Matthew 6 – "When you…"

Read Matthew 6

We like practical advice for life don’t we?  When one goes to another for advice, they do not seek someone that “beats around the bush,” but rather someone that “tells it like it is.”  Often the challenge of preaching is just that: how to tell it like it is.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 feels like practical advice.  He takes several topics and talks straight about them.  “When you… don’t do… but instead do…”  Our Bibles divide each of these into nice sections that we are able to read one at a time.

However, Jesus’ teaching here is actually all linked, accented by verses 19-24.  All the verses leading up to it and the famous (or infamous for some) section on anxiety all speak to the point that “no one can serve two masters.”  Each of the topics prior to this statement is an example of this teaching.

A person who gives publically for all to see is not desiring to serve the need of the needy, but rather to serve their need for fame.  He or she is serving him or herself.

Likewise, a person who prays “like the hypocrites” does not desire to build a relationship with God, but rather an image for themselves with others.

Similarly, anxiety is not “caring” about others as much as it is our desire to control, or rather our struggle with trusting that God is in control.

When we make the statement, “Jesus is Lord,” we don’t often think about it’s implications in our own lives.  We cannot keep living with any number of “lords,” worshipping other idols;” and this includes ourselves.  In Jesus Christ we have freedom, “but do not use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature” as Paul says in Galatians 5.  “Rather,” he says, “Serve one anther in love.”


Matthew 5 – You have Heard…

Read Matthew 5

Chapters 5 – 7, more commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount.”  Some believe this is a single session of teaching Jesus did, others that it is a collection of teachings throughout His ministry.  Either way, His teachings fly in the face of “conventional wisdom;” what the world sees as the right ways… ways of self-promotion, self-actualization, and self-righteousness.

Jesus turns upside down the idea of self-promotion and high position as being the way of showing God’s blessings.  Certainly no worldly wisdom would ever say that meekness or mourning would be something that would advance one in life.  Yet God’s economy is different, His ways are higher than ours.  Each holds a different way of experiencing God in our own lives.  They are not all things we are called to seek out (who really seeks a reason to mourn?) but rather things we will encounter where God will meet us.

All of what Jesus says here in chapter 5 though is accented by verses 17-20.  It is important for us to recognize that Jesus is not throwing out the law or the Old Testament.  Instead, He is reinterpreting it in light of grace, showing those who hear Him the true nature of what it means to be God’s people and to live the life God has called them to live.

What Jesus seems to be saying repeatedly is that the life of God’s people is not about following “the letter of the law,” but rather about where one’s heart is.  If we are just trying to follow the law, we simply don’t murder.  But the life of God, the New Life that we have in Christ goes much deeper; it begs the question: “where is your heart at?”  Are we trying to earn our righteousness or are we living into God’s love?

Day 298: Luke 6-7; Jesus' Teachings in Luke

Jesus’ teachings in today’s readings are kind of like a mini Sermon on the Mount.  Unlike the book of Matthew, Luke does not combine the majority of Jesus’ teachings into one single place.  This is one of the reasons why Biblical scholars question whether or not the sermon on the mount was an actual event, or if it was just Matthew’s compilation of Jesus’ teaching.  In either case, the fact is that it is Jesus teachings and the truth that is contained therein is indeed Truth and important for our lives.

You probably noticed some familiar passages in today’s reading, especially in chapter 6.  This is Luke’s version of the beatitudes.  They are fairly similar to the beatitudes found in Matthew with a few minor differences here are there.  Sometimes I think that we get these things a bit misconstrued.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are poor,” and we think that we need to make ourselves poor so that we can be blessed.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are hungry,” and we think that maybe we should eat less food so that we can be blessed.  The same goes for weeping and even being insulted by others because of our faith.  Jesus is saying that the people the truly experience these things due to the nature of their lives will be blessed, even though they endure hardships now.  He is not instructing people to go out and look for ways to be sad, to make people upset, or to be poor for the sake of receiving blessing.  Indeed, it is the people that, through the living of their lives and the true “shema style” loving of God, find themselves in these situations that are promised blessings, perhaps not in this life but in eternity.

Immediately after speaking of blessings, Jesus turns to woes for those in the opposite situations.  Again, I think we have a tendency to get these things mixed up.  Jesus says, “woe to you who are rich,” and we then think that monetary wealth is something that is inherently bad and those who have it are doomed.  Jesus says, “who to you who are well fed now,” and we start to wonder if we ate too much at our last meal.  He talks about those who laugh and those who are well spoken and we wonder how we are to integrate this teaching into our daily lives.  Should we not be happy?  Should we not be spoken well of?  How are these things, which seem to be really good, actually terribly awful for us in our lives?

It is a matter of the heart.  Jesus is making reference to the way that people live, to the circumstances that they find themselves in naturally and what they decide to do with them.  When Jesus talks about prayer, He says that those who pray aloud so that other people could see them are wrong for doing so, yet He doesn’t say that prayer is bad.  I think this same idea applies here as well and He is speaking against the corruption that He noticed around them, as He mentioned when He was preaching in Nazareth.  Some people will find themselves wealthy in life and others poor.  The wealthy are blessed in a way that they are able to give away a great deal to those in need.  Yet many of them were not doing this.  In fact, they were using their wealth to oppress the poor and Jesus says that the wealth they seek on earth will be their only reward while those that are oppressed will raised up in eternity.  The same goes for those who laugh or for those who are spoken well of.  While these things in and of themselves are not  bad things, those who seek only their own pleasure or their own fame will receive just that… and only that.  While those who are brought low on earth will be raised up for God is a God of justice.  He has a special place for those who are lowly, those who are forgotten by the world.

Jesus is describing here, as I said before, the application of the Shema in its truest form, the greatest commandment that He affirms to the religious leaders (likely the only thing they agreed upon actually).  But the Shema, and its subsequent commend to “love your neighbor as yourself” are not simply outward actions, they are to be heart transformations.  I would encourage you to read the post on the Shema again.  It helps to bring things a bit more into perspective.  This is the highest and truest calling of the people of God out of which flows everything that Jesus is talking about here and throughout His ministry.  We are not to be those who love God with just our lips, but that we would turn our hearts toward Him, and show others this great grace that is offered that they too may be healed.

Day 280: Matthew 5-7; The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew is home to what many would consider the most popular Gospel passages of the four.  Apart from chapters 1 and possible 3 of John and the second chapter of Luke, the section of Matthew known as the Sermon on the mount is likely one of the most used passages of the Gospels.  The actual passages though, Matthew 5 – 7 are more likely a conglomeration of a majority of the teachings of Jesus brought together by Matthew.  Whether or not Jesus actually sat down and taught all of this in one sitting is indeed debatable, however that debate largely misses the point of what Jesus is teaching here.  As we look through this passage and look into the context in which He delivers this, or these messages, we see that Jesus is openly challenging much of the religious teaching of the day and showing the people the true intent of the Law and the many commandments that were given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.

Many people have said that Jesus came to turn the Law on its head, to show the true way of God.  However, even Jesus Himself challenges that statement in chapter 5.  He says, “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.  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.

So, if Jesus isn’t challenging the Law, what is he challenging?  Well, this is where context comes in.  Over the course of the history of Israel, and especially after the time of the exile, the Jewish religious leaders developed a system of laws to help protect the Law, like putting a fence around your fence so that you can be doubly sure that no one gets into a forbidden yard.  In doing this, the Jewish religious leaders wanted to make extra sure that the people of God did not transgress the Law once again thus causing the Lord to pass Judgment upon them.  However, what this really did was place the emphasis on an impossible standard of moral living for its own sake rather than living a life of gratitude, honor, praise, and worship to God.  It is into this context and understanding of the Law that Jesus speaks, rehashing what God truly meant when the Law was given.

Does this remind you of anything?  For me is screams “SHEMA!!!”  Why do I say this?  Well… because as Jesus will point out in Matthew 22, this really is the essence of the Law and if we read it with the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Leveticus 19:18 in mind, the teachings of Jesus here make sense.  What we are called to is not a set of laws and regulations for moral living, but to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus even mentions this in chapter 5:43-48 as well.  Out of these things flow naturally all that which Christ teaches about here and God calls us to in our everyday living.  The challenge is also given to us in the Church today.  For a very long time we have equated Christianity with knowing rightly and living rightly.  While these two are indeed important for the life of believers, they are not an end in themselves, but part of the natural overflow of the life of faith lived out in loving God and loving neighbor.  Indeed all of the law and prophets hang on those two commands.