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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 »
Feb 192016
 

DivorceIt was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

The issue of divorce is a hugely important subject. I believe that it goes to the heart of the problems in our society. As I was considering what to write, I looked at lots of statistics about divorce and to be honest I found them quite alarming. According to the British Government statistics it is believed that 42% of all marriages will end in divorce. 1 in 7 divorces were issued on the grounds of adultery (the subject we have been looking at recently), but there are many other reasons. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out that divorce is damaging on many levels.

It is of course not just the separating couple who are affected. Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a child no matter what their age. Witnessing the loss of love between parents is a huge burden for Children to bear. Many feel inexplicably responsible for the break up and have to cope with the overwhelming feelings of guilt. Then there is the turmoil of a daily absence of one parent and only seeing them (if at all) at limited times. In the personal history of a child, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.

As you can imagine, God has something to say about a subject which causes so much pain to His children. In fact simply put, the bible says “I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16) (NASB)

In this passage today from ‘The sermon on the mount’ Jesus is once again addressing an erroneous view about divorce which was very common at the time. He was paraphrasing Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.” Moses gave this stipulation because of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:8). There were two Jewish schools of thought regarding this phrase. The first was the house of Shammei who taught that this passage only allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery. The second was the house of Hillel who taught that this passage allowed for divorce to be appropriate if the husband took a dislike to something his wife did or said. It could be for burning the cooking, humiliating him, denying sex, wasting his money or even if he just fancied trading her in for a younger model. Guess which one nearly all of the religious and influential men went for? You guessed it, they were firmly in the Hillel camp.

It is amazing that divorce was okay for any reason, but the rules for the Bill of Divorce were exact and demanding. The divorce document had to have twelve lines – no more and no less. They specified the type of ink that had to be used. They required witnesses for the signing of the document and for its delivery. The wife could not appeal the husband’s decision, and the divorce certificate had to be delivered by two people who were not blind, dumb, or deaf. The divorce document was called a “Bill of Cutting Off” because the wife was literally cut-off from everything.

But their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 was wrong. God did not want them to treat their spouses in this manner, it was unjust, unfair and simply cruel. The key phrase in this passage is ‘finds no favour’ this is not about the husband taking a dislike to something the wife does but is really implying that she has committed adultery (it literally means shameful or nakedness of a thing). So now Jesus clarifies that it is about adultery and not about being displeased about ones wife. Jesus granted divorce only when the physical relationship of marriage is violated. A divorce for sexual unfaithfulness is a biblical divorce because it is granted by God with His permission. But divorce for any other reason does not have His permission.

If we take this passage alongside Matthew 19:9 where Jesus develops his teaching on marriage and divorce we see that Jesus is prohibiting divorce for the many trivial reasons that were used so frequently in the first century, leading to widespread injustice, especially for women whose husbands suddenly divorced them.

When He talks about marrying someone else, He implies that the second marriage, though it begins with adultery, is still a marriage. Once a second marriage has occurred, it would be further sin to break it up. The second marriage should not be thought of as continually living in adultery, for the man and woman are now married to each other, not to anyone else.

So in summary, if a divorce occurs for reasons other than sexual activity outside of the marriage, then both the husband and wife commit adultery if they marry someone else. Whoever then marries him/her also commits adultery. Now that is tough, but explains how strongly God views the marriage covenant.

 February 19, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Feb 122016
 

MasturbationAnd if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)

I’m very sorry if you find the subject a bit vulgar, but it’s an important subject and one I feel the text requires. You won’t find many commentaries dealing with this subject but given the context I believe this is what is being referred to. The M word is masturbation.

Jesus has just been talking about adultery and lust and in the preceding verse talked about lusting with your eyes. What happens after looking, often results in masturbation (which to be honest is the whole point of pornography). This makes much more sense than Jesus suddenly making a crunching gear change and talking about stealing or some other sin you might commit with your hands.

The question is; “is masturbation a sin?”

Well, the bible doesn’t say anything about it, so technically one would have to say “no”, however it is nearly impossible to separate it from lust, which is a sin.

Some people would point to the story of Onan in the bible. The specific verse is Genesis 38:9 “And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother

This is not about masturbation. It is about the failure of Onan to give children to Tamar, the widow of his brother and fulfill his duty to raise offspring in his brother’s name. By refusing this obligation, he sinned, because he was effectively making Tamar destitute with no means of support through having children. This was why Childlessness in the bible was considered a curse from God.

There are a few instances where masturbation might be acceptable, for instance when someone is away from their spouse for a length of time and the object of their masturbation is only their spouse. However the majority of instances of masturbation would in all probability be lusting and fantasizing after someone who wasn’t a person’s marriage partner and so would therefore be sin. Again, a large cause of this is the viewing of pornography.

The main problems with masturbation is that it is extremely habit forming and also very selfish and lazy. It can be a cheap alternative to a commitment to another person that takes time, effort and energy. The building of a relationship takes hard work and sacrifice. It is an honourable thing to seek a marriage partner and deny oneself to making that relationship work. It is a worthy effort. Masturbation on the other hand is instant gratification with no obligation.

Even though masturbation is not specifically condemned in the bible, we can apply some principles and wisdom from many verses in the bible. Here are a few;

In Ephesians 5:3 it says But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Is it proper? Is it pure? It’s hard to see how masturbation fits in with that. Also we have 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you cannot give God glory for something, you should not do it. If a person is not fully convinced that an activity is pleasing to God, then it is a sin: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Also, we need to remember that our bodies have been redeemed and belong to God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). These to my mind are quite compelling arguments.

It is very important we see sex as a positive thing. God made it and he made it very good, but he made it for the marriage covenant only to be enjoyed by a man and a woman in a loving committed relationship. Any other sexual activity is a distortion of that goodness.  That’s why such activities as adultery, casual sex and all manner of other sexual activity are condemned.

I mentioned earlier that masturbation can be habit forming. The ‘high’ comes from a flood of chemicals that are released into the brain during orgasm. As the mind becomes accustomed to the release of these chemicals, it searches out for continued sources of that high and a highly addictive habit is formed which is extremely difficult to break. It has the potential to ruin enjoyable sexual intercourse with a partner for years to come.

The easiest way to tell if you have an addiction to masturbation would be to stop. Try to abstain from masturbation for 30 days. If you are able to go this long without masturbating on your first try, you are probably not addicted. However you may want to consider quitting anyway for the sake of your relationships and for a pure and guilt-free relationship with God.

As this is such a private sin done in secret, it will take a lot of bravery to deal with it, especially as it is considered such a shameful habit. Know that God is willing and able to help you. Know too that He has provided friends and others in your church to help you and stand alongside you. You need to become accountable to somebody, a person you can trust to not gossip, but to be a true friend and help you through. A person who will challenge you on a daily basis and ask you how you are getting on. It is possible to break free from this sin and live a life of freedom. I pray that if this is your burden, you will find freedom in Jesus name.

 February 12, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Feb 052016
 

Tearing eye outIf your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

This is one of the most misunderstood verses in the bible. Was Jesus really commanding self mutilation?

Jesus liked to use shocking, provocative language to make His hearers sit up and listen. A good technique, because you certainly wouldn’t forget what He had said, which was very useful in a culture that had an oral tradition with no books around. The technique that Jesus was using was called ‘Hyperbole’ this means to make extravagant statements or claims, which are not to be taken literally. It is the opposite of understatement. Jesus used this technique on a number of occasions, for example “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:24) or the famous “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

Another reason it should not to be taken literally is the logic of tearing out just one eye. One could just as easily lust with the other one. Lusting can be just as strong in the thought life with both eyes closed. No, Jesus was referring to the seriousness of sin. We cannot play ‘fast and loose’ with what we look at with our eyes. To avoid sinning we are to deal radically with the problem. As I said last week and previously, it is an issue of the heart. It is the heart that makes the decision to take a lingering look, to dwell on what shouldn’t be dwelt on and defy the purity that God requires. Some images you can’t help seeing, but it’s what you make a choice to linger on that is at issue here. I find Job’s attitude useful from the Old Testament “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” (Job 31:1) (NIV)

One of the interpretations of the first part of this verse is “If your eye causes you to stumble” The Greek word for stumble is ‘skandalizo’ where we get our English word scandalize. It does not mean to trip up like you nearly fell over. It means to cause to do wrong. This word was commonly used for a stick put in a trap used for bait. When the prey would enter the trap the ‘skandalon’ would snap shut the trap, catching the animal. This is just the sort of meaning which Jesus was conveying. We look at things that we shouldn’t and suddenly we are trapped!

Finally, the warning is strong. Jesus did not pull any punches when he said that it would be better for our body to be thrown into hell. Jesus talked about hell many times. He was referring to a valley outside Jerusalem called Hinnom where the rubbish from the city was burned. It was considered a place that was cursed because it was the site where ancient worshippers offered their children to be burnt alive to the pagan god Molech. After king Josiah pronounced the place unclean (2 Kings 23:10) it became the town rubbish tip and because of the constant fire and smoke, it became a vivid picture of hell’s eternal fires.

This week’s subject may be really difficult to take action on, but if we are struggling, act we must. We need to determine in our hearts that we are going to change and ask the Holy Spirit to help us. Another excellent way to deal with this kind of sin is to be accountable to someone. If Jesus felt it necessary to warn about the fires of hell, it must be an important subject that demands our full attention.

 February 5, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Temptation, The sermon on the mount No Responses »