Jan 292016

Lustful lookingBut I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

We previously looked at the subject of murder and Jesus saying that even if you are angry with someone it is as if you’ve murdered them in your heart. Last week we looked at the sin of adultery and now Jesus clarifies this even more by saying just a lustful look is the same as committing adultery.

I’m sure His audience and especially the religious leaders thought they were fairly safe up until these verses. Jesus has clarified the law and swept the safe and secure carpet out from under their feet. They would have felt very comfortable having their man-made rules and feeling smug about not murdering anyone or committing adultery, but Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and reveals it is what is in their hearts that counts. Not just their actions, but their attitudes and motives as well.

I would say that today’s topic is probably one of the main struggles of Christian men today. I would also go so far as to say that it is becoming an increasing problem for women as well. We live in a sex crazed society and the availability of lustful images is everywhere. We all have very clever mobile phones these days, even young children, phones which can access, in a second, images that are readily available to titillate and entice. It is a huge problem and it has even been shown that our brains can be wired differently by the constant bombardment of these images.

Forgetting about the sordid and inappropriate nature of these images for a moment, they actually paint a very false picture of reality. Many images that are available are altered to try and give an unreal view of perfection. Every tiny flaw is airbrushed away using all sorts of clever techniques and we are left with an image that is impossible for regular people to obtain. A false reality is created where women are viewed as objects and are expected to please their men in every way possible without complaint. Watch enough of this and young men will never be able to cope with a real woman. They will become incapable of maintaining a ‘normal’ relationship. Young girls as well might feel that they never match up to the ‘perfect’ woman these guys are fantasizing over.

I don’t think the answer is necessarily stopping these images being so readily available, although I would love it to happen.

In countries where you might think this issue wouldn’t be a problem, because women are completely covered up, the lust problem is just as strong. I’m not having a dig at Islam, but statistics show that the most staunchly religious Muslim countries have a major obsession with porn. In fact Pakistan is statistically the country that downloads porn the most, followed closely by Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. http://postober.com/general/top-10-countries-that-watch-the-most-porn/

This proves that religion is not the issue, but the heart. This is exactly what Jesus was saying. He was not focussing on outward appearance and observances but at what was going on within. That is the place that God examines and takes note of.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

If you have a problem with porn and lustful images, the answer is to re-focus your desire onto something much better and satisfying. When our focus is on God and His goodness and being satisfied in Him, the pull of these lesser desires diminishes. Ask God to help you, He is only too willing to help you escape from the prison of this addiction. He wants you to live free.

If you don’t know where to start, just type in “Christian porn addiction” into an internet search and you will find many useful sites to help you, with some practical answers and steps to take.

 January 29, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 222016

AdulteryYou have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. (Matthew 5:27)

In today’s verse Jesus is quoting from the 7thof the 10 commandments which are found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21. Jesus has previously dealt with murder a couple of verses ago and has redefined its meaning. Now he tackles another huge subject, with a similar clarification.

The sin of adultery is mentioned many times in the bible and the dictionary definition is “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” The bible agrees with this definition. The punishment for this sin in the Old Testament is capital punishment – death, but it is dealt with quite a bit differently in today’s society. It is the subject for many film and television plots and can often be portrayed in a positive light or at least not roundly condemned as it should. The general view is that if it is kept a secret, what harm can it do?

Today I want to look briefly at why Adultery is wrong and its consequences.

God instituted the covenant of marriage as the central building block of society. It was to be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5) and was to be a lifelong commitment of love, devotion and intimacy. This environment was the perfect setting for bringing children into the world allowing for their safety, security and healthy development. The marriage covenant was designed as a place of safety and trust and of course adultery destroys that.

Another aspect of God’s plan that adultery taints is the picture of the faithfulness of the marriage covenant mirroring God’s love for us and also Christ’s love for his church. This is found in Ephesians 5:22-32 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (v25). It says in verse 31 that when a husband and wife get married they actually become ‘one flesh’ and this is a mystery that God does. Adultery breaks that sacred bond which God has forged.

God’s people are to reflect the character of God. They are to be; holy, faithful, loving and pure. Not thinking about themselves but always considering the needs of their partner. This was true in the Old Testament when God’s people were to show distinctiveness from the debauchery and promiscuity of the surrounding nations and it is just as important today. Our lives and especially our marriages are to reflect our heavenly father’s character so that outsiders are stirred to desire the same relationship.

The breaking of trust and sense of betrayal are two clear consequences following an adulterous relationship, but there are many other consequences to consider, such as;

· The length of time needed to bring restitution and healing.

· Even If a relationship was restored it would take a long time and great effort to gain trust, true fellowship and intimacy.

· Others closest to you would be affected, especially children and parents.

· Your witness to unbelieving family and friends would be damaged.

· It would damage the relationships of the person you have committed adultery with.

In summary; Adultery is the complete corruption of God’s good creation of marriage. Through the sin of adultery, Satan tempts us to seek sexual fulfillment in avenues other than the one God has ordained—within the bounds of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Adultery rips at the fabric of society because it tears apart marriages and families which are the building blocks of society. Adultery offers a temporary satisfaction and excitement which is completely disproportionate to the lifetime it would take to mend the damage.

Next week we will look at how Jesus further clarifies this commandment in a way which would have totally shocked His listeners.

 January 22, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 152016

Purgatory Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:25-26)

As I was studying today’s passage I was surprised to find that it was one of the proof texts for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. I had obviously heard of this doctrine but had never really considered where it came from.

As I have a very inquisitive mind, especially when it comes to doctrine and the bible, I thought I would do some research.

According to the Catholic church, purgatory is a place that believers (not non-Christians) go to when they die so they can be purified before they get to heaven. We are living in a sinful state on this earth and we are tainted with sin, so we cannot go immediately into God’s holy presence. Purgatory is a place of purification, not punishment and we are to stay there until we are pure. This could be a matter of hours for the ‘super-holy’ or very many years for the rest of us. We can be speeded through the process by our kind family and friends left on earth who can go to mass on our behalf, do penance, say the rosary or buy indulgences (not so common now but nevertheless a fascinating subject I just don’t have time to cover here).

The main concept of purgatory is found outside the traditional canon of the bible, but in a set of books called ‘the Apocrypha’ which Roman Catholics hold as highly as the bible. It is in the book of Maccabees;

“Therefore they praised the work of the Lord, the just judge, who reveals what is hidden; and turning to prayer, they asked that this sin might be entirely blotted out. The noble Judas called on people to keep themselves free from sin. . . But since he had in view the wonderful reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was a holy and pious one. And this was why he offered an atoning sacrifice to free the dead from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:41,42,45, New English Bible).

Apparently in today’s passage; God is the judge (obviously), the angels are the guards, prison is purgatory and the last penny is the last bit of sin.

I’m sorry but I really don’t see that in this passage. It is highly fanciful at best. I have read it a number of times but unless you want desperately to believe in this doctrine and anything that remotely fits into the concept will do, this is not what the passage means. It is a big mistake, when approaching the bible, to start with an idea and then try to twist passages to fit in with what you believe. I covered this subject in a previous blog which you might like to read here http://adrianpursglove.com/interpreting-the-bible/

I believe this passage is a lot clearer than some vague interpretation of purgatory. In the preceding verses. Jesus has been talking about going beyond just empty obedience and the letter of the law. He has been talking about our hearts and attitudes and actually being at peace with one another. In the previous verse he talked about our brothers (Christians I presume) but now He is even talking about our relationships with our enemies (‘adversaries’ actually means those we are coming up against, specifically with regard to legal matters).

The situation in the passage seems to involve a relationship breaking down and some sort of trust being broken. Someone is accusing someone of something and it looks like it probably involves money. Setting aside any specifics, Jesus is highlighting our need to settle our differences quickly before they get out of hand. The wisdom is to settle disputes before they get to court, because once the legal system is involved it is much more difficult to then just have a mutual agreement and settle things easily. Again, it’s about our heart attitude, humility and the desire to live at peace (as far as it depends on us) with everyone.

I’ll leave you with a deeper interpretation of this passage and that is the aspect of our relationship with God. Before we became Christians we were in a similar state to this passage. We were heading to the court where the righteous judge would have considered our sins and declared us guilty as charged. We would have been sent to prison without the possibility of paying off our debt. Our sins had made us bankrupt. But thanks be to Jesus that it was He who paid the last penny. We could never atone for our sin in purgatory or anywhere else. He had to do it all and I for one will be eternally grateful that He did. His sacrifice was all sufficient, meaning there is nothing left for us to do.

 January 15, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 082016

Be reconciled first So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

In the last couple of blogs in this series on ‘The sermon on the mount’ we have looked at the phrase “Do not murder” and then the idea that even being angry in your heart towards somebody is tantamount to murder in God’s eyes, because He sees into our very hearts and can detect that hateful murderous intent.

This week sort of continues along that theme and talks about being reconciled with one another before we even think of offering service to God.

God has such a love for all people that it really upsets Him if we are in wrong relationships with one another. He would much rather we sort it out with one another before we consider coming into His presence. He considers it the height of hypocrisy to start to worship Him while we are in conflict with another of His precious children.

What’s interesting about these verses is it is focusing on someone else’s attitude other than our own. Of course we should pursue reconciliation if we have something against someone, but this passage is suggesting we should still do something even if someone has got something against us. It might not affect us at all, but if we are aware of it, we should do something about it.

If we are really not aware, our conscience is of course clear, but even if we have an inkling that someone has a problem with us we are obligated to do something about it. A little qualification is required here though. We are responsible to make restitution for the unrighteous acts we do, but not the righteous ones. If we have done something foolish, selfish or sinful, then of course we should set it right. But sometimes people are upset with us because of righteousness. Jesus upset an awful lot of people, but he wasn’t required to apologise to them. Yes He always wanted to keep the channels open for reconciliation and still loved those who hated Him, but He would never have worshipped at all if He had been required to make restitution to everybody He had upset. It would have been a very long queue!

In the book of Romans the apostle Paul wrote some great wisdom for these sorts of situations;

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18) That’s the key. Sometimes we can attempt reconciliation but it is thrown back in our face. We can’t do anything about that, but if it is a genuine attempt, that is what matters.

It occurs to me that there are at least 3 very important points here;

· We need to seek reconciliation wherever and whenever we can.

· We need to be able to recognize our own faults and when we are in the wrong.

· We need to seek God for a humble spirit.

This passage makes it clear that God is not looking for personal piety but a communal love between brothers and sisters. We live in a very individualistic society, but God’s kingdom is all about ‘the body’, His people, the group. Yes of course he loves individuals but He doesn’t consider them on their own, but only as they function as a unified group.

We get the sense of how important this is when we consider the context of the situation Jesus was speaking into. He was speaking in Galilee, the altar that these sacrifices were to be made was in Jerusalem, which was about 80 miles away. If you had a problem with someone when you got to the altar, you might well have a 5 or 6 day journey to make it right! That’s pretty important.

I’m going to finish with 3 reasons we need to take this passage seriously. Consider this:

· Jesus says so

· You can’t worship properly when you are in conflict.

· God won’t listen to your prayers (consider 1 Peter 3:7 in a similar concept)

That settles it for me.

 January 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 012016

AngerBut I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

I’ve heard it many times, when people try to justify themselves and declare that they are not that bad, they are not as sinful as others; “Well at least I have never murdered anyone!” If that is your hope for not being on the receiving end of God’s righteous judgement, then I’ve got a shock for you today. He sees things quite differently than we do.

We sort of have an inkling that this is true anyway, the bible reveals God as ‘all seeing’ and ‘all knowing’ and so He can quite easily look into the very thoughts and motives of our hearts. It’s these secret attitudes that condemn us.

Jesus was speaking to quite a crowd on ‘the sermon on the mount’ but it seems that a lot of the content was directed at the religious leaders who were obviously present. They were all about the external. As long as everything was said and done in an acceptable manner, it didn’t matter what was inside. Jesus saw it differently. Elsewhere he called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28). They had a paint job on the outside, but it covered over death and destruction. Jesus is gradually exposing their hypocrisy and revealing their hearts.

All sin begins in the heart.

Jesus is revealing in this verse today that murder is not simply the act of physically killing someone, but the anger and hatred in the heart that leads to the act. People who commit murder are very often angry inside first, for any number of reasons. It could be an explosion of rage in a moment or the slow build up of anger over years and years but it all starts in that inner place first. Just because we don’t necessarily have an opportunity to physically murder someone, doesn’t mean we don’t wish to do it in our hearts which in God’s eyes, amounts to the same thing. It’s all sin and consequently separates us from God, meaning we are heading for hell.

In the verse today, Jesus uses as an example the word ‘fool’. But it could be any similar word that conveys the same meaning. The word he uses is the Aramaic word ‘raca’ which can mean; fool, idiot or imbecile. The Greek translation of the word is ‘moros’ where we get our word ‘moron’ from. None of these words are very pleasant although some of us might just shrug them off, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” we might say. The fact is that words like these can have lasting impact on many of us. They would have had more impact in Jesus’ day as He lived in a very ‘honour’ based culture. Honour was very important and therefore shame had a much greater impact than it does in the west today, although there are a number of far eastern cultures that would consider it devastating to ‘lose face’. To be shamed, would lead a person to wish that they were dead.

We have already seen from the examples of ‘the beatitudes’ a few verses before this one, that God’s people are not the sort of people who would shame others, or get angry with one another. God’s people are known for their humility, they are meek people whose hearts are pure and who seek after peace. They are the ‘salt of the earth’.

So is every expression of anger a sin?

Well no. It is possible to be angry and not to sin. It says in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin.” It’s important we differentiate between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. The bible is clear that God gets angry and that is part of His holiness. Jesus himself got angry when he turned over the money changer’s tables in the temple and made a whip of cords (John 2:13-22). The important thing to notice is that Jesus’ anger was not personal but a righteous anger. It was an anger that was concerned for God’s name and His honour.

So to sum up what I think Jesus is saying in this passage is;
“Murder is always wrong and it will always be condemned and brought before a human court. But you need to realise that I’m more concerned with the root cause, the inward infestation of sin in a person’s heart, the anger that get’s a foothold because it is allowed uncontrolled and free reign to rule over a person’s heart. This careless and vengeful anger can destroy the character and reputation of others and is just as worthy of the highest judgment as murder. In fact it comes from the pit of hell and deserves the same kind of judgment.”

Let’s be those who deal first with the anger we hold in our hearts. You might even want to make it a New Years resolution.

 January 1, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »