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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 »
Apr 292016
 

Loving in a different wayFor if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:46-47)

As we saw last week, the gift of God’s common grace allows all of mankind to be good and loving towards one another. This will extend to loving those who are much like ourselves or people we have a common bond with. As we see today, even those wicked tax collectors stuck together. The world is quite good at looking after its own. Loving people who are like you is relatively easy. You are not particularly showing a radical nature by loving people in your church.

This command of Jesus to love our enemies is a call to be radically different. It’s the kind of attitude that Jesus had on the cross toward His persecutors “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) It’s the sort of love that the world simply doesn’t understand.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book called ‘studies in the Sermon on the Mount’ speaks about this call to be radically distinctive, he says:

The Christian is the man who is above, and goes beyond, the natural man at his very best and highest… There are many people in the world who are not Christian but who are very moral and highly ethical, men whose word is their bond, and who are scrupulous and honest, just and upright. You never find them doing a shady thing to anybody; but they are not Christian, and they say so. They do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and may have rejected the whole of the New Testament teaching with scorn. But they are absolutely straightforward, honest and true… Now the Christian, by definition here, is a man who is capable of doing something that the best natural man cannot do. He goes beyond and does more than that; he exceeds. He is separate from all others, and not only from the worst among others, but from the very best and highest among them.

Jesus is once again (as he does in nearly every sentence) dealing with the half hearted and pathetic attempts by the Pharisees to interpret God’s laws properly. They once again fall woefully short. How could they think it was enough to just love someone just like them? Jesus is openly shaming them by comparing them to tax collectors and gentiles. How about us though? Do we have a very similar attitude?

I think we do. We think we are doing well when we get on with our Christian brothers and sisters, we are quite pleased with ourselves. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, of course it isn’t, but it isn’t enough. We mustn’t stop there. As followers of Jesus, we need to take His attitude upon ourselves and love those who really don’t like us and to be honest, we don’t like either. Loving those who are antagonistic towards us, who seek our discomfort or our harm, loving them is supernatural. It can only come from a heart that is submitted to God. If you are reading this and you have never submitted your life to Christ, you need to do that first, because you will never achieve this otherwise and will only be frustrated. This attitude only comes from The Holy Spirit.

We cannot wait for this to happen. We can’t wait for our enemies to be nice to us before we are kind to them, that will never happen. We need to take the initiative. As I said last week, it is not enough to forgive and avoid, we need to pursue our enemies with love. When we do this, we are demonstrating to the world how much God wants to do the same thing with them. We are imaging God’s heart to them. We are joining in with God’s mission of rescuing His enemies and loving them into His kingdom. There is no greater honour than that.

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

common-graceso that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

We looked last week at Jesus’ command to love our enemies. The more we realise the implications of this, the more we realise that this is one of the hardest commands for a Christian to obey. We are not just being asked to forgive and move on, but to self-sacrificially show true love to our enemies, to bless them instead of cursing them and to do it over and over again.

The beginning of the verse today shows us why. It is important to understand what this verse is not saying. It is not saying that if we obey Jesus’ command we will become a Christian. Outside of Christ this command is impossible to obey. This verse is saying that by obeying this command we are showing whose Children we belong to. In the natural world, children very often resemble their parents in many ways. They may look like them and act like them. Jesus is saying here that when we love our enemies we are behaving exactly like our father in heaven, proving that we are His children. Every last one of us were enemies of God in our nature and choices, but God showed His amazing love for us by sending His son to die for us. He demonstrated His love. Words are meaningless without actions. God demonstrated His words with actions. Christians over the years have all too often been accused of not practising what we preach, of even being hypocritical, which is sadly so often true. Jesus is saying in this passage “prove them wrong, show them that I have changed you by my love.” Nothing will speak louder to non-Christians that God has the power to change people when we love our enemies. Because nothing is so contrary to human nature and so in sync with God’s nature.

It’s important to see in this verse today that God doesn’t have any favourites. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean He loves you more than others. We can very easily fall into this way of thinking and it can make us complacent. God loves all and the bible says that He; is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

We were all, at one time, enemies of God, but through His kindness, mercy and great love, He has demonstrated the effectiveness of loving our enemies over and over again.

The doctrine of God treating us all the same is called ‘common grace’ and it is alluded to in the second part of today’s verse.

Common grace is a demonstration of the goodness, mercy and love of God to all mankind regardless of salvation, acknowledgement or even thankfulness. He bestows this grace because it is in his very nature to do so.

The Lord is good to all and His mercy is over all that He has made. (Psalm 145:9)

This grace is what stops mankind from descending into chaos by following our natural fallen nature and an inclination to selfishness and sin. Without God we would descend rather rapidly. The bible clearly teaches that in our natural state we are completely corrupt with nothing good within us.

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

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9)

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

Common grace restrains the full expression of this inherent wickedness in all of us.

Within common grace, God has given us a conscience, which enables us to know the difference between right and wrong, and to some degree He places moral constraints on evil behaviour. He has provided order in human society through government (see Romans 13:1-5). It is also demonstrated in His long-suffering and patience in allowing mankind to continue so long in rebellion towards Him. This grace also provides us with so much that we enjoy, enabling us to admire beauty and goodness and pursue all kinds of creativity. The good that is within people is not a natural seed of humanity, but evidence of God’s common grace. And as we can see in today’s verse it provides for sun and rain and all conditions that allow for crops to grow and the earth to flourish. In all but a very few cases it also averts natural disasters.

Because of all these many benefits common grace ought to be enough to move sinful people to repentance.

God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)

Yet because of the depravity of our human hearts, so many can miss this gift and spurn the goodness of God.

Some may look at the world and question all the sorrow within it but the only reason the sorrow and tragedy stand out is because there is also much joy and gladness. The only reason we recognize the ugliness is because God has given us so much beauty. The only reason we feel the disappointment is that there is so much that satisfies. When we understand that all of humanity is fallen, rebellious and unworthy of any blessing from God’s hand, it helps give a better perspective. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22)(NIV).

The only reason God ever gives us anything to laugh at, smile at, or enjoy is because He is a good and loving God. If He were not, we would be immediately consumed by His wrath. What an amazing God He is!

 April 22, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Grace, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Apr 152016
 

loving your enemiesYou have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

We have read some pretty tough statements by Jesus over the last few weeks and they certainly aren’t getting any easier. Today’s passage must be one of the hardest things to do. It’s not always easy loving the ones closest to us, but loving our enemies is one of the hardest things to accept and actually do. It is just not natural. Our normal nature (the sinful one) wants retribution. It wants to fight back and get even with all those people that oppose us. But if we want to be followers of Jesus and true children of our father in heaven, then love we must, even the most unlovely.

Let’s just start with the passage before us today. Notice that Jesus states “You have heard that it was said” This is important. He is not talking about what is written, i.e. scripture. He is once again addressing the Pharisees and exposing their man-made traditions. They loved to add bits to scripture and make it different to what was intended. God had plans for dealing with Israel’s enemies at the time of the occupation of Canaan, but His long term goal was that His people’s enemies would be won over by love and not hate. The first part of the phrase is from the bible. In Leviticus 19:18 it says “love your neighbour as yourself.” The Pharisees were so narrow minded that they assumed God was talking about other Israelites as their neighbours. He surely couldn’t be speaking about the Gentiles. Surely they were to be hated and discarded. They had not even bothered to read on for another 16 verses of the same chapter in Leviticus where it said “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. Love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). God’s plan has always been all encompassing. He has an expansive heart and He wants His children to be like Him and have one too. He wants us to reach out to the foreigners, the despised, the unlovely, the sinful. In fact, people just like we were before He got hold of us!

This is especially true at this moment in history, as thousands of precious souls are being driven from their countries and have become refugees. The father is sending them to our countries so that we can bless them and show them His love.

Let’s examine who our enemies actually are. They are very rarely now people from a foreign country, but people we live and work with. People who have hurt us in some way, or people we don’t see ‘eye to eye’ with. They could be people that oppose us because they don’t like what we stand for or even just the way we are. They could be jealous of our lifestyle or our intelligence or anything that they might consider a threat. We probably all have people we take an instant dislike to and oftentimes we have no real idea why. There are hundreds of reasons why we have enemies, the main reason being we live in a ‘sin sick’ world. They could range from people we have a mild dislike for to people we absolutely hate.

We should all have enemies, even the most virtuous of us. In fact the most virtuous will have more enemies than most! Jesus was perfect and He had enemies, very real enemies, those that were desperate to kill Him. Don’t get me wrong, He never hated anybody, but living the life he did, He naturally attracted people who hated Him. The Apostle Paul knew this more than most as he sought to spread the gospel with boldness and without fear. From experience he said “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)

If we have no enemies or opponents, we probably are not living the gospel out as we should be. Again, we are not looking for trouble, but a Holy lifestyle should naturally invite opposition. In fact Jesus said “Woe to you when all people speak well of you.” (Luke 6:26)

So how are we to love our enemies?

This is the hard part. Even forgiving people is easy compared to this. In some cases you can forgive and move on. It’s dealt with, you don’t necessarily have to encounter that person again. Loving someone who hates you is a commitment. You may work with them on a daily basis and have to show love to them in the face of constant antagonism and hatred.

Often the only way we can love our enemies is to pray for them, simply because we can’t get close enough to them to do anything else! They may hate you so much that they won’t even speak to you. Praying may be the only way you can fulfil this command, but a committed heartfelt prayer for your enemies proves that you love them.

How do we pray?

This is an important question because we could just pray “get them Lord, pay them back for how nasty they have been to me!” I don’t believe that is the way Jesus is telling us to pray. In His radical kingdom, Jesus is asking us to pray a blessing over our enemies, a heartfelt one. How would you feel if you prayed a blessing over your enemy and God actually answered it? That is the test, that is what will reveal what is really in our hearts. That is what Jesus is demanding of us and that is why it is so difficult. Jesus gave us the perfect example at the cross where he prayed “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) That sort of prayer is so powerful that we could well see the very people who crucified Jesus in heaven!

This subject is so important that I’m going to explore it some more over the next few weeks. I’ve said it before, that this subject is one of the hardest things to do in the Christian life, but if you can overcome the resistance you are probably feeling right now and do what Jesus is asking you to do, you will receive release and freedom in your life more than you had ever thought possible.

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

giving to beggarsGive to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)

This is a tough subject this week, as you can probably imagine there are wildly different views even within the Christian community. As I said a couple of weeks ago, money is a huge stronghold in our society and so it is not surprising it can be such a contentious issue. I will shortly be giving my opinion on how I respond, but first let’s examine the passage.

Jesus is speaking about a request for either a gift (“the one who begs”) or a loan (“the one who borrows”). Whether we expect to get our money back or whether we have no hope of being repaid we are to give to those who ask. As we have seen with the three previous instructions in this little section, Jesus is not necessarily speaking to us absolutely literally so that we give all of our money away, he is talking about our attitudes. We are to mimic the generosity of our father in heaven, we are to hold our possessions and money lightly. We are to see things in light of the kingdom of God with our gaze firmly towards eternity. This sort of attitude reflects whose children we are. We have experienced the grace, mercy and kindness of such a generous God, who gave His only son to die a horrible death in our place. How could we be mean and miserly when we have received such generosity?

Most likely, your attitude before you were saved was the same as everyone else. We had a sense of entitlement. I earned the money I have, I worked hard for it, it belongs to me. But when we discover more of God we realise that he is the one who provides everything for us. He provides the jobs we work and gives us the health, abilities and skills to carry them out. He puts the food on our table and the money in our wallet and he graciously allows us to keep some of it. That is why we can trust Him in every circumstance. The Apostle Paul recognised this when he said;

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12-13)

When we meet a beggar on the street, this knowledge of God’s provision should be foremost in our minds. The question to ourselves should be, not how much of my money can I afford to give, but Father how can I bless this child of yours and reflect your generosity?

Christians have differed over the years regarding how literally we are to take Jesus’ words. Some have said that we should always give money to someone who asks us for it, no matter what the circumstances and without any judgement as to whether the person has a genuine need or not, whereas others have said, that would be totally irresponsible and wrong because we could be fuelling a drink or drug habit. They say that such an action would actually be immoral!

So what should we do?

It is a tricky one and I can certainly understand both sides. The important thing is that we do something, I have struggled with this conundrum for some time and the important thing is that we ask God what He wants us to do in any situation. We need to be continually led by the Holy Spirit.

For me and my wife, we prefer to offer to buy the person food. We ask them if they are hungry and go to a local store and buy a sandwich some crisps and a drink. If the person is receptive we will offer to pray for them. I gave somebody money last week but that is rare. On that occasion, God wouldn’t let me walk past without doing so.

The important thing is that we allow God to touch our hearts with the need to help the poor and destitute. We can so easily brush it off and ignore it. God’s heart for the poor and needy is very clear in scripture, but for some reason this need has been largely ignored in Christianity.

If you don’t feel comfortable giving to an individual, then at least give to one of the many homeless charities or a ministry that works with the poor. We can’t keep walking on the other side of the road like the two ‘religious’ people in the parable of the good Samaritan. It’s time to engage, to do something.

If you know of any ministries or charities that do a particularly good work amongst the poor and homeless, please share in the comments below. As this blog has readers from all over the world, if you do recommend anyone, please just say what country you are from.

God bless.

 April 8, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Apr 012016
 

Going the extra mileAnd if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:41)

Jesus’ teaching on the ‘sermon on the mount’ has been so foundational to Christianity and indeed to society in general that for the third week in a row we are looking at a phrase, spoken two thousand years ago, which is still being used today. We have already looked at ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘taking the shirt of your back’ and this week we will look at “Going the extra mile”

I want you to imagine that you are in first century Palestine. You are rushing through the dusty streets in the heat of the sun. You have a very pressing engagement; it could be an important business meeting or a job interview or one of your children is ill and you are rushing to their aid. Nearly home, you turn the corner and just avoid bumping into a Roman soldier. You try and ignore him and brush past, but he grabs your arm. “You!” he says, “It’s your lucky day, you get to carry my back-pack for a mile and be my slave.” You know you can’t run away because his grip on your arm has tightened, so with extreme annoyance you heave his back-pack onto your shoulder and follow him in the opposite direction you were going. How are you feeling? Happy that you can relieve the stress of an occupying soldier or seething inside, bitter, angry, annoyed, infuriated and resentful?

Can you see why Jesus’ words in today’s verse are so radical?

The Occupying Roman army had pinched this practice from the Persians. A soldier could compel any civilian to carry something for them for up to a mile. This is what happened when Simon of Cyrene was made to carry Jesus’ cross in Mark 15:21.

You can imagine the oppressed subject counting every step of that mile and not going a single step further than they had to. Jesus didn’t just say to go a few steps more to show you are not under law. No, Jesus as we have seen is always radically different. He says to do the whole thing again. If you are walking in the opposite direction that’s a whole 4 miles, 2 miles there and 2 miles back to where you started from! And we need to do it with a good heart and a smile on our face.

“ok” you might say “but isn’t that a bit of a redundant phrase now?” We will never be accosted by a Roman soldier in the street and made to carry his back pack, but there are many instances where this directive could be applied.

We get asked to do things all the time we don’t particularly want to do. Do we do it willingly and happily offering to go above and beyond what’s been asked? What about the grumpy boss who wants you to stay 10 minutes late and he’s not going to pay you for it? What about the teacher who gives you extra homework or your wife asks you to do the dishes after a long day in the office? Do you offer to do the drying up as well?

Every action we do in a genuinely cheerful manner and a good heart can bring glory to Jesus. We are in a position to completely change people’s perceptions of Christianity if we follow the spirit of these commands. This is exactly what the apostle Peter was referring to;

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:12-15)

Why not show what you can do this week to surprise somebody?

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