Mar 252016
 

Ill get your coatAnd if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (Matthew 5:40)

The title of this blog is a bit of a play on words. For those who are not aware, if you say a joke or something you think is funny and no-one laughs I would say “I’ll get my coat” in other words, that was so not funny, it was embarrassing so I had better leave! The actual title of this blog should be “you’ll get my coat!” But what is this verse talking about?

Our possessions are a huge part of who we are and how we are perceived, especially in our Western culture. We can be judged, even subconsciously, by what we wear, by the labels on our clothing and the possessions we own. The possession of money is a huge issue in our society and whatever is a huge issue in society can also seep into the church. John Wesley famously once said that “The last part of a person to be converted is his wallet.” Today’s verse is about not holding on, but letting go of our possessions. Holding everything we own ‘lightly’ when it comes to doing the right thing.

On the surface and with just a cursory reading this verse can seem very dangerous. Are we just to give everything away if someone asks for our possessions? Is this to be taken literally? I don’t believe it is asking us to give everything away just because someone asks for it. Let’s examine the passage and discover what it is saying.

In the previous verse Jesus was talking about the evil one who slaps you round the face. This thought is carried through to this verse where the evil one tries to take your possessions. Someone might try to sue you through the law courts to make you pay your debts, which would often include surrendering your possessions.

The modern phrase of ‘taking the shirt off your back’ was probably taken from this time when it was literally possible to sue someone for the very shirt on their back. When a person had no money or other possessions the court could require that the fine be paid by clothing.

The tunic (chiton) was the long cotton or linen inner garment which was worn next to the body. It was relatively inexpensive and even poor Jews would have a change of tunics. The cloak (himation) was the long outer garment that looked something like a modern robe. It was made of a thicker more expensive material and was used as a blanket at night. Most Jews would only have one cloak. The cloak was such an important piece of clothing that if it was taken in a pledge it had to be restored before sundown according to the Old Testament;

If ever you take your neighbour’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Exodus 22:26-27).

Jesus is saying that if a man takes you to court and goes after your tunic (the inexpensive inner garment), then do not fight the lawsuit, but settle immediately and even give him the cloak also if it will bring the lawsuit to an end. It may be a legitimate debt you owe or someone is just trying to pull a fast one. It doesn’t really matter, it’s your reaction that counts.

There are probably two main reasons Jesus gave this command;

Firstly, Christians living in a hostile pagan culture would have been wise to suffer minor personal loss than stir up trouble with their opponents. If a believer in such a scenario insisted on their rights, it was quite probable that they would win their case; but in the process they would likely make some enemies. Such an outcome would not be good for the Christian community and it would make the spread of the gospel more difficult. By letting it go they would be following Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:18

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Secondly, it would have been better to suffer the minor loss of personal items than to be distressed in spirit. Entering into emotional legal battles would not have been good for a believer’s inner peace. Getting into legal wrangles would have tempted the person to get angry and seek retaliation, which was to be avoided. As I said last week, when we leave the vengeance to God, trusting that he will protect us and provide for us we send a powerful message to the world about how good our God is.

Even when the law protects us it may be necessary to forego our rights for the sake of peace, the honour of God, the demonstration of love and the spread of the gospel.

 March 25, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Mar 182016
 

Turning the other cheekBut I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39)

Last week we looked at the subject of ‘an eye for an eye’ which was God’s way of protecting His people from ‘blood feuds’, tribal warfare and an unnecessary reaction to being wronged. It protects against an escalation of aggression, where things can very quickly get out of hand, which in ancient times were very prone to do.

Rather than retaliate, Jesus is going to show in the next few verses, what kingdom reaction should look like. He sets out four scenarios which we will look at in turn over the next few weeks. In the following weeks we will look at: Letting someone have your cloak, going the extra mile and giving to beggars, but this week we will start with the subject of ‘turning the other cheek’.

This is one of those phrases that has become common in our culture. It is a phrase used to support pacifism and non violent retaliation. Two classic proponents of this thinking were men such as Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Ghandi, who both lived out this virtue to promote non violent peaceful protest.

Do the words “do not resist the one who is evil” mean we should not resist any and every form of evil? Should we be extreme pacifists? This is how Leo Tolstoy, the 19thcentury Russian novelist and social reformer interpreted Jesus’ words. He believed in an absolute prohibition of all physical violence, not only personal but also on the part of the police, the military, and the government. He went so far as to insist that one must not even resist the murderer or the thief. But surely this cannot be what Jesus meant. Here are 7 reasons why I don’t agree with his interpretation:

· First, it would prohibit us from disciplining our children when they commit acts of sin or rebellion! The Bible says that we are to resist the evil in them and lovingly correct them. (Proverbs 23:13-14)

· Secondly, there are quite a few places in the bible where it exhorts us to “resist the Devil” who of course is the ultimate embodiment of evil. See for example; Ephesians 6:13, James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8-9.

· Thirdly, in Galatians 2:11-14 Paul resisted Peter to his face; he publicly rebuked and denounced him for withdrawing fellowship from the Gentiles under pressure from the Jews.

· Fourthly, in John 18:19-23 Jesus appears to resist the high priest and the “police brutality” of the soldier who slapped him. Clearly, Jesus did not turn the other cheek. Why? Because Jewish law prohibited striking an accused person before he had been legally convicted. None of us should forego the protection the law provides for us.

· Fifthly, in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus commands us to resist the evil in our brothers when he talks about church discipline.

· Sixthly, Romans 13 clearly endorses the right and responsibility of human government to resist and punish evildoers.

· And lastly, note the way that Jesus “violently” and “angrily” resists the evil of the Pharisees when he cleansed the temple on two separate occasions.

So we are not to be ‘doormats’ as some cite as an excuse not to take this command literally, but there are still circumstances where we need to obey this teaching.

What Jesus is saying is this: Do not retaliate against those who maliciously oppose you personally and nothing is at stake except your pride, reputation or your so called ‘rights’. Our honour is of no significance compared to representing our Lord and standing for His righteousness and showing that we trust in Him. He would point us to the following verses:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

Do not say, “I will repay evil” wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22)

But His statement is not meant to apply to instances when a third party is involved. If someone assaults your neighbour or your spouse or your child or someone weak and helpless, you need to go to their defence. Jesus is not saying we should stand idly by while others are being attacked. He is not forbidding us from opposing evil when it threatens our families or our society. Jesus was not prohibiting the administration of justice but the taking of the law into our own hands for the purpose of exacting personal revenge. Jesus is calling on us to resist the urge to retaliate and to be willing, if need be, to suffer additional pain at the hands of those who hate us. In these verses Jesus is talking about how His people should conduct themselves. It’s a call to radically live out the gospel as we represent God in our daily lives. I’ll finish this week with just a few reasons why Jesus wanted His disciples to act in this way and why we should continue in this way now;

(1) By turning the other cheek it is much more likely that we will limit any further aggression. When one person not only does not respond in kind, but acts in a calm, reasonable, loving manner, situations of hostility are usually disarmed.

(2) The early church were despised and persecuted in a heathen culture, their radical lifestyle was misunderstood and they had all sorts of slanderous accusations directed against them. By turning the other cheek they would show those around them that their intentions were peaceful and honourable. This would serve as a great witness to their opponents.

(3) A reaction of peace, control and kindness is exactly the opposite reaction that people would expect in a hostile situation. This reaction will cause the question ‘Why is this person reacting so differently to everybody else?’ This gives an opportunity to live out the gospel.

(4) A reaction of non-retaliation demonstrates faith in God and His justice. We do not take vengeance into our own hands because we know that God protects His children; if any retribution is deserved God will take care of it in His own time and manner.

“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay says the Lord” (Romans 12:19)

(5) To act without personal retaliation is to act just like Jesus who endured so much for us. Who took up His cross for our sakes and humbled himself

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. … 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:19, 21-23).

 March 18, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Mar 112016
 

Eye for an eyeYou have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38)

On first glance it would seem that this phrase is simply talking about getting revenge. A principal for a time long ago, something belonging to a primitive and barbaric age without any relevance to today. But if you study this phrase further you will actually see a demonstration of God’s justice and the care for His people in a time when conflict could very quickly escalate and get out of hand.

There are actually 3 places in the Old Testament where this phrase is found. They are in Deuteronomy 19:20-21, Leviticus 24:19-20 and Exodus 21:23-25.

These passages are all taken from the ‘Torah’ or God’s law which He gave to Moses, so that His people could be set apart from the nations around them. God wanted His people to live in a way that demonstrated His justice and His care for a people made in His image.

The first thing to note is the laws that covered these kinds of rules were given specifically for civil law courts and they were never intended as a rule for personal retaliation. In Exodus, the judges, in consultation with the victim, decided the penalty. The point of these laws was to eliminate personal revenge, which was often chaotic, arbitrary and completely out of proportion to the offense. This specific principle has come to be known by the Latin phrase, lex talionis, or “law of retaliation.” The English word, “retaliate,” originates from the root word for “talionis.” Unfortunately, the modern way we use this word is a bit stronger than the meaning here. It is not just about getting someone back for the wrong done to you. It can mean to pay back in kind, which includes doing good deeds. You could sum up this command by saying “The punishment must fit the crime” It’s not all about vengeance but a stipulation that Justice must be served.

As I mentioned earlier, God views very seriously the destruction of people made in His image, whether that is through maiming or death itself. These laws were designed to show the seriousness of an offence and to bring a just punishment. God knew that injury could happen accidentally and that is why these cases were to be tried in a civil court and not just enacted personally, where the temptation to over react would have been great if it involved friends or loved ones. We see God’s wisdom in this matter through the instigation of the ‘cities of refuge’

then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. (Numbers 35:11-12)

In this passage, Jesus is challenging the religious authorities who once again had twisted God’s original meaning. As I said before, this law meant that cases were not to be judged on a personal basis but through the civil courts so that the judgements were above board and fair. The Pharisees had turned this into rules allowing for personal vendettas, which was never the intention. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ time regarded personal revenge for being wronged as a right and even a duty based on a misreading of the lex talionis. What was supposed to bring law and order instead encouraged vigilantism, violence and disorder. Instead of a civilised and just court decision; lawlessness, fear and mob rule abounded. The religious leaders didn’t preach the true intent of the law, but rather encouraged the natural sinful desire to take vengeance into one’s own hands. There was also an element of Racism to the Pharisee’s and scribes rules, because they made different rules for Jews and foreigners. If a Jew killed another Jew then it meant the death penalty. If a Jew killed a foreigner it was not. Basically, because they had re-defined the word for ‘neighbour’ to suit their purposes.

Lastly they had applied this rule for misdemeanours that weren’t even crimes, doing what seemed to come naturally to them of taking God’s law and making it into something man-made and perverted.

As we have seen in all the examples so far, Jesus requires a radical upgrade to what the Pharisee’s were demanding. Next week we will see what His answer is and how He expects us to react when somebody wrongs us.

 March 11, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Mar 042016
 

yes yes no no But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:37 – NASB)

Last week we started to look at the subject of oaths. We saw that the Pharisee’s had made many rules (which was not uncommon) about which rules were binding and which were not. Jesus cuts through all their nonsense and simplifies the whole thing by basically saying “You don’t need to make oaths, just let your yes be yes and your no, no.

Remember we have been looking at the ‘sermon on the mount’ as Jesus’ manifesto for His people. When you look at it closely though you see that his standards, humanly speaking, are impossible to attain. Still to come at the end of this chapter is the alarming command of Jesus to be as perfect as God! (Matthew 5:48)

Today’s statement may seem easy enough on the surface but you have to take into account the human proclivity to lie. There’s no nice way to put this but people are basically liars, we lie all the time. Sometimes it’s an outright full blown porker and other times it’s a subtle deflection of the truth but it happens every day in one way or another. We see it from every strata of society and even people we should be respecting such as politicians, we know full well they are lying or at the very least ‘manipulating the truth’. It can be so common that we don’t even know we are doing it. When we don’t tell the plain truth we are following the devil’s ways. The last part of today’s verse is saying that anything not of the truth is from the evil one because he is a liar in his very nature. This is what Jesus had to say about him when He was addressing the Scribes and Pharisees;

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

I said we do it in subtle ways, sometimes without even realising it. We are doing it when we are economical with the truth, not giving the full picture. We are doing it when we tell ‘white lies’ and we use it as an excuse that we are just protecting people. We do it when we exaggerate and say things that are slightly better than they are to make us look good. Another way we try to look good is to ‘name drop’ and pretend we are more influential that we are. We learn to be very good at lying to our children and manipulating them through our lies. And as a final example and a particular bugbear of mine, we can lie or at least be deceitful through ‘super spirituality’. For example, I think it is very presumptuous to say “God told me” or the “Lord told me such and such.” We can be well meaning and really feel convinced that he has spoken, but be very careful about invoking His name regularly. We make Him out to be a liar when we proclaim He has said something when He hasn’t, which is very dangerous territory. We can sometimes use His name for emphasis, to convince people or because we want to sound convincing (even if on a subconscious level). And one I have even been guilty of myself is saying that I will pray for someone and then forgetting all about it. I sound good for saying it but if I don’t do it I am a liar!

Lying is selfish, it is deceptive and it comes from a desire to make ourselves look good and not God. In fact God really hates it. It appears twice in this list of things God hates in Proverbs;

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies,and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Oaths were actually devised in the first place to protect from lies. An oath said that if I am lying to you, I will forfeit something (in serious cases the life of the one making the oath).

As I said last week, Jesus wasn’t saying to not make oaths at all. There are some solemn occasions where it is important to make an oath before God, such as the marriage ceremony or in a law court. What Jesus is addressing is the everyday speech where oaths appear in nearly every sentence and they are not worth the breath they are expelling!

Dear reader, let’s be a people who bring God glory because we are known for our integrity and for always telling the truth. Let’s be people that can be trusted. When we say “Yes” we mean it and when we say “No” we mean it too. There should never be any doubt in people’s minds about whether we will do a thing or not. We show whose children we are when we walk in the truth.

 March 4, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »