Posts Tagged 'Kingdom living'

Living in the Kingdom, Now: Motives

motivation

Matthew 6

Matthew 5 deals with the righteousness Christians ought to possess and chapter 6 deals with how Christians ought to practice that righteousness.  It all boils down to motive, and verse 1 establishes this:

“Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, for then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”  (TLB)

The key here is the phrase “to be admired.”  It’s not that Christians are to hide their good deeds because, in fact, the exact opposite is what Jesus taught in 5:15, 16—

“Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.”  (TLB)

What Jesus is dealing with here is the motive behind doing those good deeds.  In performing good deeds that are “out in the open,” our motive ought to be the glorification of God, not ourselves.

1.  God’s rewards, Matthew 6:1—8; 16—18

Righteous acts, verses 1—4

A common teaching in Jesus’ day was that alms-giving itself earned points with God.  From the apocryphal book of Tobit comes this teaching:

Do the good, and evil shall not find you. Better is prayer with truth, and alms with righteousness than riches with unrighteousness; it is better to give alms than to lay up gold: alms-giving doth deliver from death, and it purges away all sin.  They that do alms shall be fed with life…  (Tobit 12:8, 9)

But Jesus didn’t teach that.  He simply assumed His followers would give and be generous.  But in giving, they were not to give like the Pharisees, who made giving offerings a big deal and announced their giving with great fanfare.

But when you do a kindness to someone, do it secretly—don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.  And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.   (Matthew 6:3, 4  TLB)

This advice from Jesus needs to read correctly.  He is exaggerating to get the point across.  He already established that good deeds should be done for others to see so that God would be glorified.  The sense of these two verses is that a Christian should never seek the praise of others in their generous acts; they should be generous and give regardless of who sees or doesn’t see.  The point:  God sees and He will reward your generous giving accordingly.

Prayer, verses 5—8

Ostentatious praying—not public praying—is something to be avoided.  Pharisees loved to shout out their prayers in public to get noticed.  The importance of private prayer is what Jesus is stressing here.  It doesn’t matter where or when or even how a Christian prays, only that he does so with a sincere heart.

Jesus is certainly not prohibiting praying in public; pastors and worship leaders do this every Sunday.   It’s the motive; why are you praying?  Are you praying in public as an act of worship and leadership?  Or are you praying in public to get noticed?  Are you praying in private so that you can bear your heart before God and touch His?  Or are you praying in private to get something out of Him?  It’s your motive that counts.  Prayer in important; it’s much too important to waste time on merely using dusty, old prayers others have prayed.

Don’t recite the same prayer over and over as the heathen do, who think prayers are answered only by repeating them again and again. Remember, your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!   (Matthew 6:7, 8  TLB)

Pray and understand that you are praying to a Person who knows you  better than anybody else and He knows precisely what you need.

Fasting, verses 16—18

Fasting can be a wonderful spiritual exercise for Christians to engage in, but only if it is done properly.  The Pharisees fasted incorrectly—they made a big deal about it and made sure other people knew what they were doing.  Jesus, though, taught that if a Christian is going to fast, he should do so in way that draws no attention to himself.  Pink makes this sharp observation on the topic of fasting:

When the heart and mind are deeply exercised upon a serious subject, especially one of a solemn or sorrowful kind, there is a disinclination for the partaking of food, and the abstinence therefrom is a natural expression of our unworthiness, of our sense of the comparative worthlessness of earthly things, and of our desire to fix our attention on things above.

In other words, when a Christian fasts, he should do so in a serious, concentrated manner.  If he’s not going to eat, he should pray.  Not eating has no merit at all! 

The Pharisees were doing the right things in the wrong ways because their motives were skewed, and because their motives were completely wrong, they forfeited any eternal reward.  Jesus assured Christians that if they did what the Pharisees did, but it correctly with the right motives, God would reward them accordingly.

2.  No  materialism, Matthew 6:19—24

Treasures in heaven, verses 19—21

If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too.  (Matthew 6:21  TLB)

Jesus never teaches that money is bad or evil or that it can never be used to further God’s Kingdom.  In fact, the opposite is true.  But what Jesus is getting at simply this:  Christians should not be obsessed with accumulating things on earth that deteriorate and waste away with the passing of time.  Is there anything wrong with worldly wealth?  Not at all!  But your motivation in the accumulation of wealth is what’s at issue here.  If you are hoping your “stuff” will make you happy or somehow provide you with security, then your motives are wrong.  Instead, you should be investing in the Kingdom; you shouldn’t keep all your wealth to yourself but be willing to let some of it go for the sake of service to God.  When this is your attitude about your wealth—that you are willing to give some of it up—it comes back to you. 

Light, verses 22, 23

If your eye is pure, there will be sunshine in your soul.  But if your eye is clouded with evil thoughts and desires, you are in deep spiritual darkness. And oh, how deep that darkness can be!

The point of these verses is simply this:  A true believer must be single in his purpose.  He must strive to make sure his motive or motives are pure.

Masters, verse 24

You cannot serve two masters: God and money. For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around.   (TLB)

Our God demands complete loyalty.  If you are going to call yourself a Christian; if you are follower of Jesus Christ, then you must be absolutely devoted to Him.  A true believer does not have a divided heart or divided loyalties.  A true believer cannot split his time between longing for God and longing for the things of this world.

The main emphases of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 up to this point are:

·         simplicity

·         sincerity

·         singleness

These form the foundation of discipleship.  Serving the Lord shouldn’t be complicated because it is simple by God’s design.  Everything we do for the Lord  in terms of both our worship and service, should be done with sincerity.  Finally, we should stay focused on the Lord as we serve Him.

3.  Priority, Matthew 6:25—34

Anxious,  verses 25—29

Should a Christian be nervous or anxious about the future?  According to Jesus, NEVER!  Christians whose focus is on the things of this world will always be worrying about them.  Christians who worry about being poor will never have enough money.  Christians who worry about their health will always be sick.  Christians who worry about being lonely will never have enough good friends.  Job discovered this to be true:

For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.  (Job 3:35  NKJV)

Jesus’ advice focuses on our priorities.  Our lives are more than what we do and what we have in the here-and-now.  It is spiritual, too.  And Christians should never neglect the spiritual side.

Faithfulness, verse 30

And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you, O men of little faith?

Jesus wants His followers to understand that the God who looks after nature is more than capable of looking after them, too.  If God  provides for the short-lived grass, He will surely provide for His chidren, who will live forever. 

It’s God’s faithfulness in view here.  God faithfully cares for His creation, and that includes YOU!  Unfortunately, as faithful as God is, we are just as faithless sometimes.  We, like the disciples, allow ourselves to get burdened down with the cares of today, resulting in a lack of faith.  Jesus’ word to us is to just trust God!  Lee Roberson comments:

Faith is made up of belief and trust.  Many people believe God, but they do not trust themselves into His keeping and care; consequently, they are filled with worry and fear.

God knows, verses 31, 32

“So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them…”  (TLB)

Worry and pride and closely related and sometimes inseparable.  Jesus sums up His admonition on not being anxious by giving two reasons for not being that way:  (1)  Don’t worry because the heathen worry.  There is NO merit in worrying.  Some Christians feel guilty if they are not worrying about things!  Talk about wrong-headed thinking.  Unbelievers worry; Christians aren’t supposed to.  In other words, being anxious is sinful behavior.  (2)  Don’t worry because God has His eyes on you.  God knows what you need; don’t sweat it.   Trust that the Lord will provided what you need when you need it.

This, of course, takes practice.  But it’s how Jesus wants us to live.

The Kingdom of God, verses 33, 34

…and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to. “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.”

Don’t let worry take root in your head, Jesus says.  It’s a battle that takes place between your ears, but it is a battle that can be won.  God takes care of all the little things; what makes any of us think He is incapable of taking care of us?  God isn’t the problem, we are.  We MUST learn how to let go of our lives and learn how to place them in God’s hands.  We need to learn how to put God FIRST in our lives.  Worrying about tomorrow is a most selfish way to live.  It’s wrong, and it’s sinful.  Not only that, being anxious is just dumb.  Remember the old saw:

Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.

If we put God first, He will make sure ALL of our needs—and then some—will be met.  You cannot live tomorrow today.  You cannot act like God.  Stop that destructive behavior, Jesus says, and learn to have faith in God’s grace for each day.

SERMON ON THE PLAIN, Part 2

 jesus-preaching

BE…JUST AS YOUR FATHER

Luke 6:27-38

True love, in spite of what the songs tell us, is the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that “Love is of God,” and “God is love.” Therefore, is it a surprise that our Lord teaches us to “Love our enemies,” and “to bless those who curse you?” Nothing shows the world that we are children of God more than when we love unexpectedly. It’s easy to love those who are lovable, but when we love those who are not, that gets noticed.

Luke is concerned about people, so once again it is not surprising that he devotes a significant number of verses to show how Christians ought to treat people, especially those who, from another perspective, deserve to be treated the exact opposite way to the way Jesus taught.

1. The Precepts

These “made-in-heaven” laws established for us by Jesus are mirrors that reflect the merciful character of God the Father. Their purpose is to make us more like Him. While the world may love parts of Jesus’ teaching, especially the “Golden Rule” part, these laws are for Christians, not for the unsaved. No doubt the world would be a better place if everybody followed the “Golden Rule,” following it does not earn one a place in heaven. These laws are to be followed after one has repented and confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior. The temptation is to reverse this order: live right, then get saved. The Bible, like the hymn, stresses the correct order:

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

To stress the moral and ethical parts of the Gospel, to make them the law, is to lose the Gospel. This teaching is given by Jesus as a way to manifest salvation; to show an unbelieving world what a “new creation” looks like.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:27—30)

The phrase, “to you who are listening” tells us that Jesus is about to get very, very serious. He is not addressing casual listeners, but those who are paying attention, soaking up His teachings this day. So, what Jesus is about teach is for those who are following Him or will be following Him.

Concerning blessing

Loving your enemies was a revolutionary thought in Jesus’ day. This teaching went completely contrary to what the scribes were teaching at the time: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” Matthew 5:43. This must have caught “those who were listening” by surprise. The question we should ask ourselves is, How far do we take this admonition? The answer lies way back in the Old Testament. In this teaching, Jesus was really clarifying part of the Law, the part that had been misinterpreted by the teachers of the Law.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

For generations, the religious teachers had been teaching that this meant a Jew was responsible for loving a fellow Jew. Jesus is correcting this misunderstood admonition. His followers were not allowed to treat an unbeliever or even an enemy in a way differently than they would treat fellow believers. As is Luke’s custom, he makes the “upside down” (or maybe “rightside up” is more accurate!) nature of the Kingdom clear.

If we note what Peter wrote, we see that this revolutionary teaching was really just as old as Judaism itself.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)

From there, Peter goes to quote from the Law of Moses. A good example of “loving your enemy” is given by none other than Moses himself. Maybe our Lord had this in mind as He was teaching this day:

“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it.  If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help your enemy with it.” (Exodus 23:4, 5)

Concerning Prayer

…bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)

Not only should believers have love in their hearts for the unbeliever or an enemy, they must go even further than that. We ought to pray for those who may oppose us or even do us harm.

If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. (verse 29)

How literal do we take Jesus’ “slap on the cheek” comment? Should Christians let everybody else just abuse them and walk all over them? Some would say yes, pointing to Jesus’ example. Others suggest the “slap on the cheek” is really referring to an insult or a slight. In light of the rest of the New Testament, and looking at the example of Paul, it seems that Jesus is not suggesting His followers sit back and let society, especially the judiciary, take advantage of them unless that advances the cause of the Gospel. If our suffering causes the glorification of Christ in some way, then we should suffer as Jesus did. If not, Christians should claim their civil rights, even as Paul did, because anarchy itself is unbiblical.

The essence of Jesus’ teaching is simple. We may not “like” the criminal who just robbed us; we may not “like” the person at work who gossips maliciously about us, but we must see them as Christ sees them: a sinner in need of prayer. God is not calling us to make these kinds of people our “best friends,” He calls us to pray for them and treat them as we would treat a friend.

As Jesus prayed for His enemies while He hung on the Cross, and as Stephen prayed for his enemies, we should be prepared to do the same. It’s the highest of roads to take.

Concerning Giving

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30)

We need to read each word in this statement carefully. This admonition is very specific. Jesus is NOT teaching that Christians are to give everything they have to just anybody. If a person comes to us asking for something from us, we shouldn’t be stingy, we should freely give to them what they have asked for, as long as we are able to. But we have to be good stewards at the same time. For example, if a drunkard on the street hits you up for money, the odds are good he will use the money you give him to buy more booze. In his case, while he is asking for money, what he needs is the Lord. In his case, buy him a meal and share Jesus with him. It would be wrong to enable the sin of another.

Jesus is teaching that it is better to be taken advantage of (being robbed) than to give into feelings of anger or revenge. So, if somebody takes advantage of your generosity, don’t get angry with him, just let it go.

However, as we asked previously, how far do we take this admonition? This sermon is full of extreme, startling statements. It was Jesus’ intention to drive home His point—his punchline—with extreme language. Of course, there are times when it is quite correct to stand up and claim your rights (see John 18:22, 23 and Acts 16:37—40 as examples). For the Christian, though, our motivation should never be revenge. That’s why Jesus said that if somebody takes something that belongs to you, just write it off. There are times when it is just Godly to forego our rights, just like there are times when we should claim them. Christians, as taught elsewhere, are citizens of Heaven. We are obligated to follow Heaven’s rules of conduct, not the earth’s. But sometimes, obeying the rules of earth may glorify God in some way. That should be our guide: does my conduct glorify God or make me feel better?

Some Examples

The world loves its own. Sinners are capable of wonderful acts of kindness. But our love for the world is NOT to be like their love for each other; it is to be like God’s love for them.

Love

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32)

The love of the unsaved is given, generally speaking, only to those who love them in return. God wants us to love others with the same kind of love with which He loves us: agape love; unconditional love. The love of God embraces even those who hate Him. There was no hatred in Jesus as He hung on the Cross. It is of no credit to us if we love those who love us back.

Works

“And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” (Luke 6:33)

Again, worldly people, sinners as Jesus called them, can do good things for other people. In Jesus’ mind that’s no big deal. It’s completely common and understandable why anybody would want to help a person who has helped them in the past or may be helpful in the future. We call that the “Godfather Philosophy,” or, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” But the motives for the Christian in doing good works must be way, way above the motives of any worldly person. The ungodly will show kindness to those who show kindness to them, but Christians are obligated to treat all people mercifully, as God treats them.

Grace

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” (Luke 6:34)

The unsaved have no problem lending things to anybody as long as they get them back. This is a most common exchange in the world. But Christians need to act as God acts:

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)

3. The Promises

If the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts so that we able to love our enemies and treat them better than they deserve, God will reward us. Of course, we aren’t obedient for what we can get out of God, but God is fair and will openly reward the obedient.

A great reward

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)

This sounds like Jesus’ summary statement, and it sort of is! Verses 34 and 35 are not found in Matthew’s version of this sermon. Matthew adds some phrases that would would have been meaningful to his Jewish readers, but Luke’s reader, a Gentile, needed to read these passages on “loving enemies.”

There is an eternal principle in Luke 6:35 that applies to anybody in the faith. If we treat people well, even our enemies, and if we don’t treat them with contempt, God will reward us. When we treat people like this, we are acting like God’s children, because that is how He acts.

Children of God

Believers are to act like what they really are. If we claim we are children of God, we have to start acting like children of God. It’s natural for children to take on some of the characteristics of their parents, and so it should be Christians.

God has high standards for His children:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

Here is the clincher. A person may be able to act right and do right, but he will probably fall short. Remember, the Pharisees? They did much of what Jesus taught, but for all the wrong reasons. They tithed spices, for example, but had no “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 5:20). The righteousness of believers MUST exceed that of the Pharisees, and everybody else. Our righteousness should be measured against God’s. Are we as righteous as God is? That’s the most important consideration we should take away from Jesus’ sermon up to this point.

 


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