As Peter saw a vision of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, in Matthew 17:4 we see him acting impetuously, which was his personality. A tabernacle is a shelter, similar to what many Jews still make today in their backyards for the Feast of Tabernacles. They can be quickly made from branches and leaves. Was Peter asking, let me build some shelters from the hot sun and rain so you can stay awhile? Are we sometimes also impulsive with our opinions and suggestions? How often do we rush into decisions rashly and then later ask God to bless the decision that we have made without asking for divine guidance?
Was the story of Moses and Elijah talking with Christ on the mount in Matthew 17:3, a vision of the future or present reality? Both Moses and Elijah had prophesied the coming of the Messiah during their lives on earth. But, weren’t these men dead and buried, still awaiting a future resurrection? Such questions assume that there is time in a timeless eternity. Don’t our arguments about waiting for a future resurrection versus going to heaven after death fall silent when we realize that there is no time in eternity? Can we who live in a world restrained by time, really explain heaven, resurrection and eternal life in earthly terms?
In Matthew 17:2, we read that Jesus was transfigured or transformed (μετεμορφώθη, metemorphōthē) on a mount. This is the same word used in the letter to the Romans about us being “transformed” by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Are we being inwardly “transformed” into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18)? Is transformation occurring in us? As Peter, James and John saw the transfiguration a transformation was happening to them. Moses’ face shone like the sun after being close to God. Will our lives also shine? Is a life that is close to God a shining light in a dark world that will soon shine forever?
Is church success about a large attendance? That can be a dangerous criterion. False prophets can draw large crowds (Luke 6:26; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Matthew 7:13-14). Numbers alone prove nothing. Jesus rarely taught thousands, occasionally a hundred plus, most often a dozen or so and sometimes just three as we read in Matthew 17:1. Is quality time with a dozen and occasionally three key disciples a model for discipleship in churches? Is it a pastor’s job to spend equal time with a large group of individuals or intense time with a few? Is it then up to those few to care for the rest of the flock?
Jesus gave the 1st principle of immigration in Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” Stranger means foreigner. The Lord required Israel to, “show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19) “Do not take advantage of foreigners... love them as you love yourself.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) However, that does not mean being silly doves. There are dangers. “The people of Israel mingle with godless foreigners… Worshiping foreign gods… like silly, witless doves, first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help.” (Hosea 7:8-12) Love and welcome foreigners, but be aware of danger.
In the Ten Commandments “Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7, Romans 13:9) means don’t desire or take pleasure in your neighbor’s things. We may rightly covet what is allowed. Adam and Eve could eat from any tree they rightly desired, except one (Genesis 2:9). They coveted the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:6). Coveting God’s law is good (Psalm 19:9-10). Righteous people coveted seeing Christ (Matthew 13:17). Jesus earnestly desired eating the Last Supper with his disciples (Luke 22:15). Pastors covet their churches' spiritual success (Hebrews 6:11). So, the 1st principle of desire is “taking pleasure in” what is ours and not our neighbor’s.
Deception and lies are everywhere. The Bible says that “courts oppose the righteous, and justice is nowhere to be found. Truth stumbles in the streets, and honesty has been outlawed” (Isaiah 59:14). Habitual liars have no credibility, no authority. People “will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). We cannot trust politicians who are obligated to campaign contributors because “a bribe makes even a righteous person twist the truth” (Exodus 23:8). A nation of false advertising and legalized deception cannot be free. Only “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Exodus 20). Honesty is the first principle of trust.
Theft is everywhere today. The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). What we possess is not ours forever. We get and we give. Getting by giving something comparable in return is honest business. Getting by burglary, bank robbery, embezzlement, fraud, piracy, shoplifting, vandalism, annexation, swindling, kidnapping, deceptive pricing, rigged scales, overcharging, and underpaying are wrong. There is another way. Possessions provide us an opportunity to give as much as we can. God’s way is the opposite of stealing, marked by selfless giving rather than selfish getting. Jesus gave the 1st principle of possession, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).
Faithfulness makes marriages last. Temptation is everywhere, before and after marriage. A key to marital faithfulness is resisting temptation by avoiding dangerous situations. A foolish generation has been so focused on money, education and equality that it has placed marriages in lethal danger. Faithfulness is a habit we develop before we marry, by saving ourselves for one person alone. Loyalty beforehand makes it is easier to continue during marriage. The Ten Commandments summarize this with the rule “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). By remaining virgins before marriage, young men and women are developing their faithfulness to a future spouse. By remaining true after marriage, men and women are protecting the integrity of the basic building block of society, the family.
The commandment “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) is bigger than violent crime alone. Jesus expanded it saying, “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Matthew 5:22) Murder often results from uncontrolled anger and name-calling reveals an attitude that disregards life. Jesus further explains the first principle of valuing human life: If possible be reconciled. (Matthew 5:24) Do we value human life, the unborn, poor, those without health care, and immigrants?
Do we have no time for important things? Does the Bible have an answer? The first principle of time use is in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath.” (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) For Christians the Sabbath is understood in principle and not the letter, because the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6) The Sabbath principle is bodily rest one day in seven, worshiping weekly in a church community, agricultural land rest, forgiveness of debts, and annual festivals rehearsing key events of our faith. The Sabbath principle is good for body and soul. The first principle of time use is planning key weekly time for God.
Contempt for God is spreading out of control. What is the basis of respect for God? The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5) That includes not abusing God’s name or reputation in a manner that makes Him appear to be worthless, not claiming God’s authority for strictly human decisions or traditions, not bringing God disrespect by living as a hypocrite, and not falsely swearing by His name. Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9) Could respect begin with how we use the Lord’s name, treating God with great honor and reverence?
What is the first principle of worship? The 10 Commandments tell us not to make any graven images, bow down to or serve them (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5). Does that forbid art work, pictures and statues? God instructed Israel to embroider pomegranates and cherubs for the Tabernacle (Exodus 26, 28, 36, 39), cherub statues for the mercy seat (Exodus 25, 37) and a bronze snake on a pole (Numbers 21). These pictures and statues were not idols. They were not to be worshipped. Israel DID later worship the snake and so it was destroyed. Therefore, the first principle of worship is that we do not bow down to, nor serve anything or anyone in place of God (Deuteronomy 6:13).
What is the second greatest principle of life? Jesus said it: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). This is phrased different ways throughout the Bible. Do to others as you would like them to do to you (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:33-34). Along with the command to love God, loving neighbor is core of the Christian way of life.
What is the greatest principle of living an outstanding life? The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Exalting the self, money, or anything above God is a delusion, because no one and nothing is greater than God. Ancient nations worshipped false gods. It destroyed them (Jeremiah 3:6-9, 5:7, Ezekiel 16:38, 23:37, Hosea 1:2). Such foolish self-deception is living a lie. The greatest commandment of all is, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:29-30, Luke 10:27-28). The greatest principle of life is loving God first.
Ancient Israel was intended to be a great nation. A great nation blesses other nations (Genesis 18:18). It has fair and righteous laws (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Wealth and military greatness are not so important. Righteousness is! Righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34). Some nations are over 98% Christian. Does having the name Christian translate to righteousness? Surprisingly, once Christian nations now have high crime rates. How do nations become righteous? Christians are called to be a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Yet we all transgress. Only returning to the cross and Christ can heal our individual and national wrongs (Psalm 32:1, Psalm 85:2, Romans 4:7).
Sexual immorality, adultery and divorce ruin lives. Proverbs 5 advises to avoid sexual immorality, because it destroys fortunes, brings diseases and public disgrace. The temptations are sweet but the result is bitterness and death. Rejoice in the spouse of your youth. Adultery is foolish and destroys you (Proverbs 6:32). Don’t associate associate with people who indulge in sexual sins (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). There is danger at work, home and recreation. Run from sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18). Have nothing to do with sexual immorality (Colossians 3:5). Stay away from all sexual sin (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and live happily with the one you love (Ecclesiastes 9:9).
People love lies more than truth (Jeremiah 9:3, Psalm 52:3, Romans 1:18, 2 Timothy 4:4). Truth is gone (Isaiah 59:15). If we claim we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves and not living in the truth (1 John 1:8). How can we put away lying (Ephesians 4:25) and learn to tell the truth (Zechariah 8:16) as much as possible (Jeremiah 9:3)? How can we walk in the truth (3 John 1:4)? We must learn to love truth (Zechariah 8:19). Speaking the truth starts in the heart (Psalm 15:2). Learn to recognize the truth (Jeremiah 9:3). Truth is in the Bible (Daniel 10:21, John 17:17, 2 Timothy 2:15), Jesus (Matthew 22:16, John 14:6), the Gospel (Galatians 2:5), the church (1 Timothy 3:15). God wants us to worship him in truth (John 4:23) and the truth will set us free (John 4:23). Truth protects (Ephesians 6:14). The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Love rejoices in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6).
National leaders on all sides fail miserably in providing righteous leadership. What does that involve? Godly leaders seek God’s direction (Proverbs 16:1), are modest not arrogant (Proverbs 16:5), are peacemakers (Proverbs 16:7), avoid conceit (Philippians 2:3), are real servants (Matthew 20:26, Luke 22:26), get a lot of advice (Proverbs 11:14), choose godliness not wickedness (Proverbs 29:2), are honest people who fear God and hate bribes (Exodus 18:21; Proverbs 29:4), judge the poor fairly (Proverbs 29:14), consider the least (Matthew 10:42, Matthew 25:40), and the lost (Luke 19:10), serve (John 13:1-17), and are living sacrifices (Romans 12).
Are Capitalism or Communism Christian? What about socialism? Each of these systems contains a few principles that seem to resemble some aspects of Christianity, but in reality we cannot equate ANY worldly system to Christianity. Jesus made it plain when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). For instance, the redistribution principle in ancient Israel had to do with private ownership, not state ownership (Leviticus 25:8-54). Jesus spoke of the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 19:23), difficulty for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24) and Paul encouraged the rich to be generous to the needy (1 Timothy 6:18).
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.
In Matthew 5:48, how could Jesus expect us to become perfect? Should we be more nitpicky than the hypocritical Pharisees? The word perfect is better understood to mean mature or complete. It has nothing to do with nit-picky Christianity at all. Being obsessed with non-essentials is a mark of spiritual immaturity. Mature Christians are salty. They taste good. Mature Christians are a bright shining light. They are liberated from picky legalism. Mature Christians reconcile rather than harbor grudges. They preserve the sanctity of marriage. They are not pretentious, create good will and take insults without retribution. They are generous people who do not quibble and would treat an enemy the same as a friend.
In Matthew 5:43-47, why did Jesus say to love our enemies? Isn’t the rule, love your neighbor? Jesus expanded it to include everyone. We love our friends but hate our foes. Now Jesus wants us to love even our enemies? Is that possible? How can that make any sense in a world of war and crime? We tend to follow the example of the good neighbors around us who treat their friends with respect and dignity, but Jesus challenged us to live above the standards of our neighborhood. We are to live by heavenly standards. Those standards are not defined by address, flag or national border, but by God who loves all peoples equally.
In Matthew 5:42, why did Jesus encourage his disciples to lend to the borrower and not turn him away? We have all lent something which was not returned. We become reluctant to lend again. Did Jesus mean that we are to keep lending until we have nothing left? That is how some criticize Jesus. He spoke of one borrower, not an unlimited number. Our natural inclination is not to lend at all or with very few exceptions for family or close friends. It is that extreme that Jesus challenged. He challenges us also to consider lending without discrimination. Of course there are boundaries and limitations, but perhaps we could lend to at least one.
In Matthew 5:41, why did Jesus suggest that if a soldier from enemy occupation forces asks us for help carrying their equipment a mile, we should carry it two? In Roman occupied Palestine, there was a law that if a Roman soldier asked any Jew for help, they were required to come to their aid. Jesus alluded to just such a scenario where it was common for an enemy soldier to ask a Jew to carry arms for a distance. Jesus suggested helping out to double the distance asked. Jesus challenges us by teaching what is the exact opposite of our natural inclination. God is impartial and treats all people equally. Do we?
In Matthew 5:40, what did Jesus say about losing the shirt off our backs in court? Perhaps we lost before we even got to court, by letting things go too far (1 Corinthians 6:7)? Did we fail to create peace? Were we at fault? Either way, Jesus told his disciples how to really win in heaven’s eyes. Give more than was asked for. Go way above the settlement price. If someone sues us for the shirt off our backs, let’s gift wrap our coat as well and give it away to the plaintiff. Does Jesus want us to be suckers who are easily taken advantage of, or does living generously really work?
In Matthew 5:39, what did Jesus say about responding to an insulting backhanded slap on the cheek? He said to turn the other cheek, not to retaliate but to humiliate ourselves by allowing further slaps. Even the business world understands that the best thing to do with a customer complaint is to allow them to vent without interruption, to get it off their chest. Give them time to calm down, and after having a hearing, many become a more satisfied customer. If even the carnal world understands how to win people, by respectfully giving them opportunity to fully complain, then how much more should we take insults in order to win peace for Christ.
In Matthew 5:38, how did Jesus explain an eye for an eye? Jesus addressed a law that many have applied in error, an eye for an eye, legally called lex talionis. A vindictive application might be trading tit for tat, escalating hostilities and hindering peace. A principle might be monetary compensation equal to an eye. Jesus taught a higher application of the the eye for an eye principle. As with many of Jesus’ teachings, this is very hard. Jesus suggested that if we have been responsible for injury to another, go above and beyond in compensation. Jesus wants us to go further than mere justice. He wants us to learn to create good will.
Are pledges, covenants, vows or oaths in court Christian? God confirmed His promises by an oath (Hebrews 6:16-18), Jesus answered a question stated as an oath (Matthew 26:63-64), and Paul called upon God as his witness that he was telling the truth (2 Corinthians 1:23) and not a lie (Galatians 1:20). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not say “swear not at all” period. He preached against swearing an oath too lightly. People do not take oaths seriously. Jesus did not condemn sincere oaths, but frivolous and deceptive ones. Rather than making oaths to cover up perjury or insincerity, simply answer yes or no.
The Old Testament forbade bearing false witness, including making an oath and not fulfilling it. Jesus encouraged not to swear fake oaths, but to just say yes or no. Swearing by external things is artificial and does not guarantee fulfillment of an obligation. Using this form of leverage supposedly makes a person more believable. It emphasizes how we humans are too often unreliable and untruthful. By invoking heaven or earth, we delude ourselves that this veneer of honesty can change liars into truth-tellers and covenant breakers into contract keepers. We Christians do not need to engage in such self-deceptive swearing. We simply need to be truthful as best as we can.
Is all divorce a sin? Jesus gave the exception as “porneia.” Louw-Nida defines that as sexual immorality of any kind. The Friberg Lexicon defines it as every kind of extramarital, unlawful, or unnatural sexual intercourse. Jesus’ position on divorce is stricter than western culture, but does provide freedom for the sexually-wronged marriage partner. His description was broad enough that the sin could be something either during or even before a marriage took place. In 1 Corinthians 7:14-15, Paul explained that if an unbelieving spouse walks out, the believing spouse is free from the marriage. There are arguably other exceptions, but the general principle is: easy divorce is not God’s way.