Feb 262016

OathsAgain you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. (Matthew 5:33-36)

We continue today studying the most foundational of Jesus’ sermons, ‘The sermon on the mount’. It has been described as Jesus’ manifesto as he sets out and clarifies what the Old Testament has been leading up to. We have seen already that the Scribes, Pharisees and religious leaders have been interpreting God’s laws with their own ideas, but Jesus is having none of that religious nonsense. He is spelling out how He expects his people to live and it is all about the heart, not religious observance. The religious leaders have actually strayed a long way from God’s original plan through their pseudo piety and Jesus is determined to show them where they have gone so wrong.

Since the part of the sermon we call ‘The beatitudes’ Jesus has been challenging various aspects of what the Pharisees have set out as ‘religious observance’ and what they have felt God requires. We have discovered that their way is a lot less radical and a whole lot safer than what God requires. They have stopped at not murdering being enough, but Jesus has explained that they should not even get angry in their hearts. They stop short at adultery and Jesus says that even looking at a woman lustfully endangers them to the fires of hell. And last week we saw that Divorce was only permissible on the grounds of adultery, not because she burnt the dinner or he just fancies someone else.

Some people think that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is adding to the Old Testament and some think He is taking away from it. He is doing neither. What He is simply doing is re-establishing the biblical standard over against their sub-standard system.

If you notice Jesus says in verses 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43 “You have heard that it was said”. Jesus was contrasting what was said against what was written. It was all quite similar but subtly different. What was written was the word of God, what was ‘said; was their erroneous interpretation of what was written.

In today’s verses, Jesus tackles another area of their piety, the issue of ‘oaths’. This part can get a little confusing but we need to understand the background. Jesus is not saying you should never swear an oath as some people have interpreted it and refused to do vows in a marriage ceremony or law court. He is simply addressing the Pharisee’s hypocrisy and their silly rules.

Let’s state briefly what an oath actually is; It is making a statement and calling God to witness to the truth of that statement, and invoking a curse from God if, in fact, you’re not telling the truth. It is appealing to a higher authority.

In the time of Jesus they were swearing by oaths all the time. The Pharisees had developed a set of intricate rules where if you swore by one thing you had to keep it and if it was another thing you didn’t. For example if you swore by the altar you were ok, but if you swore by the sacrifice on the altar you had to keep it (see also Matthew 23:16). This was one example of hundreds and it was all done so they could feel good about themselves in their “safe religion”. Usually the difference was if you invoked God’s name in an oath you had to stand by that promise and if you didn’t use His name you were not obliged to keep your oath.

When Jesus said in verse 34 “Do not take an oath at all” He was telling them to avoid that type of oath taking, He was explaining; You can’t swear by Heaven and avoid God; that’s His throne. Or by earth, that’s His as well and Jerusalem is His city so you can’t use that either, oh and by the way you may think your own head is yours, but actually that belongs to Him too. Actually everything is invoking Him in some way or another, you can’t avoid Him. He was calling for consistency and for God’s true people to stand out from the crowd and live their whole lives in an honest way. You can’t be one way in church and another way when you are away from it. God is and should be in every part of our lives and this should be obvious to all around.

Next week we will look at verse 37 and the alternative that Jesus gives us to live by, instead of making Oaths.

 February 26, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Feb 192016

DivorceIt was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

The issue of divorce is a hugely important subject. I believe that it goes to the heart of the problems in our society. As I was considering what to write, I looked at lots of statistics about divorce and to be honest I found them quite alarming. According to the British Government statistics it is believed that 42% of all marriages will end in divorce. 1 in 7 divorces were issued on the grounds of adultery (the subject we have been looking at recently), but there are many other reasons. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out that divorce is damaging on many levels.

It is of course not just the separating couple who are affected. Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a child no matter what their age. Witnessing the loss of love between parents is a huge burden for Children to bear. Many feel inexplicably responsible for the break up and have to cope with the overwhelming feelings of guilt. Then there is the turmoil of a daily absence of one parent and only seeing them (if at all) at limited times. In the personal history of a child, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.

As you can imagine, God has something to say about a subject which causes so much pain to His children. In fact simply put, the bible says “I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16) (NASB)

In this passage today from ‘The sermon on the mount’ Jesus is once again addressing an erroneous view about divorce which was very common at the time. He was paraphrasing Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.” Moses gave this stipulation because of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:8). There were two Jewish schools of thought regarding this phrase. The first was the house of Shammei who taught that this passage only allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery. The second was the house of Hillel who taught that this passage allowed for divorce to be appropriate if the husband took a dislike to something his wife did or said. It could be for burning the cooking, humiliating him, denying sex, wasting his money or even if he just fancied trading her in for a younger model. Guess which one nearly all of the religious and influential men went for? You guessed it, they were firmly in the Hillel camp.

It is amazing that divorce was okay for any reason, but the rules for the Bill of Divorce were exact and demanding. The divorce document had to have twelve lines – no more and no less. They specified the type of ink that had to be used. They required witnesses for the signing of the document and for its delivery. The wife could not appeal the husband’s decision, and the divorce certificate had to be delivered by two people who were not blind, dumb, or deaf. The divorce document was called a “Bill of Cutting Off” because the wife was literally cut-off from everything.

But their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 was wrong. God did not want them to treat their spouses in this manner, it was unjust, unfair and simply cruel. The key phrase in this passage is ‘finds no favour’ this is not about the husband taking a dislike to something the wife does but is really implying that she has committed adultery (it literally means shameful or nakedness of a thing). So now Jesus clarifies that it is about adultery and not about being displeased about ones wife. Jesus granted divorce only when the physical relationship of marriage is violated. A divorce for sexual unfaithfulness is a biblical divorce because it is granted by God with His permission. But divorce for any other reason does not have His permission.

If we take this passage alongside Matthew 19:9 where Jesus develops his teaching on marriage and divorce we see that Jesus is prohibiting divorce for the many trivial reasons that were used so frequently in the first century, leading to widespread injustice, especially for women whose husbands suddenly divorced them.

When He talks about marrying someone else, He implies that the second marriage, though it begins with adultery, is still a marriage. Once a second marriage has occurred, it would be further sin to break it up. The second marriage should not be thought of as continually living in adultery, for the man and woman are now married to each other, not to anyone else.

So in summary, if a divorce occurs for reasons other than sexual activity outside of the marriage, then both the husband and wife commit adultery if they marry someone else. Whoever then marries him/her also commits adultery. Now that is tough, but explains how strongly God views the marriage covenant.

 February 19, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Feb 122016

MasturbationAnd if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)

I’m very sorry if you find the subject a bit vulgar, but it’s an important subject and one I feel the text requires. You won’t find many commentaries dealing with this subject but given the context I believe this is what is being referred to. The M word is masturbation.

Jesus has just been talking about adultery and lust and in the preceding verse talked about lusting with your eyes. What happens after looking, often results in masturbation (which to be honest is the whole point of pornography). This makes much more sense than Jesus suddenly making a crunching gear change and talking about stealing or some other sin you might commit with your hands.

The question is; “is masturbation a sin?”

Well, the bible doesn’t say anything about it, so technically one would have to say “no”, however it is nearly impossible to separate it from lust, which is a sin.

Some people would point to the story of Onan in the bible. The specific verse is Genesis 38:9 “And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother

This is not about masturbation. It is about the failure of Onan to give children to Tamar, the widow of his brother and fulfill his duty to raise offspring in his brother’s name. By refusing this obligation, he sinned, because he was effectively making Tamar destitute with no means of support through having children. This was why Childlessness in the bible was considered a curse from God.

There are a few instances where masturbation might be acceptable, for instance when someone is away from their spouse for a length of time and the object of their masturbation is only their spouse. However the majority of instances of masturbation would in all probability be lusting and fantasizing after someone who wasn’t a person’s marriage partner and so would therefore be sin. Again, a large cause of this is the viewing of pornography.

The main problems with masturbation is that it is extremely habit forming and also very selfish and lazy. It can be a cheap alternative to a commitment to another person that takes time, effort and energy. The building of a relationship takes hard work and sacrifice. It is an honourable thing to seek a marriage partner and deny oneself to making that relationship work. It is a worthy effort. Masturbation on the other hand is instant gratification with no obligation.

Even though masturbation is not specifically condemned in the bible, we can apply some principles and wisdom from many verses in the bible. Here are a few;

In Ephesians 5:3 it says But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Is it proper? Is it pure? It’s hard to see how masturbation fits in with that. Also we have 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you cannot give God glory for something, you should not do it. If a person is not fully convinced that an activity is pleasing to God, then it is a sin: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Also, we need to remember that our bodies have been redeemed and belong to God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). These to my mind are quite compelling arguments.

It is very important we see sex as a positive thing. God made it and he made it very good, but he made it for the marriage covenant only to be enjoyed by a man and a woman in a loving committed relationship. Any other sexual activity is a distortion of that goodness.  That’s why such activities as adultery, casual sex and all manner of other sexual activity are condemned.

I mentioned earlier that masturbation can be habit forming. The ‘high’ comes from a flood of chemicals that are released into the brain during orgasm. As the mind becomes accustomed to the release of these chemicals, it searches out for continued sources of that high and a highly addictive habit is formed which is extremely difficult to break. It has the potential to ruin enjoyable sexual intercourse with a partner for years to come.

The easiest way to tell if you have an addiction to masturbation would be to stop. Try to abstain from masturbation for 30 days. If you are able to go this long without masturbating on your first try, you are probably not addicted. However you may want to consider quitting anyway for the sake of your relationships and for a pure and guilt-free relationship with God.

As this is such a private sin done in secret, it will take a lot of bravery to deal with it, especially as it is considered such a shameful habit. Know that God is willing and able to help you. Know too that He has provided friends and others in your church to help you and stand alongside you. You need to become accountable to somebody, a person you can trust to not gossip, but to be a true friend and help you through. A person who will challenge you on a daily basis and ask you how you are getting on. It is possible to break free from this sin and live a life of freedom. I pray that if this is your burden, you will find freedom in Jesus name.

 February 12, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Feb 052016

Tearing eye outIf your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

This is one of the most misunderstood verses in the bible. Was Jesus really commanding self mutilation?

Jesus liked to use shocking, provocative language to make His hearers sit up and listen. A good technique, because you certainly wouldn’t forget what He had said, which was very useful in a culture that had an oral tradition with no books around. The technique that Jesus was using was called ‘Hyperbole’ this means to make extravagant statements or claims, which are not to be taken literally. It is the opposite of understatement. Jesus used this technique on a number of occasions, for example “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:24) or the famous “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

Another reason it should not to be taken literally is the logic of tearing out just one eye. One could just as easily lust with the other one. Lusting can be just as strong in the thought life with both eyes closed. No, Jesus was referring to the seriousness of sin. We cannot play ‘fast and loose’ with what we look at with our eyes. To avoid sinning we are to deal radically with the problem. As I said last week and previously, it is an issue of the heart. It is the heart that makes the decision to take a lingering look, to dwell on what shouldn’t be dwelt on and defy the purity that God requires. Some images you can’t help seeing, but it’s what you make a choice to linger on that is at issue here. I find Job’s attitude useful from the Old Testament “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” (Job 31:1) (NIV)

One of the interpretations of the first part of this verse is “If your eye causes you to stumble” The Greek word for stumble is ‘skandalizo’ where we get our English word scandalize. It does not mean to trip up like you nearly fell over. It means to cause to do wrong. This word was commonly used for a stick put in a trap used for bait. When the prey would enter the trap the ‘skandalon’ would snap shut the trap, catching the animal. This is just the sort of meaning which Jesus was conveying. We look at things that we shouldn’t and suddenly we are trapped!

Finally, the warning is strong. Jesus did not pull any punches when he said that it would be better for our body to be thrown into hell. Jesus talked about hell many times. He was referring to a valley outside Jerusalem called Hinnom where the rubbish from the city was burned. It was considered a place that was cursed because it was the site where ancient worshippers offered their children to be burnt alive to the pagan god Molech. After king Josiah pronounced the place unclean (2 Kings 23:10) it became the town rubbish tip and because of the constant fire and smoke, it became a vivid picture of hell’s eternal fires.

This week’s subject may be really difficult to take action on, but if we are struggling, act we must. We need to determine in our hearts that we are going to change and ask the Holy Spirit to help us. Another excellent way to deal with this kind of sin is to be accountable to someone. If Jesus felt it necessary to warn about the fires of hell, it must be an important subject that demands our full attention.

 February 5, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Temptation, The sermon on the mount No Responses »