Christianity 201

December 15, 2016

The Prayer That Looks Inward

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And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25

So far we’ve said there are two nouns which are repeated in the common recitation of The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. But there’s also a third word, a verb, which you could argue appears twice; its repetition necessary to the simile it sets up.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.– Matthew 6:12

I want to focus on the word forgive today, so try not be distracted by whether or not you prefer debts or trespasses.

A few of the translations play around with the verb tense on this, but they are fairly unanimous in keeping the word forgive. (Exception is The Jubilee Bible: “And set us free from our debts, as we set free our debtors.”)

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also forgave our debtors. (DLNT)
  • and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (ESV and others)
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. (Voice)
  • Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

There are several petitions in this prayer — for daily bread, to not be led into temptation, to be delivered from evil — but the request for forgiveness is conditional. The best example of a conditional promise is 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

There God is telling his people that if there is a drought, or if there is a plague, if they do X first, God will do Y.

This is also reminiscent of Matthew 10:8, but in the reverse.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (NLT)

In this case it is implied that God has already done Y and now invites you to be an agent of X being received by someone else.

But we can’t twist that into a principle that would apply here as God saying something like, ‘I’ve already forgiven you so now you can freely forgive others.’ Rather, the text would point to something closer to, ‘If you want to experience my forgiveness, you’ll have to know first what it like to have forgiven others.’

There is of course the grace which goes before; what is termed prevenient grace. GotQuestions.org defines it as

a phrase used to describe the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” By definition, every theological system which affirms the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion has a type of prevenient grace. The Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace is a type of prevenient grace, as is common grace.

Romans 5:8 reminds us that in terms of big picture forgiveness, what we experience when we come to Christ for the first time, God has already made the way; the pardon and peace is there, we just need to claim it:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Back to our primary text.

The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer verse is probably the best as it would indicate an ongoing process, a chain of grace, where we are constantly experiencing forgiveness ourselves, and meting out that forgiveness to others.

There’s also a sense here that, ‘you know (hopefully) what it is like to forgive someone for something, so you know how God forgives you.’

Again, while we’re looking at a New Testament text, Jesus was teaching this prayer in an Old Testament world. We’ve been using BibleStudyTools.org for this series, and the entry for the Hebrew word Callach meaning both ready to forgive and forgiving makes reference to Psalm 86:5

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

God’s predilection for forgiveness is something he is ready to do. But how long do we keep forgiving people who owe us (debts) or have injured us (trespasses)? Jesus answers that in Matthew 18:22

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The NIV rendering of Luke 17:4 is even more explicit on the degree of forbearance being demanded of us:

…Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Paul echoes this in Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Proverbs 19:11b reminds us that the quality of forgiveness is an essential part of our character:

…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense

Finally, James 2, 11-12 reminds us that it is essential to be an agent of mercy if we wish to experience it ourselves:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who received immeasurable forgiveness but failed to do the same for one who owed him a lesser amount. May that never be said of us.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Scriptures all NIV except where indicated


Darlene Merenick is a Canadian singer who died all too young a few years ago. I was able to hear this song performed live several times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 14, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Outward

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. – Matthew 9:35

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. – Matthew 11:12

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

Yesterday we began a two-part look at the two nouns which occur twice in The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. (There’s a third word that’s a verb…we’ll get to that one!)

Kingdom occurs twice in the version of the prayer recited by Protestants because of the inclusion of text found in later manuscripts of Matthew 6.

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

and

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
and the power and the glory forever.
For yours is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

At BibleStudyTools.com we see that there are various kingdoms mentioned in scripture, but it’s the kingdom of God we’re most interested in. Quoting Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

Kingdom of God

( Matthew 6:33 ; Mark 1:14 Mark 1:15 ; Luke 4:43 ) = “kingdom of Christ” ( Matthew 13:41 ; 20:21 ) = “kingdom of Christ and of God” ( Ephesians 5:5 ) = “kingdom of David” ( Mark 11:10 ) = “the kingdom” ( Matthew 8:12 ; 13:19 ) = “kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 3:2 ; 4:17 ; 13:41 ), all denote the same thing under different aspects, viz.: (1) Christ’s mediatorial authority, or his rule on the earth; (2) the blessings and advantages of all kinds that flow from this rule; (3) the subjects of this kingdom taken collectively, or the Church.

The last one is important to remember; we — the Church — are part of that kingdom. We represent that kingdom.

Also at BibleStudyTools, as we did yesterday, we want to look at Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. This is just the first part of the entry

The heart of Jesus’ teachings centers around the theme of the kingdom of God. This expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-five times. It also occurs twice in John (3:3, 5). It is found in such key places as the preaching of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” ( Matt 3:2 ); Jesus’ earliest announcement, “The time has come… The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” ( Mark 1:15 ; cf. Matt 4:17 ; Luke 4:42-43 );the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “your kingdom come” ( Matt 6:10 ); in the Beatitudes, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 5:3 Matthew 5:10 ); atthe Last Supper, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” ( Mark 14:25 ); and in many of Jesus’ parables ( Matthew 13:24 Matthew 13:44 Matthew 13:45 Matthew 13:47 ; Mark 4:26 Mark 4:30 ; Luke19:11 ).

It was once popular in certain circles to argue that the expressions “kingdom ofGod” and “kingdom of heaven” referred to two different realities. It is now clear, however, that they are synonyms. This is evident for several reasons. For one, the two expressions are used in the same sayings of Jesus, but where Matthew uses”kingdom of heaven, ” Mark or Luke or both use “kingdom of God.”Second, Matthew himself uses these two expressions interchangeably in 19:23-24, “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Finally, we know that “heaven” was frequently used as a circumlocution for “God” by devout Jews. Due to respect for the third commandment (“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” [ Exod 20:7 ]), pious Jews used various circumlocutions for the sacred name of God (YHWH) in order to avoid the danger of breaking this commandment. One such circumlocution was the term”heaven.” This is seen in the expression “kingdom of heaven” but also in such passages as Luke 15:18, 21 (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”) and Mark 11:30.

Various Interpretations Despite the centrality of this expression in Jesus’ teachings, there has been a great deal of debate over the years as to exactly what Jesus meant by it. One reason for this is that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists ever defined exactly what they meant by this expression. They simply assumed that their hearers/readers would understand.

Then follows a description — click the link to read at source — of each of these interpretations including:

  1. The Political Kingdom
  2. The “Liberal” or Spiritual Kingdom
  3. The “Consistent” or Future Kingdom
  4. The “Realized” or Present Kingdom

[If you need to stop here today; that’s fine; what follows is bonus content…]

…So…why are there two versions of the prayer?

This explanation was linked to OurLadyOfSorrows.us, a Catholic website, but the particular page is no longer there:

Very early on in the Catholic Liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer was concluded with a doxology (a prayer of praise), “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever”. This was not part of the original Greek Scriptural text and consequently is not included in many modern Bible translations.

However, there are other non-Scriptural writings which have been preserved from the early days of the Church. It was here, where the doxology was first found in the important document called the “Didache,” (written between 70-140 AD). “Didache” (Did-ah-kay) simply means ‘teaching’. The “Our Father” in the Didache had the doxology tagged onto the end without the words “the kingdom”. The tradition of the doxology was carried into the Liturgy, and became so closely associated with the Lord’s Prayer that it is now often mistaken to be part of the prayer itself. The words “the kingdom” were added later and are preserved in the document “The Apostolic Constitutions” (written 250-380 AD). The “Our Father” is contained twice in the Bible (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) with no doxology for although very ancient, it is not found in the original manuscripts. This is simply a prayer from the believers in the early centuries of the Church whose spirits were moved by the Holy Spirit to close this beautiful prayer in grandiose fashion. These early writings never present it as an essential part of the “Our Father”, but rather an “embolism,” (added prayer), intended to increase fervor and direct the intention of the faithful.

The early Church did use the doxology in the Liturgy just as we do today. The doxology has been included in and taken out of the Mass throughout history. This prayer had been omitted from the Liturgy of recent centuries until Vatican II when it was reauthorized for use at Mass only. It is recited and acknowledged as an ancient prayer of praise. This is why it is not said immediately following the words “deliver us from evil”. So why do Protestants use these words?

It is believed that a copyist when copying Matthew’s Gospel put a note in the margin, noting that in the Mass, we follow the “Our Father” with the doxology. A later copyist mistakenly transcribed the margin note into the text itself and it was preserved in all subsequent copies of the manuscript…  [sourced at]

For a Protestant explanation we looked at a much longer article by Dr. Tim LeCroy. The first part was very much like what is above, the second part is below, and a third part dealt with the text from the viewpoint of church history. Click this link to read it all.

You ask, “Why do we pray [it] when it is not in the Bible?” Well, the fact that this is not in the Bible is not certain. This is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Granted most biblical scholars will say that it is not original to the text of Matthew. But this is a guess on their part. A very educated guess based on solid scholarship, yet a guess nonetheless.

You see, the text of the New Testament you hold in your hand is based on two different families of manuscripts. One family is called the Alexandrian and the other the Byzantine. On 99% of New Testament these two families agree. Yet they differ on some points. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer is one of them.

First let me tell you about these two families of texts.  By far, most of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that we (and by “we” I mean the scholarly community) have are of the Byzantine family. The oldest of the Byzantine texts dates back to the 4th century. That’s about as far back as we go with complete texts of the Bible. The Byzantine family is also the basis for the text used in the King James Bible.

Then we have the Alexandrian family. There are far fewer texts of the Alexandrian family and they weren’t discovered until the 19th century or so (when I say discovered, I mean that Western scholars didn’t know about them). Biblical scholars like the texts of the Alexandrian family because they are cleaner (meaning there are fewer variations between them) and they omit some of these section of the bible (like the ending of the Lord’s Prayer and the long ending of Mark). For biblical scholars, shorter = simpler = less contaminated = closer to the original. Almost always when the Byzantine differs from the Alexandrian, biblical scholars will go with the Alexandrian. This is a generalization, but it is normally the case.

So the New Testament you hold in your hand is mostly of the Alexandrian family, while the King James is of the Byzantine. Thus there are the differences.

Tim ended with this verse, which is where we need to stop today!

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13 ESV)

all scriptures NIV except as noted

 

 

December 13, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Upward

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. – Psalm 57:5 (also 11)

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? – Psalm 89:6

Like so many, I often wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep. I have found that simply focusing on scriptures passages I have memorized is very helpful, but often I take 20 minutes before I remember to focus on those scriptures.

The Psalmist said he had hidden God’s Word in his heart “so I might not sin against thee;” but in a recent article Jacob Young remembered something John Piper had said about memorizing scripture for the inevitable onslaught of old age:

He commented that one aspect of the value of Scripture memory for him was to fill his head with as much Scripture so that when everything else goes (via dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there will hopefully remain the truths from God’s mind. When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what are the studs and foundation?

So it was several nights ago while processing the words of The Lord’s Prayer (what Catholics call The Our Father) that I realized there are two nouns in the prayer which occur twice.

The first is “heaven” occurring in Matthew 6:9

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

and also in the next verse:

“…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

It was interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in verse 9 all the English translations kept the same word (Phillips used ‘heavenly Father’) and in verse 10 only The Message dropped the term, replacing the phrase with ‘as above, so below’ which keeps the simile but phrased in reversed order.

You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required.

While your first reaction might be to look up the term in Greek (Matthew is New Testament after all) it’s interesting to see how heretofore Jesus’ followers would have understood the Hebrew term Shamayim. The word is taken from a root not found in scripture which means lofty. BibleStudyTools.com provides this definition:

heaven, heavens, sky

  1. visible heavens, sky
    1. as abode of the stars
    2. as the visible universe, the sky, atmosphere, etc
  2. Heaven (as the abode of God)

and informs us the Hebrew equivalent term is used in the Old Testament 392 times with other meanings including horizons and sky.

This prayer, which includes an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, the establishing of his kingdom, the carrying out of his will, the petition for daily provision, the request to be kept from temptation, etc. is also a prayer which causes us to look upward.

BibleStudyTools also contains Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. There we read:

“Heaven” is the created reality beyond earth. “The heavens and the earth” ( Gen 1:1 ) circumscribe the entire creation, or what we call the universe. God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well.

“Heaven” designates two interrelated and broad concepts, the physical reality beyond the earth and the spiritual reality in which God dwells…

Three nuances of meaning are given first, and then we are brought to:

…Fourth, the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness, however, is a spiritual, not a spacial, fact. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, he acknowledged, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ).

The Dwelling Place of God. Heaven most commonly refers to the dwelling-place of God. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed in pristine clarity. The term “glory, ” therefore, has popularly been used as a synonym for heaven ( Rom 8:18 ). Actually, God’s glory is above the heavens ( Psalm 113:4 ; 148:13 ) because it is the sum total of his attributes that are expressed wherever he is present ( Exod 13:21-22 ; Psalm 108:5 ; 2 Col 3:7-18 ). In heaven there is a continual acknowledgment of God’s glory ( Psalm 29:9 ). Various figurative expressions identify God’s heavenly abode such as “the highest heaven” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ), “the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ), and “his lofty palace in the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ). Paul speaks of being taken up into “the third heaven” ( 2 Cor 12:2 ). Although he does not identify the first two, possible references to the atmospheric and celestial heavens are suggestive.

The Heavenly Perspective. God invites human beings to adopt his heavenly perspective. All blessings, whether natural or supernatural, are from God ( James 1:17 ; see John 3:27 ), who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe ( Rom 11:36 ). Israel rightly regarded rain as a heavenly gift from God ( Deut 28:12 ). Likewise, drought was a sign of God’s displeasure ( Deut 28:23-24 ).

So we are not only being asked to look upward, but we are looking beyond.

  • Beyond what we can see from our perspective
  • Beyond what we know; God is wholly other
  • Beyond what we can fully comprehend; the place of God’s glory

The other noun which occurs twice, depending on which version of the prayer you learned, is kingdom and we’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Previously at C201: We looked at two songs, How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place and Better Is One Day.

all sections today were NIV

November 5, 2016

The Sermon on the Mount’s Impossible Demands

When we go back to a source we’ve used previously, I often look at the most recent article, decide it’s suitable and then format it for use here. But on returning to Barenuckle Bible, the website of John Myer, I read most of a 4-part series of articles on the lordship of Christ, published October 12, 19, 26 and November 2nd of this year.

For today however, I chose this article which I hope you will appreciate as much as I did. Click the title below to read at source.

Glad I Didn’t Dumb Down the “Impossible” Commands of Jesus

After many months and gallons of coffee, my Tuesday morning men’s group finished a study of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Those chapters have to be among the  most challenging in the entire Bible.  During our reading, I frequently had urges to tweak them just because it seems so patently impossible for mere mortals to turn the other cheek, love enemies, and not look at women with lust.

As the oldest man in that group, I felt obligated to be the voice of reason.  I didn’t want the younger guys spooked by a standard so far beyond them that being a Keebler Elf would appear more realistic than being a faithful Christian.

I’m glad I resisted the urge to dumb-down the Sermon verses.  After all, I’m not here to save people from Jesus.

These chapters weren’t meant to be immediately accessible, anyway.  We enter them in phases, like a kid growing into his dad’s shoes.  The standard described and commanded in Matthew 5-7 basically corresponds to the inner life of Christ.  You’re not supposed to read it and feel like, “I got this.”

In fact, Watchman Nee once wrote in his landmark book, The Normal Christian Life,

“A consideration of the written word of God—the Sermon on the Mount for example—should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in fact been lived upon the earth save only by the Son of God Himself.”

Maybe then, the most reasonable instant reaction to this part of the Word is one of incredulity.  How on earth is someone like me ever going to live like that?

Ironically, after the Sermon was over, a leper approached Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.” (Matt. 8:2).  That’s about all anybody can feel after hearing those words—“I’m not clean.  I need serious help.”

Personally, any time I’ve ever started thinking I had the Christian life down cold—because I don’t use porn or drugs or run around on my wife—these dramatic verses reminded me all was still not well in Johnnyville.

At best I’m always a bit out of alignment, a good-hearted, inconsistent Christian, with plenty of blind spots. And frequently I’m a lot worse when compared to verses like this one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Again, how will this ever come to pass?

I don’t think the answer is in the Sermon at all.  You’ll hunt those chapters in vain for special techniques, or spiritual hacks.

The key probably lies a few verses outside the Sermon in the conversation between Jesus and that leper.  He had asked for cleansing, and Jesus told him, “I am willing.”

That’s music to any leper’s ears.  No need for pretending to be clean, much less redefining the concept of cleanness into something less challenging.

It would be ridiculous to hope God would lower His standard to mine, when He’s willing to cleanse and lift me up to His.

 

July 8, 2016

Not the Law of the Kingdom, But the Good News of the Kingdom

This is our third visit to a website with the catchy title, The King’s English. The author is Glen Scrivener. He posted this one a few days ago and is working through Matthew 5. I strongly encourage you to check out some of the other articles as well. Click the title below to read this one there, and then click the banner at the top to navigate around the site. While the text is rather familiar, I gained some new insights thinking about it after reading this.

Good News of the KingdomBlessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Isaiah 61; Matthew 5:3

According to Matthew, Jesus comes as King to bring the true end to exile (Matthew 1:1-17).   He is named as “Saviour” and “God with us” (Matthew 1:18-25).  He is the desire of all nations (Matthew 2:1-12) who is also the true Israel – going down into Egypt and rising back up again (Matthew 2:13-23).  He is the Coming Lord proclaimed by all the prophets – culminating with John (Matthew 3:1-12).  He is baptised into our situation (Matthew 3:13-17), coming through the waters and into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).  As our Champion, He defeats our enemy then proclaims the good news of His kingdom.  Everywhere He goes He brings righteousness, peace and restoration and the world flocks to Him (Matthew 4:12-25).

In response, Jesus re-enacts mount Sinai:

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain:  and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:  And he opened his mouth, and taught them.”  (Matthew 5:1-2)

As a true and better Moses, Jesus proclaims the kingdom which He establishes in Himself.  Everything the Old Testament pointed towards is finding its fulfilment.  Every law, every prophet, every priest and every king was a shadow cast by this great Light.  But He is more than just the true Ruler come into the world.  Christ is also the true people of God.  This is such good news.  The Messiah has come as both King and Subject.  He is both Law-giver and Law-fulfiller.  He is both Lord and Israel in one.  He commands it and does it!

So when He preaches the kingdom, Jesus doesn’t simply preach the law of the kingdom as a new Moses.  He preaches “the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:22) because He is also the new Israel!  If the kingdom were only as good as its subjects then it would not be a kingdom of heaven.  But the kingdom holds good in the King who is also its Chief Subject.  To read of the character of Christ’s Kingdom is to read, first and foremost, of the character of the King.  If we try to strip Jesus Himself out of the sermon on the mount we will be left with a utopian kingdom of men.  And such a thing would resemble the kingdom of hell more than the kingdom of heaven.

It’s so important to note how Matthew has introduced the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).  Christ is the King who makes this kingdom.  He is not trying to inspire human enthusiasm for a bold new political enterprise.  The reign of Christ is a fait accompli, not a social experiment in need of volunteers.

And so Jesus simply invites us into a super-natural kingdom beyond the abilities of natural man.  He does not begin by rallying the people towards a vision for change.  He simply proclaims who His kingdom belongs to:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)

Here, at the gateway to the sermon on the mount, Jesus bars the way to all the proud.  Anyone who thinks they are equal to the challenge of heavenly living is disqualified.  The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the moral, religious or political elites.  It does not belong to those who are spiritually “up to the job”.  It belongs to the spiritual no-hopers, the spiritual destitutes, the spiritual bankrupts.

It is no accident that the sermon on the mount begins on this note.  The most sublime ethical teaching known to man is not designed to inspire us to greater investments in our own spiritual powers.  We are meant, at all points, to confess our spiritual poverty and entrust ourselves wholly to the King in whom alone this kingdom holds good.

We are not “up to” the kingdom of heaven.  No, the kingdom of heaven comes down to us, because the King has stooped.  We must not try to raise ourselves from the gutter or else we’ll find we’ve missed the rendezvous.  He meets us where we are, and where we are is “poor in spirit”.

Do you acknowledge that you are poor in spirit?  Are you a spiritual no-hoper in desperate need of blessing?  Then the King and His kingdom are for you.

July 27, 2015

Forgive Us Our Debts

A year ago at this time, we introduced you to a website with the catchy title, The King’s English. The author is Glen Scrivener. The article we’ve chosen today will get you thinking, and you just might find yourself forwarding the link to it (copy and paste from the title below) to someone who might find it equally insightful.

Forgive Us Our DebtsForgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 6:5-15

Spot the common theme in all these sayings:

–  I owe you an apology.

–  How can I ever repay you?

–  Give credit where it’s due.

–  I’m forever in your debt.

–  You robbed me of my dignity.

–  You cost me my reputation.

–  It’s pay-back time.

All of these statements use money language to talk about our relationships.   When we speak of the ups and downs of our relationships we talk about “owing” and “repayment” and “credit” and “debt” and “robbing” and “costing” and “pay-back”.

And it rings true doesn’t it?  When we are wronged, we feel robbed.  It feels like we are owed, and if we don’t go after pay-back, it’s costly.

Think of a hurt that someone has caused you.  One way you can think of it is that this person has stolen from you.  Maybe they stole money, but maybe they stole your good name, or your trust, or your dignity, or the best years of your life.  But when we’re wronged we feel robbed.  And we feel like we want pay-back.  If we don’t go after pay-back it’s costly.

And right at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus confirms all of this.  He teaches us to pray: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

According to Jesus, we owe God.  And at some point in our praying, that needs acknowledging.

Interestingly Jesus doesn’t put it first on the agenda.  No, first of all we approach our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus.  And in Jesus we know His love and acceptance.  We are His children.  But we are His sinful children.  And at some point in our prayers we acknowledge that.  We acknowledge our debts.  Just as we pray for daily provision, so we pray for daily pardon.

Through our sins we owe God and we could never pay it off.  We are in over our heads.  But Christ Himself has paid off our debts.  That’s the meaning of redemption – the paying of a debt.  And through the cross, Christ has paid what we owe.  It was costly for Him, but He offers forgiveness for free.  Therefore we should write off the debts of others.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Jesus’ words here remind us of the parable He tells in Matthew 18.  A servant owes a king billions of pounds.  The king takes pity on the servant, forgives the debt and lets him go.  It’s wonderful news.  But this servant goes out and sees a colleague who owes him £5000.

Now £5000 is not nothing.  If someone owed me £5000 I would feel the cost of it very deeply.  But when compared to the billions, £5000 is nothing.

Yet this isn’t how the servant feels.  He throttles his colleague and says “Pay back the £5000.”  We read of his reaction and think to ourselves, How ridiculous! Well yes, How ridiculous!  But that’s every one of us if we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters.

We have been forgiven billions.  Christ has taken pity on us, absorbed the debt, paid it off in full and let us go.  Therefore we can forgive others the £5000, can’t we?  Shouldn’t we?  We must.

If we don’t forgive others their debts, have we really received the billion pound forgiveness?  But if we have received God’s forgiveness we can do no other than pass it on.

It’s always costly to forgive.  It was costly for Christ, it will be costly for us.  But perhaps more than anything, these verses inspire us to pray for a sense of proportion.  Do we realize the magnitude of the debt which Christ has paid off?  Have we appreciated how spiritually bankrupt we are without Jesus?  And can we put the hurts of others into their proper perspective?

Perhaps today, someone will cause me thousands of pounds worth of heart-ache.  Perhaps this month, someone will cost me tens of thousands worth of emotional trauma.  Perhaps this year, someone will cost me a million pounds worth of hurt.  If I just look at that debt it will overwhelm me, I will throttle them and demand pay-back.  But Jesus teaches me to return daily to the cross and see there my debts paid off in full.  And, as He’ll say later in Matthew, “freely ye have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

This life of overflowing grace does not come easy to us grudge-keepers.  But that’s why Jesus tells us to pray it in to our hearts every single day: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”


Image: Church of the Cross, Bluffton SC

July 5, 2015

Blessed Are…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

Here are two different takes on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you are not familiar with the full text, or wish to do some comparison, click here.

Author and theologian Monika Hellwig gives us the following:

  1. The poor in spirit know they are in need and can’t help themselves.
  2. The poor in spirit know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with others.
  3. The poor in spirit rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor in spirit have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor in spirit are less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.
  6. The poor in spirit instinctively appreciate family, love and relationships over things.
  7. The poor in spirit can wait, because they have learned patience.
  8. The fears of the poor in spirit are more realistic and exaggerate less, because they already know they can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threatening or scolding.
  10. The poor in spirit can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

~found in files; original source unknown; one blog notes a citation in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.

The Beatitude Creed:

I believe that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
I believe there will be comfort for those who mourn.
I believe that being meek is a good thing and that those who give everything will inherit the earth.
I believe that those whose heart is set on seeking righteousness will find it.
I believe the merciful will receive more than they think they deserve.
I believe the pure in heart will be blessed and will see God.
I believe that those who long for peace and do more than others think is safe are children of the living God.
I believe in a place of safety for those who are hurt for trying to do the right thing.

I believe that being poor, and ignored and weak, and sick and tired and broken and messed up and kicked around is not as spiritually dangerous as being self-satisfied and clever and well-clothed and well-fed and degreed and creed-ed and important.

~posted July 17th, 2008 at A Life Reviewed blog – Joe and Heather live in Coventry in the English West Midlands

March 28, 2015

The Key to Unlocking The Sermon on the Mount

Today we make a return visit to the blog of Bob Rogers. I’ve never looked at the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 in terms of this one verse, but it does help make sense of what Jesus is trying to say overall. Click the title below to read at source.

The key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount

The high standards of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7, have encouraged millions to live a better life, while at the same time the sermon has left many discouraged, feeling the bar is set so high, they can never reach it. Who is able to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love their enemies, and forgive those who mistreat them? Then, to top it off, Jesus said,

Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

The key to understanding the Sermon on the Mount is found early on, when Jesus said,

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

This statement must have made the disciples catch their breath, because the scribes and Pharisees were considered the holiest people in Israel. Yet Jesus said his disciples must surpass the scribes and Pharisees, or not enter the kingdom of heaven at all! How could this be?

Immediately after this breath-taking statement, Jesus launched into his explanation. The scribes said not to murder; Jesus said not to be angry. The scribes said not to commit adultery; Jesus said not to lust. Jesus was zeroing in on the real issue: faith is a matter of the heart.

keyThis theme of focusing on the heart continued throughout the sermon. Instead of legalistically saying it is okay to hate our enemies as long as we love our neighbors, Jesus called on His disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. This can only happen with a changed heart. Instead of showing off our religion by giving, praying and fasting in public, Jesus called on His disciples to do it in private. Repeatedly, Jesus said that God rewards those who don’t do it for show, and He labeled as hypocrites those who practiced their faith for show. Why? Because giving, praying and fasting in private comes from a pure heart, with no desire for earthly praise. Jesus told His disciples to look at the log in their own eyes before trying to judge their brothers by removing the speck from their brothers’ eyes. Again, this turned the focus back to self-examination– of one’s own heart. Near the end of the sermon, Jesus said that many will say to Him on Judgment Day, “Didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Jesus’ reply was astonishing. He said that He would tell many of them, “I never knew you,” and send them to Hell. Why? Because if people have not given their hearts to Christ, it doesn’t matter how many good deeds they have done for Him.

If we have hearts hot with a fire to follow Christ, then we will surpass the scribes and Pharisees, for our faith will be an expression of what is inside of us, not an outward show of religion.

But what about that pesky phrase, “be perfect?” The word used in Matthew 5:48 is the same word used by Christ on the cross when He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). It is a word for completion. Just as a baseball player can throw a “perfect” game even though he may throw some balls and even walk some players, we can “be perfect,” if we completely, and wholeheartedly build our lives on Jesus, “the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).

January 27, 2015

Light of the World; Light to the World

Light of the World - Sermon on the Mount

At the blog One in Jesus, Jay Guin is tracking through the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) with some deep insights into how listeners to Jesus would have understood his words. I encourage you to click the link of the title below for today’s thoughts, and then find your way to the beginning of the series and perhaps commit to follow through the three chapters. (We promise to still be here when you get back.)

SOTM: Matthew 5:14-16 (Light)

(Mat 5:14-16 ESV) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

This passage is clearly parallel with the preceding verse on the salt of the earth. But now Jesus is less cryptic, explaining his metaphor in some detail.

As is so often the case, Jesus is referring back to the prophets –

(Isa 42:6-7 ESV) 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

God promises Israel that they will be “a light for the nations” if they’ll respond to his call.

(Isa 58:3-10 ESV) 3 “‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

“Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

8 “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, 10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

The prophets use “light” in two senses — which are the same sense. To be a “light for the nations” surely means an example of the goodness of following God that will draw the nations to God.

“Then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom as the noonday” refer to having abundant happiness because of God’s blessings. If you serve those in need, God will make you so blessed that you’ll shine like a beacon in darkness.

And so how will God draw the nations? By the joy and blessedness of those who follow him — as they serve the needy and oppressed.

Sound familiar? The Kingdom (or as we like to say, the church) will live in community in such a way that the world will be drawn to enter the Kingdom by professing loyalty to (faith in) the King (Jesus). This life will have many joyous, attractive features. Among them will be —

to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke … to share [their] bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into [their] house; when [they] see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own [fellow subjects of the King] …  [to] pour [themselves] out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted

He’s talking about the church. Really. And if the church would be true to its mission, it would shine like a city on a hill.

Last point (for today). “You are the light of the world” is not a command but a statement of fact. Jesus’ disciples are all the light that there is. Yes, it’s Jesus’ light shining through them, but if they don’t shine, they’ve hidden the light of Jesus under a basket.

So for those of us looking for the secret to successful evangelism, it’s not a tract or a training program or a sales pitch. It’s a state of being. It’s being light.

May 5, 2014

Spiritually: How Much is Nature; How Much is Nurture?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

~Matthew 5:13

 

My first-year Sociology professor spent much of the course dancing around what he viewed as the central question of that discipline, “How much is nature and how much is nurture?” In other words, how much of how we live — our preferences, our choices, our actions — flow out of what it means to be humans and have our specific human personality traits; and how much does society shape those preferences, choices and actions?

It’s a question Christians need to ask themselves as well. How much of the spiritual quality of our lives is the natural outworking of the Holy Spirit within us, and how much is shaped by the expectations of our church, Christian sub-culture, or the need to outwork the life of Christ in areas where doing so is contrary to the human nature that still wages war within us?

I got thinking about this last night when the song (below) was running through my mind. It offers the prayer, “Make us salt, make us light…” Wait a minute!  Make us salt? I thought scripture says we are the salt… Wouldn’t the regeneration of the new birth within us mean we are immediately transformed into new creations who are salting our world?

Well of course, we know it isn’t that simple.

Paul knew this well. The Message translates a familiar passage in Romans 7 like this:

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

Thus the admonition in Philippians 2:12:

…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

I guess what struck me in our lead verse today wasn’t what it means to be salt — the part of the verse that’s usually discussed — but that little verb are. You are the salt, you are the light; but at the same time we need God’s help to be all the salt and light we need to be.

A pastor friend of ours from another denomination frequently mentioned that some things in the worship life of a church shouldn’t be forced, but should be allowed to happen organically. Within our individual lives however, we should want to invite God’s Spirit to have full control so that things that should happen are happening.

Matthew Henry sees a number of issues here. This isn’t a full quotation, but his outline is:

(1.) What they are to be in themselves
(2.) What they are to be to others
(3.) What great blessings they are to the world

The text then reminds us that salt can lose its saltiness, so we need to recognize that asking God to “make us salt” is going to be an ongoing process.  It also needs to uppermost in our conscience, we can’t ‘coast’ on some spiritual occurrence that happened years ago.

Here’s the song from Christian singer Jami Smith.

April 13, 2014

Mental Images End Sermon on the Mount

Today our pastor wrapped up an extended series of messages on the Sermon on the Mount, reading the last half of the last chapter, Matthew 7: 13-27.  We normally put scriptures here in green, because scripture has life. But because every word below is from Jesus — we’ll remove the NLT subheadings — we’ll follow the common convention of putting the entire text in red.

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[*] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”


*or road that leads to destruction

There are three primary images in this section:

  • a gate
  • a fruit tree
  • a house (or if you prefer, a foundation)

However, there are five actual word pictures created in this text.

The Gate

There are many entry points that lead to destruction. You’ve heard people say, “there are many roads that lead to God,” but it’s more accurate to say, “there are many roads that don’t lead to God.” (Tweet that!) Our pastor took this one step beyond the text, but I believe you would agree that this works. He drew a funnel and pointed out that if your entry point is the broad one, as you dig down, that life becomes increasingly constricting. Then he drew an upside-down funnel and pointed out that the entry point is narrow, but as you move down, there is increasing freedom. Extra-Biblical visual, but true. Do I correct people when they say, “all roads lead to God,” or do I let the comment pass unchallenged?

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

This only appears in one verse, and the NLT subtitles consider it part of the fruit tree analogy. Still, it’s an excellent bridge from the section before to what follows and the visual image would be quite laughable were it not taking place all around us. There are many false teachers out there seeing who they can deceive by dressing up false doctrine to look authentic. Is my discernment meter on so I can identify false teachers? Have I ever through carelessness said something that might lead someone astray?

The Fruit Tree

Most tree trunks look the same to me, and since I’m not an expert on leaves — nor can you see distinguishing detail from a distance — it’s ultimately the fruit that makes you say, “apple orchard” at one scene and “orange grove” looking at another. Our lives will be marked by fruit — love, and eight other fruit of the spirit — and marked by an attitude of humility. Our testimony will be, “I once was lost, but now am found.” The source of our joy will be what Christ has done for us. And yes, spiritual fruit can also be interpreted to represent those we lead to faith; spiritual children. When people look at me, do they see a trunk and leaves that make me hard to distinguish from anyone else, or is spiritual fruit evident in my life?

False Disciples

This is really the core of the teaching, but it does produce a visual image. Our pastor used lips. The passage describes people who do not possess what they profess. This should arrest us in our tracks. Am I giving lip service to a faith that is not real inside me?

The House / The Foundations

The houses in this section are actually identical, but one stands because its foundation is sure, while the other caves in because it’s foundation is shaky. This challenges me because you really don’t know what your response will be until you are in the middle of the situation. Jeremiah 12:5 (GW) asks, “If you have raced against others on foot, and they have tired you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in open country, how can you live in the jungle along the Jordan River?” We need to not only have a solid foundation, but we need to watch for cracks in that foundation. When the rain and winds beat down is my foundation Christ, or am I trusting in some other external, or my own abilities?

 

 

March 7, 2014

Beatitudinal Outcomes

Before we begin today, I just want to remind readers that articles showcased here belong to their respective authors/blogs/websites, not Christianity 201. However, where you see an article that doesn’t begin with a link or that is more of research article citing multiple sources, those are written by Paul Wilkinson and you are free to use them on your own blog in their entirety provided no changes are made and there is a link back to C201. I believe that as freely as we have received, so we should freely give. Everything we have is on loan from God, and that includes what some hold so tightly to as intellectual property. Yes, I do work sometimes as a paid writer, but that’s not the motivation or purpose of C201. Bear in mind however that despite our best efforts, the photographs or graphic images that accompany articles here may have ownership we’re unaware of. If you see an image here that’s yours, let us know and we’ll remove it.

Without looking at the text, what would you say is the primary outcome of living out The Beatitudes as presented in the opening of The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5?

A simple answer would be, “If you do these things you will be blessed.”

Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountain (as Moses had done before Him) and He sat down (as Jewish teachers of His day usually did). His disciples gathered around Him.

There on the mountain Jesus teaches them all. And as He is teaching, crowds gather around and overhear His teachings, listen in, and are captivated. This, the Sermon on the Mount, is the first of the five Mosaic-like sermons in Matthew.*

And He began to teach them.

Jesus: Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
10     Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

11 And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. 12 But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward.  (The Voice translation)

Now first of all, I want to address that doing things because you will be (at some point in the near or distant future) is misreading the text, because Jesus is saying that the people who do or are these things (show mercy, work for peace) are already blessed. (In a parallel passage in Luke, there are also a number of woes offered, in that case, they could be seen as portends of the future, not a present state.)

But the matter of blessing is not today’s focus.

A few verses down we read,

14 And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. 15 Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. 16 You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.   (The Voice translation*)

If God’s people live out The Beatitudes, we shine like lights, like a city on a hill.

Matthew Henry writes:

As the lights of the world, they are illustrious and conspicuous, and have many eyes upon them. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. The disciples of Christ, especially those who are forward and zealous in his service, become remarkable, and are taken notice of as beacons. They are for signs (Isa. 7:18), men wondered at (Zech. 3:8); all their neighbours have any eye upon them. Some admire them, commend them, rejoice in them, and study to imitate them; others envy them, hate them, censure them, and study to blast them…

…As the lights of the world, they are intended to illuminate and give light to others…

It’s interesting that elsewhere Jesus instructs us not to do our good works in order to be seen by other people, yet in this teaching it is central:

Henry continues,

See here, First, How our light must shine—by doing such good works as men may see, and may approve of; such works as are of good report among them that are without, and as will therefore give them cause to think well of Christianity. We must do good works that may be seen to the edification of others, but not that they may be seen to our own ostentation; we are bid to pray in secret, and what lies between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open and obvious to the sight of men, we must study to make congruous to our profession, and praiseworthy, Phil. 4:8. Those about us must not only hear our good words, but see our good works; that they may be convinced that religion is more than a bare name, and that we do not only make a profession of it, but abide under the power of it.

Secondly, For what end our light must shine—“That those who see your good works may be brought, not to glorify you (which was the things the Pharisees aimed at, and it spoiled all their performances), but to glorify your Father which is in heaven.” …

Of course, we can blend the two foci of this passage and say that the light that shines is really the light of Christ, that “Blessed are…” is to be recipients of that heavenly light shining in and through us and reflected for the world to see. We get that from Isaiah 60:

See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth;
    people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
    the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
    will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations. (The Voice translation*)

So here’s what got me pointed in this direction today; a song by The City Harmonic, Light of the World. Enjoy.

*In The Voice translation, narrative sections are embedded in the text, and words or phrases are often amplified with additional text shown in italics.)

September 25, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking.  Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

February 19, 2013

On Earth as it is in Heaven

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

“Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]  (NASB)

Nearly three years ago I barely scratched the surface of this phrase from The Lord’s Prayer (or more correctly, The Disciples Prayer)  in Matthew 6.   Today, in keeping with our motto — Digging a Little Deeper — I thought I would see what some commentaries have to say about this phrase, which is found in Matthew’s version of the prayer, but not Luke’s. Unfortunately, a few of them skipped over this particular clause entirely.

The International Bible Commentary points out that the phrase modifies all three of the previous petitions, the bringing about of God’s Kingdom, His will, and the hallowed-ness of His name.

The NIV Study Bible concurs with this, suggesting that the phrase might be repeated after each line:

  • May your name be holy on earth as it is in heaven
  • May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
  • May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Evangelical Bible Commentary notes two things. First the phrase makes the petitions personal:

  • May your Kingdom come and your will be done by me, right now.

Second, it links the phrase to the familiar text in verse 33,

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. 

In other words

  • May your holiness and righteousness and your kingdom be the thing we seek (or long for) (or strive for) before anything else.

This would then link the line in the prayer to verse 33’s promise that

and all these things will be given unto you

(or ‘added unto you’ in the KJV, the things being the concerns we often are preoccupied in the ‘worry’ section in the Sermon on the Mount which precedes it.)

Matthew Henry enhances the text with these words:

“…that the earth will be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will.”

And some of you know that in The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson takes this line from a prayer already known for its extreme concision — contrasted with those who pray long prayers thinking their “many words” will make their prayers more effective — and renders it even more concisely:

as above, so below

Scanning the Christian blogosphere, we see people taking this phrase as a springboard for everything from a glimpse of heaven, to a call to social action, to beginning from where we are and then moving out beyond, to the impossibility of doing anything without the Holy Spirit’s power.

The blog, Ragamuffin Ramblings quotes N. T. Wright:

We are to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The life of heaven — the life of the realm where God is already king — is to become the life of the world, transforming the present “earth” into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now. That’s the point of the Sermon on the Mount, and the beatitudes in particular. They are a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because the future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up.


In some unrelated online research a few days ago, I came across this rendering — not necessarily recommended — of the prayer found in a used bookstore from The New Zealand Prayer Book:

“Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.

Amen”

September 25, 2012

Allowing Anger to Diminish

NIV Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

James Bryant Smith currently has three of the top ten titles at InterVaristy Press: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. I discovered this excerpt in the July 7th issue of the Salvation Army magazine, The War Cry (U.S. edition).

The very first issue of the heart Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is anger (Matthew 5:21-22).  Many people believe that righteousness is determined by external actions, and therefore if we have not outwardly broken a commandment (e.g., struck or killed someone) we have kept the law and are therefore considered righteous.  But Jesus goes deeper, into the heart, the place from where all actions spring.  he says, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Why?  Is He making it harder to be righteous?  Is he raising the bar so that no one can make it?  Is He more strict than Moses?  No. Jesus understands the human heart – and the heart is His primary concern, not merely outward actions.  The heart full of anger, the heart that hates, is not far from the heart that would murder.  In fact, it is essentially the same inner condition.  All that is missing is the actual act.  Jesus understands that an angry person would actually harm someone if he or she could get away with it.

When Jesus commands His apprentices not to be angry, He is showing us the way to a good and beautiful life.  His command implies that we can actually do it.  Many people cannot imagine living without anger.  But it is possible, otherwise Jesus would not have instructed us to live without it.  Unfortunately, if we hear the command “do not be angry” and think we must do this on our own strength (i.e., in the flesh) we will fail and begin to resent Jesus for commanding it.  For an explanation of how we learn to live without anger, we have to look at the rest of Jesus’ teachings, His overall narratives.

The narratives of the kingdom of God are quite different from our own false narratives.

These kingdom narratives are based on the reality of the presence and power of God.  For Jesus, the kingdom was not simply a nice idea, but a very real place – life with God, which is available to all.  Outside the kingdom we are on our own.  We must protect ourselves, fight for our rights and punish those who offend us. Inside the kingdom of God, life is much different.  God is with us, protecting us and fighting for our well being.  Knowing this, much of our anger will diminish.

James Bryant Smith
In The Good and Beautiful Life

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