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 »
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 »
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 »