Enemy, my Enemy! (Matthew 5:43-45)

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Jesus knew the Pharisees and teachers of the law had not been teaching  accurately from God’s Word, so as He teaches from the Sermon Mount, He expounds on a better and fuller understanding. It comes across as dramatically different from what the people had been historically told, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Before Israel entered the promised land, Moses had successfully communicated God’s Word, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Hearing this command, the worldly and ungodly among those who hold grudges immediately consider who is exempt from the command. They want to know who they can seek revenge against, and who they might be allowed to bear a grudge against. Instead of a wide understanding of the command to love our neighbors (for who is our neighbor but all people made in His image?), the fallen human mind looks to the reverse – license to hate, and a minimal expression of love.

Matthew Henry put it well, “by neighbour they understood those only of their own country, nation, and religion; and those only that they were pleased to look upon as their friends: yet this was not the worst; from this command, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, they were willing to infer what God never designed; Thou shalt hate thine enemy; and they looked upon whom they pleased as their enemies, thus making void the great command of God by their traditions, though there were express laws to the contrary… See how willing corrupt passions are to fetch countenance from the word of God, and to take occasion by the commandment to justify themselves.

Matthew Henry got the point. God had never indicated He wanted His people to hate any fellow human being. Instead, He had said, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.” Indeed, both Edomite and Egyptian were sworn enemies of Israel, but God had said, “Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country.” With such explicit commands, how is it that we could think it appropriate to hate anyone?

God made each of us in His image, and it is given to us to act in His image. To act according to His Name. We must love one another (Jn 13:34-35, Rom 13:8, 1Pet 1:22), and we must grasp that “one another” includes all those made in His image. That isn’t just so that we might merely act like He whose image we bear. It is that we might be like Him. For that is the greater blessing, and Christ would have all of His followers so blessed.  

Amen.

The benefactor loves him whom he has benefited more than he who has been benefited loves the benefactor. The workman loves his own work more than the work loves the workman. All men feel greater love for what they have acquired with labor; as those who have earned their money love it more than those who have inherited it.

Aristotle

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Our reaction to our enemies is indicative of our love for God and our desire to become more like Him. What is in your soul? Is it hate toward sinners, or God’s deep love for them to escape their sin?

Seeking Justice (Matthew 5:38-42)

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Jesus lived and ministered during the Roman occupation of Israel. Occupied  nations are  typically consumed with hatred toward their captors, and the conquering nation looks with suspicion on their new subjects. It is difficult to find justice in such cases. But while in that environment, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

It is impossible to ‘turn the other cheek’ if you believe that you are entirely on your own and life is only the few short years between birth and the grave. If that were true Jesus would be doing us all a great injustice in giving us this instruction. But if you understand that God is your Father, and that in the life to come you will live forever, then what is the stuff you have? Your Father – who makes all things by simply speaking – can more than replace anything you lose through His providential circumstance. And what is your life and body? Do they not belong to God more than you, and if so, will not God – who is your Father – wreak vengeance on those who harm you? 

NT Wright wrote, “When the Messiah appears, the one who is your life, then you too will appear with him in glory.” It is not that “‘one day you will go to be with him’. No; you already possess life in him. This new life which the Christian possesses secretly, invisible to the world, will burst forth into full bodily reality and visibility.” “There will be a new mode of physicality, which stands in relation to our present body as our present body does to a ghost. It will be as much more real, more firmed up, more bodily, than our present body – as our present body is more substantial, more touchable, than a disembodied spirit.” Wright says, “We sometimes speak of someone who’s been very ill as being ‘a shadow of their former self’. …A Christian in the present life is a mere shadow of his or her future self, the self they will be when the body which God has waiting in his heavenly storeroom is brought out, already made to measure, and put on over the present one.”  

Wright is correct. God is purposing to give the mortal body of His disciples immortality, and to replace the corruptible nature of our physical selves with incorruptibility. He has promised everlasting life – abundant life, no less – to those who follow Him. Therefore the disciple of God does not need to fear loss of any kind. Not loss of tunic or cloak or wealth. Not loss of time or respect or dignity. Not loss of health or even loss of our body in death. Rather, the one who inflicts such losses on God’s children needs to fear, and fear greatly. For what shall become of them when our Father demands an accounting? 

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” So it will be. 

Therefore, let us not resist the evil person, but as Solomon suggested, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” Amen. 

Never look for right in the other man, but never cease to be right yourself. We are always looking for justice; the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is—Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.

Oswald Chambers

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Purpose today to give to those who demand from you, and to unflinchingly hold to God’s character under persecution.

Justice (Matthew 5:33-37)

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Having taught about divorce, Jesus moved to the subject of oaths. That makes sense, because a divorce is essentially the revocation of an oath. Jesus’ viewpoint is that we shouldn’t take unnecessary vows, simply letting our yes mean yes, and our no meaning no with all honesty. In that context Jesus moved to the subject of justice, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” 

The Jewish people had in fact heard, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” for Moses received this instruction from the Lord, “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” 

Of course, that passage actually speaks of injury to the unborn. It is God telling us to value the unborn child as an actual child – not a lump of cells but a real human being, deserving of the rights of protection and certainly at least as much care as a fully-grown adult. But the Lord had also said to Moses, “If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.” People were to treat each other with respect, and share in the sufferings they deliberately inflicted on another. That rule even extended to those who had planned harm, “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, […] The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. […] Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” 

Yet in every one of these cases, it is not up to the offended party to inflict punishment. It was the corporate whole of society – represented by the judges and legal system – who were to inflict discerned punishment on the accused – and that only after due process. It was not meant to be something that each wronged individual immediately sought to do to those they felt wronged by, because God was also very clear that, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” To take up your own cause for justice while you have ‘skin in the game’ (that is, a vested interest in seeing a particular outcome) is at the very least a conflict of interest. At worst, it is to seek to displace the judge of all creation. 

God’s people should know better than to do either. Though we may not see God’s justice happen immediately, we can still trust Him for the right outcome. We must never allow a personal thirst for justice to trump God’s prescription for holy justice. 

For these reasons Paul reminded the disciples in Rome of both Deuteronomy 32 and Proverbs 25, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Amen.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, Yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.

Longfellow

APPLICATION: Worship 

Thank God that He does not let unrepentant perpetrators go. Thank God that He yet has mercy upon those who do repentant.  

Making Promises (Matthew 5:33-37)

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Moses had told Israel, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be  slow to pay it,  for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.”  This law meant that you could not make a vow and then in regret keep putting it off without consequence. Nor could you simply ‘forget’. God always does what He says He will do, and He does it in good time. His people must therefore act likewise. 

The outcome of this should have been that God’s people mean what they say and say what they mean. If one lacked the capability to fulfill a promise, one would simply not promise it. Of course, that severely limited one’s influence. It is easy to see how the temptation was to promise more than you could deliver, and to back up grandiose commitments with a vow – a vow that was nothing short of a pseudo-lie – having only a possibility of proving true. As with all lies, such talk springs forth from the father of lies. 

Teaching on the sermon mount, Jesus calls it for what it is; “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” 

In our day and age, lies, exaggerations and misspeak are rampant. From the highest office to the lowest, truth is deemed to be subjective. What that means in practice is that the line of demarcation between truth and falsehood is so blurred one can only find it by careful research. Our culture expects the seeker of truth to ensure someone is telling the truth by doing what the legal system calls “due diligence” – meaning you need to double-check what you were told as fact by accessing more objective sources of information of your own accord. Where in the past the onus was on all to tell the truth, today all the onus for truth is on the one who wants truth.

That our society as a whole accepts this is a great shame. Such a lackadaisical approach to honesty does not even honour people, let alone God. But so it is. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “…in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

In this environment the true disciple of God stands out like a beacon on a foggy night. What we say, we mean, and we mean what we say. We do not take the place of God and promise things outside our control, nor do we invoke authority we do not have to justify our words. Yes means yes, and no means no. By acting this way we shame the evil one, honor our Father in heaven, and draw attention to the rule of the righteous judge of all, God Most High.

The strength of truth lies in the unity of its parts.

Charles Spurgeon

APPLICATION: Worship 

Lord, we thank You that Your Words are true. You do what you say you will do, when you say you’ll do it. Lord, let us honor you today by doing likewise. Amen.

On Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32)

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God is holy, and because God is holy, He never kills unrighteously. God does  not even kill a relationship with an unfaithful sinner, and we thank God for that every time we return to Him in repentance! But if God is not willing to turn away a repentant sinner – even if it is the umpteenth time they’ve committed the same sin – than how could it be that we His children are willing to turn away from the one we promised to love and cherish all our days? 

Yet such is the human heart, and for this reason Moses received instruction from God that permitted divorce – but only in the case of indecency, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The indecency Moses talks about was “ʿerwat dābār (“something indecent about her”; lit., “the nakedness of a thing”). [Suggesting] the improper uncovering of the private parts.” That did not necessarily mean adultery. In fact it likely did not because the penalty in ancient Israel for adultery was stoning to death. What it did mean is that it was possible for a husband to be so disgusted with his wife that he subjects her to a very public shaming and banishes her from his household and his relatives (“sends her from his house”). 

One would only do something like that in a very extreme and unusual circumstance – perhaps if she became a serial exhibitionist or a twisted threat to the children. Unfortunately by Jesus’ day the teachers of the law had applied it to such trivialities as improper preparation of food and other minor inconveniences. So Jesus – teaching in His Sermon on the Mount – clarifies God’s intention, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” 

What is clear- firstly from Moses’ Law and secondly from the lips of Christ – is that divorce in God’s eyes is something to be avoided at almost any cost. Like the cutting off of a limb, it reduces the whole of the persons involved, inflicts incalculable suffering and effectively cripples the people involved from full participation in everyday life. Effectively, it is a lifetime sentence to trial and hardship. 

God is good – even to sinners. Those who reflect His character must therefore be exceedingly cautious about doing anything that might not be good. Especially if it might impose a lifetime of trial and hardship , and even more so with regard to sentencing another to it. That doesn’t mean it can never be done – there are always going to be unique and bizarre situations that call for the harshest of sentences. But these are rare exceptions. They are never to become the norm. One should think about divorce with all the seriousness that we give to amputation.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus (Matthew 7:12)

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

How are you reflecting the goodness of God to those around you?

Purity vs Legalism (Matthew 5:29-30)

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Jesus has been teaching His followers a better and deeper understanding of God’s Law.   All their lives they had been told that they should not murder, and all their lives they had been told that they should not commit adultery. No doubt everyone knew those things, for they had heard the teachers of the Law speak of God’s commandments many times. But (very sadly) some of His listeners would say that when the Law says “Do not commit adultery” that the Law does not speak against lustful viewing. In so doing they would try to use the Law as a defense of their own shameful behavior.

Like anger, attraction of and by itself is not something that is inherently wrong. It’s just emotion. But if that attraction is fed by unrighteousness – that is, if it cannot be met within holy matrimony, then it must be dismissed quickly and not dwelt upon. To dwell upon unrighteous attraction is the very definition of lust, and lust is not love. It is a corruption of love. And corrupting what love is – well that is a very serious crime indeed, because Scripture tells us that it is the overarching characteristic of God. So much so that 1John 4 tells us that “God is love.”

That doesn’t mean that love is God, for God is not an emotion or a force, but a person. Rather, it tells us that love is so much a part of Him that it would be fair to describe God by that one attribute alone. Therefore, any corruption of love must be seen for what it is – a most ungodly attempt to distract us from our God, creator and purpose. Such things must be dealt with harshly, for time spent dwelling upon them is an affront to the face of God Most High.

Jesus then affords us this prescription, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” 

That sounds horrible. Of course, it should be obvious that Jesus is not prescribing self-mutilation. The student of God’s Word surely understands that Jesus does not want His followers to be partially blinded or worse. Even the atheist knows that amputation of a working body part is not a holy act. To mutilate our bodies – which God made in His image and for blessing – is surely a spiritual as well as physical crime! Yet what Jesus prescribes is utterly masterful – for in one stroke He imparts to us the severity of the crime of unrighteous attraction, and at the same time He makes a very witty and sarcastic comment against a legalistic literal interpretation of the Law

We must remember the context. He is saying, “You have heard…but I tell you…” Jesus wants His hearers to think again of how they’ve heard God’s Word taught, because they’ve heard it taught from a legalistic standpoint, and only from a legalistic standpoint. But that is not the right way to consider God’s Word. Jesus wants all of His hearers to know that the reason God said, “Do not commit adultery” is not just because that particular act is evil. It is because God Himself does not commit adultery of any kind. The command is but a coarse reflection of His character. The Father doesn’t set His love on someone only to then abandon them because someone else comes along! What kind of love would that be? What manner of salvation would we have, if God so quickly abandoned the objects of His affection?

Legalism does not consider that context, nor does it look at what God says as a reflection of His character, nor does it consider how to gracefully teach God’s character. It looks only at how to justify itself. Jesus’ masterful prescription for sin then becomes a stumbling block to any who take such an approach to God’s Word. It causes them to choose; Either they re-think their hermeneutic, or they self-mutilate in what they consider obedience to it, or they face being condemned by their own preaching as a hypocrite for ignoring it.

Thankfully, God is perfect in integrity and holiness. He is ever loyal in His affection to us, and at the same time He gives no space to inappropriate thought. What Jesus teaches is that as God’s people, we ought to reflect God’s perfect holiness with our whole being – not just with our physical being! Our thoughts and even the intentions of our hearts are part of who we are, and they too need to be brought inline with who God is. Amen.

The Bible leaves no question that God is completely just. Our problem is that we don’t look at things the right way. Our problem is not that we have been given too little. Our problem is what we have done with what we’ve been given.

Henry and Richard Blackaby

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Take some time today to meditate on God’s purity. In what ways do your habits and actions reflect His purity?

The Line (Matthew 5:27-28)

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Jesus has been teaching the crowds and the disciples about a better interpretation of the law. That interpretation is based on understanding what the law says about God, and then reflecting that truth in how we as God’s children should act. He had noted that, “…it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” His long explanation of what that really means is that we should not have any unrighteous anger in our lives – not enough to kill – and not enough to slander, either. In fact, Jesus says that we should not even enough unrighteous anger to so much as make a flippant unkind comment. That is because God does not harbor unrighteous anger, and so God does not murder. God does not kill anybody or anything unrighteously. God is holy.

Certainly we can understand that a holy person would never make a binding commitment to one person and then ignore that commitment when faced with a different person. Even in our sin-stained culture we understand that as a blatant lack of integrity. God calls it what it is – adultery. For this reason He told His people, “You shall not commit adultery.” That is the 7th commandment, following on the heels of the 6th commandment, “You shall not murder.” As He did with the 6th, Jesus now fleshes out the 7th commandment; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

Jesus is saying that while everyone knows that adultery is wrong, the thoughts that lead to adultery are just as wrong. Effectively, He is using the 10th commandment (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,”) to interpret the 7th commandment (“You shall not commit adultery.)” 

God calls coveting a sin. Coveting is thirsting after something – it is unrighteous jealousy. “To covet is to desire inordinately, to place the object of desire before love and devotion to God.” Likewise, to look lustfully is to place the object of your desire before not only your love for your fellow human being, but before your love and devotion to God. To do that for even a few moments is to shred the wholeness of your love for God – and that is the very definition of un-holiness! 

Jesus is making it clear that we need to understand the Scripture as revealing God in His wholeness. As God’s people we need to subsequently act according to that revelation. If we do that we will never get to murder, for we would never allow unrighteous anger to take root, and we will never get to adultery, for we would never allow unrighteous affection to take root either. In fact, if we followed that hermeneutic and wholeheartedly avoided all that Scripture plainly reveals God is not about, and wholehearted embraced everything that Scripture plainly reveals He is about, we would be rather a lot like Christ.

To look at another is no sin. But to lingeringly look while thinking an unclean thought obviously is. That is because the line between looking and lusting is a very thin line indeed. Yet there is a line, and it is the line between holiness and unholiness. 

Surely we all know that no words need to be said and no physical action needs to be taken for sin to enter our hearts. Eve was already sinning when she agreed with Satan to put the fruit to her lips, and Adam was already in need of repentance when he agreed to join her in doing likewise. The seed of desire needs only to be fertilized by our own unrighteousness to produce sin. For this reason the Word says, “After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Only when desire “conceives”—is allowed to produce offspring—does sin come into being.

Douglas J. Moo

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Take some time to examine your heart. Ask the Lord to reveal any unclean desires. Crucify any that come to mind.

The Urgency of Reconciliation (Matthew 5:25-26)

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In the days Jesus walked, many judges and officers of the court were corrupt.  In fact, in the land of Israel, it had been so for a long time. Over time, God had sent prophet after prophet to tell Israel that such was incompatible with His kingdom. Isaiah had cried, “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”  Jeremiah had levelled God’s charge, “Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor.”  Micah also, “Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money.”  In fact, most every prophet of God said something to Israel along these lines. It is literally an understatement to say that the judges and rulers of Israel did not have a consistent track record of honesty and righteousness in passing sentence. Moreover, in Christ’s day the government officials consisted largely of Roman aggressors and Jewish conspirators. It was poisoned through and through with corruption for personal gain. 

In such an environment, someone who was being dragged to court had much to fear. For it was at least a significant probability if not a certainty that the judge and the court officials (who were appointed by the government) were dishonest. That meant that even if you were clearly in the right, if your adversary had means to bribe them, you were going to loose – and losing often meant financial bankruptcy and debtor’s prison.

It was in that environment that Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount. 

In expanding our understanding of murder, Jesus preached a dramatic escalation of the 6th commandment. He told us that while the act of murder is  subject to human judgment, the unrighteous anger that leads to the act to start with is so offensive to God that even flippant comments made because of it put us in danger of the fire of hell. The Lord would rather that we delay worship than come before Him with such unrighteousness in our hearts.

So speaking of two of God’s people who do not get along, Jesus says: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” 

Jesus deliberately uses an example that avoids mentioning why the two parties are at odds. It is almost as through exactly why someone has something against you is irrelevant. The offended party will still cry out to God for justice, and we who have offended them will be named in God’s court. Except in God’s court we cannot bribe our way out of a legal claim against us, and the outcome of God’s court is far more predictable than any human court. If the other party has a case against us that has any merit at all, He will surely rule according to what is right. That is a foregone conclusion – you can know it long before you get to the courtroom. He who is righteousness will not rule for us who are holding onto unrighteous anger. Consequently, the priority for God’s people must always be on making it right, and doing so quickly. For what does it take for one of God’s people to call to the judge? Just a moment of prayer!

God’s people must never tarry to make amends to those we have offended. Moreover, the example Jesus uses with a corrupt human court is a comparative one. And what is the comparison between us and Him? Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If God would die for us while we were His enemies so that we might inherit eternal life, how much more should we be willing to make a sacrifice for the betterment our fellow man in this life? That is a question well worth considering every time we baulk of the cost of making it right. Amen. 

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The Apostle Paul (speaking in Ephesians 5:1-2)

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Do you have anything against a fellow believer? If so, how can you make it right? 

If not, how can you bless someone today?

How to Worship (Matthew 5:23-24)

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Jesus has been teaching about the need to have a clear conscience when we come   before God in worship. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  

We’ve already looked at His main point. Worshippers of God must not even have something between each other – let alone something between them and God – when they come to the altar in worship. But in saying that, Jesus is making a very important observation. It’s not His main point, but it cannot be missed in His example.

Giving is worship. 

After all, Jesus could have said, “When you are on your way to the temple and remember…” or, “When you first walk into the temple and remember…” or, “When you are singing songs of praise in the temple and remember…” or, “If you are listening to a sermon and remember…” or, “If you are ministering to another and remember.” He could have used any number of illustrations about worship. For all that we do when we go to the temple (church) is an act of worship – how much more so what many believers call ‘worship’ – the singing of praise to God. But the example Jesus uses is “offering your gift at the altar”. Not singing – even though singing is worship (Ps 68:4), or playing instruments – even though making music is worship (Ps 33:2) or testifying – even though that is worship (Ps 145:21) or listening to the message – even though that is also worship (Deut 31:12).

Long ago, God commanded the Israelites, “No one is to appear before me empty-handed.”  Giving to God was never an optional part of worship. After all, we give to that which we love, and the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Even small children demonstrate their love by drawing a picture for their parents (the gift of time). How could anyone love our heavenly Father and not seek to give Him that which costs time, talent or treasure? 

The idea of making a sacrifice – of giving to God that which costs us – must be embedded into the life of every believer. The offering of a gift is worship. Pure, unadulterated worship, and therefore of significant value to God. So much so, that it’s something He actively wants to receive from us. Something He looks to receive from us, and something He wants to see us offer to Him without stain

Just as a parent would not receive their child’s drawing with gladness knowing that the same child just punched their sibling and refuses to say sorry, so also the Lord does not receive that which we offer Him if it is stained with unrepentance. Moreover, just as a child can only give a parent that which they made with a piece of paper and crayons their parent gave them, all we could ever give God is what He gave us to start with. The real value of the gift then, is not intrinsic to what we physically offer. The real value of the gift we give Him is a reflection of our hearts. If we give with clean hearts, even if we have little to offer – it means much. If we give with unclean hearts, even if we have much to offer, it means little. For this reason the Lord looked on a widow giving her last two cents and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.”

Amen. 

God is not holding out or holding back. It’s not in His nature to withhold any good thing from us. He most certainly won’t bless disobedience, but He most certainly will bless obedience. And His capacity to give is far greater than your capacity to receive.

Mark Batterson

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Listen to what is in your heart this week as you give.

The Priority Above Worship (Matthew 5:23-24)

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In every beatitude He gave to the crowd, Jesus expanded our understanding  of the value of godly emotion. Humilty, godly sorrow, mercy and longing for righteousness and purity are not mere emotion, but indications of God’s present blessing. As such they should be sought. Not just for our benefit, but so that the light of God’s blessing can be clearly seen in our lives and all about us can ‘taste’ His presence. Jesus then expanded our understanding of the purpose and value of Scripture; to demonstrate the way to God through repentance and obedience, that we might live in righteousness far exceeding that gained through legalism. In everything He’s taught the crowd, Jesus has taken an old subject and given it fresh and expanded meaning. 

Jesus then taught that slander is not a core problem, but a drastic symptom of unrighteous anger. Now He moves to the best application of that very truth, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” For any disciple of God, worship is a priority. Jesus makes two observations about worship in the that statement that ought to have a drastic impact on us as worshippers. 

His main point is that worship – which is crucial to our lives as His followers – must be secondary to purity. God does not want us to worship Him with guilty consciences. Remember Richard Roberts’ famous observation – “Repentance is the first word of the Gospel.” Repentance always comes first. Not even worship can take its place. So if one is about to engage in worship and the Holy Spirit brings to mind something that we need to deal with, we need to deal with that before we continue in worship. 

Unrighteous anger has no place in sacrifice to God. It did not when Cain got angry with Abel, and it still doesn’t. Moreover some have noted, “Has something against you” probably implies a “just claim.”  So Jesus is speaking of something we are guilty of. Something that someone else is holding against us, but we have not yet dealt with. To have something against a brother or sister means there is unforgiveness and/or unrepentance in our hearts. How can that be? Surely God’s people know that unforgiveness and unrepentance are spiritual millstones around the neck of any worshipper of God Most High. 

Even brand new believers can understand that to worship God as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, past wrongs need to be set right. In Luke 19 we read of Jesus walking through Jericho. A short man named Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Him. “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”

Bitterness is nothing more than old unforgiveness. Bitterness is what grows from a seed of injustice, planted and watered in the garden of what-might-have-been.

David Chotka

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Is there a wrong you need to put right? Someone you need to speak to before your next worship gathering?