Wednesday, February 28, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: A Measure of Perfection

Certain people deserve to be celebrated – not because of a certain profession, but because of who they are as people. Most likely that statement just triggered someone in your mind. Perhaps it is a friend, a spouse, a child, or someone else who may be known by many or known by just a few.

As I prepared this message, two names from the 20th Century came to mind. One is a man who is very well known and while the other is known by many, she is not as celebrated as the other. Both are remembered for their actions, and although neither were perfect humans, both exhibited love and forgiveness in a way that represents much of what Jesus taught in the passage we will look at today. The man is Martin Luther King, Jr. The woman is Corrie Ten Boom.

I will come back to these two individuals at the end of the post. But for now, let’s look at our four questions which have guided us through this series so far.

Take a moment to read Matthew 5.38-48.

What did the people think?

It is important to remember that Jesus begins each of these antitheses with the words or the meaning, “You have heard it was said, but I say....” That is why I have been taking the extra time to clarify what the people likely thought when Jesus began to speak. Because they had heard teaching on these six items, they had preconceived ideas of what Jesus might say. But Jesus proposes a radically different way of thinking about each of these items. So, how did the people hear the words we are reviewing this week?

Retaliation – Jesus mentions a law that was given in Exodus 21.24 (and Deuteronomy 19.21). The people understood this law for the purpose in which it was given. The idea is that the punishment must fit the crime. A person should not be judged by wealth, status, family, or anything else. A poor person should not get off too easy, and a rich person should not have to pay extra. God gave this law. But the Jews had made personal vengeance prominent by the time of Jesus.

But then Jesus provides some examples which would not have been so easily embraced. First, to be struck on the right side was an insult, but to be struck backhanded was even worse. Second, the OT law protected the right for a person to have their cloak (Ex. 22.26-27). It could not even be given as collateral overnight because it served not only as a coat, but as a blanket or covering as well. Then, Jesus said if the Romans asked you to walk one mile, go the second one without being asked. And, finally, He says give to those who ask of you.

Why does a follower of Christ do these things? Love!

Love – The Pharisees had twisted some of the OT to their benefit. Of course, the OT does say to love your neighbor (Lev. 19.18), but nowhere does it say to hate our enemy. In fact, in the very same chapter (Lev 19), the command is to love the sojourner (stranger) that comes into the land (vv. 33-34). For the Jew, Jesus words would have meant the Romans – the Gentile Romans. And Jesus was saying to love them even as the Romans persecuted them. Why? Up to this point, it is likely the people listening thought what Jesus was asking was impractical, but now it would have become nonsense.

But Jesus did say it. So we must unpack not only what He said, but why.

What did Jesus say?

Retaliation – Remember, Jesus is not making up new ideas. He is taking old, and well-known ideas, and giving them new meaning. He is trying to help those who are to be His followers think in Kingdom terms (that is, on earth as it is in heaven), rather than living by societal norms. What Jesus provides for us are principles, not hard and fast commands. We are not to view these ideas with a mentality of how close can we get to the line without crossing; rather, we are to follow the principle in all aspects of life.

Jesus first says that His followers are not to resist one who is evil. Please note, this is not the evil one (which is in the Lord’s Prayer). The evil one is Satan, and, thus, evil is to be avoided. The KJV makes this hard to understand for it merely says, resist not evil, which would then contradict the Lord’s own words. But what Jesus says here is one who is evil – or a person that is acting out in an evil fashion. The main point He is making is that it is not up to the individual to make it right, let justice be handled by the community, and then ultimately by God. Jesus gives four brief examples to clarify His thought.

The one who is evil may:
  • slap you on the face (jawbone is best translation). Rather than hitting them back, let them strike you again on the other cheek. Why? This type of “slap” was perceived as an insult in Jewish culture. Jesus is saying if the person strikes again the person lacks  dignity and is the one who will ultimately be insulted.
  • sue you for your tunic (shirt). Rather than suing him in return, go the extra step and give up your cloak (coat) as collateral well until the debt is paid. It would be better to go through life half-naked and cold than to retaliate in an unjust manner. If the person accepts the coat, they know nothing of God’s law and should be treated as such.
  • ask you to fulfill the law by carrying their burden. Don’t just fulfill the law, exceed it. It will make them question why you would “go the extra mile” which gives you an opportunity to show who you really are (and tell them about Jesus).
  • ask you for money – either as a beggar or as a borrower. Give them something. What you give them may not be money, but you can treat them with respect and give them something of value.

Ultimately, in these four examples, Jesus is saying that His disciples much reject any desire to retaliate, and instead seek to provide benefit to others – even those who treat them poorly. Why? Because of the next topic Jesus addresses – love.

Love – As I mentioned earlier, the Pharisees had manipulated the idea of love and hate. Jesus aims to set them straight. He does so extending the thought greatly. Notice in verse 43, the common thought is that it is ok to hate an enemy (singular), but Jesus says to love and pray for all of our enemies (plural). Why? Because God loves all people and we are to be like our Father. Notice verse 44 uses the term sons – so, like Father, like son. That requires us to love.

Jesus then uses the idea of sun and rain to further His point. In theological terms, this idea is called Common Grace. Common grace is different than the grace that saves us. Common grace is the kind of grace that is manifest to all people – whether they believe in God or not. Thus, the sun shines on the good and evil. The rain falls on the good and evil. Etc. But notice one implication of this type of grace – God makes it happen. The sun does not simply rise; God makes it rise. The rain does not simply fall; God sends the rain. Thus, He is in control. And because He is in control, and because He loves others, He commands those who love Him to love others as well.

Jesus closes this part of His teaching with the idea of a reward. To be rewarded by God means living above the norm. Even tax collectors and Gentiles are capable of love and greeting one another. But a follower of Christ can love and greet people that they do not even like. It is the cost of being a follower of Christ. Those who learn to live like this will be rewarded because they are becoming more like God – that is, they are becoming perfect. This command is not for the masses, it is for those who follow (notice the “you” to begin verse 48).

What does our world say?

Retaliation/Love – Let me combine both thoughts here. Getting even with someone who has harmed us is, perhaps, as human a trait as there is. (Blaming others might be the top trait.) Just think of the four examples Jesus used. If someone hits you, our natural tendency is to defend ourselves and then hit back. If someone sues us, our first reaction is not to give them more, but for many, look for a reason to counter-sue. Rather than going the extra mile, many people do only as little as possible. And beggars and borrowers are looked at scornfully by most. But let me put a new twist on this. What does our world say (think) about how Christians should respond?
  1. Christians are to be pushovers. If you hit them, they cannot hit back.  However, Jesus never says do not defend yourself. He is not saying that we are to accept abuse. He is saying that seeking vengeance will only lead to greater troubles.
  2. Christians can be easily manipulated into giving because we are to care. Christians are supposed to be giving and are supposed to serve, but that does not mean we are to bow down and cater to the whims of others. If we are sued, we have the right to defend ourselves. If we are asked to serve, then we have an opportunity to show ourselves as different. And if we are asked for money, we can give something to the person. As Peter said in Acts 3, I don’t have any silver or gold, but I have Jesus.

Jesus did not mean that we are to give up all of our rights and/or possessions. If so, Christians would live in constant oppression and be destitute instead. Jesus is saying that our need to love as God loves is more important than our so-called rights and possessions. Any rights we have come from God, as do all our possessions. We are to be good stewards of what He has given us, which means sometimes we must stand up for what we believe. Yet, we must always do so in love.

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

Retaliation – Ultimately, Jesus is refuting the idea of personal vengeance. Justice is necessary, but is to be left to the courts (and, ultimately, God’s court). We may be insulted (hit in the face), but that does not give us the right to insult others. We may we asked to give or serve, but that does not mean we give up everything. I like what Augustine said regarding Matthew 5.42: “The text says, ‘give to everyone that asks,’ not, ‘give everything to him that asks.’”

The government and the courts are in place to handle the necessary justice (see Romans 13). At the personal level, however, we are commanded to love.

Love – Jesus challenges His disciples here to love. A true Christian will learn to love those whom were previously considered unlovable. The evil ones who mistreat, cause harm, or even persecute those who follow Jesus should be shown love because God loved His people even when we were still sinners (Romans 5.8).

It is having a love like God that makes us perfect. The word is usually translated as “mature” or “whole.” However it may be translated, the idea is to become more like God – who is, indeed, perfect. Of course, we cannot become sinless, we can achieve a perfect righteousness (v. 20). As J. Walvoord wrote, “While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable.”


I began this message my mentioning the names of two individuals. I want to take a moment now to explain why. First, is Corrie ten Boom. You may know the name. She was a Christian who helped hide Jews from the Nazis in Holland during WW2. She eventually ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp with her sister, who would die there. In 1947, Corrie was back in Munich, speaking at a church, when a man began to approach her. As he got closer, she recognized him as one of the guards at Ravensbruck. He told her he had become a Christian and was thankful that God had forgiven him, but now asked Corrie to forgive him too. It took her a moment, but she did. Only God can allow that to happen. And we cannot truly love until we learn to forgive.

As for Martin Luther King, Jr., he was a man who preached love despite his many sufferings. The sufferings were shared at his funeral by his close friend, Dr. Benjamin Mays.

“If any man knew the meaning of suffering, King knew. House bombed; living day by day for thirteen years under constant threats of death; maliciously accused of being a Communist; falsely accused of being insincere....; stabbed by a member of his own race; slugged in a hotel lobby;
jailed over twenty times; occasionally deeply hurt because friends betrayed him—and yet this man had no bitterness in his heart, no rancour in his soul, no revenge in his mind; and he went up and down the length and breadth of this world preaching non-violence and the redemptive power of love.”

When preaching on Matthew 5.43-45, King described the reason we need to love. He said, “hate multiplies a descending spiral of violence” and is “just as injurious to the person who hates” as to his victim. He then described love as “the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” His goal was to “meet hate with love” in order to not only win freedom, but to win over the oppressors claiming that love can make “our victory...a double victory.”

Both ten Boom and King, Jr., had plenty of reason to retaliate. But both knew the love of God and thus preached and lived a message of hope and redemption. That is what Jesus was calling His followers to do 2000 years ago and it is what He is calling us to do today. It is not easy, but it is possible because of Jesus.

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

It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.

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


Each action we take ultimately falls into one of three options.

As Alfred Plummer stated, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human;
to return good for evil is divine.”

This week, choose to return good for evil. In doing so, you will take one step closer to perfection.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

“Revenge and Loving Your Enemies”, A Closer Look by Ann Martin

Jesus’ saying “You have heard it said an eye for an eye” is the fifth illustration of becoming righteous. He is referring to the law of retaliation mentioned in Exodus 21:23-24, “But if there be any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

This law obligated the offender to suffer the same injury he had committed. Jesus is saying that rather than avenging injury or insult, one must be ready to suffer patiently a repetition of the same injury. He was referring to those who suffered for righteousness’ sake. It was not intended to permit men to take vengeance into one’s own hands especially for personal affronts.

Revenge often leads to irrational behavior including seeking revenge against a person when that person may not have been at fault. Looking at 1 Kings 3, we understand this passage usually refers to the wisdom given to Solomon to judge his people – a kind a wisdom that can only come from God.

In this story, two women come before Solomon, each claiming a child as their own. These two women were prostitutes (according to one commentary, this might have been referring to tavern keepers because prostitutes would not have dared appear before the king and prostitution was not permitted under the laws of the land at that time.) We know these women made their living  in the same manner, lived in the same house alone, and each had a baby within 3 days of each other. 

When one baby died during the night, its mother switched it with the living baby before dawn. In the morning, each woman claimed the living child as her own before Solomon. His solution was to set a trap to determine the true mother. He ordered someone to divide the baby into two parts and give half to each woman. The real mother said, “Oh no. Let her have the child so it might live.” The mother of the child who had died offered the baby to Solomon saying, “The child will be neither mine nor yours.” In other words, she was saying through misguided thinking that life is not fair and if I cannot have the child then neither can you.

The second mother’s reaction to dividing the child told Solomon she was not the true mother and the other one was awarded the child. As is often the case, retaliation can lead to that irrational behavior I mentioned earlier, causing even more pain.

The law from Leviticus 19:18 says “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of my people, but shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the direction Jesus went next in His teaching: love our enemies.

Think about these two women returning home to the house they shared with all this conflict between them. These women had to learn to trust and care again. God granted Solomon the gift of wisdom that can only come from Him. This idea of loving our enemies too must come from God. It is the most noble piece of morality ever given to man. But who can obey it? No one can but the one that has the mind of Christ. Only God knows the full truth and can correct any situation or overcome our irrational thinking if we ask Him to do so.

In our world today, retaliation is more the norm than loving our enemies. This is often learned as children. “He hit me so I hit him back.” It continues in some people who avenge themselves for perceived injustices with a weapon. And it escalates to the point on the world stage of people groups against people groups.

Follow the link to read a powerful story about a young Palestinian that chose a different direction concerning retaliation after he came to know Christ:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Matters of the Truth

How many promises have you broken in your lifetime? More than you care to admit, and likely far too many to remember. But a few probably stick out in your memory and may even cause you grief. Why? Because a promise is meant to be important.

Very early in life, we learn the value of a promise. When you were young, maybe you remember making a promise with the following oath attached: “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” Others make promises with oaths swearing on their parents or children’s lives, and in court a witness is directed to add “so help me God.” And, of course, most people have made some sort of promise to God about changing their lives if God will just get them out of a mess.

So, how many promises have you broken in your lifetime? How many oaths on top of the promise have you broken as well? It is one thing to break a promise, but the oath makes it worse because breaking the oath how insincere we really are. For instance, a person who swears on their child’s life is really saying that if they mess up, the child is the one who should be punished. What kind of sense does that make?

This week we will be talking about promises made. We do so as we continue to review Jesus’ commentary on certain commands. Last week’s message was entitled “Matters of the Heart.” The title was chosen because in God’s Kingdom, our life is not just about what we do, but what we think as well. This week’s could be the same, but because we are dealing with meaning what we say, I have chosen the title, “Matters of the Truth.” The reality is that we have all lied before, even George Washington, but Jesus spoke of our need to be faithful, to be truthful. He did so in a specific way regarding marriage, and then more generally regarding oaths. The people then, as well as those of us today should take heed to Jesus’ words because as He said at a later time, “I am the truth.”

I encourage you to read Matthew 5.31-37.

What Did the People Think?

Divorce – Jesus continued to challenge the thinking of the day, although a debate upon divorce was already ongoing. The debate about divorce during that time centered around the teachings of two prominent rabbis who lived just prior to Jesus. (I taught on this during our series through Mark, from Chapter 10). The essence was the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24.1-4. Moses gave a ruling which allowed for divorce, but a certificate was required. The certificate was required because the woman had very few legal rights and would not be able to prove she was no longer married without the certificate. Thus, if someone wanted to marry her, she needed the certificate to prove she was no longer married.

Over the years, the problem became one of what constitutes a “legitimate” cause for divorce. As I have shared in the past, a certificate could be given if the wife had a facial blemish or if she spoiled his dinner (literally, this was a written rule – Mishnah Giáš­. 9.10). So one of the prominent rabbis, Hillel, allowed for divorce in virtually any instance. The other rabbi, Shammai, taught that only when adultery is involved should a divorce be granted. Furthermore, some evidence shows that adultery was not only grounds for a divorce, but required it. Thus, Jesus words here turned their understanding upside-down.

Oaths – As for oaths, the people had developed an elaborate system to make their pledge more honorable. It was considered blasphemous for a Jew to incorporate God’s name into an oath so they would not “swear to God” as this is the true meaning of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Originally, it had nothing to do with our phraseology of invoking God’s damnation on someone or something. So, in order to avoid using God’s (Yahweh’s, Yeshua’s) name to make an oath binding, the people would swear by locations or items of varying degrees. Thus, swearing by heaven was considered to mean more than swearing by earth, which was above Jerusalem, which was more important than the hair on one’s head.

These oaths were a normal part of life and everyone who heard Jesus would have understood this fact well.

What Did Jesus Say?

Divorce – While Jesus’ spoke of adultery being a reason might divorce (like Shammai), His emphasis was different than the others. Jesus was not looking to provide escape clauses so people could justify their divorce; rather He was promoting the institution of marriage His Father created in the Garden. Although Jesus allowed for divorce in the instance of adultery, He did not say it was mandatory (like their customary law seems to have said). A divorce in 1st Century Palestine might seem beneficial for the man, but a woman did not have much hope to  sustain herself if she did not remarry, which means she had now committed adultery, and was forced to by her former husband. (I should note here that a woman could not divorce a man – although she could ask the man for a divorce, or petition the court to force the man to divorce her, and if he didn’t comply, she might make his life miserable until it was granted).

Jesus point is this: A certificate of divorce given from a man to a woman may make matters legal in the eyes of man, but not in the eyes of God.

Oaths – Jesus then moves to the idea of swearing an oath. In order for us to better understand the elaborate Jewish system of swearing oaths, we must not overlook the beginning of Jesus statement. In verse 33, Jesus quotes those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” Again, the Jews had developed an elaborate system so as to convey their intent without defrauding God – or so they thought. In fact, by swearing on other items, they did not have to perform anything, because their oaths were not sworn to, or by, the Lord (thus not having to perform anything to anyone, let alone the Lord). Imagine how difficult this concept made their business dealings. You would never know if you could trust the person or not. And this is Jesus point exactly. Jesus wants His disciples to be known as honest and trustworthy. Their word should be true – whatever and whenever spoken.

Therefore, Jesus says not to swear by heaven (where God lives), or by earth (His footstool, Isaiah 66.1), or by Jerusalem (God’s holy city) or by the hair on one’s head (which God created). Jesus is making the point that nothing by which the people might swear was really theirs at all. Thus, they may attempt to avoid misusing God’s name, but their attempt to avoid God was futile. We might even consider these people should know better because of the reference to white hair. White hair typically denotes some aging, which means these individuals should have had enough maturity to see the foolishness of their ways. But hair color and age mean little when discussing the fallen nature of man. True wisdom comes from God, not from growing older.

What Does Our World Say?

Divorce – We could spend the rest of today here. First, many today suggest just not getting married. What is interesting about Jesus word choice here is that Matthew records the word as porneia, instead of moicheia. Moicheia is the word used for adultery. Porneia is a broader term meaning fornication (and from which the word pornography is derived). Thus, Jesus words here refute any option of living together outside of marriage as well as being in an extra-marital relationship.

It is very common today for wedding couples to express their own vows. Some change their vows, and/or location (such as being married at the courthouse) so as not to be married before God or be bound by certain terms. Please don’t misunderstand me. Neither a change of vows or of venue is reason to suspect that a couple does not intend to honor the Lord with their marriage, but some couples have certainly use the changes as a “loophole.”

Of course, no-fault divorce and same-sex marriage are prevalent throughout the western world today. As of the end of 2017, many cultures (including those who are not Christian nations) still reject these ideas such as it being illegal to get divorced in the Philippines and only 26 countries allowing couples of the same gender to be wed.

The world may make its claims, but only the words of Jesus will stand in the end.

Oaths – From pinky-swears to clever sayings about sticking needles in our eyes, children quickly learn the value of a promise. Of course, I don’t know of anyone who has stuck a needle in their eye for breaking a promise, nor is it likely that anyone has cut off their pinky recently for breaking a promise (unless you were involved with the Japanese mafia).

But just as making oaths is learned early, so are ways around keeping them. Again, the Jews may have had elaborate schemes, but even children know that if you “cross your fingers” whatever you vow to do does not really count. Contracts have “fine print” that is rarely read. The truth is that it is hard to know what is true. A person’s word used to be their bond, but people do not care about bonds anymore, they only care about themselves or their companies.

How Would Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?

Divorce – Being married is like being a marine. I recently introduced a friend of mine who had served in the marines. I introduced him as a former marine, until I was reminded that “once a marine, always a marine.” Thankfully, he did not hurt me for my mistake. But the same is true for marriage. Once married, always married – that’s what it means to say “till death do us part.” And even if we do not say it, then God says what He brings together, no one should tear apart.

That does not mean that someone who is divorced and remarries should get divorced again. Two wrongs do not make a right. This is a situation where the new couple should go before God, ask for forgiveness and pledge faithfulness to one another from that point forward.

As a church, we must love, not condemn people for their past. We should help people to make the most of their current marriage, not beat them down because of a prior relationship. But we must also help to preserve any marriage that we can. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 7, and we must recognize that God used the idea of Himself as a spouse to an unfaithful bride in the OT (see Hosea 1-3 and the story of Hosea and Gomer). Likewise, we are not always faithful as the Bride of Christ, but the love of our Bridegroom was enough to die for us to make us perfect for Him.

Oaths – This is simple in concept, yet for some it may be quite challenging to do. Simply tell the truth and mean what you say. Let your yes and no mean yes and no. Jesus wants His people to be known for their word. We should not need to swear by, or on, anything. So let our words honor Jesus, and in so doing, let others begin to know our word is our honor as well.


I began by asking you to consider how many promises you may have broken in this life. Now, consider how many promises God has broken. The reason Jesus can be so bold in His demands for our allegiance is He is seeking for us to be like Him – that is, to be like God. Jesus is not teaching us how to live by earthly standards, but to live on earth as it is in heaven.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus unpacks what Kingdom living truly is. Jesus clearly states what God’s expectations for His people living in His Kingdom are. His teachings were counter-cultural then, and they certainly are now as well. If we want to live in our kingdom, we can do what we want. But if we desire to be a part of God’s Kingdom, then we must think, and act, radically different.

What we cannot miss is the tie between these topics. Thinking back to last week, Jesus began with anger and said we should seek reconciliation with others presumably because some expectation (an oath?) has not been met. The idea of lust and marriage are perfectly intertwined because another of the reasons for a “legitimate” divorce, according to the Hillel, was finding someone fairer than your current wife. Thus, the lust for another led to adultery (in the mind, if not in the heart), which means the marriage vow (oath) has been violated. As we will see next week, the idea continues, and circles back to anger as Jesus next covered the idea of retaliation versus that of love. Jesus is concerned with one thing here – righteousness according to God. And as He said earlier in His sermon, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be satisfied, even though it is impossible to achieve on our own.

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

It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.

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


Choose one of these two issues to focus on this week.

Marriage: If you are married or are a widow/widower, thank God for the partner you had. Life may not have been perfect, but God provided someone for you to share your life. Perhaps you can find a couple to give guidance to their marriage.

If you are not married, ask God to begin preparing you and your future spouse (if He desires you to be married) for your future relationship. Pray for purity of heart and body for both of you until He has joined you together in marriage.

Oaths/Vows: Ask God to make you known for the integrity of your word. Then, begin to simply let your “Yes” mean yes, and your “No” mean no.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“Divorce and Oaths”, A Closer Look by Roger Martin

This week’s passage (Matthew 5.31-37) covers oaths and divorce which fit together because a divorce signifies a broken oath. Our passage begins,

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of marital unfaithfulness, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32

Jesus speaks again about divorce in Mark 10:1-12:
“And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

When Jesus was questioned about the idea of divorce, He referred back to the writings in Genesis. It is evident from the Scriptures that God’s design for marriage was one man and one woman for a lifetime. As with most of God’s commands, people fail and deviate from God’s ideal. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin but the failure of a marriage relationship seldom affects only the couple involved. Children, family, and friends feel the tension from such situations.

In Jesus’ day, exercising divorce proceedings was normally done by the man, possibly for very petty reasons. Jesus was addressing a Jewish audience which contained at least two schools of thought about divorce. The School of Shammai held that “something indecent” meant “marital unfaithfulness or sexual immorality” – the only allowable cause for divorce. The Hillel interpretation refers to an account beginning in Deuteronomy 24:1: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,....” Hillel emphasized the preceding clause, “who becomes displeasing to him” or “finds no favor in his eyes.” He would allow a man to divorce his wife if she did anything he disliked – even if she burned his food while cooking it. Jesus clearly took the side of Shammai but only after first pointing back to God’s original ideal for marriage in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24.

Physical and/or mental abuse in a marriage is unacceptable and there may come a time when the only remedy is a divorce. It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to dissolve it. The causes of divorce may be hidden or obvious but once the step is taken, the sin is treated like all sins – forgivable by a loving Lord to a penitent child.

The phrase, “‘Have you ever considered divorce?’ ‘Divorce never, murder frequently.’” has been attributed to Jack Benny, Jessica Tandy, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, Ruth Bell Graham. The statement was probably made a bit “tongue in cheek” but it does point to the fact that some “ideal” marriages may have a bit of discord. After nearly 50 years, Ann and I have enjoyed a mostly harmonious relationship. We do not espouse to be experts on marriage but as the years march on, perhaps we have more credibility. When our team introduced ourselves in Kenya, we told them we were a husband to one wife. That statement said much in a country where polygamy is common place. When I announced at one village that we had been married nearly fifty years, an older man said that was not possible and that I was lying. I was more cautious about it when I made the statement after that.

Two secrets to longevity in marriage are principles Jesus lived by – put the feelings and desires of others first and be forgiving or your mate when you think they are not. There have been ups and downs but it is amazing how when we stick to God’s ideal, we reflect on the good times and enjoy the companionship of each other.

As with divorce, there are numerous references to oaths in the Bible. For example, our passage:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” – Matthew 5:33-37

The Wycliffe commentary suggests that Jesus was addressing the Jewish abuse of oath taking, whereby they swore by everything under the sun, literally. In these verses, Jesus indicated that we should not swear an oath at all but if we do swear an oath to the Lord we should keep it. Jesus taught in these verses that we should not be swearing by things that are not ours or over things of which we have no control. As far as Jesus was concerned, all we should have to say is “yes” or “no”.

An additional idea suggests that swearing an oath would indicate someone is not in the habit of telling the truth so the swearing of an oath was necessary to assure the legitimacy of one’s statements. I hardly think that most couples enter into marriage and require an oath of allegiance because they doubt the truthfulness of one another. We do, however, enter into marriages with promises to love, honor, and cherish each other and keep ourselves pure. The fulfillment of those vows may be very difficult.

Looking at the rest of Scripture, in Genesis 14:22-23, Abram swore to the king of Sodom about his honesty “he wouldn’t take a thread or a thong of a sandal from the king.” In Genesis 25:33, Esau swore to Jacob that he would give up his birthright for a bit of stew. In Judges 11:10, the elders of Gilead swore to Jephthah, an outcast of questionable birth, to elevate him to the head of those in Gilead. In Matthew 26:71-74, Peter denied with an oath three times that he had any knowledge of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 1:23, Paul testified, “I call God as my witness” that he was not dealing unjustly, unfairly, or untruthfully about his change of plans to visit the believers again at Corinth. In Galatians 1:20, Paul assured believers before God that his account of his calling by God to preach to the Gentiles was indeed accurate. The account in Hebrews 6:13-18 recalls God’s promise to Abraham to “bless you and give you many descendants.” God swore by Himself, making His Word in itself absolutely trustworthy and doubly dependable.

It would seem from these accounts that the oaths given were for man’s benefit, not God’s. Men often find it necessary to add extra emphasis to statements or proclamations to be more assured of their authenticity. In our country, “lying under oath” results in a greater penalty then just lying. Curious don’t you think?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Matters of the Heart

When we began this series, I shared how our worldview impacts the manner in which we interpret what we see and hear. A worldview is simply our way of interpreting our life and the existence of the universe. A difference in worldviews can lead to interesting discussions over seemingly inconsequential matters, and heated exchanges when the matters are of some importance.

As we move into the heart of Jesus’ sermon, the ideas are anything but inconsequential. Jesus challenged His hearers then, and challenges us now with thoughts that go well beyond what is face-value. Jesus elevates the understanding of relatively straightforward commands by explicitly stating it isn’t just a physical violation of the commandments that matters, it is even the consideration of breaking them that counts.

It is important to remember that Jesus has just stated that to be considered righteous in the Kingdom of Heaven is to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees (verse 20). The Pharisees were intent on keeping the letter of the law, but Jesus goes beyond the letter to say it is an issue of the heart. This week we will review Jesus commentary on two of the Ten Commandments, although a third is implied. The three commandments we review this week are numbers 6 (murder), 7 (adultery), and 10 (coveting).

I encourage you to take a moment to read Matthew 5.21-30.

What did the people think?

Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. The Pharisees were intent on keeping the letter of the Law and would have initially scoffed at Jesus’ words because they were in no means guilty of taking human life. However, when Jesus began to offer the principle of a person’s thoughts or words being murderous, their countenance must have fallen. While few, if any, who were listening to Jesus would have committed physical murder, Jesus’ words make everyone guilty at some level.

Being taken before the council would mean standing on trial before the Sanhedrin (the word means “council”). But how could someone be judged for merely being angry? Thus, Jesus declares that a greater judgment awaits.

Jesus mentions leaving an offering behind to go make restitution. The offering being given would be handed to the priest and then the worshipper would watch. To leave the offering to seek reconciliation would be to make yourself completely vulnerable to all who were watching. Furthermore, some would have to travel great distances in order to make amends (no phones or modern means of communication existed), so the delay in worship might be days or even weeks, not just a few minutes or hours.

Adultery (Coveting) – It is most likely that some of the men listening may have taken great offense. Only the original hearers can know if Jesus words were meant for men only or for mankind in general, but the Greek/Roman culture, especially, allowed for men to engage in sexual relations with any unmarried woman whether they themselves were married or not.

Jewish women were required to wear headpieces and veils to cover themselves so the men would not be tempted by their beauty.

The reference to the right hand and right eye were specifically chosen by Jesus because most people are righthanded and the right side of the body was considered especially important to a warrior. Thus, to gouge out the right eye or cut off the right hand would be unthinkable to the 1st Century Jew.

What did Jesus say?

Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. But remember, Jesus is speaking on earth about the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Can you conceive of murder happening in heaven? Of course not. So, Jesus elevates the thought process to cover anger. Look at the progression of Jesus examples to see how important this issue is.
  • Murderers will be liable to judgement. (v 21)
  • Those who are angry with their brother will be liable to judgement. (v 22)
  • Those who insults a brother will be tried before the council. (v 22)
  • Those who call others a fool will burn in hell. (v 22)

Specifically, insults and naming of others is meant in an unjustified manner. This must be understood because Jesus used the word foolish regarding the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.17 and 19. But what Jesus is truly concerned about is the reaction of the one in anger. It is about the heart. In verse 23-24, Jesus shares that our human relationships need to be right before God will accept our worship. Notice the word reconciled in verse 24. God reconciled us to Himself through the blood of Jesus, so He expects us to reconcile with others as well.

Notice the story is in consideration of you remembering another has something against you. Jesus says go while the opportunity to reconcile is still possible. At some point, it will be too late, and you will be required to make full restitution.

Adultery (Coveting) – Jesus then moves to the next commandment – the one that covers adultery. Jesus explicitly states that looking lustfully at a woman is the same as being physically intimate. Moreover, Jesus ties the 7th and 10th Commandments together by using the same word for lust that was translated as covet in Jesus’ time-period.

We must be careful not to put words into Jesus’ mouth. Jesus did not say that we might not be attracted to another person outside of marriage. If that were the case, in the western world, where marriages are not arranged, we might never get married. If someone is attractive and we happen to notice that is ok. It is fixating on that person and their attractiveness (physical or otherwise) that leads to this sin. As Martin Luther once said regarding the difference between seeing someone attractive and being lustful, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Jesus also does not endorse bodily mutilation. His statements in verses 29 and 30 are metaphors. One need not literally cut out an eye or chop off a hand because of sin. Besides a blind person or someone without any limbs can lust just as much as someone else. Jesus words are intended to show that it would be better to lose part of our body than to miss out on living in the Kingdom for eternity.

The reality of each of these statements is that Jesus has made it nearly impossible not to sin. By clarifying the true intent of these two (and actually three) commandments, Jesus shows that living with a holy God is far from ordinary living. It requires a much greater righteousness than anyone could have fathomed (v 20).

What does our world say?

Anger – Jesus begins with a challenge to the 6th Commandment – Thou shalt not murder. Many quote the commandment as Do Not Kill, but the King James is incorrect otherwise God would be breaking His own commands when He told the people to stone others for various offenses or ordering the Israelites to wage war with the Canaanites and others. Fortunately, the New King James corrects the issue, as does most every modern version.

But to equate anger with murder seems preposterous. After all, we have a right to be angry if we are offended, right? People can manage anger, right? Wrong! But we are led to believe that murder is something that guns commit, not the people who use them. Each time we have another mass shooting, the attention is placed on the weapon used even though each perpetrator has a background of hostility and/or mental illness.

Adultery (Coveting) – As for adultery, we don’t even call it by that term anymore. We use the term “affair.” The French word from which we get adultery meant to violate one’s conjugal faith, that is, to betray the trust of our partner. An affair on the other hand comes from the idea of an event or happening. Thus, affair sounds better and less harmful. It isn’t about a falsehood or breach of trust, it is just something that happens. In other words, an affair is no big deal, it is just something that happened, and thus it has become the favored term throughout society.

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

Anger – In acknowledging the holiness of God, Jesus enhances the understanding for both the 6th and 7th Commandments. To have a knowledge of the glory of the Lord is to understand that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts as Isaiah recorded (Isaiah 55.9).

The example that Jesus shared of leaving the alter to make restitution was meant for reconciliation with other people, but the example can plainly be understood as seeking reconciliation with God. If we do so reconcile with God while living, that is, before our final trial, we may realize the grace of God and the forgiveness He offers. However, if we do not seek to be reconciled, every last ounce of payment will be demanded. The only problem is that the only payment that counts is the blood of Jesus and once we die, we cannot claim His payment as our own. Some may think this unfair, but the reality is that God has already made the terms abundantly clear, but we must choose which terms we will follow – His or ours. We must choose for whose glory we will live – His or ours.

Adultery (Coveting) – Again, Jesus’ teaching here is difficult, but it is not hidden from us. It may not be easy to follow, but that is the point. In our power, we have no means of considering ourselves righteous. If we want to truly be righteous we might consider removing the parts of our body that cause us to sin, or we can become perfectly righteous by remembering that Jesus sacrificed all of His body on our behalf.


In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to unpack what Kingdom living truly is. Jesus clearly states what God’s expectations for His people living in His Kingdom are. His teachings were counter-cultural then, and they certainly are now as well. If we want to live in our kingdom, we can do what we want. But if we desire to be a part of God’s Kingdom, then we must think, and act, radically different.

Ultimately, anger and adultery are not what we do, they are matters of the heart. If we recall the sixth beatitude, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Those who are murderous and adulterers are not pure in heart, and thus a strong judgment awaits. But those who seek and thirst after God’s righteousness have been made pure in heart.   Therefore, they have the opportunity to be with God forever, even when we slip up and make mistakes on the earth.

So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter this week is: JJESUS

It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?

Choose one of these two sins to focus on this week.

If you typically struggle with anger, focus on letting God manage those moments when you feel yourself getting angry. Seek to forgive the person knowing God has forgiven you (Matthew 6.14-15).

If lustful thoughts have a strong influence on you, learn to avert your thoughts (as well as your eyes). We may appreciate the beauty that God has created, but the difference between lust and love is really about a focus on whose pleasure we seek – ours or others, respectively. Begin to consider the interest of others, not just your own (Philippians 2.3-4).

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

“Anger and Lust”, A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

There is a saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The devil often tempts us to do, watch, or think about something we shouldn’t. We might apply this thought to King David.

King David was walking around on top of his palace. He should have been out with his men fighting a battle but was at home with idle time. While walking around, he saw a beautiful woman bathing. At that point he committed a sin, coveting and lusting after her. She belonged to someone else and he should have looked away.

The sins snowballed from there. Next King David committed adultery. Bathsheba was not his wife and she had David’s child. To cover it up, David had her husband killed (another sin) and then he took her as his wife.

In 2 Samuel 12, God sends Nathan to confront David about his sins. Nathan begins to tell a story which David thinks is true. We know this because verse 5 says that David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man and he said the man deserves to die. David’s anger was not necessarily sin but if he had acted on it it would have been.

God sent Nathan to confront King David because he committed these sins, thinking no one knew. We can be the same way, thinking no one knows about or sees our sin. But God does.

In the Bible, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. David consulted with God on what he was to do before making decisions. A key response of David was repentance and worship. God mercifully forgave David when he acknowledged his sin. His transgression was not without consequences but David still worshipped the Lord through those consequences.

Just like David, we must repent of our sin when God pierces our hearts. We must worship God when we are disciplined.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

As It Is In Heaven: Can You Hear Me Now?

In 2002, a new advertising campaign swept the nation with the phrase, “Can you hear me now?” Paul Marcarelli played the Verizon “test man” who went from location to location to ask if the person on the phone with him could hear him. The point of the campaign was to show that Verizon’s phone network reached places where other signals might drop. The campaign was such a success that Verizon continued using it in some form until the year 2011. Of course, many people were shocked to see Verizon’s test man jump to a new network, but in 2016, Marcarelli began to appear on Sprint’s commercials instead.

The question for us is do we have a clear connection to allow us to hear from God? And, if so, does it make a difference in our lives? Today, we are going to take a broad overview of the meaning behind Jesus’ words sprinkled throughout the rest of Matthew 5. Six times in these last 28 verses Jesus says, or implies, the following statement: “You have heard it was said...but I say to you.” Over the next several weeks, we will break down each of these statements in turn, but for today, we need to understand two ideas. First, when God speaks, obedience is expected. Second, Jesus is revealing Himself as God (along with God’s authority) to the people – even if they do not recognize it.

So, to understand these ideas, let us first look back at a few instances where God’s words showed His authority.

When God Speaks, Nothing Listens and Obeys

My words here are intentional, but the meaning may not be what you are thinking. I do not mean that there is not one thing that obeys God; rather, I mean that when there was nothing, God commanded something and it happened. The term used for this concept is ex nihilo – out of nothing. When God said, let there be light, the first light began. When God said, let there be land, and animals, birds, etc., they began. Before God spoke, there was nothing. Then there was something. So, in that sense, even the idea of nothingness listens to, and obeys, God.

When God Speaks, Nature Listens and Obeys

Consider the majesty of God that even nature obeys Him. People may speak of Mother Nature, but the reality is that the mother is only able to do what the Father allows. I cannot begin to understand, let alone explain, why God allows so many terrible storms. Consider all of the tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. that we see on the news each year. That is Mother Nature screaming out – but she screams because of our sin. God originally made the earth peaceful, but after the original sin, nature fell as well.

But when God speaks, nature responds. Consider Mark 4.39. In the midst of a raging storm which threatened to sink the boat, Jesus simply said, “Peace, be still.” The Bible says that immediately there was a great calm. The disciples reaction was to ask, who can command the winds and water and have them obey (Luke 8.25).

Later, Jesus walks on the water and permits Peter to do so as well (Matt 14.25, 29). We have no record of Jesus saying anything to the water, yet it recognized His authority and He simply walked on it like you and I walk across the ground.

The Bible is filled with other statements about God’s control of nature. He controls the lightning, the thunder, and He once stopped the sun in its place during a battle. You and I have to succumb to the laws of nature, but not God. Those laws are for us. God doesn’t break the laws of nature, He suspends them because He made them and when He does so, it is for His glory. Remember, Jesus said, that even the rocks are capable of crying out to share the glory of God, if we do not do so.


Before I get to point three, let me clarify the background for this passage. We must remember that the Pharisees put rules in place to help people keep the law. Their intentions were good. Let me present a completely hypothetical example. Suppose the Pharisees had been with the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. When God said not to eat from the Tree, the Pharisees likely would have put up a fence ten feet from the tree to make it a real challenge to get to it.

The problem for the Pharisees was that they began to emphasize keeping man’s law to the exclusion of God’s intent for the true Law. The Pharisees were so focused on the actions of the law, that they forget the heart of the matter. So when Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God, a part of the first teachings was to give commentary on what God meant, not the traditions that had been passed down. These traditions were not just from the Pharisees, but as Jesus said, they had been passed down from “those of old” (Matt. 5.21). This oral tradition was finally written down some 200 years after Jesus death and is known as the Mishnah.

So, Jesus is not just restating several of the commandments God gave. Instead, He is taking the people back to the actual commandment and what God intended for it rather than the way the matter has been interpreted for centuries (perhaps as many as 1400 years at that point). Jesus’ words that “you have heard it was said...but I say to you” is taking the people back to the time when God first spoke to the Israelites from the mountain when He gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). And just as God expected the ancient Israelites to keep His laws, Jesus expects those living with a kingdom mindset – on earth as it is in heaven – to keep this understanding of the law. Also, as I have mentioned several times before, these were not just a set of laws to be imposed on a people like Rome imposed its will. Rather, Jesus has already established the relationship God desired to have with His people (the Beatitudes, verses 3-12), and stated that living as such required a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees and scribes (verses 17-20).

So, with that background, we are ready for the last major point.

When Man Speaks, Listen. When God Speaks, Obey

This past week has been filled with people providing their “expert” analysis on the two biggest events of the week – the State of the Union address and the upcoming Super Bowl. The challenge with politics today is that most people are not willing to listen to the thoughts of those who might be in opposition. Without being challenged in our thinking, we cannot grow. Sport fans, on the other hand, are equally as passionate, but the true fan wants to hear about the other team to better understand their strengths and weaknesses to consider how his/her favorite team might do against the opponent.

Jesus does not say do not listen to others, but He does demand that people listen to Him. We can learn a great deal from others if we take the time to discern what is being said. But we must always make our final reference the Word of God. Mankind has learned to justify any action and to blame others when caught (both of those traits started in the Garden), but we have forgotten that God’s Word will direct us if we will just listen and obey.

When we listen to other people, we can learn about life from the perspective of experience and dreams. But when we listen to God, we can learn about ourselves and the way He designed our life to be. So, we listen to others and gain insight. But when we listen to God, we must respond. Otherwise, the way we were are meant to be will never become reality.

This is not an option for those who claim to love Jesus. In John 14.15, Jesus declares, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This statement is made on the last night Jesus spends with His disciples, and it is why He took time to explain the commandments to His disciples and all who would listen even from the very beginning of His public ministry (like His teachings from the Sermon on the Mount).

So, do you love Jesus? Are you obedient to His commands? Maybe you don’t hear from Him anymore. Well, if that’s the case, let me propose a couple of thoughts.

If you can’t hear God, maybe it is because you are not listening. Or maybe it is because you have not obeyed. Perhaps you have been so busy listening to man that you haven’t taken the time to be obedient to God. Certainly, it is more difficult to live by God’s standards, but truly what is the cost? We must remember the blessings promised in the Beatitudes for those who seek righteousness and to live according to a higher calling. All mankind does is berate us for falling short (that is especially what the Pharisees did). So, if you are not hearing from God, slow down, take time to listen. And, if need be, repent for not being obedient in the past.

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

Before anything existed, there was nothingness, yet that nothingness recognized the glory of the Lord. Nature recognizes the glory of the Lord and responds accordingly. If we recognize the glory of the Lord, we must do the same.


God is asking us the same question the Verizon commercial asked for years: Can you hear me now? If we cannot hear Him, maybe it is time for us to check our signal and switch networks from listening to man in order to listen to God. Remember, when God spoke, nothingness responded. When God speaks, nature responds. The question is, when God speaks, do you respond? If you are a follower of Christ, then God has called you to action in the past. Perhaps you have ignored that call so many times that He has stopped asking. But that doesn’t mean He is done with you. It just means He is waiting for you to make a step in His direction. James 4.8 promises that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.

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

God has an assignment for you. It might be great or it might be small, but He has an assignment. We must learn to hear when God speaks. We must learn to discern His voice from all the voices that clutter up our days. And when we know He is calling us to action, we must take action.

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE. How would having the knowledge of the glory of the Lord impact this teaching?

Listen for Jesus to speak to you. Then respond to what He says.

Let me leave you with two quotes to inspire you.

“If we are not doing the things God wants us to do, then we do not have the faith God wants us to have.”
– Andy Braams

“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Make your life count because you listened to the words of God!