Jan 272017
 

The-narrow-gateEnter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

On the surface, this is quite an easy passage to understand. Jesus is saying that not many people will become Christians, isn’t he? And the 2 gates are the choices that people make between going to heaven or hell, following Christ or not?

This is what I have always thought and many commentaries will speak along these lines. But after studying the passage a bit more and linking it to a parallel passage in Luke 13:23-24 which says;

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

I don’t think it is talking about being saved or not because the concept of ‘striving’ is antithetical to the rest of the bible when it talks about salvation. We don’t get saved through our own effort and hard work. It is the free gift of grace from a merciful God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The second reason I don’t think this passage is talking about Salvation is because of Jesus’ audience. They are mostly his disciples, believers. He is setting out the way to live for a Christian. As I have said on a number of occasions, if this passage was directed to the unconverted, it would be cruel because it is impossible, humanly speaking, to live up to. Some of His listeners were scribes, Pharisee’s and religious leaders, but it is obvious which parts He is directing at them. Every now and again He has a little ‘side-swipe’!

I don’t believe the narrow gate leads to heaven and the wide gate to Hell. I believe the narrow gate is for those who truly want to follow Jesus. For those prepared to deny themselves, to take up their crosses daily and to really make Jesus Lord above all others.

I believe that Jesus is talking about our inheritance. To truly receive the inheritance that God has for us, we will almost certainly have to face suffering and hardship, trials and temptations;

strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)

The broad way is the easy road and actually, far too many are happy to walk it. It is those people who have even made commitments to Christ but they seem to be happy to remain unchanged. The sorts of people who turn up to church on a Sunday, but their life really doesn’t look much different to anyone else’s for the rest of the week. I don’t necessarily think that these people are unsaved (although we will heed a warning in verse 22 in a few weeks!) It’s just that if they are saved, they are very similar to the ‘worldly’ Christians the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3;

If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15)

It all sounds a bit precarious to me.

The Greek word in today’s passage for destruction is ‘apoleian’ which can be translated ‘ruined’ or ‘wasted’ a good description of a life that has been given a chance to honour God but has instead chosen the easy life.

It would seem that this choice of the easy way or hard way can follow us through life, whenever we might be tempted to take the easy option.

So what does walking the narrow life look like? I have already given a flavour, but I believe it is a life that has chosen to overcome; the world the flesh and the devil. It has denied its own comfort and chosen to daily take up the cross. To go against the flow and to not just do what everyone else does. It is to lead a life of conviction, to live a life of forgiveness, of sexual purity, of humility and rejecting any thoughts of rights or entitlement. It is to embrace persecution.

This may all sound very negative, but the rewards for those who choose the narrow gate far exceed any temporary comfort;

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

The book of Revelation reveals the inheritance and rewards for all those who have chosen the narrow gate. It describes what those sorts of people are like;

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)

This life is so short and eternity is so long. Let’s choose our temporary discomfort to attain this eternal reward.

 January 27, 2017  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 202017
 

The golden ruleSo in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

As I was preparing for this blog I noticed that a lot of different faiths have a very similar rule for living. For example;

Hindu – This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain.– The Mahabharata

Buddhism– Hurt not others with that which pains yourself. – Udana-Varga

Jewish – What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.– The Talmud

Islam – No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.– Hadith

Baha’i – He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself, nor promise that which he doth not fulfil.– The Book of Certitude

Even secularism and humanism would sign up to this general principal. They would borrow Eastern religion and talk about being nice to other people would bring good ‘karma’ to yourself. These are all negative and passive, but that just makes it possible to do nothing!

Jesus’ golden rule goes a lot deeper. It is both positive and active. You are not just to refrain from doing evil but to actually do good. For example, not just to stop stealing from others but to give to them instead.

As we have been going through ‘The sermon on the mount’, we can also see that outside of Christ these commands are impossible to follow. Notice Jesus starts with ‘In everything’ He’s not talking about when it suits you or is convenient. He is talking about really putting yourself out – all the time!

We can very easily drop this rule when the person we are being nice to isn’t nice back. In fact they might never be nice back. If this was only a reciprocal command we would very soon give up. This is the sort of ‘loving your enemies’ which we read about earlier in Matthew 5:44. It’s not about ‘good karma’ or ‘what goes around comes around’ it’s about pleasing our heavenly father by forgiving others more than seventy times seven and turning the other cheek not expecting anything in return.

When Jesus stated that it sums up the law and the prophets he was talking about the summation of the whole of scripture. Firstly we are to love God, followed closely by loving other people. He says a very similar thing to the teachers of the law in the gospel of Mark:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

These sorts of commands may seem impossible, but Jesus is saying them because they are possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit. If you notice, Jesus’ life was the embodiment of all He was talking about. He was always giving, always loving, always putting himself out. He was the perfect example for us to follow. Of course we will not do everything perfectly all the time. But each day we submit to Him and put Him first and seek first His kingdom, the more we will become like Him – one degree at a time. He has all our lives to work on us and praise God, He never gives up on us.

I’ll finish with something I found helpful about this subject whilst I was doing some research. It’s the acronym SALT

Serve – use your talents to reach out and help others

Appreciate – say thanks and encourage others

Love – comes from God and covers a multitude of sins!

Treasure – value others, show kindness etc

 January 20, 2017  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 132017
 

Good gifts..how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

Jesus has already laboured the point that God is a good father. A perfect father who wants to pour out many good gifts to His children. He has all the resources at His disposal and on top of that is extravagantly generous. He is not reluctant at all.

We have already touched on, in previous weeks, what he means when He says “good gifts,” but let’s just analyse that a little further.

They are ‘good’ because God only gives good things;

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

This is an important point, because we can sometimes accredit the bad things that happen as coming from God. God sends no bad thing, He sometimes, in his providence, ‘allows’ things to happen but that is quite different.

They are ‘good’ because they are for our blessing. Not just for us, but for other people too. God is so generous that when He blesses us, there is an aspect that this blessing flows out to others. When we inherit God’s characteristics, we naturally want to pass on the good that we receive to others. This is how God loves to spread His goodness.

There are lots of places in the bible which talk about the gifts that God gives, but one of the most detailed places is the first book of Corinthians and specifically chapters; 12, 13 and 14. The Holy Spirit distributes gifts for the ‘common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7). He knows us so well that these gifts are often matched to our natural giftings and character. That is why we are not to despise these gifts if they do not seem to be as important as other ones. We all have a part to play.

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians highlights the necessity of love in the use and application of these gifts. They are not given for pride, or boasting or competition or ‘lording it over’ people, but a harmonious demonstration of God’s earthly body in action. What a beautiful sight when everyone receives the gifts they are given and use them to bless others, how harmonious and stunning!

If you are not sure what your gifts are, ask God as you read 1 Corinthians (and Romans 12) and see all the different types. He is so eager to bless you.

 January 13, 2017  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 062017
 

A perfect fatherOr which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Jesus continues with an obvious statement. If my son, Tom, were to ask for some bread, of course I wouldn’t give him a stone and I would never substitute a serpent for some fish. This is pretty obvious.

The hard-hitting part comes next; Jesus assumes I am evil! He calls all of us evil. But am I really evil? I do the best for my kids and try my hardest to make sure they are ok. And yet I am evil!

Firstly, compared to God we are evil. We are imperfect and He is perfect. We make many mistakes on a daily basis, He doesn’t. But this goes further than just a comparison. It brings us to an important doctrine of the state of mankind.

The bible makes it clear that apart from God, mankind is spiritually dead.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)

We have no interest in God until He, by His grace, awakens a desire for Him in us. This is called the doctrine of ‘total depravity’ meaning that every part of our being is affected by sin, our intellect, emotions, desires, motives, everything. It’s all corrupted by sin.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

This is not to say that we are incapable of doing good, far from it. But even by doing good our motives can be impure and corrupt.

In the context of today’s passage, Jesus is saying that even we, who are sinful, do the best for our children. But our attempts at being good parents are nothing compared to our perfect heavenly father. As parents, we can have the best of intentions but spoil our kids, or the opposite; be too harsh with them.

Our heavenly father made us, knows us better than we know ourselves and is therefore in the best position to know what is right for us. Not just in what we need but the timing of it. God will often withhold things from us for a time, because He knows the precise moment to give us what we need. Sometimes delaying can result in us trusting Him more. After all, if He gave us everything we asked for immediately, where would the appreciation and the trust be?

He does not give in to our petty tantrums and He is not swayed by our attempts at emotional manipulation. Just as well, as the sight of a spoilt child is not an attractive thing.

Jesus has now repeated the same thing in lots of different ways and He really wants to get the message across;

We have a father who loves us, who wants to have a relationship with us and wants to bless us with spiritual blessings. He is the perfect father who we should be running to, not hiding from.

Which one do you do? If you haven’t been doing so already, open your heart to Him. Tell Him your worries and concerns. If you’ve had a bad model of a father or no father at all, allow Him to fill that gap in your life.

Let Him in!

 January 6, 2017  Posted by at 12:00 pm Prayer, The sermon on the mount No Responses »