the use of drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and other injurious substances, he loses savor.
“Flavor and quality flee a man when he contaminates his mind with unclean thoughts, desecrates his mouth by speaking less than the truth, and misapplies his strength in performing evil acts.”
● We are also invited to be a “light unto the world” (Matthew 5:14–16).
Higher Standards for Righteous Living
● Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17–18).
● His new teachings were higher expectations for existing laws. Their righteousness should “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:19–20).
1. Avoiding Anger
— “Thou shalt not kill” is replaced by “Don’t be angry” (Matthew 5:21–26; 3 Nephi 12:21–26).
— “Without a cause” is not in the Book of Mormon or JS versions ( v. 22).
— “Agree with thy enemy” means to “come to terms quickly” (vv. 25–26).
2. Maintaining Clean Thoughts
— “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is replaced by “Don’t lust” (Matthew 5:27–30; 3 Nephi 12:27–30).
— The “eye” and “hand” mentioned here refer to sins (vv. 29–30; footnote 30a).
— Clarifies how we should deal with our sins (JS Matt. 5:34).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “When the Lord spoke of parts of the body, it is evident that he had in mind close friends or relatives who endeavored to lead us from the path of rectitude and humble obedience to the divine commandments we receive from the Lord.
“If any friend or relative endeavors to lead a person away from the commandments, it is better to dispense with his friendship and association rather than to follow him in evil practices to destruction. This use of comparison or illustration was as common in ancient days as it is in the present age. We should not, in reading these ancient expressions in the New Testament, take such a statement as this referred to in the words of the Savior recorded by Mark in the literal interpretation. When properly understood it becomes a very impressive figure of speech.”12
3. Honoring Marriage Covenants
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Under the law of Moses, divorce came easily; but recently freed from Egyptian slavery, the chosen race had yet to attain the social, cultural, and spiritual stability that exalts marriage to its proper place in the eternal scheme of things. Men were empowered to divorce their wives for any unseemly thing. . . . Divorce is totally foreign to celestial standards . . . Now . . . he . . . specifies the high[er] law that his people should live, but that is beyond our capability even today. If husbands and wives lived the law as the Lord would have them live it, they would neither do nor say the things that would even permit the fleeting thought of divorce to enter the mind of their eternal, companions.”
— President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“To you who are divorced, please know that we do not look down upon you as failures because a marriage failed. In many, perhaps in most cases you were not responsible for that failure. Furthermore, ours is the obligation not to condemn, but to forgive and forget, to lift and to help. In your hours of desolation, turn to the Lord . . .
“The remedy for most marriage stress is not in divorce. It is in repentance. It is not in separation. It is in simple integrity that leads a man to square up his shoulders and meet his obligations. It is found in the Golden Rule . . .
“There may be now and again a legitimate cause for divorce. I am not one to say that it is never justified. But I say without hesitation that this plague among us, which seems to be growing everywhere, is not of God, but rather is the work of the adversary of righteousness and peace and truth.”
4. Swear Not At All
— Swearing in the name of God is replaced by simple honesty (Matthew 5:33–37; 3 Nephi 12:33–37).
— People in those days were not obligated except when they took an oath. Jesus taught them to make their word (yes or no) their bond
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Under the Mosaic law the taking of oaths was so common and covered such a variety of circumstances that, in practice, little verity attended statements that were not made with an oath. . . . Under the perfect law of Christ every man’s word is his bond, and all spoken statements are as true as though an oath attended each spoken word.”
5. Avoiding Contention
— “An eye for an eye” is replaced by altogether avoiding contention (Matthew 5:38–42; 3 Nephi 12:38–42).
— “An eye for an eye” meant that a person who injured another could receive the same injury as punishment (Leviticus 24:17–21).
— Jesus suggested willing avoidance of conflict, and even service to those who might have harmed us.
6. Loving and Forgiving Enemies
Reaching for Perfection
● “Be ye therefore [in all of the above matters] perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The word translated “perfect” means “finished” or “complete.”
— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God.
“But here we lay the foundation. Here is where we are taught these simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this probationary state, to prepare us for that perfection. It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. . . . If we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection.”
What are the doctrinal insights we receive from this week’s lesson material? You should consider discussing one or more of these with your class.
● The Law was a “schoolmaster” to bring Israel to Christ (Galatians 3:24–25).
— The law of Moses was “given to the children of Israel . . . [because] they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord” (Mosiah 13:29–30).
— Those who understood the law “[looked] forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law [was] fulfilled. . . . For this end was the law given” (2 Nephi 25:24–25).
— The Savior fulfilled the law of Moses when he atoned for our sins, and people were no long commanded to make animal sacrifices (Alma 34:13–16).
— Instead, the people were commanded to “offer for a sacrifice . . . a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:19–20).
● We can achieve perfection only through the Atonement of Christ (Moroni 10:32–33). If this were not so, then we would have had no need for a Savior and Redeemer. Our Father knew, from the beginning that we could not live a sinless life on this earth. It was for this reason that He sent His Son to save and exalt us.
● Christ’s grace is sufficient to save and exalt all of us (Ether 12:26–27). He knows our weaknesses and our sins, and He has made redemption for all of them. There is no sin or weakness that is beyond His saving grace, and thus we can be reassured that it is not impossible for us to overcome the world and return to our Father’s presence, freed from sin by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
● Just persons are made perfect through Christ (Enos 1:5–89; D&C 76:68–70). The prophet Enos, when his sins were removed, “Lord, how is it done?” And the answer was “Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.” To receive this atoning forgiveness, we just be “just” and seeking His forgiveness by our acts and our attitudes. But having done all that we can, the rest of our imperfections are washed away (2 Nephi 25:23).
1. Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 230.
2. Decisions for Successful Living , 55–56.
3. Decisions for Successful Living, 57-58.
4. Decisions for Successful Living, 58.
5. Decisions for Successful Living, 60.
6. Decisions for Successful Living, 58.
7. Decisions for Successful Living, 59.
8. Decisions for Successful Living, 60.
9. Decisions for Successful Living, 61.
10. Decisions for Successful Living, 61.
11. In Conference Report, April 1980, 60; or Ensign, May 1980, 42.
12. Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 5:79.
13. The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:138–39.
14. Teachings of President Gordon B. Hinckley , 161–162.
15. The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 2:140.