During the visit of the resurrected Jesus Christ to the Nephite people in the Americas, the Lord shares many teachings, including the equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7. 3 Nephi 12-14 lines up almost exactly with the three Matthew chapters, although there are several differences. I would recommend comparing the chapters yourself when you have some time and take note of the differences.
One of the key differences is that the version of the sermon delivered to the Nephites occurs after the resurrection of Christ, so it is noted that the Law of Moses has now been “fulfilled” such that the followers of the Lord are now guided by the Holy Ghost within them rather than by a series of laws.
Some might say, “Yay! No more laws! Now we can do whatever we want!” This would be the reaction of people who desire to sin and do evil; they’re admitting that it’s only the law that stops them from doing so (if it even stops them at all).
On the other hand, someone who is being led by the Holy Ghost should have no desire to sin — therefore the law is unnecessary. Such people steer clear of sin and evil because that is their desire rather than because there is a law that says not to do these things.
In His sermon, Jesus encourages the Nephites (and all of us) to examine our desires. If our desires are to commit sin, then we are not following the direction of the Holy Ghost, and therefore we have sinned already. The outward actions corresponding to these desires — while sinful or even evil in themselves — are actually the fruit of our inner sinful desires.
In this way, we are actually held to an even higher standard than the people were who were living under the law. It’s a great advantage to have the Holy Ghost to lead us, but we must make sure we are following what the Holy Ghost tells us to do.
A few of the examples Jesus uses are discussed below. For each, He begins by saying “It is written” (in the law) and then follows up with a statement that begins, “But I say unto you” (to examine your actual feelings and desires).
Jesus urges us to examine our feelings regarding other people, stating that the anger that it takes to actually commit murder is the sin to be avoided. If we never get that angry, we will never commit murder, so a law forbidding murder becomes meaningless to us.
Similar to His teaching on anger and murder, Jesus states that lusting after someone to the point of desiring to commit adultery is the real sin. Actual adultery is then the fruit of that sin. Under the law, someone could lust all they wanted or even attempt to approach someone inappropriately — the law wasn’t violated unless actual adultery occurred. Under the teaching of Christ, the desire of the heart defines the sin, regardless of what action follows.
In an age when women were considered property, the Law of Moses simply gives the procedure for ridding yourself of a wife. The Lord’s statements about how such desires and actions bring about adulterous situations is His way of encouraging people to focus on preserving their marriages rather than being concerned about how to end them.
Eye for an Eye
The oft-quoted statements in verses 39-42 can sometimes be difficult to understand. After all, if someone hits you in the face, will you really invite them to hit you on the other cheek? If someone forced you to walk a mile, would you say let’s go two? These statements only make sense in the context of not seeking revenge (“an eye for an eye”). Jesus is saying it would be better from a spiritual perspective to let someone hit you a second time than to let the sinful desire for revenge enter your heart.
Love Your Neighbor; Hate Your Enemy
Jesus ends this section with a real challenge — to love our enemies. While this sounds impossible, it’s again a question of desire. Someone who is your enemy will be trying to hurt you in some way and may not even want you to love them. However, if we have a desire to love our enemies rather than a desire to hold grudges or seek revenge, then we will not take actions that make things worse, and we will be open to possible opportunities to reconcile. Jesus loved all people — friends and enemies — enough to die for their sins. Our goal should be to love all people as well, including those who look and act differently than us and even those who are currently our enemies.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Ghost to lead us in all things. As long as we follow the direction of the Holy Ghost, we have no need of the law. If the law is the only thing preventing us from doing something wrong, then we need to correct our desires before they get us into real trouble.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.