24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
“Therefore” is a great word to use when you wish to issue a final summary comment based upon everything said before. In this case, summarizing Matthew 5:1-7:23, Jesus is ready to conclude the Sermon on the Mount.
To whom do these concluding comments apply to? Jesus says “everyone” who listens and does will be building a house that will stand up against the storms of life. Conversely, “everyone” who listens but does not do what Jesus says, will be constructing a house that will collapse in life’s storms. The word everyone obviously means every single person who hears what Jesus has to say. The only question is whether or not those who hear will do what He says to do, or not.
So, what did Jesus say that everyone is supposed to hear and do? While it is tempting to go to other places in the gospels or the writings of Paul I think it is important to stay within Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount as the starting place. This keeps us away from the temptation of chasing our own rabbits rather than hearing a clear message from Christ, Himself.
That is what this lesson is about. To know what Jesus has said and to know that to which He is most certainly referring it is important to survey the Sermon of Matthew 5-7. To do this as simply as possible I have condensed the teachings of the sermon into a simple list summarizing each point for quick reference:
The process of listening to what Jesus has to say and applying His teachings to every aspect of our lives is a process that is life-long. The key understanding rests in His grace. Without it, these lists become legalistic commands that leave us feeling empty and condemned, incapable of living up to God’s expectations. Under His grace, however, we are free to grow in surges and spurts as life leads us through insights, opportunities and challenges that shape us more and more into the image of Christ. This skit illustrates how this works:
Building our house wisely on the correct foundation is so important. Jesus has just told us in the previous verses that it is a matter of choosing the right path (7:13-14), discerning truth from error (7:15-20) and forming a relationship with God so that His Son will recognize us on Judgement Day (7:21-23). Not only will the obedient citizen of the kingdom successfully weather the storms of life but they will be welcomed home by name!
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
How horrifying to contemplate showing up on Judgement Day only to have Jesus say, “I never knew you” (vs. 23). In this passage He is talking to people who thought they knew Jesus well enough to use His Name to prophesy, drive out demons and perform miracles. Their expectation was that they had done enough to admit them into the kingdom of God. So, Jesus is addressing His followers: Christians who were religious; but, never strove to form an intimate walk with God.
The contrast He is making is between those believers who do what He says and those who do not. This passage, also, is primarily referring to all Jesus has said to this point in the Sermon on the Mount. This is not to exclude what He said in the rest of Matthew’s Gospel or in any other gospel, for example. While it is tempting to draw on Paul’s letters to expand on Jesus’ teachings the risk is making these teachings bend to our own agendas.
Matthew 5-7 is a great place to start our walk with God. Coming back to this Sermon again and again helps us keep the edge of Jesus’ words sharp for the ‘heart surgery’ that we so desperately need.
WIDE OR NARROW GATES
There will be believers who will not take Jesus seriously and will not do what He says in the Sermon on the Mount. They did all of the right things and they outwardly gave every impression of walking with the Lord. Nonetheless, broadly speaking, their walk involved justifying ungodly attitudes (Matthew 5), a superficial relationship with the Lord rather than an intimate walk (Matthew 6) and a habit of asking God for the wrong things (Matthew 7).
GOOD AND BAD PROPHETS
There will be believers who just do not submit to the self-examination that is required in the kingdom of heaven. Rather, they do the right things in the right way but harbor attitudes that do not belong to citizens of the kingdom (Matthew 5). They are not interested in examining their beliefs and traditions so they can walk more closely with the Lord (Matthew 6). They are judgmental towards others but eschew the self-examined lifestyle that is required (Matthew 7). Their fruit betrays their relationship–or lack thereof–with the Lord.
LISTENERS WHO CHOOSE
Jesus is talking to people who have been attracted to Him, appreciated His teachings, and chosen to follow Him. At this point, however, Jesus makes it clear that these teachings about the kingdom are critical life or death decisions for our eternal destinies. The contrast is between those who take Jesus seriously and those who do not. Choose to listen and do! This is what kingdom people do because their deepest desire is to be like their Father. For Jesus to not know someone simply means there was no relationship.
THE GREATEST TRAGEDY
It seems to me that the greatest tragedy of tragedies will be for a person to have followed Jesus; but, from a relational distance that led them to totally miss the most important things. Being religious will not suffice. Doing great things for the Lord will not be enough. Doing all of the right things in the correct ways will fail to save us. The real question, in the end, will be whether or not Jesus knows me as I have striven to know Him by listening to Him and doing what He says.
The great Jewish scholar, Hillel, was asked if he could summarize the Law and the Prophets for a potential convert to Judaism. Hillel told him: ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it” (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath, Folio 31a). This passive love stands in contrast to the proactive love that God had commanded the Israelites in Leviticus 19:18: “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
The kind of love that Hillel describes is one of non-engagement. An example of the logic involved would begin with the observation that I do not want another person to physically harm me. It’s logical conclusion would, then, be Therefore, I will not physically harm that other person. This understanding is common in a wide selection of ancient literature.
This interpretation was under debate at the time of Jesus causing a Jewish teacher of the Law to inquire, “And who is my neighbor?” This question prompted Jesus’ telling the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and, I believe, stands behind Jesus’ reaffirmation of the teaching in Leviticus.
“The Golden Rule” underlines that citizens of the kingdom of God proactively seek to do good for others in the same way they would want someone else to do good to them (Matthew 7:12). Jesus accurately interprets the passage in Leviticus 19:18 and states that this one rule of the Kingdom “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” With this final phrase, I believe, Jesus summarizes and concludes The Sermon on the Mount which began back in Matthew 5 where Jesus first refers to the Law and the Prophets.
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-10 depict the qualities of the Kingdom’s citizens, concluding with the observation that persecution will be the result whereupon they are called to rejoice. Why? “…for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12).
These Kingdom citizens practice these beatitudes in their daily lifestyle. They do it publicly in the world in much the same way as light and salt function to enhance their environments (Matthew 5:13-15). Then Jesus makes it clear that this is not new. These principles are anchored in the Law and the Prophets.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
These comments about the Law and the Prophets, I believe, marks the first bookend of the teachings that are to follow. The other bookend comes with Jesus’ final observation about the Law and the Prophets in Matthew 7:12.
In between these two bookends, then, we see Jesus giving clear teaching that both clarifies the Law and Prophet’s teaching. He amplifies it and makes it personal. It pierces the heart. It challenges us to carefully examine our motives and intentions.
Beginning in Matthew 5:20, Jesus establishes that true worship to God is more than paying lip service and looking for loopholes in the Law. These attempt to justify one’s anger, marital unfaithfulness, oaths and vows, revenge and hatred (Matthew 5:21-47). The call of the kingdom is to: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
INTIMACY WITH GOD
Then, in Matthew 6:1, Jesus warns people of the kingdom to beware of trying to exalt their religiosity before others in order to gain notoriety. This path is a dead end before God. When it comes to the common religious practices of charity, prayer and fasting it is best to keep these things between you and God in order to grow in intimacy with Him (Matthew 6:2-18).
Matthew 6:19-34 then asserts that there is only one treasure, one light and one Master that is to control our direction in life. Do this and there will be no need to worry about anything because you have entrusted God with everything.
Finally, in Matthew 7:1-11 Jesus insists that we must resist being judgmental towards others and look at ourselves so we can be truly helpful. This discernment will then enable us to determine how to approach those who cannot appreciate the path we have chosen. It is far more important to seek God’s will in everything so that when you ask, seek and knock you will find a God who will answer “Yes!” every time.
This leads us to Jesus’ summary and conclusion; the other bookend.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want [b]them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The first word in this sentence, “So” is also translated as “Therefore” in the New American Standard Bible. It means that what I am telling you now is based upon everything I have said to this point. It is a word that introduces a concluding statement. For Jesus, that concluding statement is the Golden Rule. This rule wraps up everything God has been trying to tell you about His Kingdom and His People.
THE LAW, PROPHETS, JESUS, PAUL….
Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul would echo this teaching in his ministry to churches across the Roman Empire:
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Ask, seek and knock for answers. Sounds simple enough. But how do we explain answers that do not come, finding that never seems to happen and doors that do not open? “God answers all prayers:” we say, “Yes, No and Maybe.” Perhaps it would be a good idea to check into whether or not we are asking for the right things. Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 might be helpful for learning about asking for the right things. God’s holiness, His kingdom and His will are Jesus’ points of emphasis in His model prayer.
Discerning the ins and outs of God’s will can be a daunting task. So many dimensions to describing God’s will make the study overwhelming and rather confusing. To simplify, we will simply consider two aspects of His will that are really all we need to know: 1) God’s Ultimate Will and 2) God’s Conditional Will.
GOD’S ULTIMATE ANSWERS
In Ephesians 1:4-12 (NIV) Paul describes God’s will before the beginning of time:
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,9 he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
God’s ultimate will has a beginning and an end punctuated by a cross that made it possible for us to be included in His plan. It will not be thwarted, and it is impossible to cause Him to deviate from His plan. It is in place, permanent, exclusive to Him only.
GOD’S CONDITIONAL ANSWERS
In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us that “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
As we receive the Good News and begin the process of obedience to all that Christ has commanded, God begins the life-long process of transforming us into the image of His son. As such we become God’s billboard to the world about the amazing work He can do with people like us.
Of course, this aspect of God’s will can be rejected or taken lightly and the consequences will be severe and eternal. But to those who accept the gift of God the transformation begins. They begin working to become holy as God is holy, they strive to make God’s kingdom real in their own hearts and minds and they seek God’s will in the world around them. Once this process begins and we pray for the things that further His will, Paul tells us, God’s answer will always be ‘Yes!’
18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas[c] and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.”20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
When we learn to ask for the right things, God’s answer is always going to be ‘Yes’ in Christ. All other appeals to God may be ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Maybe;’ but, when we seek His will His answer will be ‘Yes.’ We become part of the stream of God’s ultimate will that presses on through to eternity and cannot be thwarted.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Jesus’ statement “Do not judge….” could sound like we need to suspend wisdom and discernment about other people. Yet, verse 6 tells us to discern the nature of our audience when we share the good news. In addition, verses 15-20 address the wolves that creep in among the sheep and the necessity to judge them by their fruits. In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus tells us to beware of imitating the hypocrites who outwardly try to impress others but inwardly are bankrupt before God. To do these things requires the wisdom and understanding that allows us to judge correctly.
Perhaps one of the better translations of this passage renders this phrase as “Do not judge others….” (NLT) or even “Don’t condemn others….” of the Contemporary English Version. God the Father has given Jesus, His Son, the words that will judge the world (John 12:47-49) and on Judgment Day the Son, Himself, will divide the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-33). To assume God’s role in judging others has a consequence that is pretty intimidating: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2).
The truth must be somewhere in between this judgment with the authority of God Himself and, conversely, “to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn blind eye to their faults (pretending not to notice them), to eschew all criticism and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil.”*
THE CHURCH IN ROME
When the edict of Claudius against the Jews of Rome was instituted (50-51 AD) the church in Rome suddenly transitions from being a primarily Jewish church with non-Jewish Christians to an exclusively non-Jewish church. This edict was in force until the death of Claudius around 54 AD which means that the church in Rome settled in over the next 4-5 years as a Gentile church with all of the gradual changes that would evolve in leadership, in worship, and so much more. So, it would be expected that significant challenges would emerge when the Jews returned to pick up where they left off only to discover that things had changed; they were now the second-class members of a predominantly Gentile church.
I believe this occasion stands behind Paul’s sitting down to compose his letter to the church in Rome. How was the church going to manage the tensions that would have naturally emerged? After introducing himself to a people he had not yet met (Romans 1:1-7), he begins laying the groundwork for his intended first visit with them face-to-face (Romans 1:8-17), closing with his bold assertion:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
LEVELING THE FIELD
Paul is leveling the field to nullify any attempt at “one-upmanship” through Romans 3.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).
How does the apostle Paul take this highly polarized group of Christians and bring them to common ground? I believe that he does this, in part, by hearkening to the teaching of Jesus that we find in Matthew 7:1-6, our present text. For we find similar phraseology in Romans 2:1-4 where Paul talks about the Roman Christians judging others harshly while practicing the same things about which they are making judgments about others. The word ‘therefore’ in Romans 2:1 is important because Paul begins his discussion by pointing to those lost in the darkness in the world around them.
PAUL APPLIES JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT JUDGING
The ‘therefore’ of Romans 2:1 refers back to his previous observations in Romans 1:18-32 as he recounts the degree of darkness that begins to descend upon those who refuse to acknowledge God (Romans 1:18-20). When men choose to make their own path in life apart from God they begin a predictable descent into moral rebellion, sexual confusion and reprehensible behavior (Romans 1:21-32). With each level of depravity, God withdraws His blessing and gives them over to the desires of their hearts and the consequences that come with them (verses 24, 26, 28). Under the wrath of God this represents the lowest levels of man’s moral existence along with its attendant pain and suffering.
TSK, TSK TSK
In Romans 2, Paul depicts the Christians standing on the sidelines, looking over the darkness and suffering with their arms folded, going ‘tsk tsk tsk’, judging the depravity of men and women and their suffering, feeling righteous. They may tell them that there is a God who loves them; but, their message is disregarded and meaningless to the godless like pearls before pigs (see Matthew 7:6). And the Christians write them off because they won’t listen. They turn their backs and walk away. And, by the way, if you go beyond the outward behavior and start looking at the heart, Paul tells them: “…you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).
Romans 2 seems to be pretty harsh coming from a man of God to a people he has never met. How does he know what is in their hearts?
I think it is because he is hearing reports from those he knows in Rome (cf., Romans 16). The spirit Paul describes in Philippians 2:1-18 is struggling to emerge in the conflict in Rome. This spirit of Christ will not triumph until everyone comes to realize the truth of Romans 3:22: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
In Matthew 7:1-6 Jesus makes it clear that we are, indeed, responsible for the speck in our brother’s eye. He simply stresses that before you try to help your brother see the error of his ways, make sure you have attended to your own blind sides, first. On the other hand, make sure you discern the heart of the person you are wanting to correct. If their hearts have chosen to disregard God’s appeal to their lives they will not appreciate what you have to say. The only appeal that will work for them will come at a time of intense suffering either on their part or on your own.
I like the way The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words:
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[c] your whole body will be full of light.23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[d] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Jesus has just specified three common religious practices–giving, praying and fasting–designed to lead the worshiper into a more intimate walk with God (Matthew 6:1-19). Using these as a platform for advertising one’s personal holiness and devotion to God is a tragic mistake. With each practice Jesus makes it clear that if we do these things to impress others, that fleeting praise will be the extent of our reward. God is not impressed for His desire is that we desire Him more than anything else.
To make this clear, Jesus then specifies three ways we must set our life’s compass. This is necessary to help us to navigate through our tendencies to become side-tracked. The danger is that we may be lured away by cheap imitations that will not last into eternity.
Single-minded pursuit of the one treasure helps us keep our compass pointing in the right direction as other treasures of much lesser value tempt us. Without a clear direction in our lives we risk being enamored with treasures that will fail us in the pursuit of eternal values in the kingdom.
The beginning of John’s gospel focuses upon Jesus as the One Light of the world (John 1:1-18). “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind,” John tells us. Further, this light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (vss 4-5). The Apostle John assures his readers that John the Baptist was not The Light (vs. 8). Rather, he pointed to Jesus Christ as “The true light that gives light to everyone….”
The metaphor of eyes and light could also be understood as a single window in a dark room.* In that room are reflections of glass or metal that give some light such as, metaphorically, the logic of science, physics or philosophy, etc. Devoid of light from The Source of The Light, however, only leads to darkness.
There are many lights in this world that seem to help us navigate the dark corners of our lives. In many ways they are dim reflections of the true light of Jesus Christ. Put too much trust in those lesser lights and you will find yourself, in the end, overwhelmed by complete darkness.
A slave’s primary objective in life is supposed to be to please his master above everything else. His master has total control over his very life, comfort and working conditions. The idea of trying to please more than one master at a time means that there will be conflicts that lead to impossible choices. “If I try to please Master #1, then there will be times when I will displease Master #2. I can’t do both at the same time.”
So it is with our desire for material wealth. This is not so much a statement about ‘the haves’ versus ‘the have-nots’. The desire for wealth is not exclusive to rich or poor; rather it is common to all. Consequently, so is the danger that we will desire it more than we desire God. And that, Jesus says, is unacceptable to God. He is to be our obsession. He is to be our foremost desire. Nothing in this world is to overtake our desire to walk with Him, to know Him, and to talk, think and act like Him. He is to be our Magnificent Obsession.
God insists upon an intimate relationship with us as we imitate His generosity, speak to Him in prayer and fast in order to underline our dependence upon Him. Further, He tells us to make Him and His kingdom our treasure, to let His Light outshine all others and to choose Him as our Master. With those principles in place we are now equipped for living our lives accordingly by trusting Him completely (Matthew 6:25-34).
The third soil Jesus describes in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) refers to “The seed falling among the thorns” (vs. 22). Jesus tells us that this “refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Our compass in life will remain true to the treasures we pursue, the light we use to illuminate our way and the things we become enslaved to serve. Pursue those things that will last!
* Carson, D. A. The Sermon On The Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 79.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Having an intimate connection with God through lives of generosity, prayer and fasting, we resist the temptation to seek after the praise of men (Matthew 6:1-18). Further, we have set our compasses towards things of eternal value and kept those of lesser value in perspective. Now we are ready to talk about how we live out our faith every single day.
TRUST ME. DON’T WORRY!
When someone says “Don’t worry about it!” we often know to put up our defenses. More often than we would like to admit, we have all been deceived into trusting people who had ulterior motives.
On the other hand, when someone else says “Stop worrying about it!” it’s like asking someone to ‘be spontaneous.’ Just the very command to do something spontaneously, by its very nature, makes it impossible to do.
But, when God says “Don’t worry!” we should listen. If our intimate relation to him is assured and our compass is set, trusting God with our needs and interests should begin to emerge as the way we do life. After all, this is the God who provides birds with food, who can shorten or lengthen your lives and who clothes all of nature in all of its glory. Need clothes, food or something to drink?
SEEK THE RIGHT THINGS
Jesus assures us that if we seek after His kingdom and His righteousness then everything is in place. You can live forever on this diet! And, by the way, as you pursue these things, your need for food, drink and clothing will find its proper place in your day-to-day lives. Remember? “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11, emphasis mine).
Of course if you want to worry about these other things then you can be just like those who do not trust in God. They get tied in knots about things that have no eternal value.
But not you!
The God who speaks universes into existence has got you covered.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
-Matthew 6:1, 16-18
THE FASTING TRADITION
Fasting has traditionally been understood as a voluntary withholding of all natural food from the body for a determined period specially appointed for moral or religious ends. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes that almost every religious movement in the world includes some form of fasting. In Jewish tradition, there were at least 25 occasions when the more devout were encouraged to fast, including the fast of Purim which is still observed.
Under the Mosaic Law there was only, ceremonially, one day of fasting: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31). This event foreshadowed the the Passion of Christ (cf., Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17). The imagery of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16, is significant in light of the cross.
However, in Isaiah 58:1-12 God specifies the purpose of fasting that goes way beyond a simple ceremony. It strikes a fatal blow to the duplicity of man’s heart. This is not simply some pagan ritual that people do to please God to receive His blessing. Fasting insults God when it is accompanied by godless behavior:
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
– Isaiah 58:3-5
God then, through Isaiah, redefines fasting. It is loosening the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the worker’s yoke, setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, providing poor wanderers shelter, clothing the naked and receiving family members into their homes (Isaiah 58:6-7). These activities are what open the door to the morning light, healing, righteousness, the Lord’s glory in their midst and a God who answers their cries for help (Isaiah 58:8-9). God commands them to do away with oppressive yokes, pointing fingers and malicious talk.
It is difficult to read of this scolding of two-faced religion and not hear overtones in Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats on Judgement Day (Matthew 25:31-46)!
GENEROSITY, PRAYER AND FASTING
In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus addresses three practices that are associated with religious practices all over the world: giving to others, prayer and fasting. The overriding question that rules each of these practices is “Why are you doing this?” In each case, if the purpose of doing these things is to impress others, you have missed the point of the exercise.
These are characteristics of your spiritual walk with God that are private, personal and intimately between you and God. Fasting is the third of these characteristics. The principle Jesus is sharing with us is not new and we would do well to listen to our hearts as we consider their place in our desire to be like our Father in Heaven.
FASTING SUMMARY & CONCLUSION
We all are absolutely, totally dependent upon God for all we have, all we are and all we need. What separates the follower of Christ from the rest of the world is that we acknowledge our dependence upon Him and we declare our desire to be like Him. That desire for Him is so strong that discipline of fasting simply places a physical exclamation point at the end of our hungering and thirsting for Him through our pleas for more before His throne. Our desire for Him becomes so real in our lives that we cannot imagine ever walking away. With practice, we become more and more enamored with His presence and, conversely, resistant to those things that would draw us away.
Fasting can be a sacrificial lifestyle before God. A form of self-control or discipline that underlines our decision to be totally dependent upon God. It can mean food or drink or music, temporarily giving up needed things to emphasize the reality of our total dependence upon God. It can also mean permanently giving up anything that hinders our dependence upon—our hunger and thirst for–Him.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Imagine standing in front of a crowd with trumpets sounding and heralders hearlding that you are now about to pause to pray! “Silence!” the announcer cries out! “It’s time for this holy person to pray!”
Just the thought of such a scene brings a wince to our faces as we consider the hubris of someone willing to announce their holiness to the world!
And then I think of the times I have prayed publicly in church, before dinner or with a family in a hospital room wondering how my audience might respond to my special choice of words…and I hang my head. Suddenly I don’t feel so holy after all.
THEY ARE NOT MY AUDIENCE!
“They are not my audience!” I cry out in shame. Our audience in prayer is to be to The One and Only God of heaven who desires an intimacy with me that is just between the two of us. There is only God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that I should be focused upon. He will attend to the hearts of the people around me! It really is not about me!
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
CLOSE THE DOOR!
Jesus’ elegant prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) shines forth to teach us. And so we learn that our conversation with our God is unpretentious, not littered with mindless repetition, but straightforward, simple yet thorough. It is a prayer that celebrates our total dependence upon God as we live life, wrestling with our pride and arrogance under the ever-cleansing flow of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7).
“…go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6)
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Citizens of the kingdom of heaven keep their hearts in check by living their lives of generosity quietly. Jesus is concerned that we might focus upon the wrong audience for approval. At least three ways to live generous lives are available to every person.
Ostentatious: “Hey everyone, watch me help this poor person!”
Prideful: “Hey God! Did you see that? I’m really good in Your sight, now, aren’t I? Not like that person over there. I’ll bet he doesn’t even tithe, let alone give more like me!”
Perfect: “God, help me be more generous in every way, just like You!”
Jesus makes it clear that the rewards for the ostentatious or prideful are the immediate gratification they get in the moment. In the kingdom of heaven, however, that is where their blessing both begins and ends with nothing to show for it.
In this two-part series we spend time talking about the generous life that strives to imitate God’s generosity in part 1. Part 2 focuses upon giving consistently in a planful way that honors the Lord in faith by putting Him first. Also in part 2 we used three charts to illustrate our own giving patterns and to encourage each other to become every more intentional in how we give. Here are the three charts:
Here we see a monthly average of giving since February 2012 with a clear uptick in our present giving.
Here, focusing in to the last 1 1/2 years, since January 2017, we see a similar pattern as we average each month’s giving patterns.
Finally, we look at the week-to-week contributions over the last 1 1/2 years and the pattern swings more erratically. This seems to reflect a more inconsistent tendency in our giving. Hence, today’s lesson simply focuses upon making sure that we are being planful and intentional in our giving, putting God first in faith that He will provide.