Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How to Pray

Part 19 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:9-15

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (v. 9). 

What's the Purpose of Prayer?

Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer [1] by saying, “Pray then [2] like this” (v. 9). Jesus intended this prayer to be a model for our prayers, not a prayer to mindlessly repeat. In Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). [3] What does the Lord’s Prayer teach us about the purpose of prayer?

Prayer should be more about honouring God than helping us. 

This is seen in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. The first half is about God (“your name,” “your kingdom,” “your will”), and the second half is about us (“Give us,” “forgive us,” “deliver us”). [4]

Our Father 

The Lord’s prayer is addressed to “Our Father in heaven” (v. 9). [5] Our prayers should be characterized by both love and reverence. “We address God intimately as ‘Father,’ but we immediately recognize his infinite greatness with the addition ‘in heaven.’” [6]

In the Lord’s Prayer, there are three requests about God’s honour. (1) “hallowed [7] be your name” (v. 9); (2) “Your kingdom come” (v. 10); and (3) “Your will be done” (v. 10). The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” probably applies to all three requests.
Prayer is not first and foremost an exercise to vindicate the disciple’s causes, meet the disciple’s needs, fulfill the disciple’s desires, or solve the disciple’s problems. Rather, one’s priority must be the promotion of God’s reputation, the advancement of God’s rule, and the performance of God’s will. These three petitions are essentially one expression of burning desire to see the Father honored on earth as he is already honored in heaven.” [8]

Our Needs 

There are also three requests about our needs: (1) “Give us this day our daily bread [9]  (v. 11); (2) “forgive us our debts [10], as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12); and (3) “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (v. 13). Verses 14 and 15 offer a comment on the request about forgiveness: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

A couple of common questions emerge from the last two requests. Does this mean that God will only forgive the forgiving? No, we don’t earn God’s forgiveness. But “If we don’t forgive, it is evidence that we haven’t experienced forgiveness ourselves.” [11]

Would God ever lead us into temptation? No. The Greek word for “temptation” (perirasmos) can mean either testing or temptation. [12] Any circumstance that tests us can also tempt us to sin. God does allow us to be tested, but he doesn’t tempt us. “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin.” [13]

Seeking God's Honour in Our Prayers 

What can we do to make God’s honour a priority in our prayers?

1. When we pray, we should ask ourselves, “How will God be honoured if he grants this request?”

Sometimes getting the things we ask for from God would result in God being dishonoured. For example, we might think that God would be honoured if we were wealthy, but Proverbs 30:8-9 says that both poverty and wealth can lead us away from God: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [i.e., daily bread], lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” [14]

2. When we pray, we should remind ourselves that sometimes God is most honoured and we are most helped when God denies our request. 

In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul writes that he once prayed that a “thorn” would be removed from him, but God denied his request. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). By not removing the thorn from Paul, God would be more honoured and Paul would be kept from pride. Prayer is not about coming to God with our personal agendas; rather, it is seeking his agenda for our lives.

[1] Some Christian prefer to call this prayer “the disciples’ prayer.”
[2] “The connecting ‘then’ indicates that the following words will express the trust in a heavenly Father which has been stated in verses 7-8 to be the basis of true prayer” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 244).
[3] Scholars often debate whey there are many differences between Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. D. A. Carson suggests, “The reasonable explanation is that Jesus taught this sort of prayer often during his itinerant ministry and that Matthew records one occasion and Luke another” (“Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 168).
[4] In the KJV, verse 13 ends with a doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” This doxology is not found in the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts, which suggests that it was added later.
[5] The plural pronoun “Our” indicates that this prayer was intended to be prayed with other children of God, not in isolation.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 144.
[7] “To hallow God’s name means to hold it in reverence” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 276).
[8] David Turner, Matthew, 187.
[9] “Daily bread” is “a metaphor for a person’s daily needs” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 227).
[10] “Debts” are our sins against God.
[11] Wilkins, 279.
[12] See James 1:2-5, 13-15.
[13] ESV Study Bible.
[14] “The Old Testament prayer for daily bread comes in the context of a believer asking to be kept from temptation” (Bryan Chapell, Praying Backwards, 41).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Not to Pray

Part 18 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:5-8

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (v. 8).

Praying to Our Father in Heaven 

Before Jesus tells his followers how they should pray (vv. 9-13), he tells them how they should not pray. How can we avoid praying in a wrong way?

When we pray, we must always remember that we are praying to a loving Father.

We know God loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). If an imperfect father “know[s] how to give good gifts to [their] children, how much more will [our] heavenly Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). 

Praying Wrong 

When we forget that we’re praying to a loving Father, we will pray in wrong ways. Jesus gives us two ways we should not pray.

1. Don’t pray to impress others (vv. 5-6). 

Jesus declares, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (v. 5). They “love to…pray,” not because they love prayer or because they love God, but because they love themselves. It wasn’t their posture (“stand”) or their location (“in the synagogues and at the street corners”) that was wrong; it was their motive (“that they may be seen by others”). [1]

Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 5). Their reward is the applause from others. People might be impressed by this kind of prayer, but God isn’t. Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 to describe the religious hypocrites of his day: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matt. 15:8-9).

Then Jesus states, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6). “Your room” probably refers to an inner storeroom, the only lockable room in an ordinary Palestinian house (Matt. 24:26; Luke 12:3; 2 Kings 4:33; Isa. 26:20). Jesus isn’t saying that public prayer is wrong since he himself often prayed publicly (Matt. 11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42). [2] Again, Jesus is addressing the motive of prayer.

2. Don’t pray to badger God (vv. 7-8). 

Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (v. 7). [3] The “Gentiles” refer to “people who don’t understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father. So instead of trusting a Father to fulfill their needs, they think they must badger a reluctant Deity into taking notice of them.” [4]

Jesus isn’t condemning long prayers or persistent prayer since he himself once prayed all night (Matt. 14:23-25) and taught that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). He’s saying that when we prayer we must believe that God cares about us. He’s not an indifferent god who won’t listen to our prayers unless we get his attention with our “many words.”

Jesus states, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). So why is pray necessary? It’s true that God doesn’t need our prayers, but “he chooses to work through the prayers of his people to demonstrate his care for us, our value to him, and the significance of our lives in his kingdom.” [5]

Don't Hesitate to Call 

A good father desires what is best for his child. Often, when a son or daughter needs help, they call their father. If imperfect fathers are willing to help their children, how much more is our heavenly Father willing to help us? When we pray, we pray to our heavenly Father who loves us and desires to hear from us.

[1] As stated in my sermon on 6:1-4, there isn’t a contradiction between 5:16 (“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them”) and 6:1 (“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”). Jesus is addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride.
[2] The pronouns are singular in 6:5-8 but plural in 6:9-13. The Lord’s Prayer can’t be prayed privately (“Our Father in heaven”).
[3] The prophets of Baal cried out to Baal for hours, even cutting themselves with swords and lances (1 Kings 18:25-29; cf. Acts 19:34).
[4] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 240.
[5] Bryan Chappell, Praying Backwards, 114.

Monday, July 13, 2015

God on a Cross

A communion sermon

Text: Philippians 2:1-8

You can listen to this sermon here.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (v. 8).

Feeling "Humbled"

Last year, Lebron James was named the National Basketball Association’s MVP. It was the fourth time James had received the league’s highest honor. What was his response? He said, “It’s very humbling.” Humbling? I don’t think “humility” means what Lebron James thinks it means.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an NBA player. In those dreams when I was named the MVP, I didn’t feel humbled; I felt honored. Now every time an award is handed out, the recipient talks about how he or she is “humbled.”

To me, that always comes across as fake humility. In contrast to today’s fake humility, there is the humility of Jesus.

Selfish Ambition

Based on what the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church at Philippi, it appears that the Philippians struggled to maintain unity.

  • “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). 
  • “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). 
  • “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14). 
  • “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (4:2). 

The Philippians needed to be people of humble service, and so do we. How can we be people of humble service?

If we are to be people of humble service, we must think about who Jesus is, what he chose to do, and why he chose to do it. 

We are naturally self-centered people. (Have you noticed that when someone shows you a photo that you’re in, you always first check for yourself first? Everyone else in the picture could have their eyes closed, but if you look good, it’s a great picture.) Humility doesn’t come easy for us.

The Attitude of Christ

Paul writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (v. 5, NIV). In verses 6-8, we discover that the attitude of Christ is a mindset of humble service.

  • Jesus was “in the form of God” (v. 6; cf. John 1:1). The NIV reads “in very nature God.” 
  • Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). This is the opposite of “selfish ambition” (v. 3). 
  • Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” (v. 7). He declared, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He acted as a servant when he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5). 
  • Jesus was “born in the likeness of men” (v. 7; cf. John 1:14). 
  • Jesus “humbled himself” (v. 8). In other words, he chose humility 
  • Jesus became “obedient to the point of death” (v. 8). He “gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4). 
  • Jesus died “on a cross” (v. 8). Crucifixion was an excruciating and humiliating way to die. Jesus once said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

If we are to be people of humble service, we must think about who Jesus is, what he chose to do, and why he chose to do it.

Who is Jesus? He is God in human flesh. What did he choose to do? He chose to die on a cross. Why did he choose to do this? To save us. 

If God served us to the extent that he died on a cross for us, who are we to refuse humbly serving others?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Doing Right Things for Right Reasons

Part 17 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:1-4

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (v. 1). 

Living for the Applause 

Comedian Jerry Lewis, in an interview with GQ, admits that his act “is fueled by an unquenchable thirst for attention. He says, “I need the applause.” [1] Lady Gaga performs a song called “Applause.” The song says, “I live for the applause.” Many performers live for the applause. As followers of Jesus, we must be very careful not to perform acts of righteousness for the applause of others.

The Best Reason to Do Right Things 

The word “righteousness” (v.1) refers to types of religious acts, such as giving to the needy (vv. 2-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18). Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (v. 1). But earlier he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16). Is this a contradiction? 

No, Jesus isn’t contradicting himself. He’s addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride. We are to “show when tempted to hide” and “hide when tempted to show.” [2] Jesus doesn’t merely want us to do right things. He wants us to do right things for right reasons.

The best reason to do right things is to bring glory to God. 

As the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Those who do religious things “in order to be seen by [other people]” (v.1) desire praise from those people. [3] Their motivation is their own glory. [4]

Religious Hypocrites 

Jesus declares, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (v. 2). Jesus calls these religious show-offs “hypocrites.”

“A ‘hypocrite’ originally was an actor who wore a mask in a Greek play, thereby pretending he was something he was not. So it came to be used for a person who looked one way on the outside but was something else on the inside.” [5] In this context, “hypocrites” refers to people who “are not so much deceivers as disastrously self-deceived.” [6] They think they’re impressing God when in reality they’re only impressing other people. [7]

The Heart of Worship 

We can hide our true motivation from other people, but we can’t hide it from God. Trying to hide what’s in our heart from God is like a little child trying to hide by covering his eyes. “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

God said about the people of Isaiah’s day, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13; cf. Matt. 15:8). God isn’t pleased by religious acts that aren’t motivated by a love for God. If we live for the applause of people, we “will have no reward from [our] Father who is in heaven” (v. 1).

The Applause of God 

Jesus says, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vv. 3-4). “The references to ‘Father’ rather than to ‘God’ in both verses 1 and 4 are intentional and probably allude to the fact that just as a child seeks the approval of his parents above all others, so the approval of the heavenly Father will matter more to the child of God than the approval of other people.” [8]

There should be nothing more satisfying than receiving the approval of the God who loves us. [9]

If you’re a parent, can you remember a time when you were really proud of your child? Now imagine your heavenly Father feeling like that about you. Isn’t the approval of God more satisfying than the approval of others?

To please God, we must do right things for right reasons, and the best reason is to bring glory to him. 

[1] http://www.gq.com/story/jerry-lewis-interview-gq-august-2011
[2] A. B. Bruce, Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 116.
[3] The same Greek word (doxazo) is used in both 6:2 (“praised”) and 5:16 (“giving glory”).
[4] This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t praise people who do good. This is a way we can encourage others. But we must always acknowledge that the ultimate praise belongs to God, who gives us the ability and opportunity to do good.
[5] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 219.
[6] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 237.
[7] “They were not giving but buying. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it, and they have got it. The tran-saction is ended and they can claim nothing more” (Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 91).
[8] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3682-3685.
[9] This doesn’t mean that we can gain God’s approval in the sense that we can earn salvation. But when we enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, God is pleased when we obey him because we love him.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love Your Enemies

Part 16 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:43-48

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (vv. 43-44). 

How Is It Possible to Love Our Enemies? 

In the English language, “love” has many meanings. John 3:16 helps us understand the biblical meaning of love: “For God so [in this way] loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” To love as God loves means to give of ourselves for the benefit of others.

An enemy is someone who hates you (e.g., someone who “revile[s] you and persecute[s] you,” Matt. 5:11). An example of someone in Scripture who loved his enemies was Stephen, who prayed while he was being stoned to death: “Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:60). [1] How is it possible for us to love our enemies?

We will never be able to love our enemies unless we see God's grace as amazing. 

The apostle Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Later, he says, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). God sent Jesus to this earth to die for his enemies.

My Enemy Is My Neighbour

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (v. 43). “You shall love your neighbor” is from Leviticus 19:18, but nowhere does the law say, "Hate your enemy.” [2] According to Exodus 23:4-5, people were to help their enemies: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him” (cf. Prov. 25:21).

The Jews wanted to restrict who their neighbour was. [3] Jesus was once asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). He answered by telling the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). The Samaritans and the Jews were enemies, but the good Samaritan helped the Jew who was in trouble. The Samaritan’s enemy was his neighbour.

Being Like Our Father

Jesus declares, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 44-45a). Jesus is saying that when we love our enemies, we show ourselves to be God’s children. [4] “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.” [5]
Jesus did not command this response to persecution for pragmatic reasons. He did not teach, for example, that loving one’s enemy would transform the enemy into a friend, though it may. He did not teach that His disciples should pray for their persecutors because love defuses hate, though it may. Jesus’ disciples were to love their enemies “so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:45). Jesus commanded His disciples to love their enemies because this is the kind of love that characterizes God. Jesus’ disciples are sons and daughters of God who should resemble their Father in their character and conduct. [6]
Jesus states that God provides sun and rain for all people—even his enemies: “He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45b). We are to love like God, which means that our love is to be very different from the world’s love: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 46-47).

Our Goal

Jesus declares, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48). [7]

Our goal is the perfect love of God. 

To obey God’s law, we must love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8; cf. v. 10). “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).

Warmed by God's Grace

At the age of seventy-five, Abraham was given an incredible promise from God. He and his wife Sarah would be given something that they had desperately wanted for so many years: a son. But years after the boy’s birth, a shocking command came from God to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2).

We know the end of the story: the command was a test. God didn’t really want Isaac to die. But the question still remains: how could God ask a father to sacrifice his own son? Perhaps God wants us to put ourselves in Abraham’s place—to think about how heart-wrenching it must have been to be told to put one’s own son to death. Yes, the divine command given to Abraham is disturbing, but maybe God wants us to be disturbed. Why? Because the more we are disturbed, the more we should be amazed by God’s grace. What Abraham was told to do, God actually did. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

We will never be able to love our enemies unless we see God’s grace as amazing. Like hot coffee makes a mug warm, God’s grace warms our hearts.

[1] Stephen was following the example of Jesus, who prayed for his enemies while dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We also see from Stephen and Jesus that love is not incompatible with rebuke (Acts 7:51-53; Matt. 23:1-36).
[2] Psalm 5:5 does say, “You [God] hate all evildoers” (cf. Ps. 139:21-22). But Ezekiel 18:32 says, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” I do believe it’s true that “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”
[3] Generally, the Jews of Jesus’ day considered fellow Jews as their neighbours and Gentiles as their enemies.
[4] Jesus is not saying that we become God’s children by loving our enemies. “He is not giving the means by which one becomes a child of God but indicates that love makes explicit the relationship between God the Father and Jesus’ disciples” (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 253).
[5] Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 89.
[6] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3442-3447.
[7] Luke 6:36 says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Revenge Is Sour

Part 15 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:38-42

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (vv. 38-39). 

Revenge Is Sweet? 

When someone mistreats us, the natural reaction is to want to get revenge. We say, “Revenge is sweet.”

Followers of Jesus are to be different by not desiring revenge when people mistreat them.

An Eye for an Eye

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (v. 38; cf. Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). The principle of “an eye for an eye” was meant to guide the judges of Israel so that the punishments that they handed out would fit the crimes—not too harsh or lenient. It was not meant to encourage personal revenge (“You shall not take vengeance,” Lev. 19:18; cf. Deut. 32:35; Prov. 20:22; 24:29; 25:21-22).

But I Say to You 

Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil” (v. 39). And then he gives four illustrations of not resisting an evil person.

  • “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 39). 
  • “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (v. 40). 
  • “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (v. 41). 
  • “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (v. 42). 

Jesus is not giving us rules; he’s challenging our thinking. We are to be willing to suffer wrong-doing (see 1 Cor. 6:7).

What About Justice? 

Shouldn’t we seek justice? First, we should seek justice for others when they are harmed. If we didn’t seek their justice, we wouldn’t be people of love. Second, when we are personally harmed we are not to seek revenge. Instead, we must leave the carrying out of justice to our governing authorities (Rom. 13:4) and God (Rom. 12:19).

Our Lord Is Our Model 

The Apostle Peter writes, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Peter 3:9). Is this too much to ask? No, because Jesus has already done it.
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23). 
Jesus knows what it’s like to be mistreated: “They spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him” (Matt. 26:67; cf. Isa. 50:6). Think about God in human flesh being spit in the face, struck, and slapped. And he didn’t seek revenge. Instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Jesus calls us to follow his model “so that [others] may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keeping Our Promises

Part 14 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5;33-37

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Let what you way be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt. 5:37).

I Promise

Sometimes when you tell someone you’ll do something, they ask, “Do you promise?” Why do people want us to say, “I promise”? Because they have doubts that we’ll really do what we say we’ll do. We live in a world of broken promises.

People of Integrity

Why is it important that we keep our promises? In a world of broken promises, followers of Jesus are to be different. We are to be people of integrity.

Being a person of integrity is an effective way to display the life-changing power of the gospel.

An Oath Is a Serious Thing

“You have heard that it was said of those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn’” (v. 33). Jesus is summarizing what the OT says about oaths. Oaths are “invocations of God or of some sacred object to undergird a statement or promise.” [1] “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:12). “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Num. 30:2).

The Abuse of Oaths in Jesus' Day

When you were a kid, did you think you didn’t have to keep a promise if your fingers were crossed? In Jesus’ day, the Jews believed that some oaths were binding and some weren’t. [2] According to Jesus, there is no hierarchy of oaths. Every oath invokes God’s name in some way. If you swear by heaven, “[heaven] is the throne of God” (v. 34). If you swear by earth, “[the earth] is [God’s] footstool” (v. 35). If you swear by Jerusalem, “[Jerusalem] is the city of the great King” (v. 35). If you swear by your head, your head (i.e., your physical life) is under God’s control (“you cannot make one hair white or black,” v. 36).

Oaths Should Be Unnecessary

Jesus declares, “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all” (v. 34). Jesus adds, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (v. 37; cf. James 5:12). Honest people don’t require oaths.

We are to be people of such integrity that we will be trusted without taking an oath. 

Is it wrong for a Christian to take an oath (e.g., in a court of law)? Apparently not since Jesus himself testified under oath in his trial before the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:63-64). [3]

Let Your "Yes" Be Yes and Your "No" Be No

In this passage, Jesus is mainly speaking against deliberate deception. If we profess to be Christians but lack integrity, we profane the name of Christ.

Sometimes we can break our promises for reasons other than deception. Sometimes we make a promise we shouldn’t because we want to please people. We sometimes say to someone, “I’ll remember you in my prayers,” but don’t ever pray for that person. Sometimes we neglect church commitments that are considered less important.

We must see ourselves as representing Christ in this world. We must strive to be people of integrity.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 213.
[2] Jesus also condemns this wrong belief about oaths in Matthew 23:16-22.
[3] God “guaranteed [his promise] with an oath” (Heb. 6:17). Paul writes, “Before God, I do not lie!” (Gal. 1:20).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to Be a Better Spouse

Part 13 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:27-32

You can listen to this sermon here.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27). 

Strategies Are Not Enough

If you were to do a Google search for “How to be a better husband/wife?”, you’d find all sorts of strategies for being a better husband or wife (e.g., to be a better husband: (1) learn how to communicate; (2) be willing to compromise; (3) help your wife around the house). [1]

Strategies can be helpful, but they don’t address our fundamental problem: our sinful hearts. All sinful behaviours originate in the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts [e.g., lust], murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

A Better Righteousness in Marriage 

In Genesis 2, God “brought [the woman] to the man” (Gen. 2:22). And we are told, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). A marriage is not merely a contract between two people. It’s “a sacred bond between husband and wife before God as a witness.” [2]

In our marriages, God wants us to have a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (i.e., a better righteousness). [3]

1. We must commit to the exclusivity of marriage, even in our thoughts. 

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’” (v. 27). [4] But Jesus declares that a husband or wife can be an adulterer even if he or she doesn’t commit the act of adultery. Adultery can happen in the heart: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent [5] has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (vv. 27-28). [6]

Jesus wants us to take sin seriously: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (vv. 29-30). Jesus doesn’t want us to literally tear out our eyes and cut off our hands. He’s stressing that we need to do everything we can to avoid sin. [7]

2. We must commit to the permanence of marriage, even if our marriage doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. 

Jesus says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’” (v. 31). According to Deuteronomy 24:1, a man was permitted to divorce his wife if he “found some indecency in her.” In Jesus’ day, the Jews debated the meaning of “indecency.” [8] Jesus’ interpretation was more strict than his contemporaries: “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, [9] and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (v. 32). [10]

We should be less concerned with how we can get out of a marriage and more concerned with how we can stay in a marriage. When Jesus was asked about divorce in Matthew 19, he answered the question by going back to God’s original intention for marriage and said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). Today, Christians have different views on what Jesus meant by “sexual immorality,” but we can all agree on two things: (1) Jesus disapproves of easy divorce (“for any cause,” Matt. 19:3); (2) reconciliation should be the goal when marriage problems occur (cf. Matt. 5:23-26). While divorce is sometimes permitted, it’s never required

Husbands and Wives Need Better Hearts

To be a better husband or wife, we need a better heart. Adultery begins in the heart with lust. Divorce was permitted because of the “hardness of heart[s]” (Matt. 19:8). How can a husband or wife get a better heart?

First, we need the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22). The Spirit is given to all who put their faith in Christ. Then after we receive the Spirit, we need to continually remind ourselves of God’s love for us: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

The essence of sin is self-centeredness, which is the source of all marriage problems. The opposite of self-centeredness is sacrificial love. In sacrificial love, Jesus gave up his life for us. If the Lord of the universe gave himself up for me, I should be willing to give myself up for my spouse.

[1] http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Better-Husband
[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, God, Marriage, and Family, 73.
[3] As we have seen already in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants his followers to be different.
[4] This is the seventh commandment (Exod. 20:14).
[5] Jesus is not saying it’s sinful to appreciate a woman’s physical beauty. Looking at a woman with “lustful intent” is having the desire to commit adultery with her.
[6] It could be said that lust is a violation of the tenth commandment because it says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exod. 20:17). The Septuagint used the same Greek word for “covet” that Jesus uses for “lust.”
[7] Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1).
[8] The rabbinic school of Hillel believed that a man could divorce his wife for all sorts of trivial reasons (e.g., if she had bushy eyebrows).
[9] This doesn’t mean perpetual adultery.
[10] The apostle Paul also writes, “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so” (1 Cor. 7:15).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Angry Enough to Kill

Part 12 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:21-26

Sorry, there is no audio for this sermon.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).

A Deeper Righteousness

In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus describes what he means by a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (v. 20). He desires that his followers have a righteousness that goes deeper than merely obeying the rules. He repeatedly says, “You have heard that it was said” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43), and then he declares, “But I say to you” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). [1] Jesus is not contradicting the OT law; he is correcting a misunderstanding of it.

Is Anger Really That Bad?

Why did Jesus teach that anger was such a serious sin? He compares anger with murder [2] and says that if we are filled with anger against another person, we are “liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22).

If we are filled with anger against another person, we have a murderous heart. 

There are degrees of anger. There’s a difference between the anger of a murderer and the anger of a father who yells at his son. Jesus is talking about an intense kind of anger. If we have this type of anger, we are like a murderer [3] in two ways.

First, if we are filled with anger against someone, we desire harm to come to that person. An angry person longs for revenge. He would commit murder if he could get away with it.

Second, if we are filled with anger against someone, we don’t value the life of that person. Genesis 9:6 says, “Who-ever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Premeditated murder was punishable by death because human life is precious to God. But the person with a murderous attitude sees his enemy as worthless. He “insults” him [4] and calls him a “fool” (v. 22).

Is Anger Always Wrong?

It’s possible to be angry without sinning: “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Sometimes anger is the appropriate response (e.g., when a child is harmed). Jesus was sometimes angry (e.g., the cleansing of the temple). He even said to the scribes and Pharisees, “You blind fools!” (Matt. 23:17). Unlike our anger, Jesus’ anger was always righteous.

When Jesus was angry, he was angry at sin, not because offended him: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). How did Jesus respond? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ anger wasn’t a self-centered anger. Many times we think our anger is appropriate, but it’s actually sinful. We get angry not because someone has sinned, but because someone has sinned against us.

The Heart of the Matter

We often blame external conditions for our anger (e.g., other people, “I had a bad day!”). “While external conditions can be very influential in our lives and should not be ignored, the Bible says that they are only the occasion for sin, not the cause.” [5] The cause of sin is within us: our hearts. Jesus declared, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). James writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Murder is generated in the heart.

If I have a murderous heart, I have forgotten about God's grace. 

I can’t calculate how much I’ve offended God by my sinfulness, yet Christ died for me. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If God so loved me, I also ought to love people who have wronged me.

The Urgency of Reconciliation

Jesus says that we are not to delay in seeking reconciliation with others (“First be reconciled to your brother,” v. 24; “Come to terms quickly with your accuser,” v. 25). “Interestingly, it is not the anger of the person Jesus is addressing of which he speaks, but anger provoked by that person. It is not enough to control one’s temper (though that is important); one must not arouse other people’s anger.” [6]
Reconciliation is so important that it takes priority over worship. 

The illustration that Jesus uses in verses 23-24 would have been shocking to Jesus’ original hearers.
Most of Jesus’ hearers were from Galilee, and their disputes with others would be centered there as well. Jesus’ teaching would require them to bind the legs of the sacrificial animal and leave it at the base of the altar in the Jerusalem temple, travel the approximately 80 miles back to Galilee to seek reconciliation and offer restitution to an offended brother, then travel the same 80 miles back to Jerusalem to complete the sacrificial ritual! [7] 
Even if reconciliation is not possible, we are to make an attempt. We should strive to be “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[1] When Jesus said, “But I say unto you,” he was emphasizing his own authority to interpret the OT law. “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29).
[2] The apostle John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
[3] Of course, the consequences of anger are less severe than the consequences of murder (i.e., the death of someone). If I had a choice between someone hating me and someone murdering me, I’d take hatred every time.
[4] A more literal translation of the original Greek is “says Raca to his brother.” “Raca” is an Aramaic word that means “worthless.”
[5] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 151.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 115–116.
[7] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, Kindle locations 2600-2603.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Righteousness Redefined

Part 11 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:17-20

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


Over time, words often change their meaning. Referring to someone as a “bully” in the sixteenth century was like calling them “darling” or sweetheart.” In the fourteenth century, “awful” meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe.” The original meaning of a “nice” person was a “foolish” or “silly” person. In the fifteenth century, a “nervous” person was actually “sinewy and vigorous.” [1]

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefined “righteousness.”

Entrance into the Kingdom

Jesus declares, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). “Righteousness” is obedience to God’s commands. Does entrance into God’s kingdom depend on our obedience to God’s law? No, we enter God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus. [2]

Those who have entered God’s kingdom possess a different kind of righteousness. 

Jesus wasn’t saying that we need to be more righteous in the way that the scribes and Pharisees were righteous. He was saying that our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees because it’s a better quality of righteousness.

Jesus Didn't Abolish the Law

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17). “The Law [and] the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. People were accusing Jesus of setting aside the OT. [3] But Jesus makes four statements in verses 17-20 that show the falseness of this accusation.

(1) He had not come to abolish the OT but to “fulfill” it (v. 17). How did Jesus fulfill the OT? He fulfilled the OT’s messianic prophecies, satisfied the OT’s demands by his death on the cross, perfectly obeyed the OT’s commands, and he taught the full meaning of the OT.

(2) All of the OT—even “the smallest letter” and “the least stroke of a pen” (NIV) [4]—is relevant “until heaven and earth pass away” (v. 18).

(3) Every OT commandment should be taught and obeyed (v. 19). Of course, there are many commands that Christians don’t obey in the same way as God’s people did before the coming of Jesus.

(4) The scribes and Pharisees’ obedience to the OT was deficient (v. 20). “Jesus was so far from being the one intent on annulling the Law that he believed that those who had the reputation of being especially punctilious about the details of the Law were totally failing to take it seriously enough.” [5]

Some Christians like to say, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” But Christianity is a relationship with God and a religion. We obey God’s commands because we love him. But didn’t the apostle Paul write that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4)? Yes, but this “does not mean that we are free to disobey [the law], for the opposite is the case. It means rather that acceptance with God is not through obedience to the law but through faith in Christ….” [6]

A Different Kind of Righteousness

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of God” was a shocking statement in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were admired for their obedient to the OT, but their righteousness was merely outward conformity to rules. Jesus desires a different kind of righteousness.

1. It is a righteousness that comes from a transformed heart. 

The scribes and Pharisees impressed others by their outward appearance, but their hearts were full of sinfulness. Jesus said to them,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to other, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:25-28). 
The kind of righteousness that Jesus desires is an inside-out righteousness. It’s righteousness that comes from a heart that loves God because of what he has done for us (i.e., because of the cross).

2. It is a righteousness that produces acts of love. 

Jesus was once asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). His answer:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vv. 37-40). 
Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of love:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:  
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me
teaching as doctrine the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:1-9). 
In Romans 13:8-10, Paul wrote,
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law

What About Your Righteousness? 

Here’s a question we should all ask: “Does my righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?”

What is your motivation for obeying God’s commands?

Are you more concerned with the letter of the law or the spirit of the law (i.e., love for God and others)?

[1] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/words-literally-changed-meaning-through-2173079
[2] Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To “repent” means to turn from one’s sin, which also implies turning to Jesus.
[3] In Matthew 12, Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the OT law (see vv. 1-8). Actually, they broke the Pharisees’ rules, not the OT law.
[4] An “iota” refers to “the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest of the alphabet,” and a “dot” (kepaia) refers to “the small stroke that is used to distinguish letters or an ornamental stroke added to a letter” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 182).
[5] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 225.
[6] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 73.