What did Jesus teach about “thou shalt not commit adultery?” The problem with the letter of any law is that it gives excuse to use loopholes as long as the specific forbidden act is not done. Jesus addressed the principle using the example of a lustful look. As anger can lead to murder, lust can lead to adultery. Both begin in our hearts. Jesus challenged us to see the thought as essentially the same as the act. As with murder, there is a positive alternative. Jesus shocked everyone by suggesting self-mutilation. Such self-harm is sin. So, Jesus was exaggerating to make a point. We must take drastic steps to avoid adultery.
What is the spirit of murder? Obeying just the letter of the law “thou shalt not murder” misses its purpose, love. We may have never killed in the letter. When calling others nobodies or stupid, we deceive ourselves that we are not criminals. Jesus explained that such insults put us in the same category as murderers. He encouraged us to operate in a totally opposite way. First, to reconcile with our enemies if possible. When that is not possible, we ought to at least find some kind of agreement quickly, lest the whole matter go to an unjust court and we lose everything. The opposite of murder is reconcile or settle.
How do we tell the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger? - by what comes out of our mouths. Words of hate for others, that murder the reputation of another are not godly. Hate words are excuses for treating people with prejudice, paying so-called “little people” poorly, giving grossly excessive salaries to so-called “big people.” Jesus condemned this way of dealing with fellow human beings. It is such an offense that it could be charged in heaven’s court. Jesus is serious about this and those who use such words are in danger of hell. We are called to live the opposite of this kind of verbal abuse, by valuing human life.
Is all anger sin? Jesus was angry when he turned over the money-changers’ tables (Matthew 21:12-13) and he was angry with the Pharisees for their hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5). There is an anger without sin (Ephesians 4:26-27). The anger of mourning or for the injustice of the world is not necessarily sinful. We do need to be careful with our anger (Proverbs 15:18), because anger at people can cause us to sin. It is the root of murder. Jesus showed that although most of us may have never actually committed murder in the letter, we are guilty of breaking the spirit of the law in any unrighteous anger.
Deuteronomy expounds the Ten Commandments (#1 6-11; #2 12; #3 13:1-14:21; #4 14:22-16:17; #5 16:18-18:22; #6 19-21; #7 22:1-23:14; #8 23:15-24:7; #9 24:8-16; #10 24:17-26:15).1 Do Christians keep both the letter and the spirit? No, the letter kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). The only option left is keeping the law in spirit. For example, circumcision is no longer required in the flesh for Christians, but in the heart (Romans 2:29); there remains a Sabbath rest in Jesus for eternity (Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4) and love fulfills the whole law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14).
1Hill, Andrew E. & Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. Zondervan Publishing House. 1991. 58.
Did Jesus demand we obey the Ten Commandments? The word commandments does not mean the Ten Commandments alone. It means all God’s commandments. Deuteronomy expands the Ten Commandments with many more commandments. Nobody keeps the Ten Commandments in the letter, not even those who practice the original Sabbath day. If they did, they would put to death idolaters, Sabbath breakers, adulterers and those who dishonor their parents as the letter of the law demands. Jesus explained how we keep the spirit of the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Christians fulfill the law in spirit not the letter. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
How literal was Jesus’ approach to the Old Testament law? Was he persnickety, insisting that not one smallest pen-stroke of the law would disappear as long as heaven and earth exist? Is the law now even more binding? Did he break the law against collecting food on the Sabbath or was he obedient to a higher principle? He often showed how the spirit surpasses the letter of the law. The rest of the New Testament carries that discussion further and perhaps the most poignant example is the law of circumcision, whereby a literal interpretation is no longer relevant for the Christian, but a higher spiritual interpretation, a circumcision of the heart.
Old Testament law is explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He did not say that obedience to the law is no longer required because of faith, but will explain how some of those laws should be applied. Jesus did not divide his explanation into arbitrary ceremonial, civil and moral laws? Like Paul, he spoke of the law as a unit, and that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill. Until heaven and earth disappear, the law applies. How can our righteousness be greater than that of devout believers, followers of the Hebrew Scriptures? We begin to understand the spirit of the law (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
Jesus encouraged his disciples to do good. Christianity is more than worshiping, singing, and hearing sermons about Jesus. It includes doing good things. Do-nothing Christianity is incomplete and weak. Believing alone is not enough. Worship is only a start. Jesus said to go do. What are good works - obedience to the law or helping our neighbor? Jesus’ description is not limited to either of these conditions. It can mean being honest in our business dealings, using appropriate and inoffensive language, being commendable in our charity, honorable in the way we speak of others and praiseworthy in our community life. One of the most effective forms of evangelism is doing good deeds.
Have you ever heard of covert Christians who hide their faith? Some Christians are closet Christians and it contradicts what Jesus taught. He told his disciples that they were a city on a hill that cannot be hid. The followers of Jesus Christ are a light that is meant to be seen, not hidden away in secret. What exactly of Christ’s disciples must be seen? Is it our fancy buildings, our church music, our fancy clothing, our wonderful arguments or something else? Jesus specifically mentioned that we are to let our good deeds be seen, not to show off, as he later explained, but so that others may glorify God.
Jesus said his disciples are the salt of the earth and are the light of the world. This was encouragement to be what they already were. We too are the salt that gives the world a good taste and the light that brightens this dark planet. When we are not, our communities suffer. Salt preserves. When we fail to live up to our calling, our world rots from the inside out and is not preserved. Light helps us see. When we fail to rise up and be the light of the world, others cannot see God in us. Let’s wake up and be who God says we are. Let’s be ourselves.
Can salt lose its saltiness? Bible critics could reveal their ignorance of history by assuming that it means the same thing by salt as we do. We define table salt as sodium chloride. However, what Jesus meant by salt cannot be explained in our cultural terms. It was probably a mixture of calcium sulfate and our table salt. Calcium sulfate is gypsum and used to make plaster of Paris. This mixture could lose the salt component and thus its “saltiness.” All this reveals a very important step in studying the Bible: get our definitions right. Careful research rather than jumping to hasty conclusions helps us understand the Bible so much better.
Who cares about languages! Without love, they’re just noisy exhibitionism! Who cares about know-it-all prophecies and mountain-moving! Without love, they’re useless! Who cares about bragging philanthropy! Without love, it’s hollow!
Love is patient and kind, not rude. Love protects, believes, hopes, endures. Love never fails, but prophecies and languages will end. Know-it-alls will have nothing to brag about. Our pitiful efforts end when Jesus takes over.
Little children think they know everything, but we grow up and put away childish thoughts. One day God will let us know the whole story. But now, the only really important things are faith, hope and love. The most important of all is love.
Labels: 1 Corinthians 13
Why are we harassed if we do the right thing, like keeping the speed limit, supporting the boss at work or avoiding dirty jokes? Jesus said blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right. If we do the right thing, we will be insulted and vilified. It is a badge of honor to be abused for doing right. It confirms that we are on God’s side. In that sense it is a blessing. The opposite is also true. If everyone loves us and we are never mistreated, maybe we are doing something wrong. Sometimes we are at fault. However, when harassment comes because we were righteous, it is a blessing.
Persecution means to pursue or chase away. It can be mild or bad enough to flee town (Matthew 20:23). Why did Jesus call the persecuted blessed? How can harassment be blessed? Perhaps 60% of Christians today live in countries with heavy restrictions on religious freedom and a quarter suffer severe mistreatment. How is that blessed? If that abuse is because of righteousness, then we identify with Jesus. If we cherish what is right, if we love God, if we love his Church, we will be hated. We are either on Jesus’ side or not. Persecution for righteousness tells us clearly that we are blessed because we are on God’s side.
Jesus said blessed are the peace-MAKERS, not the peace-attempters. Making peace requires sacrifice, compromise. Each side must be willing to give up something. Negotiations must be a win-win for all sides. Making peace can be very hard. Reconciliation can take a long time. If peacemakers are blessed, are peace-breakers cursed? Surely those who stir up trouble, make war and sow discord are loathsome and contemptible people. Nobody likes a troublemaker. History blackens their name and they are despised by all. Pride may prevent us making peace, but necessity demands it. Living in freedom must also include freedom from strife and warfare. Peace does not just happen. It has to be made.
Is making peace a foolish waste of time? It has never worked in international politics for very long. Why did Jesus call the peacemakers blessed? Imagine a world where nobody tried to referee between sides. It would descend into complete anarchy. Humanity exists in a constant state of hostility. Animosity between people and God, between nations, between governments and their people, within churches and families are an ongoing fact of life. Peacemakers bring a measure of calm to a potentially escalating situation often at great personal sacrifice. While some men love a good fight and look to create strife, only peacemakers are blessed to be called the children of God.
When I was a young Christian bursting with procreative vigor, I was profoundly disappointed to find out that Jesus taught in Matthew 22:23-33 that there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage in the resurrection. I believed that one of life’s greatest delights would be denied us in heaven and was extremely disillusioned. Yet, it’s obvious that reproduction belongs to our mortal life not our eternity. God’s intent for sex from the beginning was a man and a woman in an exclusive, life-long relationship. That quarantine guarantees the necessary protection for a family and the healthiest environment for nurturing the next generation. It is a deep bond with potential for the greatest human joy, yet surely what awaits us in eternity is even greater pleasure. Heavenly relationships will not be something less than marriage, but more. After all, our delight won’t be limited by a physical body, but we will be like the angels in heaven. That’s what Jesus said.
Labels: Matthew 22
If you were to ask someone on the street to describe Christians what would they say? Many people I know would describe Christians as picky critics, judgmental and narrow minded. And I believe they are unfortunately too often right. But that is merely a description of weak human beings and is not the Christianity taught by its founder Jesus Christ. How many would describe Christians as those who are glad to give to the poor? Unfortunately a brand of so-called Christian politics has developed where we find excuses not to give to the poor. How strange is that? Rather than rushing to find ways to help the poor and needy, somehow we believe that Jesus’ command to give to the poor is excluded from Christian politics? What kind of description of Christians is that? Do I hear the word selfish?
Labels: Luke 12
Some Bible passages seem to describe hell as punishment in fire. We read of maggots, a human barbecue, a rich man‘s cry of agony from the grave and worshipers of human government leaders who will be tormented day and night (Mark 9:43-45; Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 14:10-11, 20:10-15). Are they literal or symbolic? Are the beast and false prophet people or symbols? Does this describe eternal physical and emotional suffering? Is God sadistic? Can gracious, divine love and eternal torture be reconciled? Is this traditional view of hell the result of a person’s complete and knowing choice, or have some been predestined to this without a chance? How can a just God punish for eternity sins committed in a finite lifetime? Other passages on hell offer alternative descriptions, but all are negative. Bottom line: Don’t choose hell.
Have you ever heard someone say that Christmas is pagan? That’s in the Bible — not! Christmas was not generally observed until around the 300’s. Some Christians avoid it because of its pagan roots, but God only forbade evil pagan worship like child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21) and idolatry (Jeremiah 10:1-5). He did not forbid prayers, music or even using pagan dates for Christian worship (Romans 14:5-6; Colossians 2:16). Pagans used trees, but God did so first (Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24; Proverbs 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; Revelation 2:7; 22:14, 19). Christ’s birth is in the Bible (Luke 2). The angels celebrated that wonderful event and so can we.
How can we have a pure heart, free from evil motives? What results from an impure heart? The Pharisees thought they were clean, but their hearts were not pure. How do we get a pure heart? Old Testament laws regarding being ritually clean or unclean point to this purity of heart. It only comes from God (Ezekiel 36:25-27). It comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that those who have a pure heart will see God. Is that because they see the hand of God behind things? Do those with pure motives look for God in everything and thus see Him? Are our hearts contaminated or pure?
When Jesus said blessed are the pure in heart, he was not talking about being naive and foolish. The Greek for pure is used elsewhere to mean clean after bathing (John 13:10). The Pharisees thought that they were righteous if they were clean on the outside (Matthew 23:26). Being clean or pure in the eyes of God begins on the inside. It has nothing to do with naivety and everything to do with innocence, being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Their intent is for good and without pretense. They carry no malice or dishonesty in their hearts. How can the real world survive without such blessed people!
We want justice. When people criticize us, we are offended by their lack of mercy. We want justice served on others, but we want mercy for ourselves. Why is there so little mercy? A merciless atmosphere makes us walk on eggshells. Mercy creates an atmosphere of trust. Lack of mercy creates a police-state-like atmosphere of secrecy and distrust. Mercy creates a warm, affirming atmosphere. Without mercy, we tend to cover up problems and leave them unresolved. In an atmosphere of mercy, we are not afraid to admit mistakes and they can be worked on. As Jesus taught, be merciful and when we need it, mercy will be shown to us.
Jesus said blessed are the merciful? Jesus mercifully healed the sick and befriended sinners. Our world is the opposite: cruel, intolerant, indifferent, tyrannical, disdainful, accusatory, punishing, and totally lacking mercy. Few people seem to care about the sick or sinners, unless they can make money through high medical costs or isolate the worst sinners in prisons not designed for hope of reform. Some people show compassion without a dollar sign attached. There are some tender-hearted souls who work with sinners to guide them towards a better life. Jesus promised that if we show mercy towards the poor and the guilty, we too will be shown mercy. Surely we all need it.
Righteousness seems so strangely out of fashion. Our world craves to do wrong, yet there is an emptiness that can only be filled by righteousness. Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who do, find an incredible sense of happiness beyond words, a blessing directly from heaven. It is a transcendent happiness that is beyond the fleeting thrills and hilarity of this world, but is otherworldly, eternal. Why? What is right about right? Wrong produces pleasure for a night, a headache tomorrow and grinding burdens for life. The secret is that righteousness may be difficult, but it leaves unspoiled happiness for this life and the next.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? What is righteousness? We mourn evil and desire justice. When we don’t mourn for our own sins we become arrogant and self-righteous instead of humble. Mourning for sin means we sincerely pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for God’s righteousness on earth. Some argue that it is impossible for human thoughts to attain this high standard completely and they are probably correct. Yet, the Holy Spirit patiently works with us and pricks our consciences to do right. Jesus’ promise is that if we crave justice and what is right, we will be filled.
Meekness is not weakness but real strength. That is why Jesus said blessed are the meek (Matthew 5:5). Weak people try to cover their failures by boasting, shameless acts, violence, pretentiousness, pride and conceit. Meek people don’t need to pretend. They are strong enough face the truth, that we are but dust of the earth, and that human life is a mere vapor. Humble people are a pleasure to be around. Arrogant people are not. They are too repulsive to be around. History shows that crude, overbearing buffoons do not last long. Gentle and considerate people are loved by all and inherit the land after spineless bullies are long forgotten.
Why does Jesus in Matthew 5:5 promote meekness? The opposite of meekness is self-importance. Pride fights and creates strife whereas humility makes peace. Arrogance seeks vengeance while meekness forgives. Ego boasts great things, but purity is unpretentious. Hardheadedness makes life difficult, whereas a pliant spirit smooths the way. Inheriting the land can be a metaphor for God’s provision. Who is more likely to be given a job or considered for a promotion, the arrogant misfit or the humble team player? Humility is a great secret of the universe that is ignored by the proud to their own hurt. Surely, the meek are blessed and inherit all the good things of life.
How is mourning a blessing? Let’s contemplate the opposite. What if we never learn from our mistakes or cared about world problems? When would we ever change for the better? When would we ever want to make a better world? A careless attitude that never mourns for the evils of our world, never mourns for personal mistakes is a dangerous attitude. Mourning helps us change. Mourning means we are processing things, learning a lesson. Mourning means there is hope for better decisions next time and a better future. If we don’t mourn our mistakes, we will never be comforted. So yes, blessed are those that mourn, for THEY will be comforted.
Why does Jesus say blessed are they that mourn? There is a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Mourning is part of the process of repentance. It prepares for a change of heart. Fasting is associated with mourning, a short period of abstinence from foods in order to pray. We need to mourn and humble ourselves before God (James 4:7-10), cleansing our hands of dirty deeds and purifying our hearts of wrongful thoughts. If we find no joy in our mistakes, or evils of this world, then there is hope for a change of heart. If we then turn to God to save us, he will bless and comfort us.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” not will be but is. Why does being poor in spirit guarantee heaven here and now? The kingdom of heaven is future and now. True Christianity is not among the spiritually arrogant, the deluded, but those who know they are neither filled nor satisfied, but spiritually destitute. When we are not deceived, but know our spiritual poverty, we become the Church, those whose only hope is heaven. Then we taste heaven on earth. We understand real instead of counterfeit Christianity. Spiritual junk and all counterfeit kingdoms are swept away leaving room for the kingdom of heaven.