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).