Category: The Way

Matthew 5:48

Few verses have brought about as much spiritual insecurity as Matthew 5:48.  It is a call to something that we all know that we cannot achieve.  It’s a call to perfection.  How is it that we might be able to achieve this perfection that only God has exhibited when we have a nature so inclined to sin?

As we look at the verse we see the all important “therefore.”  As all Bible scholars will tell you, when you see a therefore, you need to know what it is there for.  Here it serves to summarize the antitheses that Jesus has spoken in regards to the law and the spirit of those laws.  This verse is then our challenge now that Jesus has given us a new understanding of the law and God’s will for our lives.

As a challenge, it is certainly not an easy one.  We are called to constantly be pursuing perfection.  Commentator Michael Wilkins describes this as a call to “restful dissatisfaction.”  We are to be dissatisfied with our current moral failings as we strive to live in light of God’s character.  However, we also rest in the fact that Jesus has imparted his righteousness to us and has covered all of our sin.  This means that we don’t pursue perfection because it will save us, but we pursue perfection as a response to God’s work in our lives.  We do it because we know God and trust that God has the best for us.

So how do we pursue perfection?  We try our best to demonstrate the character of God.  We love with God’s love.  We see and treat people as God’s love demands.  We honor the truths found in Scripture through our obedience to them.  In order to do this, we must learn God’s word and learn how to apply it to our lives.  This is the basis of what we call sanctification.

Reflection
We are not perfect.  We probably do not go a day with a clean record when it comes to sin, but we don’t give up.  As we pursue perfection, there are areas in our lives where we need to be transformed by God.  Spend some time today asking yourself if you are satisfied with the sins in your life or if you have a restful dissatisfaction.  Pray that you will find peace in the grace you have received and encouragement as you pursue the perfection that we are called to pursue.

The Way

Matthew 5:43-48

Being a follower of Christ can get pretty weird.  As we read through scripture we find that we are made strong in our weaknesses, we must die to ourselves if we are to really live, and we are to be thankful for the suffering that we encounter in our lives.  On top of this we are told to love our enemies and those who persecute us.  If you can’t hate your enemies, then who can you hate?

It turns out the answer is no one.  As followers of Christ we are called to love those who love us and those who hate us.  We are called to pray for those who persecute us even as they seek out our demise.

I don’t know that I really have any enemies personally.  There are people who bother me and people who I do not like to be around.  I suppose that if I am to love my enemies, I must obviously love those who I don’t get along well with.  Perhaps you have some enemies, people who have hurt you or who are seeking to do you harm either physically or emotionally.  Jesus makes it pretty clear that we are supposed to demonstrate love for them if we are to truly be seeking after the will of God.

To illustrate why even our enemies are worthy of our concern Jesus gives two examples of common grace (God’s grace that is extended to all of mankind).  He reminds us that the sun shines and the rain falls on the good and the bad.  Are we to show more favoritism than God?  He also reminds us that we are called to have a higher standard for our love.  Anyone can love the people who love them back or who are like them.  It takes a supernaturally transformed follower of Christ to show love to someone who is different and destructive.

Loving enemies is not easy.  First, we must remember who we are.  We are loved and valued by God.  Our enemies cannot take that away.  We also remember that we are sinners saved by grace who were once enemies with God.  Second, we must remember that genuine love is unconditional and desires the best for the other.  Demonstrating this love means giving concern even when it would ordinarily be unwarranted.  Third, we do the hard things.  We work at the relationships with our enemies.  We refuse to speak ill of them.  We serve them without any promise that the service would be returned.  We strive to see them as God’s creation rather than our dilemma.  Above all, we ask God to work in our heart and in the hearts of our enemies that we might be reconciled to them.

Reflection
Broken relationships can eat away at us.  Our relationship with our enemies can drain us to the point of exhaustion.  But what if we did not see people as our enemies anymore?  What if we saw them as people who need to see God’s love?  Is there someone in your life who is your enemy?  Do you simply ignore them?  Do you return the pain that they cause you?  Today is perhaps the day that you might begin to see them as objects of God’s love and as people worthy of our love.  Ask God to change your heart towards your enemies.  May God work miracles in your relationships.

The Way

Matthew 5:31-32

Advice about divorce can be pretty terrible, even in the church.  I know women who stayed in abusive relationships because a pastor told them that leaving their abusive husband would be wrong.  I know couples who were encouraged to get a divorce because their personalities were not compatible and God wants us to be happy.  Both of these are errors when it comes to divorce.

In Jesus’s day, divorce was as easy as giving your wife a certificate.  Some people of that day believed that grounds for divorce could be as simple as the wife ruining a meal.  The grounds for divorce had become so varied and simple that Jesus reminds his hearers that the intent of this law was to protect the sanctity of marriage and not to provide an easy way out.  Jesus is explaining that a divorce on frivolous grounds is perhaps not a divorce at all and this means that the two are still essentially married in God’s eyes.

Divorce is an incredibly complicated topic with so many angles and so many different circumstances, but what Jesus wants us to understand is that marriage is a big deal to God.  The reason is that marriage is one of the ways that we learn about our relationship with God.  Marriage was designed by God to help us see how important it is to be connected to another.  We were created for relationships, and in marriage we get a picture of what it means to give yourself to another.  As we experience marriage, we get a glimpse of what it looks like to give ourselves to God.  When we submit ourselves to our spouse, we learn how we can submit ourselves to God.  When we experience the depth of marriage, we experience the depth of our relationship to God.

Jesus does give one valid reason for divorce.  The term used here is not the same term used earlier for adultery so some commentators believe that what Jesus had in mind is sinful activity that has broken the relationship beyond repair.  This means that Jesus understands that there may come a time in some marriages where the marriage can be terminated for the sake of one of the couples.

Reflection
As we understand how God sees marriage, we can see why it is important to continually work on and grow in our marriage.  For those who are not married, we see how big a commitment that marriage truly is.  Spend some time today thinking about how marriage helps us understand our relationship with God.

The Way

Matthew 5:27-30

In a culture that celebrates sex and being sexy, today’s passage speaks directly into the world that we live in.  We live in a world that seeks at every turn to take sex out of its proper context.  From ads for fast food to swimsuits of sports magazines, there are innumerable ways for eyes and hearts to wander from where they are supposed to be.  In my years of ministry, speaking to guys about their problems with lust has been one of the most counseling conversations that I have had.  It is a huge problem, and it is not going away anytime.

In our passage today, once again we see that Jesus is not just concerned with our actions.  It is our hearts that he has in focus in this passage.  We could find ourselves congratulating ourselves because we have not committed adultery in its definition form.  Nothing improper has happened with another woman or another man.  On the surface it would appear that we have excelled in righteousness in regards to faithfulness to our spouse.

Unfortunately, Jesus explains that this law spoke to a different reality.  In this case, the definition of adultery is expanded to incorporate any act where we have impure thoughts about another woman or man.  Suddenly we see that adultery in Jesus’s definition is much easier to commit.  Even when someone mentally surrenders to the temptation of impure thoughts, then they have crossed a line that God has established.

When someone looks on someone other than their spouse with impure thoughts, they have chosen to take the emotions and desires for their spouse and give them to another person.  They have chosen to give a part of their heart to another, even if no actions follow it.  This act chips away at the foundation of a marriage or a relationship.  It also breaks our commandment to love the other person with the love of Christ.  We must understand that it is not harmless or inconsequential.  It is a degree of unfaithfulness.

Now, there are some side issues that must be discerned. Just as Jesus called out anger as murder, we may need to understand that here too this adultery through thoughts ought to be thought of differently in terms of consequences just as a murder would have different consequences than anger.  While both are sin, a single sin of looking on another woman lustfully would not seem to be the type of unfaithfulness that should end a marriage.  Obviously it is a violation of trust and forgiveness would be needed, but when someone falls in this area, there is a danger to take things to extremes.  In our world of images there are many places for men and women to fall.  Regardless, the call to purity is there.

Reflection
In the Beatitudes we are called to be a people who are pure of heart.  The pursuit of purity has an external and internal component.  One of the ways that we seek purity is to ensure that we are dwelling on things that are good and uplifting.  A great step in seeking purity is to address the impure content that we experience.  Maybe it means not watching particular movies or listening to particular songs.  Maybe it means not visiting particular websites or reading certain books.  Today spend some time considering how well your life lines up with Philippians 4:8 which reads:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

The Way

Matthew 5:21-26

If our words could kill, anyone who wasn’t dead would be in jail.  Let’s be honest, our words can really get away from us.  Who has not said something to someone that they wish that they could take back?  It is so easy to talk negatively about someone or to tell off someone.  We may not think it is a big deal, but we know that these words are not just words.  These words do damage that can last a lifetime.  Not only that, but the words we use reveal our heart.  As Jesus says in Matthew 12, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  It’s not just that the words we use are wrong, but our hearts are as well.

What is in our heart is the foundation of the passage for today.  Today’s passage is the first of six clarifications that Jesus will make regarding the law.  He will let us know what has been read in the law, and then he will explain the spirit of that law which exceeds the simple act of following the letter of the law.  Essentially he reveals how God intended we would live as we obeyed the law.  We come to understand through these passages that God is as concerned with our internal state as he is with our external obedience to his laws.

Jesus reveals to us that when we insult others or have anger that desires another’s destruction, we are essentially committing murder.  In Jewish culture insults to one’s name were taken to be an offense to one’s identity.  A name was not just a name, so to call someone a fool was to make a claim about their very identity.  Insults sought to destroy their true identity and deny that they were who God had made them.  The same can be seen in our culture as well.  We tend to own the names that people call us, and when we insult someone, we are denying the worth that God sees in them.

This assassination of character leads to broken relationships.  Jesus would go so far as to say that correcting these relationships took priority over certain religious practices.  Jesus calls us to reconciliation with one another as, without that, our worship and our relationship with God will be hindered.

Reflection
Take a few minutes today to take inventory of the words you use for other people.  Are there a number of people who you call idiots or fools or jerks?  Do your words honor the image of God that each person possesses?  Then take a minutes to consider who you might need reconciliation with.  It will not be easy or comfortable, but neither is having something weigh down your worship and your prayers.  Seek out reconciliation and ask for forgiveness.  Ask God to help you see people as he sees them.  When he does, it may actually break your heart.

The Way

Matthew 5:17-20

As a kid one of the parts of church that I liked the least was the pink envelope.  I don’t know what color other churches had but we had a pink one.  It was an offering envelope, but it was more than that–it was also a weekly test.  You see, on this envelope there were boxes that asked how many people we had invited to church the previous week, how many times we had read our Bibles, and whether or not we studied for the lesson.  If you could check off all of the boxes, you achieved good Christian status.  If you had to leave some empty, you failed.  That’s how I saw it, even if it was not presented that way.  I wanted to make the teachers happy.  I wanted to make God happy, and yet each week I felt that I had let everyone down. It was not a great way to experience church.

Over time I developed an incredibly legalistic approach to faith where I thought that my standing with God was directly related to what I had done for Him lately.  If I had sinned, he was not interested in me.  If I had read my Bible each day, we were cool.

It would be later in life that I would understand the true nature of my relationship with God and how His grace had covered me.  I then understood that Jesus had made a way for God to see me as righteous, even with my shortfalls and that I did not have to earn God’s favor.  The danger here was to maintain obedience in light of the grace I knew that I had received.  As Paul puts it, I needed to know that I should not sin more so that grace could abound.

We struggle with works versus grace.  We either want to try to earn God’s favor through our good works or rest in God’s favor and do whatever we want to do.  However, the truth is something altogether different.

In our passage for today we see that Jesus does not declare the law of the Old Testament to be dead.  Instead, Jesus explains that his presence and his work fulfill the law.  In other words, Jesus is now able to show and clarify the intent of the law.  Now we see that the law opens us up to the fullest experience of life.  We see this as Jesus clarifies the law in the next few sections of the sermon on the mount.  He will explain that “while you have read this, it actually goes deeper than that.”

As a result we don’t throw the law out.  If Jesus honored the law, we follow suit.  Following the law now becomes our obedient response to the grace and the love that God has shown us as we have entered into a relationship with Him.  What we come to understand is that the law was not meant to give us directions on  how to live every moment of our lives, but rather it was a way for God’s will for our lives to be revealed for our hearts and our minds.  When we max out our discipleship at the level of pharisees, we simply have an external righteousness that looks good and puffs up.  When we have the internal focus that the law truly calls for, we develop a heart that seeks after the purposes of God.

Reflection
Be honest with yourself about how you relate to God.  Do you try to earn the favor that you have already received?  If so, find peace in knowing that you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. Do you honor the calls to be obedient to the commands of Christ?  If not, know that forgiveness is not a game that is played with God.  Acting as we want because we know we will be forgiven will inevitably leave spiritual scars on our relationship with God that will take a great deal of healing.  The challenge for today is to rest in the grace of God and to embrace the call to develop a heart that seeks to follow all that Jesus commanded.  This is the life of a disciple.

The Way

Matthew 5:13-16

It would be incredibly strange if an amazing musician never performed for anyone.  How sad would it be if his gift was never shared with another living soul?  What if the musician only focused on becoming a better musician and was satisfied with hearing himself sing?

Or, what kind of scandal would it be if there was someone who had the answer to curing cancer, but he decided not to share the cure because it was good enough for him to know the answer?

When we limit the Christian life to what our relationship to God means for us as individuals we lose a significant part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  It is like knowing the cure or having an amazing gift and choosing to keep it to ourselves only for our benefit.

In our passage for today we see how important it is to live a godly life in front of other people.  We discover that the Christian life is to be lived not only for our benefit but also for the benefit of the entire world around us.

Jesus first calls his disciples the salt of the earth.  As salt was a vital part of life in those times, so are we vital to this world.  The world needs Christians to share the hope that they celebrate.  The world needs Christians to share the way that Jesus taught us to live.  The world needs people who truly embrace the idea of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus then calls his disciples the light of the world.  Here again we see Jesus calling them to become something vital to the world.  We as Christ’s followers are called to be a light in the midst of a dark world.  It is not difficult to see the darkness that surrounds us.  We are called to be a light that breaks into the darkness and shows people a better way, not simply a better way to live, but a better way to understand the world.

Reflection
How does your faith influence the world around you?  Would the people who you encounter on any given day even know that you are a follower of Christ?  Ask God to remind you that you are vital part of this world and that you have a mission to change the world.  Ask God to show you places where you can shine your light and show someone a better way.

The Way