Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why We Should Pray

Part 24 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 7:7-11

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 7). 

The Greatest Invitation

Imagine being invited to meet your favourite celebrity. We wouldn’t ignore that invitation. Every child of God is invited to enter God’s presence through prayer, but we often ignore that invitation. “The greatest invitation in the world is extended to us, and incomprehensibly we regularly turn away to other things.” [1]


Jesus invites us to pray by telling us to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock.” In the original Greek, these three words are in the present tense, which means that Jesus is talking about habitual prayer (i.e., keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking). Why should we pray?

God is our loving Father and will give us good things when we pray. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly refers to God as our Father. For example, Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name” (6:9). Generally, parents want to give good things to their children (like a father gives his son bread and fish, not a stone and a serpent, vv. 9-10).  Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (v. 11). 

Anything We Want?

Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (vv. 7-8). Is Jesus promising that God will give us anything we ask for in prayer? No, though this is a popular teaching. [2] Grant Osborne calls this teaching “materialism made spiritual” and comments that it is “incredibly dangerous, indeed heretical, because it says we control God.” [3]

Only Good Things

The promise that Jesus gives us is that God will give us “good things,” not anything we want. We are often like little children, asking our Father for things we think are good but are actually bad.

God’s “no” is always a good thing.

God is perfectly good, so he always desires what is good for us. God is perfectly wise, so he always knows what is good for us. And God is perfectly strong, so he is able to do what is good for us. 

Prayer Works!

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Hab. 1:2). Frustration with prayer is common. We don’t know exactly how prayer works, but what we do know is that Scripture promises that prayer does work.

When we pray, we must not forget that God is our Father and that he loves us and wants what is best for us. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

[1] John Piper, “Ask Your Father in Heaven,” http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/ask-your-father-in-heaven.
[2] Other Scripture passages used to support this teaching are Mark 11:22-24; John 14:12-14; 15:16; 16:23-24; 1 John 3:22; 5:14-15.
[3] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 264.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Judge Not?

Part 23 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 7:1-6

You can listen to this sermon here.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (vv. 1-2). 

The Non-Christina's Favourite Bible Verse

It’s probably safe to say that the non-Christians favourite Bible verse is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” If you say something is wrong, a non-Christian will often reply, “Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Judge not’”?

Is It Wrong to Judge?

Is it wrong to judge? The answer seems clear: Jesus said, “Judge not.” But if you really think about it, when a person says it’s wrong to judge, that person is making a judgment (i.e., judging a person for judging).

Yes, Jesus said, “Judge not,” but when we interpret Scripture, we must always look at the context. In verse 6, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” “What is holy” and “[our] pearls” probably refer to the gospel. “Dogs” and “pigs” are probably people who are only interested in mocking the gospel. Jesus is telling us to stop sharing the gospel with them. This requires us to make a judgment (i.e., to discern whether or not the people with whom we are sharing the gospel are “dogs” and “pigs”).

We should also examine what the rest of Scripture says about the same subject. There are several verses in the NT that tell us to judge between right and wrong and to correct another believer if necessary. For example, Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; Phil. 3:2; Heb. 3:13; 1 John 4:1).

So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not”? He was saying that there’s a certain kind of person who should never judge.

A judgmental person should never judge. 

Don't Be Judgmental

What are the characteristics of a judgmental person?

1. A judgmental person lacks honesty about his own sinfulness. 

Jesus describes a judgmental person as someone who tries to remove a speck from someone else’s eye while he has a log in his own eye (vv. 3-5). A judgmental person feels superior to others, but he’s a “hypocrite” (v. 5). “If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:2). A biblical example of a judgmental person is the Pharisee in Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

2. A judgmental person lacks a loving concern for others. 

If we need to correct someone, we are to do it as an act of love. We are to “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). When someone sins, we are to seek to “restore [that person] in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1). “Admonition has a humility that says, ‘I love you enough to want to help you, and tomorrow you will need to correct me.’” [1]

How Can We Look Down on Others?

Jesus says, “With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (v. 2). “The absence of mercy and love in the way we treat others will result in unmerciful judgment from God at the final judgment.” [2]

Someone who has experienced the mercy of God can’t be judgmental. We “were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We were helpless and hopeless. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). How can we look down on others?

[1] Grant R. Osborn, Matthew, 258.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Faith or Worry?

Part 22 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:25-34

You can listen to this sermon here.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). 

An Anxiety Epidemic

It’s been said that worry is “the disease of the twenty-first century.” There’s an anxiety epidemic in our world. People worry about the safety of their children, their finances, their health--the list goes on and on.

Of course, worry is not a new thing. It plagued people of the first century also. [1] To people who struggle with worry, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (v. 25). [2]

The Antidote for Worry

The Greek word translated as “anxious” is merimnao. Sometimes merimnao “expresses an appropriate feeling of intense concern” [3] (e.g., Timothy was “genuinely concerned for [the Philippi-ans’] welfare,” Phil. 2:20). Other times merimnao “expresses intense feelings of anxiety about the issues of life” [4] (e.g., “do not be anxious about anything,” Phil. 4:6). This is the meaning of merimnao that Jesus has in mind when he says, “Do not be anxious.” [5]

Is there an antidote for worry?

The antidote for worry is to daily put our faith in a sovereign God who loves us. 

Faith can either be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the object of our faith. Faith in God is a good thing because (1) he is able to provide what we need (“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”, v. 25), and (2) he cares about us (“Are you not of more value than [the birds]?”, v. 26). We can “[cast] all [our] anxieties on [God], because he cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7).

The Irrationality of Worry

Worry is irrational. You can try to reason with a worrier, but worriers are immune to reason. (They’ll say, “I know, I know, but….”) Jesus asks, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (v. 27). [6] In other words, he’s saying that there’s no benefit to worrying.

Our Priority

Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (vv. 31-32). Unlike the pagan Gentiles, we have a heavenly Father who knows about our needs. They were filled with worry, but we are to be different.

Instead of worrying about the future, we should be doing what's right in the present. 

Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). “First” means “above all else.” [7] We are to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:6). We can’t control the future, but we can seek to live righteous lives right now.

When the Time Comes

Worriers live in the future, but Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 34). [8] When you catch yourself worrying about something, remember the phrase “when the time comes.” The worrier thinks, “What will I do when [something bad] happens?” God will give you the strength to handle it when the time comes. 

Remember that God is sovereign and that he cares for you. Trust him.

[1] Many first-century workers were paid one day at a time. Most lived from hand to mouth. If a man couldn’t work (e.g., because of illness), his family would have no money for food, drink, and clothing (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 171.)
[2] The words “Do not be anxious” are found three times in 6:25-34 (vv. 25, 31, 34).
[3] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 296.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jesus was not saying we shouldn’t plan for the future or that we don’t need to work. God provides food for the birds (v. 26), but he doesn’t drop it into their beaks.
[6] Actually, chronic worry can be harmful to one’s physical health.
[7] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle location 5412.
[8] Jesus told us to ask our heavenly Father for our “daily bread” (6:11).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

God or Money?

Part 21 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:19-24

You can listen to this sermon here.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also […] You cannot serve God and money” (vv. 21, 24b).

What Do You Treasure?

In 6:19-34, Jesus talks about money and possessions. Materialism is one of the big problems of our culture. Craig Blomberg writes, “It is arguable that materialism is the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today, including many in the visible church.” [1] We who are followers of Jesus are to be different. Our lives are not to be all about making money and acquiring possessions.

What do you treasure? Jesus declared, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). What you treasure, you will pursue. Do you pursue God (knowing and obeying him), or do you pursue wealth (or something else)? There are many reasons why people pursue wealth: security, personal worth, power, independence, and pleasure. [2]

Knowing and obeying God should be the treasure we pursue.

The Danger of Money

Money can be a danger to our relationship with God. The apostle Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:10; cf. Matt. 13:22). [3] The person who craves for wealth has a “bad” eye (v. 23). [4]

Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money” (v. 24). If we are pursuing wealth more than we are pursuing God, we have given our heart to an idol. Paul calls a person who is “covetous” (i.e., greedy) an “idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” [5]

All of us would probably say, “I don’t worship wealth. I don’t love money.” But are we fooling ourselves? What are your goals? What do you spend your time thinking about? Do you think about how you can grow in your knowledge of God and obedience to God? Or do you think more about material things (e.g., getting an iPhone, going on a dream vacation, saving money for retirement, renovating the house)?

The Foolishness of Pursuing Wealth

It’s foolish to devote your life to pursuing material wealth. Why? Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (v. 19). Material possessions are temporary. They can be, as Jesus states, ruined or lost. Even if our possessions aren’t ruined or lost, we only have them during this life (like the rich farmer in Luke 12:15-21).

Wealth is most attractive when we view this life as all there is. 

Jesus declares, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (v. 20).

Our Hearts Should Belong to God

Knowing and obeying God should not be seen as a duty but as a delight. Why? Because of what God has done for us. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Our hearts should belong to God. We should treasure nothing more than knowing and obeying him. 

[1] Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions, 132.
[2] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, 303.
[3] Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 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.”
[4] Wilkins writes, “When we focus on something evil, the eye becomes the conduit by which evil fills the inner person” (Matthew, 295).
[5] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xvii.