May 272016

Left hand not knowing what right is doingBut when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)

Last week we looked at the loud and ostentatious way in which the High priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time liked to give their offerings. We looked at the fact that Jesus was saying ‘when’ you give and not ‘if’. It was the manner in which they were giving that Jesus was addressing and what the motivation of their hearts was.

Jesus has already dealt previously with the subject of money and how it can hold us in its grip. Do we control it or do we let it control us? That is the initial question, but there is still a subsequent issue to consider; when we give it away, who do we want to get the glory? Put simply like that, it should be obvious, but motivations are never that simple and can sometimes take us by surprise.

The fact is, we instinctively like to receive the credit when we have done something good or noteworthy. We want to be recognised and thanked. We naturally don’t want to be anonymous. Giving in secret is very counter-cultural; the way the world gives is usually very egotistical. Just watch the fanfare surrounded by certain televised charity events such as comic or sport relief. I understand that money needs to be collected for worthwhile causes but it always seems to me to be a little showy and extravagant.

The attitude of doing things in secret crosses over into every part of the Christian life. We don’t advertise how much we give just as much as how much we; pray, fast, serve or do good works. Our motivation and goal is to do everything for an audience of one. So that even when people misrepresent us, we know that God knows and what other people think, increasingly doesn’t matter.

I believe that what Jesus is getting at when he says that our left hand shouldn’t know what our right hand is doing is about not even telling ourselves what we are doing. What I mean by this is we don’t even dwell in our thoughts about how good we have just been. Our self-consciousness can very quickly become our self-righteousness. This sort of attitude can only come from maturity, from a heart that only wants to do what pleases God. So when you are next tempted to tell others about what you have just done, whisper a quick prayer and say to God “Let that be our little secret!”

 May 27, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
May 202016

blowing own trumpetThus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:2)

There were 3 main signs of piety in Israel at the time of Jesus. These were: Alms giving, prayer and fasting and Jesus deals with all three in chapter 6. He of course was not looking for piety but hearts that reflected God’s character. Of course giving, praying and fasting are good things but Jesus was addressing what the Pharisees and religious leaders had twisted them into; something that deflected the glory from God.

The first thing we can notice from this passage is that Jesus says “When you give” not ‘if’. The assumption is that we will give to the needy. The bible is very clear about God’s heart for the poor, His heart towards them is demonstrated again and again. Talking about the poor person he commands;

You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)

Jesus himself recognised the need to help the poor and admitted that all the time that mankind was remaining in sin the problem would not go away;

For the poor you always have with you (John 12:8)

The Pharisee’s were fully aware of the need to provide for the poor, but not from a godly heart to alleviate their suffering. No, it was another chance to demonstrate how pious they were.

There is no evidence that they actually blew a trumpet before putting money in the collection, that would be ridiculous, but you get the impression that they would have liked to have had a full marching band behind them, announcing their arrival, if they could have gotten away with it!

There is a theory that the collection boxes in the synagogue were shaped like a trumpet and the coins would swirl around before going in the box. You can imagine the Pharisees getting some rather large coins and throwing them in rather violently to make the maximum amount of noise.

Jesus then goes on to call them ‘hypocrites’ which is a very strong word. The word used for Hypocrite was actually an ‘actor’ playing a part. An actor is someone who pretends to be someone who they are not. Rather apt don’t you think? They were all about the show and external spectacle. Their hearts remained untouched and this was what Jesus was addressing.

Let’s finish this by bringing it closer to home. I can get very smug when I think about the Pharisees and how hypocritical they were. They were quite a caricature, but actually, sometimes, we can have a very similar attitude to theirs. It is very easy to pick out deficiencies in other people, but fail to see when we are being proud ourselves. Writing this has caused me to examine my own heart with regards my motivations. Why don’t you do the same?

 May 20, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
May 132016

Righteousness on showBeware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

We start chapter 6 of Matthew today in our ‘sermon on the mount’ series with a bit of a quandary. It would seem on the surface that Jesus is contradicting himself with something he said previously, in fact in the very same sermon!

In Matthew 5:16 He has stated “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

As with any passages which seemingly contradict each other it is very important that we look at the context.

If you examine this closely, it is not a contradiction, but a difference in emphasis. The emphasis in Matthew 5:16 is about us representing God; doing good works to demonstrate what He is like. There is no getting away from it, people will make a judgement about God based on how His children act and behave. In a way, we are guardians of his reputation. As His ambassadors we are representing Him wherever we go and however we speak and behave. It is an awesome but very serious privilege. That is why we need to be self-controlled and do all the things in chapter 5 we have been reading about recently. such as; loving our enemies and turning the other cheek.

Matthew 6:1 on the other hand is all about the attitude with which we represent God. If we are doing it with the attitude of hoping others will see how great we are, we are not actually representing God but representing ourselves. Our natural inclination is for people to think well of us.

We are not to boast about how good we are, that is exactly what the Scribes and Pharisees were doing. Jesus was actually addressing their hypocrisy.

People are supposed to notice your good works because your good character permeates them, not because you want people to see how good you are. The former is humility, the latter is pride.

The bible makes it very clear that God is a jealous god, he will not share His glory with another. If we try to take the credit for something that God has done we are on very dangerous ground.

The word ‘reward’ in this passage is a translation of the Greek commercial term meaning ‘paid in full’ literally referring to cancelled bills. It means that those who are showing off to others will miss the reward God has for them. If you are after praise from other people, that’s all you are going to get. It isn’t exactly revealed what the reward is that God is going to dish out, but I bet it is far greater than a momentary congratulation from other people which will be most likely be forgotten in a moment. The rewards God gives, last for eternity. That’s worth staying out of the limelight for isn’t it?

 May 13, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
May 062016

Being perfectYou therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

I started this ‘Sermon on the mount’ series on 17thJuly 2015. I have really enjoyed taking this most famous of sermons slowly and going through it verse by verse. Today we have reached the end of Matthew chapter 5 and this verse is summing up the little section between verses 17 to 48. Jesus has been telling His listeners that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisee’s. He is not talking about abolishing the law but making it even more radical. He is setting the bar so high that no-one could possibly attain it in their own strength. This thought is clearly shown in today’s passage. We know how perfect God is, so how on earth are we ever able to reach that standard, surely it is impossible? It must be possible because this verse is spoken as a command. It is not saying; have a go and do your best, get as close to God as you can. Use all your will power and see how you get on. No, it simply says “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Let’s investigate this passage a little further and see what Jesus is getting at.

Jesus is well aware that no human being is perfect. The bible says:

None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)

So what does Jesus mean when He talks about ‘perfection’?

The word translated ‘perfect’ is the Greek word ‘Teleios’ (τέλειος) which could just as easily be translated as ‘mature’ or ‘complete’. See also the following verses which contain the same word;

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:15)

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

See also 1 Corinthians 2:6. The equivalent in Hebrew would be the word ‘tamim’ which referred to animals without defect

Your lamb shall be without blemish (Exodus 12:5)

So the context of Matthew 5:48 has really nothing to do with perfection and imperfection as we understand it, but rather it is dealing with the maturity of our relationships with one another and how we respond in love. Love is the key, because that demonstrates how we respond like God would. All His actions are completed and motivated through the lens of love. The Pharisee’s were trying by their works to attain the required standard but they weren’t motivated by love at all. None of these commands that Jesus has just spoken would be possible without love. Love makes us go far beyond where our natural inclinations would go.

I will leave you with another aspect of being perfect. When we trust in Jesus for our salvation, we are placed ‘into’ him, we receive His righteousness and we are counted as righteous. Jesus has completely removed our sin. That means that we are accepted by God, our sin is no longer a barrier. As far as He is concerned, we are perfect because we are in Jesus. Whether you feel like it or not, God has declared you righteous. In Ephesians 1:4 it says that He chose us, so that we would be holy and blameless before Him. What great news!

 May 6, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount 1 Response »