Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Christian and the False Prophet by Samuel Hood

There are many tests we can use to determine the freshness of produce: the smell test, the squeeze test, the color test, the surface test, the weight test, and the sound test. We examine produce because we want it to taste good and we do not want to get sick. In the same way, Christians are called to examine the fruit of teachers. Jesus addresses this in this week’s Sermon on the Mount passage – Matthew 7:15-23.

I have derived three points from my study of this text. First, we will see that Christians are on guard against false teachers. Second, we will see that Christians possess the fruit of the Spirit. And third, we will see that Christians are not condemned. 

1. Christians are on guard against false teachers (v. 15-16).

Christ’s warning against false teachers is not a new warning to those who follow God. Rather, Christ is reminding Israel of their past and the covenant they have with God. Deuteronomy 13 and 18 are two places where God spoke his commandments for Israel concerning false prophets. Deuteronomy 13 presents the idea that if someone has a prophetic dream or proclamation that does not come to pass, the false prophet should be killed. Deuteronomy 18 promises that the Lord will raise up a prophet who will speak for him. With this, anyone who decides to speak on God’s behalf without his command to do so must die. These passages are frightening due to the authority that is associated with proclaiming a message from God. And yet, throughout the course of Israel’s history, false prophets still existed.

Around the time of Jeremiah false prophets were virtually everywhere. These false prophets declared that peace would come to reign in the land, yet no peace would actually come for them. See this passage from Jeremiah 23:21-22, 25-26, 32: “I did not send out these prophets, yet they ran. I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. If they had really stood in my council, they would have enabled my people to hear my words and would have turned them from their evil ways and their evil deeds. “I have heard what the prophets who prophesy a lie in my name have said: ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the minds of the prophets prophesying lies, prophets of the deceit of their own minds? I am against those who prophesy false dreams”—the Lord’s declaration—“telling them and leading my people astray with their reckless lies. It was not I who sent or commanded them, and they are of no benefit at all to these people”—this is the Lord’s declaration.”

These prophets had a message that was contrary to God’s message. They were not sent by the Lord. Contrast this with Jeremiah. He was called from birth to be a prophet, as testified to in Jeremiah 1. The Lord told him to declare the coming destruction of Judah if they did not repent. Sadly, Judah did not repent and destruction came upon them. Jeremiah’s word from the Lord came true. Jeremiah contrasts with the false prophets from the verses above: he was called by the Lord to proclaim his message and they were not, declaring falsehood and distorting God’s message.

False prophets still existed in Jesus’ time. They declared that the people needed to clean up their act and follow the Law outwardly. Jesus had to correct the work of false teachers in previous parts of the Sermon on the Mount. He often said, “You have heard it said...but I say to you...” This language signals that the people had heard false teaching.

False teachers are subtle and dangerous. That is why Jesus said they look like sheep; they are hard to recognize. It is easy to read, “You shall not murder,” and believe that you are fine if you do not murder. Yet Jesus reminds the listener that anger cast on a brother or sister deserves a judgment equal to murder. God has always been about the heart, never about outward appearances. False teachers fail to teach us what God has actually revealed. Wolves can proclaim, “God has commanded us to abstain from murdering,” but a sheep will proclaim that murder begins with the heart. They look like God’s sheep outwardly, but inwardly there is a wolf seeking the destruction of souls.

Jesus used this wolf imagery, rotten fruit, and thorns and thistles to depict false teachers. If you have not seen a thorn bush or a thistle, Google them now. A thorn bush is self-descriptive – a bush with tightly-grouped thorns on its branches. A thistle has a pretty, purple flower with a stem that is prickly. Jesus illustrated that good fruit does not come from places that harm you. Listening to a false teacher can be described as this: pursuing an attractive teaching while having your soul cut to pieces. It is dangerous and will leave you broken in the end.

Our current culture is a breeding ground for false teachers. Our culture encourages private faith, rather than public faith. People believe what they want and do not want others influencing their beliefs. This goes against the Christian perspective. Christians come together in community to build one another up in the faith. We have a standard outside of ourselves, the Word of God. The Word of God instructs us how to live according to godliness. We come alongside each other to speak the gospel into the lives of our fellow sisters and brothers. It looks like rebuking sin, fixing our gaze on Jesus, and living on mission. Yes, faith has private matters, but it is to be displayed in public. False teachers destroy this view of Christian community but, believers, I encourage you to be in pursuit of one another constantly proclaiming the gospel to one another.

Christian, although false teachers abound, there is good news. By the aid of the Spirit we will be on guard against false teachers. The Spirit will aid us by giving us discernment. We will be able to see the truth within the teachings we encounter. We have the Word of God, the fount of truth. We must know this Word, for without it we do not have a standard of truth to guard. The Spirit graciously gives us understanding of the Word of God and allows us to not be deceived by false teachers. You know a false teacher by their fruit and by their teachings. Often their teachings sound good, satisfying that which the flesh wants to hear. But the Spirit aides us in killing the flesh. We are dead to sin and our fleshly desires are subsided by the power of the Spirit working within us. This leads us to our second point.

2. Christians possess the fruit of the Spirit (v. 17-20).

The fundamental truth of this passage is that the fruit of our lives reveals our identity. The Christian’s fruit changes upon salvation. We begin to detest the things of the flesh. We are aware of our sin. We find joy in Christ. Inwardly, the Spirit takes residence and brings to life what once was dead. We are grafted in to the family of God.

Jesus is clearly warning against false teachers in the analogy about bad trees. He equated them to thorn bushes and thistles. False prophets produce bad fruit. There is no alternative. Jesus even says that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. How often do you eat bad fruit? Hopefully never. In the same way, Jesus does not want us to partake in fruit that is bad. He wants us to enjoy good fruit. So why do we not exercise discernment in what we use to feed our soul? We often proclaim that the Word of God is our daily bread but how many of us are ruining our spirits by eating the rotten fruit of false teachers?

Galatians 5:19-26 is our friend in this regard. Jesus said we shall know false teachers by their fruit and Paul gives us a list of good fruit and bad fruit. He lists the bad fruit in 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is an all-inclusive list of private and public sins. Some sins in this list are corporate while others are individual. This is how we know false teachers. These are the works of the flesh and ravenous wolves practice these things. Jesus warned that every tree that does not produce good fruit would be cut down and thrown into the fire. Paul mentioned that those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is obvious then that false teachers are condemnable. Not only is their teaching condemnable, but they are condemned.

Jesus contrasts bad fruit and good fruit. Paul lists these in Galatians 5:22-26: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

It is important to notice that the fruit of the Spirit is a description of character and not of acts. That is because the Spirit changes us, making us into a new creation. These characteristics of believers direct our lives and our actions should be based on them. The good tree is Christ. When we are in Christ we produce good fruit and we look Christ-like. False teachers do not have these characteristic changes. Rather, they practice the works of the flesh because they are not truly believers. They are in step with the flesh, the bad tree that produces rotten fruit.

As Christians, we need to focus on practicing the good fruit. I want to mention here that this is not a “do better, try harder” message. I am not saying that if you just try more or try harder that you can produce good works. This is actually a common, yet subtle false teaching found in church culture today: work for your salvation. Many minds may go to Catholicism but this teaching even creeps into Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. We are told that we must make an effort in our salvation by doing that which Christ has done. We must do good things for others, for the community, and for the world and then we will be saved. Many have tried this but still end up in Hell because those who work for their salvation will perish.

So, what does salvation look like? It looks like placing faith in the one that has died the death you could not, atoning for sin. We rest in the salvation he has provided for us. Rest, you may ask? Yes, rest. You might be thinking, but what about focusing and practicing the good fruit? Our faith is a rest in the finished work of Christ; we no longer work for our salvation for it is secure in Christ. Rather, we practice the good fruit because we possess the Spirit. When the Spirit of God lives within us we possess supernatural power. This supernatural power overrides the fleshly tendencies to do evil and malice. We do good works because we have faith in Jesus Christ. We do not have a performance-based faith, but a grace-based faith. This leads us to our third point.

3. Christians are not condemned (v. 21-23).

People are often terrified when they read these verses. Who wouldn’t be when they hear, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” But this is not the thrust of the text. Keep in mind we are still talking about false teachers. This becomes evident as we continue to read: “Did we not prophesy, drive out demons, and perform miracles in your name?” Clearly this is language associated with the false prophets. They thought they were doing great things for God and extending his name throughout the earth. But they were not, for God said, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Jesus showed another implied contrast here. The false prophet burns in the fire, but the Christian does not. Jesus said that those who do the will of his Father shall inherit the kingdom of God. I just unpacked what it means to do good works and produce good fruit as Christians. This is living in the will of the Father. There is no reason for those who are in Christ Jesus to fear death, to fear as if they might go to Hell. Scripture is full of promises that believers will be brought to the kingdom.

Make no mistake that anyone who places their faith in anyone or anything other than Christ is condemned. It was Christ that paved the way to salvation. It is Christ who is our joy in the midst of our suffering in this life. Anyone who says that this is your best life now is mistaken. The Christian’s best life is yet to come. An eternity of being with Christ is still to come for those who have placed their faith in him. A believer still has hope and joy even if they were to lose everything in this life. Our gaze should not be fixed on the things of earth or self, but rather on Jesus Christ. Ray Ortlund, a Nashville pastor, has a great quote, “Stare at the glory of God until you see it.”

With our eyes transfixed on Jesus we shall not waver when false teachers throw their deception at us. When we have seen the glory of God we are focused on accomplishing God’s will in our life. Christ holds on to us with a steadfast love. We will not perish. We shall live. With a gaze fixed on Christ we will not be looking for fire insurance, that is an escape from hell. We will desire to know and be known by Christ. For those in Christ, Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation.” What a great Savior that he would rescue us from condemnation. 

Four Ways to Keep Our Gaze Fixed on Christ

  1. Read the Word of God for without it you have no way of guarding against false teachers. God gave us his Word so we would know him. It is the way he has revealed himself, therefore, it makes no sense to never pick it up. If we never study the Bible we will not know the difference between false teachers and true teachers.
  2. Live in step with the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who conforms us to the image of Christ. With the Spirit we will produce good fruit and possess discernment. Study Galatians 5 further to learn how to live in step with the Spirit.
  3. Be part of a gospel-centered community with members from your church. Seek to live out your church covenant with one another and hold each other accountable. If one strays from biblical teaching, help them gain a biblical understanding again and do this with patience and kindness. It is the community of believers that will keep us from straying into false teaching. Walk alongside your fellow church members, encouraging them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  4. Read good books. Books help us see Christianity from a different perspective, not a wrong perspective. Reading books can help us understand God and his Word better. There are bad authors out there so talk to your pastor for recommendations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Summary Statement of the Way

Sermon preparation can be done many different ways. I have a couple of ways I have used over the years, but primarily I write a paper. My paper has an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. For me this approach works because to earn a doctorate in my field required writing a lot of papers. It also works because I post the sermons to the this blog each week. While some approaches are better than others (and my approach is not the best), it works well for me to keep the flow of my thoughts together.

While letting a reader know the end is near can be helpful, one danger for any pastor or teacher is to use the word “conclusion” when speaking. To do so puts the congregation/audience into a state of “The speaker is almost done so let’s pack up so we are ready to leave.” Now, I often say something like, “As we prepare to conclude” because within my conclusion is our JOURNEY letter and our NEXT STEP(S). Additionally, once I step down off the platform, everything is unscripted – as is some of what I say while on the platform. So, just because we are reaching the conclusion does not mean that we are nearly done nor that what remains is unimportant. But what is true for me is exponentially true of the sermon we have been studying.

This week, we begin what I deem to begin the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. After having covered so many different topics, Jesus begins to conclude His message. First, He gives a summary statement which we call the Golden Rule. After the Golden Rule, what Jesus says is not new information; rather, He provides a series of examples of the two types of people in the world today. The wise will pay attention and build their lives on a solid foundation. The foolish will disregard what Jesus says and eventually everything they care about will fall flat.

Today, we will review the principles of the Golden Rule (Part 1) and then look at the first of Jesus examples related to the wide and narrow way (Part 2).

PART 1
The Golden Rule...

The Golden Rule could be the summary statement for Jesus’ sermon. The sermon Jesus preached to this point covered a lot of ground. He began by speaking of the blessings of God toward those who follow Him. He then challenged the idea of self-righteousness as a standard of measurement and expanded on the idea by speaking to the true nature of several commandments such as murder, coveting, and lying. Then He spoke about the necessary attitude one should have when giving, praying, and fasting which led to His points on how much we trust God for our basic provisions. As He continued His theme of righteousness, He then spoke about a proper measurement of judgment before circling back to prayer which we discussed last week. And then Jesus said the following, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).

Whatever you want others to do to you, do to them. As I mentioned last week related to a parent providing bread and fish, Jesus is not considering those who think in a maniacal sense. Some people may get their pleasure from having others hurt them. This is sadistic and not at all what Jesus is talking about here. In fact, let us keep in mind that Jesus is talking to people who are following Him or are considering doing so. Therefore, although the Golden Rule may be practical for anyone, it is necessary for those that claim to follow Jesus. Jesus thoughts here are as pure as His words. We all want to be treated well and thus we should treat others well.

Before I continue, let me share that Jesus did not originate this rule. The basic premise of this thought dates back centuries before Jesus (perhaps as early as 700-800 BC). The first instance of it being called The Golden Rule may have been in a sermon by John Wesley in about 1750. Others say the title stemmed from a gold carving in a wall ordered by a Roman emperor many centuries before.  Whatever the case, the rule is universally known and is included in many religions although it is often found in the negative – that is, do not do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. But Jesus turned the negative into a positive. Let me explain why.

...requires action.
Frankly, the negative statement makes it easier for us to succeed. If I don’t want someone to steal from me, then I won’t steal from them. So, I can do nothing, expect nothing, and fulfill the negative aspect of this thought. But remember, Jesus sermon is about righteous living and He demands more from His followers so He gives the command in the positive. Do to others as you would have them do. We are to be active in doing good to others. The implication is that we are to do something for others, and what it is that we do, should be what we would want others to do to us.

For instance, recall that just a few verses prior to this, Jesus has talked about judging others. Do we want others to judge us? Well, maybe not. But if we are in the wrong, don’t we want others helping us to correct our situation? Certainly. Then the way we want others to approach us when we are in the wrong should dictate our approach when we need to confront others.

...is our response to God.
Ultimately, we must treat others like God has treated us. And God has done what He has done for us because He loves us. To do for others something positive requires an element of love and we love because God first loved us (1 John 4.19). And we are to love others as we love ourselves which is linked with our loving God (1 John 4.20; Matthew 22.37-40).

One final thought before we shift gears. The Golden Rule is not meant to be manipulative. In fact, it cannot be manipulative if love is involved. Some people seek to misuse Jesus idea with the idea of “because I have done something for you, you now must do something for me.” That is not what Jesus said. In fact, truly loving others involves loving those who are our enemies (Matt 5.44). Loving our enemies does not mean they will love us in return, and serving others does not mean they will serve us. But Jesus command for us to do for others is not contingent on what we might receive from them; rather, our doing for others is ultimately about our responding to what God has done for us.

PART 2

As I mentioned above, Jesus now concludes His sermon by splitting humanity into two groups. To do so, He uses three distinct illustrations, two of which are well-known with the last of them having been turned into a song about the wise and foolish builders.

You and I tend to classify people in a lot of ways. We might classify people by their nationality, their gender, their skin color, their job/career, their political leanings, or any number of things – both good and bad. But Jesus breaks it down to two types of people – those who follow Him and those that do not. For the rest of this month, we will conclude this series by looking at these four different descriptions of the two types. The types are described by:
  • the gate they enter. (Matthew 7.13-14)
  • the fruit they bear – by whose will is done (vv. 15-23)
  • the foundation they use. (vv. 24-27)

Before we break down verses 13 and 14, take a moment to read them. Jesus teaches us that two gates exist. One is easy to find and is wide enough for many to enter. The other is only found by the few and requires discipline. The first gate leads to destruction and the second to life. To borrow from Jesus teaching in John 10.10, the first gate is, therefore, tended by Satan who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (i.e. destruction) and the second is the way to Jesus (who gives life abundantly).

The audience listening to Jesus that day would have had a fairly strong assurance of their salvation whether they should have or not. After all, they were Jews who were descendants of Abraham and thus were God’s chosen people. This mindset is similar to what many Americans believed over the past several decades. Many had considered America to be a Christian nation, and thus as an American, they were Christian, and their eternal destiny with God was secure. Fortunately, most people do not think that way any longer. Most people no longer consider America a Christian nation, let alone a nation of Christians. Unfortunately, many people who used to consider themselves marginal Christians do not care any longer and thus are still on the wide and easy path, but do not see the danger that awaits.

So, Jesus clearly states that the easy way that leads to the wide gate is not the gate His followers should seek. Rather, those who desire to be with Jesus should seek the gate that is hard to find – that is, it is seemingly hidden (notice Jesus says that few find it). And thus, thinking back to last week, we must ask, seek, and knock. But the words Jesus uses about this narrow gate and hard way make understanding the sequence difficult to interpret. Is the way to the gate hard, but once through it becomes easy? Or is the way to the narrow gate easier until you find it and then many challenges await. Let us quickly examine both options.

Life Is More Difficult Before We Enter the Gate

One of the worst selling points of Christianity is that “life will be easy once you are a Christian.” The idea is that with God on your side, everything is rosy. Of course, that’s what Jesus life was like, right? People mocked Him and tried to kill Him – eventually succeeding. But, in a way life is more difficult before we receive the gifts of God’s grace.

Before that point, we are going through life alone. For those that are religious, the goal of a positive destiny beyond this life (of any belief system besides authentic Christianity) is based upon what we do to appease the god(s) of that belief system. While many belief systems make it possible to progress to a higher state (like reincarnation in Hinduism), Christianity is different. Christianity is all or nothing and the Bible says that none of us can make it on our own (e.g. Romans 3.10, 23). However, Jesus promises that instead of trying to attain righteousness ourselves, we can attain that righteousness through Him. As He says in Matthew 11, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Finally, we must realize that verse 14 says that few find the proper gate. Thus, it is not easy to find. This idea fits well with what I just said regarding seeking salvation on one’s own. Human pride prevents most people from giving themselves over to another person. That statement is especially true when it comes to an “unseen” Person that supposedly is everywhere and is all-powerful. Our minds cannot comprehend such ideas so most reject the notion of the God of the Bible. And, thus, the gate is hard to find. In essence, to find the narrow gate, we must leave the crowd, forget about our self, and seek God – simultaneously. Either of the first two can be easy at times. Some don’t like crowds so they can avoid that process in general. Some prefer crowd and lose themselves in the crowd. But to do both and ALSO to seek God is what is required to find the narrow gate. (It is important to note the continuing theme of “seeking” from Matthew 6.33, 7.7, and finding in 7.14).

So, in this sense, life is more difficult before entering the gate – at least for those who are trying to attain a salvation that is otherwise unattainable.

Life Is More Difficult After We Enter the Gate

On the other hand, living the life Jesus calls us to live is hard. GK Chesterton famously said, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. Consider this current sermon series. Jesus is preaching a sermon that sets impossible standards. Life on the wide road is easy and that is why people choose it. As I mentioned earlier, the Golden Rule is a good rule and it would be great if everyone were to follow it. But in a sense, it is not meant for everyone; it is meant for those who follow Jesus. As is not judging without cause. As is not being anxious. As is not storing up treasures. As is not fasting, praying, or giving with false attitudes. Etc. Etc. Etc. The demands are impossible from an earthly perspective and thus finding the narrow gate is the easy part. The demands to live like Jesus are difficult and thus most do not begin the process or they quit after they have begun. The truth is almost everyone “becomes a Christian” before knowing what it means to truly follow Jesus. Thus, life was easier before stepping through the gate, because living according to Jesus words is next to impossible.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

The sermon Jesus preached should make us feel inadequate. It is not meant to condemn us per se, but it should help us realize that we cannot live up to the standards to which He has presented – at least, not under our own power. But that is why He came. His purpose for coming was not to teach us that we have no hope in living as He desires for us to live, but that by His death, we do have hope that we can become who He wants us to be. How? By seeking first God’s Kingdom and righteousness.

CONCLUSION
Again, Jesus is now in the final remarks of His great sermon. He has summarized His teaching with a call to live by the Golden Rule – which reflects the Great Commandment – love God and love others. Those who live by this rule, even though we may not be perfect at it, have chosen the narrow gate. Those who choose their own rules take the easy way, and as we will see in the coming weeks are not able to bear lasting fruit and are considered foolish for the foundation on which they build.

As followers of Jesus, we may choose the right way, but we will still stumble. And that is why He came to die. But through His death, we can find hope to live by the very commands we often find so difficult to obey.

And, thus, our JOURNEY letter for today is: OOBSERVE.

We can observe the Golden Rule by following last week’s commands to ask, seek, and knock. And we can observe those commands by following the central command of Jesus’ sermon – seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. It is only through the righteousness of God that we can live by God’s standards. And it is only by the righteousness that comes from the blood of Jesus that we can be forgiven.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE.
This week, try to live by the Golden Rule with this thought: do to/for others what Jesus would do to/for you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A.S.K.

Most every Christian will admit that s/he could do a better job of praying. Whether doing better consists of more time, better focus, better attitude, or something else, most Christians know prayer is important, yet fail to measure up to their own expectations of praying.

As I mentioned last month, when we don’t pray, we are effectively saying that while we may say we believe God is all-powerful, we don’t live in such a way that proves it. For if we truly believed God’s power could make necessary changes, we would pray for Him to do so far more intently than we do. Now, that doesn’t mean He will do everything we ask in the manner we desire; however, to not pray, or to stop praying about something, is to effectively say we don’t think He cares enough or is capable of doing what we are asking (unless He tells us to stop, see 2 Cor 12.8-9).

But Jesus taught His disciples to pray. In the passage we will review today, He teaches them to be bold in their prayers. And the disciples were bold, learning to pray so boldly that their prayers once caused the house to shake around them (Acts 4.31)! But in Matthew 7, Jesus simply gives His listeners three thoughts on talking to God and then shows that God’s goodness will grant those requests in His time and in His way.

To properly understand this passage, we must not isolate it from the text; rather, we must consider what Jesus has asked of those listening (and now reading) to this point. Living the life Jesus has set before all who heard His sermon then, and have read it since, is impossible for anyone not completely, and I mean completely, focused on God. Only someone like Jesus who said, “I only do what I see my Father in heaven doing” (John 5.19) is capable of living the life Jesus requires in the words we have as The Sermon on the Mount. The impossibility of living that way is precisely why Jesus had to die, and why in the verses immediately preceding these says that we should be particularly careful in our judging of others (first removing the plank from our eye before helping another). But this impossibility is also why we must get help from God. Last week we talked about the aspect of judging others; this week, I will focus on our need to turn to God for our help.

Asking Reveals We Are Open to Receive (Matt. 7.7-8)

I had never really thought about this fact until I began really studying this text this week. I think if you were to survey people why they ask for something, their response would be because they want it. In fact, think about how often that is how we form the question to someone: “What do you want?” But the question is: Are we ready to receive what we think (or say) we want?

Many people may think they want something, but would not know what to do if they got it. For instance, do you remember when Wheel of Fortune was about selecting items instead of receiving cash? This was an ok concept, until the person realized they had to get the item(s) home, pay taxes on their winnings (remember, they didn’t get cash), and then find a place to store it. Or what about The Price is Right. Someone might win the Showcase valued at $20,000. Everyone is excited until the tax bill of about $7,500 comes due on the items. I hope they won the $10,000 when spinning the wheel, but of course that would be another $3,750 in taxes, so they would still be about $1,300 in the hole.

Of course, Jesus isn’t referring to financial winnings here. But the principle of being ready to receive something must be considered when we begin to ask. Because according to Jesus, God desires to grant us our request when they are the right requests. James, in his letter, adds that we do not have our desires met because we do not ask (James 4.2). So, what are the right requests? Well, it stands to reason that the requests would be in line with God’s will based upon Jesus’ words in John 14.13-14. And I think what we find in Matthew 7 applies generally to many matters of prayer, let me first cover the other two verbs before I share what Jesus’ ultimate message is in this verse.

Seeking Reveals Our Desire to Find (vv. 7-8)

Did you ever play Hide-and-Seek with someone who like to hide, but wasn’t really interested in the seeking part of the game? When they were found and/or tagged, they would count and let others hide, but didn’t really venture out from the base figuring others would eventually get tired of hiding and come to them. The truth is that this strategy indicates a person who wants the rewards of seeking without doing any actual work.

On the other hand, you likely know people who just like to explore for the sake of exploring. You might ask them, “What are you looking for?” Their response, “Oh nothing in particular.” But if they find something of interest, they will claim it. This could be true of someone walking through nature, going to an auction or garage sale or even browsing through antiques. The goal of someone described here might simply be to enjoy the process of seeking, but ultimately a hope exists that something of interest, or even of value, might be found.

Of course, the Bible talks about seeking and finding. Jesus said He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10), and Luke 15 contains three different parables about something that has been lost (a sheep, a coin, and a son). But Matthew 7 is a command for us to seek. What might we seek that needs to be found? Are we to seek after others who might be lost, just as Jesus did? Are we to seek an answer to those puzzling questions from the Bible? The answers to both of those, and other questions we might consider, is likely “Yes”, but I believe the answer is clearer than that. In fact, it is right before our eyes (pun intended), but first let me speak about knock.

Knocking Reveals Our Readiness to Enter (vv. 7-8)

Seeking and knocking can go hand in hand. One pastor spoke of the connection between these three ideas this way. If a child needs something and is with his mother, he will ask her. If the mother is not there, he will seek her. If she is behind a closed door, he will knock. So, all three of these are connected, but seeking and knocking (“Anyone in there?”) are particularly so.

In the example I just used, knocking might simply be an extension of seeking, but more likely some desire to enter exists. For instance, after church each week, someone has to make sure the lights to the restrooms are off. Before I open the women’s restroom, I knock. Before Susan opens the men’s, she knocks. It is not that either of us intend to go far into the room, but a need to enter enough to turn off the lights is important.

So, knocking suggests we desire to enter. But again, the question is to what are we entering? Well, once again, I am going to ask you to wait. Although we have now covered the three verbs in verse 7, and the promises of verse 8, let us first review verses 9-11 before I provide what I believe is the clear answer to our questions.

Asking, Seeking, and Knocking Reveal a Trust In Our Father’s Goodness (vv. 9-11)

Ultimately, our praying will reveal to us and to others that God is good. Jesus says as much using a traditional Hebrew style of argument known as “lesser to greater” as we have seen before. In verse 9, Jesus wants His audience to know that humans know how to properly care for their children. If this is true, then how much more must God know how to care for His children?

One of the key distinctions in these verses is the “evil” of mankind and the goodness of God. The idea presented here is captured well elsewhere such as Romans 3.23 where Paul shared that “all have sinned” (i.e. are evil) “and fall short of the glory of God” (i.e. the One who is good). Jesus use of the word “you” is particularly interesting in verse 11. In using “you” Jesus is separating Himself from humanity’s evil nature. Jesus certainly identified with humanity often calling Himself “Son of Man.” But in Matthew 7.11, a clear distinction is drawn.

The metaphors Jesus uses in Matthew are more appropriate than they might appear at first glance (pun intended). For instance, many of the stones in the Judea desert have a similar appearance to a small loaf of bread. Many believe (myself included) that this similarity is why Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones which looked like bread into actual bread during Jesus’s time of testing (as recorded in Matthew 4). But the other comparison is equally strong. Within the Sea of Galilee a certain type of catfish resembles an eel. Someone seeing this creature could easily mistake the fish for a snake. Jesus uses these two ideas to show that a human parent knows the difference and would not trick their their child by exchanging their request for something else, and God would not either.

So, having covered the basics of this text, I still need to answer the fundamental question I hope you are asking: To what is Jesus referring when He says we should ask, seek, and knock? Does He mean our basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing? Well, He has just mentioned that we need not worry about such things. Does Jesus mean we should ask for a new car, a new house, or a new job? Well, people do this, but I do not think that is what Jesus had, or has, in mind.

I believe one word in verse eight provides the answer to the question of what Jesus has in mind. The word of focus is everyone. Jesus does not say that only those who are saved will receive if they ask. He does not say that only those who faithfully serve God will find what they seek. And He does not say that only those who go to church will find that door opened to them. Jesus says that everyone who asks receives. And the one (or implied everyone) who seeks finds. And the one (again, implied anyone) who knocks will find the door opened. So do this mean that God is a genie and anyone and everyone can ask whatever they want and get it? Remember, Jesus has used the word “will” in response to each portion so He is promising that God will respond favorably in each situation. That puts God in an awkward position if Jesus is making promises that God will not fulfill. So, how could Jesus make this promise without lying or compromising God in any way?

Well, before I answer that question, let me remind us of our central question for this series.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

Jesus certainly had a knowledge of the glory of the Lord when He taught these principles. Everything Jesus has mentioned in His sermon is beyond our reach by ourselves. Therefore, we must consider what Jesus was trying to reveal to us about that glory with the challenge in His teaching and the promise He has now made. And in our consideration, I believe it all comes back to the central theme of His sermon – the righteousness of God.

Therefore, let me paraphrase Matthew 7.7 for us with the thought of asking, seeking, and knocking related to the righteousness of God. But, let me remind you that Jesus has promised that everyone who asks, seeks, and knocks receives. As Paul wrote, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10.13).
  • Ask for the righteousness of God and it will be given to you – every one of you – having been made available by the blood of Jesus.
  • Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and you will find it and be satisfied for all eternity – every one of you.
  • Knock at the door to God’s Kingdom and He will open it to you and you will never need to leave – every one of you.

The glory of God is within reach of those who earnestly ask, seek, and knock.
The glory of God will not be withheld from those who earnestly ask, seek, and knock.
The glory of God will be eternally shared with those who earnestly ask, seek, and knock.

And to continue to be impacted by, and be a conduit of, the glory of God, we must keep asking, seeking, and knocking.

CONCLUSION
Jesus declared the Kingdom of God was at hand just before He began His sermon (Matthew 4.17). He then mentioned God’s righteousness for the first time in Matthew 5.6 as one of the blessings (Beatitudes). The promise there was for those who seek this righteousness, they will be satisfied.

In Matthew 5.20, God’s righteousness was compared to that of the religious leaders, whose efforts were found wanting in God’s eyes.  We are then told in Matthew 6.33 to seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and the many things in life over which we worry will fade into the background.

But it all begins with us realizing we need God to accomplish what He is asking us to do. We cannot live the kind of life that Jesus is challenging us to live in this sermon unless we have God guiding and directing us, which means we must submit to His Lordship. Having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord is nearly certain by this point in Jesus’ sermon. The expectation Jesus has given those listening (or now reading) are impossible to follow – the reason He called His listeners evil (v. 11). So, if we have a basic knowledge of what God desires for (and from) us, we should A.S.K. Him for help in living according to the standards set forth in Jesus’ sermon.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE.

The letter for the last few weeks has been R, and it is again today because we must recognize Jesus as Lord if any of this teaching is to make sense, and more importantly if we are going to try to live by it. He has offered the teaching, and now He has made it possible to live it, if we simply will Ask...Seek...and Knock until we first receive the gift of salvation, and then learn to live our lives according to the riches of His mercy.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE.

We need to live our lives in constant prayer – seeking to better know what Jesus has planned for us (by asking), how He wants to live (by seeking), and where He wants us to go (by knocking).

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

“Persistence”, A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

You may have heard the famous saying: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” When I think of that phrase, I think of persistence.

Persistence is defined as “the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people.”

Jesus told a story in Luke, just after He taught the disciples to pray that speaks of persistence.

Luke 11.5-8 (KJV):
5 And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
6 For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?
7 And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.

Again, this story is just after Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer in order to drive home the concept of persistence.

In this parable, a villager is in bed with his family at midnight and a neighbor comes to his door to get bread. Hospitality was a strictly observed custom in the Middle East, and a man caught without bread for a visitor would be in a shameful and desperately needy position.  Only such a need would drive a man to his neighbor’s house at midnight. And only such a need would drive the man to this level of persistence.

There is a word in verse 8 that we need to understand.  The word is importunity.  Importunity is when you beg someone to do something. The adjective, importunate, describes a plea that is persistent or demanding that becomes annoying. And that is what is happening here.

The Greek word translated “boldness” in the NIV and “persistence” in the NASB implies impudence and audacity. This is what Jesus is saying should be our attitude as we approach the throne of grace—a confident boldness that persists in pursuing God until he grants us mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:16), which says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

So in this parable, if this man would give his neighbor what he wanted not out of friendship, but because of shamelessness, how much more will God who loves us, give us when we come to Him?

Just before this in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said to pray, “Your will be done.” So putting this with Matthew 7.7, ask and keep asking, we are to be persistent in asking God to work in our lives and answer our prayers according to His will.

As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are to “pray without ceasing.” Having confidence in God, we experience his goodness and love.

So, I encourage you to “A.S.K.” – that is, Ask, Seek, and Knock. And be persistent in prayer!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Properly Measured

At some point, most everyone prepares (or at least helps to prepare) a meal. Perhaps this preparation is grabbing a bag of chips from the cabinets or perhaps it is as a chef in a five-star restaurant. But except in the rarest of occasions, everyone has done this. But when I say prepare a meal, most of us consider cooking something. Perhaps it is grilling some steaks or roasting a turkey, browning some beef for tacos, cooking a casserole of some kind, or baking a favorite dessert. Anyone hungry yet?

But some people cook and some know how to cook. For instance, some people get the recipe and follow it perfectly, making doubly sure everything is just right because they read it about five times – and that is before starting to cook! But others may cook many types of food filled with various ingredients without any printed recipe at all. Just add a dash of this, try a bit of that, and eventually, the item is done and ready to eat.

But the key to cooking – with a recipe or not – is to know which ingredients to use and how much of each is appropriate. I am often amazed when I look at certain recipes to think how someone came up with the right combination and cooking time. How many times did they fail before getting it right? Or to paraphrase Ben Franklin, “I didn’t fail, I just found 100 ways not to make it.”

Why do I talk about cooking and measuring ingredients? The goal is not to make you hungry, but rather to consider how we think about judging others. Do we just respond in the moment – usually irrationally and therefore in a hostile manner, or do we take time to measure our response? Contrary to what many believe, the Bible says that we are to judge, but like any good cook, we better beware of what measure we use when judging other people.

Properly Measured Judgment Requires Humility (Matt. 7.1-2)

Let me begin this portion with a very pointed question: Whom have you judged this week? The judgment could have been in any number of ways. Perhaps gossip was involved. Perhaps you thought of someone in a manner that degraded them in some way – especially not knowing the full situation. Perhaps, you are thinking it now or will by the end of this blog post with the thought: “Boy, I wish so-and-so would read this post.” Perhaps you are reading it because God needs you to heed this message!

I know I have had some of these thoughts this week. I can think of one man in a nearby town whom I judged for his not stopping at a sign on Thursday. It wasn’t that I judged his action as wrong, it was that I thought of him as a jerk for doing it.

And that example is how we must understand the first two verses of Matthew 7. The Greek word for judge is “krino” which has two primary meanings. It can mean to analyze or evaluate. It can also mean to judge and condemn. As we will see today, Christians are supposed to evaluate the actions of others and we are supposed to help others correct those actions, when necessary. However, we are not to condemn the person committing those actions. The right to condemn is God’s alone.

The reason we judge is because we put ourselves in authority over another person. Now, I am not saying that some do not have authority in many situations. I am saying that in judging we either feel superior to another person or we judge another person so we can feel superior.

Thus, we must be humble. Humility is important because we are not superior to other humans. Everyone is created in the image of God, just like us. God is superior; we are equals, at least before God. And that is why Jesus says we must not judge in the condemning way. Instead, Jesus invites us to help others by evaluating their needs as we will see in the next section.

Properly Measured Judgment Avoids Hypocrisy (vv. 3-5)

The metaphor Jesus uses in these verses is hilarious. If a cartoonist were to draw this, it might get quite the laugh. But the meaning of the statement is anything, but funny. Imagine if you went into an eye surgeon for a procedure and his/her vision was impaired because of a beam protruding from the eye. The word Jesus uses for the “log” (or “plank” in some translations) is like a support beam for a house. Consider the last point, wouldn’t we want this eye specialist to have the humility to get an eye exam before doing a procedure on someone else?

That is what Jesus is saying here. We often criticize others when our shortcomings far exceed theirs. This fact is especially true when considering the shortcoming of others against us compared to our shortcomings against God. Again, the idea of humility is present. And if we are not humble, then we are hypocrites.

We are hypocrites because of our sin.
Let me be blunt by considering Jesus words in this context. Do you worry? Then, you have a log in your eye because the preceding verses are Jesus commands not to worry. So, if you are worrying, regardless of what other sins you have or have not committed, you have no room to judge others until you remove the worry from your life!

We are hypocrites because of our bias.
Do we judge everyone the same? Very few people might, but for most, the answer is “of course not.” For instance, If a relative steals $100 from you would you seek the same justice as if the $100 had been stolen by a stranger while you were walking in a store? Would your answer be the same if you had $500 in assets vs. $5 million in assets. If the answer is no, then this is a form of hypocrisy. As humans we are not perfectly consistent in our dealings with others, and thus we are hypocrites.

So, a proper measurement of judging prevents us from being hypocritical. But the key to understanding these verses is found in verse 5. This verse is critical to our understanding this short passage. Again, many will quote verse 1 and say we are not to judge. But notice what Jesus says. We are FIRST to fix our own problem, and THEN we are to help the other person. That is, once the log is out of our eye, we have an obligation to help get the speck out of the other person’s eye. But that is the key. Our purpose must be to help, not to tear someone down. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4, we are not to let any unwholesome speech come from our lips, but instead we should speak what is profitable for building up others.

Properly Measured Judgment Maintains Clarity (v. 6)

Verse 6 is one of the strangest teachings of Jesus. The idea behind the verse is difficult enough, but its placement in the text makes a perfect understanding of this principle nearly impossible. Now, many will give their opinion on what Jesus means, and I will share my belief on this verse in a minute, but the number of reasonable explanations are considerable. For instance, I read five different commentaries that I trust this week, and they each had a different take on this verse. Do the dogs and pigs represent actual animals? What is the holy that should not be given to dogs? So, why do I use the word clarity if the verse is unclear?

Well, the idea behind Jesus’ words here is obviously about being discerning. That is, we must determine good from bad. We must take time to understand the situation before us and be good stewards accordingly. Although I certainly acknowledge the possibility that the dogs are literal dogs and the pigs are literal pigs, I believe it is more likely that these are metaphors for people who will not receive the type of correction Jesus commends in the preceding verses. If His teaching here is rejected, then it is likely that the entire Gospel will be rejected (if the holy refers to the Gospel, this is indeed a likely interpretation). Some will not only reject this teaching, but will turn in anger on the person trying to help and persecute them maliciously (i.e. the pig attacking).

This interpretation does not mean we do not share the Gospel with others. To not share is to judge another as not worthy of hearing it which is adamantly opposed to this section on not condemning others as well as standing in contradiction to the Great Commission. However, if the message is rejected, we must use discernment and remove ourselves from the situation (like when the disciples were instructed to kick the dust off of their feet). It does not mean that the person might not be saved at a later time, but if we keep badgering them when they are not ready, they may turn themselves away from God forever.

Again, many different ways to interpret this verse have been suggested, but in the context, I believe it must relate to providing correction to those in need. However, that correction should only be offered after we have made ourselves right with God first.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

The opposite of condemnation is forgiveness, which is what we must seek. Do you remember the words Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6.12, 14-15? We are to ask God to forgive us as we also forgive others. To condemn others is to ask for God to condemn us. Jesus says this explicitly several times in this sermon (including Matthew 7.2), but how quickly we forget.

I got blunt a few minutes ago by asking if you worried. Well, let me expand that bluntness here. Consider how large or small your log might be compared with Jesus teaching beginning in Matthew 5.21. Do you struggle with:

  • anger against other people? (5.21-26)
  • lusting after other people? (5.27-30)
  • breaking the covenant of marriage? (5.31-32)
  • lying or making promises you do not keep? (5.33-38)
  • seeking to retaliate when wronged? (5.38-42)
  • loving others who are against you? (5.43-48)
  • bringing attention to yourself with your giving to others? (6.1-4)
  • bringing attention to yourself in your prayers or prayer requests? (6.5-8)
  • praying by simply reciting words rather than considering their meaning? (6.7, 9-13)
  • not remembering the holiness of God’s name and character? (6.9)
  • seeking your will over Gods? (6.10)
  • being selfish in praying the Lord’s blessings rather than praying for the community? (6.11)
  • not forgiving others? (6.12, 14-15)
  • putting yourself in situations you know would displease God? (6.13)
  • making more of your sacrifices than is truly warranted? (6.16-18)
  • focusing on earthly matters instead of heavenly ones? (6.10, 19-24)
  • worrying about life’s relatively minor aspects rather than seeking God’s kingdom first? (6.25-34)


If any of these are true, then in humility you need to seek the mercy of God? And that is the point Jesus makes here. No one, except Himself, could truthfully claim not to be at fault with at least one item in that list. And if you are like me, it is not just one item. I am guilty of many. So, in humility, to avoid hypocrisy, and to see with clarity, I must come before God and confess my sins before I have the right to pull the speck out of another person’s eye. I am to be critical of myself before I am critical toward others. But make no mistake, per Matthew 7.5 (and other passages like Galatians 6.1-2) we are to help one another with their problems too.

CONCLUSION

At the beginning of this message, I mentioned cooking and the way different cooks might handle various ingredients. In the Next Steps portion (below) I will give you are recipe for properly measuring your judging. It is a recipe I gave you before – back in the summer of 2014 during a series on what it means to be the church. I have re-evaluated the recipe against my present understanding of this Scripture and others and find no reason to change it.

The key for us to remember is that Matthew 7.1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged” – is not a verse in isolation. Neither is the full passage we reviewed today. These verses immediately follow Christ’s command to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. While the promise of “these things” being added relates to the text preceding the command, we cannot doubt that Matthew 7.2 and the measure of judgment we use relates to how well we are truly seeking God and His righteousness, not our own self-righteous desires. We must seek to be right with God before we seek to correct others. All of this is included in my recipe, but before I give you the recipe, let me reveal our JOURNEY letter today.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is:  RREVERE.

Condemning others is God’s right alone, we must remember our place and revere Him. We are to love others, which does mean we must correct them at times, but it also requires us to forgive them and show them mercy just as we seek to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LOVE.

To judge with a proper measure depends upon our ability to love. Therefore, as Jesus later commanded, we must love. But in continuing to love, we must confront sin and injustice. In the summer of 2014, I gave you the following recipe for judging others based upon this text.

1. Have I come before God to make sure my vision is clear?

2. If I confront another person, am I seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness or my own?

3. Do I believe this person is a Christian?
   a. Yes. Ask God how to approach the situation.
   b. No. Ask God for His grace to be revealed in you so you are not seen as merely judgmental.

4. What does the Word of God say about the matter?

Following these guidelines does not guarantee that a confrontation of sinful behavior will go well, but it does mean you will be responding from a perspective of helping instead of one that is condemning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Seek First

Last week’s message was on the verses immediately preceding the climactic verse of Jesus’ sermon. The climax of Jesus’ sermon is found in Matthew 6.33 where He implores His audience to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness with the promise that the other matters he has mentioned (food and clothing) will be given by God because He is our caring Father.

Three times in this last part of Matthew 6 we find the words “do not be anxious” (vv. 25, 31, 34) which means Jesus thinks this is serious business. A principle of interpreting the Bible is if we find something repeated it is probably important, and if it is repeated within a few verses, we truly need to take note.

So, I got to thinking about the idea of being anxious. If we are commanded not to be anxious, then it must not be natural. That is, we must learn how to become anxious. So, when does that start? Of course, our parents, relatives, and friends teach us about anxiety when we watch them fret over paying the bills, working out schedules, etc. This is real anxiety, and specifically the kind Jesus mentioned in His sermon. But another kind of anxiety is more short-term, but very real. When we watch movies and television shows, we become anxious as the suspense is built towards some sort of resolution. And that thought got me to thinking about movies many children watch. Specifically, I began to think about Disney movies and the fact that in the midst of the movies, kids learn not be anxious, even as the suspense builds throughout the movie. For instance, in the Jungle Book, Baloo sings that we should forget about our worry and strife as we get life’s bare necessities. And, we can’t forget everyone’s favorite meerkat and wart hog, Timon and Pumbaa, and the motto they adopted of “Hakuna Matata.” And, of course, we might even adapt the thoughts of the song most young girls sang just a few years ago – “Let it Go.”

But the point is that Jesus commands us not to be anxious because we have learned to be anxious. Ultimately, His command is for us to remember where our allegiance really lies and where our true security is found. When we seek the treasures of this world, we will inevitably find ourselves anxious at some point, and we will be sorely disappointed in the end. But, when we seek God, first and foremost, then we will find ourselves less concerned about matters of the world, and more concerned about what He wants for His creation.

So, let us take a few moments to review the words of Jesus and explore what it means to seek God first.

Seeking God First Means to Seek Differently

Matthew 6.33 is a verse that is quoted often. It is one that I mention regularly, but if truth be told I misquote it all the time. Perhaps you do too. This is what I say, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Now, you might be thinking that is what the verse says. Well, it is what the verse means, but it is not what it says. The verse begins with the word “but.”

Jesus is contrasting what has been said just before. In verse 31, Jesus says many are anxious about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Then He says that even the Gentiles go about expressing similar concerns, but the children of God do not need to worry over such matters – the Father already knows what you need.

One objection you might offer is that many Christians live and/or die in extreme poverty. I certainly have the same thoughts, but that is not the fault of the Father; rather, it is the fault of His children. It is the fault of His children who do not share!

Just as an earthly father might provide certain items for his sons and daughters to share, so too does our heavenly Father. Again, we acknowledge our need to share when we pray, “give us today OUR daily bread.” When I have enough, I am to share with those who are less fortunate. And, as Luke 12.48 reminds us, to whom much is given, much is required. So, our argument that God does not provide is not sound. The fault lies with His children who do not adequately share. And that gets to the heart of what Jesus is saying here.

Jesus is painting a contrast to what we often desire to what we should desire. When we seek earthly goods (even food and clothing), we often do so at the expense of what God wants for us and from us. “But” Jesus says, to seek God and His kingdom first is to think differently. It is to consider God’s desires over our own. It is to seek God, and His rule in our lives, over food, over clothing, and even over what we might drink. All of these items are real needs; we must have food and drink to live. But in seeking these items first, we may miss God. When we seek God first, we will get these items and more. It is as I have asked many times, “Do you want God’s blessings, or do you want God?” One is idolatry; the other is worship.

Seeking God and His Kingdom first is about recognizing who He is. Seeking other items first is to choose another master (verse 24). Seeking God first is contrary to what most people do, and that is why Jesus says, “but” in regard to seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness first...because to do so represents a completely different way of thinking.

Seeking God First Means to Seek Primarily

Our seeking is to put God and His righteousness first. Here, the word first does not mean sequentially, as in seek God first, then other stuff second. It means seek God above all else. Seek Him first. Put Him first. Keep Him first. And when we do all of these other things will be added to us.

Furthermore, seeking God will satisfy us. At least, seeking His righteousness will. Remember, the promise of the fourth beatitude is that hungering and thirsting for righteousness will satisfy us. That is, hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness will satisfy us. The problem is we often seek a righteousness that is not from God. Perhaps it is our own righteous thinking or perhaps it is like that of someone else.

Again, Matthew 6.33 is the climax of this sermon, but the theme of righteousness has been prevalent throughout Jesus’ sermon. In Matthew 5.20, Jesus explicitly warns His audience not to get caught up in how righteous the scribes and Pharisees appear to be. Then Jesus proceeds to show what true righteousness is – it is evidenced by more than our actions; true righteousness affects our thoughts as well. It will also affect our giving, our prayer, and our fasting. And now, to conclude this section, being truly righteous will affect what we pursue – God or stuff.

The problem is that for many people, self-righteousness is the primary desire. We compare ourselves to others by what we do and don’t have, what we do and don’t do, what we think and don’t think, etc. But these comparisons only make us self-righteous. And, we all have self-righteous tendencies. In fact, the following quote epitomizes the thought. “We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family disease of all the children of Adam.” – J.C. Ryle 

Self-righteousness comes in all kinds of forms. Whenever we think we are morally better than someone else, we are being self-righteous. Whenever we think that our sacrifices are better than someone else, we are being self-righteous. The truth is that the only righteousness that is worthy anything is the righteousness that comes from God – a righteousness that is only available to us because of the blood of Christ. It is that righteousness that has cleansed us from our sin not so that we are better than others, but so we can share with others that God desires to make them righteous too.

And when we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, this is exactly the attitude and approach we will take – that we are making our concerns the same concerns of God – a love of people instead of a lust for things.

Seeking God First Means to Seek Daily

Jesus concluding thoughts on this portion of His sermon are to remind His hearers to focus on today. Just as He taught the disciples in the prayer, He emphasizes the needs of the day over the considerations of the future. “Give us today our daily bread” forces us to focus on God’s provision for today rather than wondering about how we will manage next week, next month, or next year. As I mentioned last week, this does not mean that we cannot plan ahead; however, it does force us to rely upon God even as we consider the future. That is, we can plan for tomorrow, but we do not need to worry about it.

The problem is that too many people waste their lives worrying about tomorrow. In verse 27, Jesus said that worrying about various matters cannot add a single hour to our lives. In fact, we know that worry leads to stress and stress actually is harmful to our lives and takes months and years from us.

So, Jesus says that we should manage ourselves today and not worry about tomorrow. When we take this approach, we will never need to worry, because it is always today. Yesterday was, tomorrow may be, but today is. What I mean is that you never arrive at tomorrow. You only live when it is today. So, consider and plan for tomorrow, but don’t worry about it. Remember and reflect on yesterday, but don’t fret about it. Live today. And live for today. It is the only day you have available.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

As I said last week, and a few times in various conversations this week, it is much easier to say or type that we should seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness first than it is do it. Trust me when I say that I am still in the process of learning this and adapting the principle to my life as well. But Jesus words are clear and we must not ignore them. So, how does this truly apply to us?

Well, first, we must seek God first when things are going well. We must seek God first when we have plenty of food, when we like the clothing we have, when our friends are treating us well, etc. We cannot begin to place our trust in our comforts for they offer no real security. For, as Jesus said, moth and rust may soon destroy or thieves may break in and steal. Or a rumor could harm a relationship, etc. Thus, when things are going well, we must still seek God first and as we do we should praise Him for the time of peace in our lives.

Second, seeking God must be our first response when our lives hit a rough patch. We must turn to God when we don’t have enough money to make it to the end of the month, when we don’t have enough food to last the day, let alone the week. We must seek God when our relationships are suffering, when the car won’t start, or whatever problem life throws our way. And problems will come. As Jesus said, each day has enough trouble of its own.

But God! But God is still on the throne and that is why we seek His Kingdom. But God still cares for His children and that is why we seek His righteousness. But God still desires to share Himself with you and that is why we can trust Him even when most everything around us seems to be falling apart.

So, whether life is going well or during times of struggle, we must consider what we will seek? Where will we seek to find comfort? Will it be in stuff, or in God?

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned at the beginning of the message, at some point we learn to worry. We learn what it means to be anxious. Thus, it is not natural, and therefore, it can be unlearned. To reverse our learning on much of life can be quite difficult, and reversing our tendencies towards worry and being anxious is especially difficult. But if Jesus said, “Do not be anxious” (and He did, three different times in the last ten verses of Matthew 6), then it is possible otherwise Jesus would be condemning us to break His command.

So, whether you adopt the motto of “Hakuna Matata” or simply seek the “bare necessities” do so only after having begun to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” When you begin to seek His Kingdom differently, primarily, and daily, the rest of life’s worries will begin to fade into the background.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE.

Again the basic question is, will we seek what God can give us, or will we seek God? Jesus commands us to seek God. It is what He did and therefore as His followers, what we should do as well. In doing so, we show God how important He is to us and that we desire to worship Him.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE.

Seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is not about stopping and waiting. It is about living with purpose – God’s purpose. You may have heard the phrase: “He’s so heavenly minded, he is of no earthly good.” Well, Matthew 6.33 suggests that if we want to be of earthly good, we must begin by being heavenly-minded. So seek God’s rule and righteousness and then live your live accordingly.