I have always been amused by oxymorons. An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory words that shouldn’t be linked together. Let me offer a few examples: airline food, brotherly love, Hell’s Angels, jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, rap music, sensitive guy, and short sermon. Oxymorons are common in everyday speech and in the Scriptures. This is especially true when Jesus is speaking. Initially, we may be perplexed by Jesus’ oxymorons, but rather quickly we will see that His words are life. In Matt 5:1-12, we kick off our series “Counter-Cultural Christianity.” This series walks through the Sermon on the Mount—the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who has ever lived.
But before we consider Jesus’ words, we need to pay careful attention to Matthew’s introduction in 5:1–2. “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth1 and began to teach them.” These verses make it clear that Jesus intentionally distanced Himself from the crowds that had been following Him.2 He escaped by climbing up on a mountainside and sitting down.3 The disciples then came up the mountainside to listen to Jesus and He taught “them.”4 Jesus is preparing His disciples for leadership in His future kingdom.5
Before we launch into Jesus’ sermon, several initial observations are necessary. (1) These verses are popularly knows as “the beatitudes.” This English word “beatitude” implies that these verses are attitudes; however, the word “beatitude” is derived from the Latin term beatus that means “blessed.” It is only a coincidence of the English language that the idea of “be-attitudes” or “attitudes of being” is suggested by the Latin word for blessing.6 (2) Each of these eight7 beatitudes begins with a timeless promise of reward. This is indicated by the word “blessed” (makarios).8 In this context, the primary sense of the word “blessed” is approval.9 To be blessed is to experience the joy of being approved by God. It is the applause of heaven! (3) All of these beatitudes are despised by our present age. (4) All of these beatitudes disclose a future reversal in the making. Those who exhibit the characteristics in 5:3–12 may not be honored on earth, but their eternal reward will be great. Furthermore, there will be a sense of joy and satisfaction that will permeate their lives even here on earth. (5) These beatitudes are intended to characterize every disciple, not just the “spiritual elite.” We can’t pick and choose which ones we want to fulfill—these beatitudes are a packaged deal.10 These are not eight separate groups of disciples, some who are meek and others who hunger for God. It’s easy to make the mistake of saying, “I’m just not merciful” or “I’m just not a peacemaker.” We can’t pick the easy ones and ignore the difficult ones, like being pure and being prepared for persecution.11
Okay, now we are finally ready to study the eight beatitudes.12 The first set of four beatitudes focus on our vertical relationship to God;13 the second set of four on our horizontal relationship to people. Each of the eight builds upon the other so that there is an amazingly beautiful and compelling progression.
Beatitude #1: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3).14 The word that is translated “poor” (ptochos) refers to a person who doesn’t have sufficient food, clothing, or shelter. This is not a person who is forced to draw upon savings for one month; this person has nothing!15 To be “poor in spirit”16 refers to being a “spiritual beggar.”17 It means being completely destitute in the realm of the spirit, being totally dependent18 on the goodness of God.19 This is the type of person that God esteems (Isa 57:15; 66:2b). Martin Luther (1438–1546), once said, “God created out of nothing. Therefore until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.”20 One of the most freeing experiences of my life is acknowledging my wretched state. I freely tell others that I am spiritually bankrupt21 apart from God.22 It has been derogatorily said that, “Christianity is a crutch!” Unlike many Christians, I never become offended or defensive when I hear this statement. I agree with it! Christianity is my crutch; it is also my walker and my wheelchair. Apart from Christ and the teachings of Christianity, I would be incapable of living my life in a way that pleases God.
We must learn to stop comparing ourselves to other people. Instead, we are to compare ourselves with the perfect Lord Jesus. He is our standard and we all fail to measure up. Imagine that two people each owe ten million dollars. For repayment, one may have one thousand dollars and another, one dollar. One is a thousand times better off than the other; but if they owe ten million dollars, they are both bankrupt.23 Disciples who are “poor in spirit” recognize their spiritual bankruptcy before God. Consequently, they are vulnerable, transparent, and authentic about their own failures and sins. We talk disparagingly about “needy” people. But every disciple ought to be “needy” for Jesus Christ. We are to be utterly dependent upon Him in every area of our lives. We ought to say, “Jesus, I can’t stay married apart from You. I can’t raise my children apart from You. I can’t work my job apart from You. I can’t stay pure apart from You. Jesus, I need You! Without You I am absolutely nothing!”
Those disciples who are “poor in spirit” are promised “the kingdom of heaven.”24 Notice the present tense: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “The kingdom of heaven” in Matthew is synonymous with “the kingdom of God” (19:23–24) and often refers to the reign of God, not heaven. Those who are “poor in spirit” will participate in a greater degree of rulership in the kingdom of heaven, both now and in the future.25
Beatitude #2: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4).26 The word “mourn” in this context refers to mourning over sin.27 We should mourn the lack of righteousness in ourselves, our churches, and our society (in that order). We should also long for God to eradicate sin and usher in His perfect justice. To mourn, then, is to lament that the kingdom has not come and God’s will is not yet done.28 True Christianity manifests itself in what we cry over and what we laugh about. So often, we laugh at the things that we should weep over and weep over the things we should laugh at. In our heart of hearts, what do we weep about? What do we laugh about?29 If we are characterized by mourning, we shall be comforted by God now and in the eternal state.
Beatitude #3: “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5).30 Jesus didn’t mean “blessed are the weak and deficient in courage.” “Gentle” or “meek” originally meant to bridle wild horses, to put strength and power under control. The word means “the ability to submit to God’s will.” The strongest man is not the one who forces his will upon others but the man who has power and willingly surrenders it. Moses was called “the meekest man on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). Even though he murdered a man and was a strong leader, he learned to be gentle and meek before God and man. When attacked or criticized he would do nothing but fall on his face and pray.31 Our Lord Jesus also referred to Himself as gentle (Matt 11:29; cf. 21:5).32 Paul also listed gentleness in Gal 5:22–23 as one of the products of the Holy Spirit. Those who are gentle and humble toward God shall inherit the earth. This speaks of coming reward during Christ’s earthly kingdom reign. Is the Lord your refuge? Do you trust in Him implicitly? If so, you’ll experience fulfillment in this life and reward in the next.
Beatitude #4: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (5:6).”33 This beatitude is particularly interesting. Jesus does not say that He is looking for people who possess righteousness, but for people who want it desperately but don’t yet have it. Matthew most commonly uses the word “righteousness” to describe right–living before God.34 To “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is to desire to be Christ–like above all else.35 Think about the last time you were really hungry or thirsty. You were distracted from whatever else you were attempting to do, right? A person who is hungry or thirsty tends to push other things aside. They are desperate and their top priority is satisfying their hunger or thirst. Similarly, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” put becoming like Jesus Christ first. The result is they will be satisfied by God in this life and the next.36 Will you ask God to cultivate the hunger and thirst that He has placed within you?
[The first four beatitudes show that God’s approval is found when we are humbled by God and respond appropriately to Him.]
Beatitude #5: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7).37 Mercy is the willingness to not impose a penalty or a loss that is fully deserved.38 Do you have any enemies? Is there someone in your life who drives you crazy? Grant them mercy. When others hurt you, will you pray God’s blessing over that person? If God wants to discipline him or her, He will, but you and I can pray blessing. You won’t be merciful to others unless in the core of your being you appreciate the mercy that God has shown you. You will want your rights. You won’t fully understand that you deserve nothing. James 2:13 states “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”39 I want God’s mercy! I am sure you do too. If so, show others the type of mercy you’d like to receive.
Beatitude #6: “Blessed are the pure40 in heart, for they shall see God” (5:8).41 Jesus’ words are very significant. He refers to the “pure in heart.” In the Scriptures, the heart describes the inner person—who a man or woman really is. This is where purity begins. If one has internal integrity, it will manifest itself in external integrity.42 Jesus took the Pharisees to task on many points (see Matt 23), all of which centered on the inconsistency between the external and internal parts of their lives. The outside parts of their lives were exceptionally clean, but on the inside their hearts were unclean. They wanted the world to see their clean hands while trying to hide their unclean hearts. It’s easier to avoid unclean hands (murder, stealing, and gluttony) than an unclean heart (envy, pride, bitterness). But in time, the hand manifests the heart. So ultimately, the way to have pure hands is to have a pure heart. And pure hearts are only possible by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. If you desire a clean life, start with a pure heart. Where the heart leads, the hands will follow.43 Today, will you begin to meditate on Ps 139:23–24? Ask the Lord to search your heart on a daily basis. Spend time in His presence and ask Him to help you identify impure thoughts and motives. As you learn to make purity a heart matter, you will see God in your experience in this life. You will also have greater intimacy with Him in the eternal state.
Beatitude #7: “Blessed are the peacemakers,44 for they shall be called sons of God” (5:9).45 Jesus blesses “peacemakers,”46 not peace–keepers.47 This means we are not appeasers of men. We do not seek peace at any price, but we seek to pursue the path of peace (Rom 12:18). This is in keeping with God the Father who is called the “God of peace” six different times in the New Testament.48 Sons and daughters of God are to exude peace. Jesus says that His disciples can become “sons of God.” This is not a reference to salvation. Rather, Jesus is referring to the reward of His disciples becoming “sons indeed.” If we function as peacemakers, we are “called” sons by God (cf. Rev 21:7). The phrase “sons of God” deals with character rather than relationship.49 Barnabas was called the “son of encouragement;” Judas, “the son of perdition.” Barnabas was encouraging; Judas was doomed. So if someone is called a “son of God” or a “daughter of God,” he or she is displaying God’s character.50
Those disciples who exhibit the above beatitudes should be applauded, not booed. Yet, in this world that is not how it works.51 The world is threatened by a Christian lifestyle. It convicts them of sin, and it condemns their way of life. The natural response to a threat is retaliation. I seem to remember someone telling me that doing the right thing has its own reward. But sometimes, doing the right thing will bring you trouble. That’s the message behind this next beatitude.
Beatitude # 8: “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10). The word rendered “persecuted” in 5:10 bears the root idea of “pursue” or “chase.” A good translation is “harass”—“Blessed are the harassed.” The physical persecution of Christians is prevalent all over the world. Yet, social and verbal persecution or harassment can be just as difficult. You may be passed over for a promotion because of your Christian faith. You may lose your job if you refuse to compromise your ethical convictions. You may lose your spouse if you choose to walk with Christ. You may be rejected at school because you don’t party with the rest of your peers. You may be rejected by your neighbors because you do not delight in their gossip. These scenarios of indifference and condescension can sometimes be harder to take than physical violence.
Let’s be honest, Jesus messes up this life. Follow Him and you’re in for some flack. If you’re looking for something that will make your daily life easier, look elsewhere. I’m afraid the way of Jesus isn’t going to do it for you. I know this is lousy marketing. Apparently, Jesus had no training in sales. No political coaching. No speechwriters. Surely they would have told Jesus not to mention the persecution, the mistreatment, the hurt that can come from following Him. “Accentuate the positive,” they’d say. “Downplay the persecution.” But Jesus doesn’t downplay the persecution; He features it. And not only does He feature it, He goes further. He says that when we’re persecuted as a direct result of following Him, we are “blessed”—when we are thrown under the bus for Jesus. In other words, it’s good to get creamed for Christ. That’s right. Good. Jesus says we’re better off persecuted.52
Verses 11 and 12 repeat, amplify, and personalize the persecution beatitude by a shift from third-person (“they”) to second-person (“you”) address.53 In 5:11 Jesus declares, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” There are two key qualifications in 5:11: “falsely” and “because of Me.” The word “falsely” is important. In other words, you haven’t been persecuted until people tell lies about you. If they say that you are a nasty person and you are, you haven’t been persecuted; you have just been accurately evaluated. You are persecuted when the lies start, and when the lies are connected with your faith in Christ.
In 5:12 Jesus hammers his persecution theme home: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Of all the beatitudes, this one is the capstone because it is the one that the Lord Jesus says we should take the greatest delight in. Jesus commands us to “rejoice” and “be glad”54 in the midst of persecution. Yet, He is not asking us to rejoice in suffering itself; we are rather to rejoice for two specific reasons. First, rejoice and be glad “for your reward55 in heaven is great.”56 Whatever persecution you endure on earth, God will make up to you in eternity. Second, rejoice and be glad “for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus says that we are following in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets. These men were the godliest men of their day and they were the most powerfully used by God. They stood by God’s Word and preached it no matter what opposition came to them. We can rejoice because we’re in great company. Don’t get depressed or resentful or bitter if you are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Don’t weep or say, “How can this be happening to me? Why is God allowing this?” God is watching you. He is putting your tears in a bottle. He is storing them all up and will one day bless you and reward you in a way that will make up for every distress. You are in the noble succession of the great men and women of God down the ages.57
In New York City, there are millions of cats and dogs. However, New York City is basically just concrete and steel, so when you have a pet in New York City and it dies, you can’t just go out in the back yard and bury it. The city authorities decided that for $50 they would dispose of your deceased pet for you. One lady was enterprising. She thought, “I can render a service to people in the city and save them money.” She placed an ad in the newspaper that said, “When your pet dies, I will come and take care of the carcass for you for $25.” This lady would go to the local Salvation Army and buy an old suitcase for two dollars. Then when someone would call about his or her pet, she would go to the home and put the deceased pet in the suitcase. She would then take a ride on the subway, where there are thieves. She would set the suitcase down, and she would act like she wasn’t watching. A thief would come by and steal her suitcase. She’d look up and say, “Wait! Stop! Thief!” My guess is the people who stole those suitcases got a real surprise when they got home. A lot of us are like those New York thieves. We’re chasing after happiness, and we grab what we think will give us happiness; however, when we get it, it doesn’t quite deliver.58
You’ve heard it said, “Nice guys finish last?” Well, the truth is Godly guys (and gals) finish first. Maybe not from earth’s perspective but from heaven’s perspective, there is great reward when God approves of your life. Godly guys (and gals) finish first.
Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
Psalm 24:3–4; 51:6, 10
1. Most Christians prefer to apply the Scriptures, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, to someone else. Why is it so difficult to apply God’s Word directly to me (5:1–2)? Read James 1:19–27. How can I focus my time and energy on becoming the disciple that Jesus wants ME to become? What could my spiritual life be like if I was more concerned about my own sin and spiritual growth than the sins and shortcomings of others? Read Matthew 7:1–6.
2. How do I view my own Christian growth and spirituality (5:3)? Do I truly see myself as “spiritually bankrupt” (5:3)? Am I absolutely dependent upon Christ in every area of my life? When is the last time I have mourned over my sin or the sin of others (5:4)? In the past week, how have I demonstrated gentleness with my family members, fellow church members, and coworkers (5:5)?
3. Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness (5:6)? If so, to what degree? If not, what is keeping me from the only pursuit that can satisfy me? How have I exhibited mercy this past week with someone in my life (5:7)? Am I a man or woman characterized by purity (5:8)? If so, how have I grown in this area of my life? Would those who know me define me as a peacemaker (5:9)? Why or why not?
4. Have I been persecuted for the sake of righteousness (5:10–12)? How has this occurred in my life? Am I really living for Christ in my school, workplace, and neighborhood? As a disciple of Christ, should I expect persecution? Read John 15:18–20; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3–4; and 2 Timothy 3:12. How can I faithfully endure the persecution that will come my way?
5. When and how have I experienced “blessing” and “reward” from obeying Christ? Do I truly believe that obedience pays rich dividends? Am I convinced that a lack of obedience brings about great loss? Am I motivated by a desire to please Christ and experience His approval? Why or why not?
1 This phrase may sound strange and obvious to an English reader; however, this is a Semitic expression used of one who is about to begin a public address. See David A. Black, “The Translation of Matthew 5:2,” Bible Translator 38 (1987) 241-43.
2 Prior to the sermon, the crowds are flocking to Jesus from every region (Matt 4:25). At the conclusion of the sermon, the crowds follow Him once again (8:1).
3 This may not seem very important, but in the world of the first century, the teacher’s position was important. Jewish rabbis might teach while strolling through the market or standing up; but if they wanted to teach authoritatively (cf. 7:28–29), they sat down (see Matt 13:2; 24:3; 26:55). R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 158; Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 45-46.
4 Wilkins writes, “The term ‘disciple’ (mathetes) occurs here for the first time in Matthew; almost certainly they are the four brothers who have just been called to follow Jesus (4:18–22), along with any others who have made a commitment to him by this time. The designation ‘disciple’ was a general term used to represent a follower of a variety of different kinds of masters within Judaism, but Jesus fashioned its use throughout his ministry in a unique way to describe his own followers.” Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 192. Blomberg goes even further and suggests: “‘His disciples’ seems to presume that he [Jesus] has already called more than the four described in 4:18–22. Matthew does not give the names of all twelve until 10:2–4, but 10:1 makes it clear they already had been called.” Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 97.
5 At the conclusion of the sermon (Matt 7:28–8:1), Matthew records that the crowd was “eavesdropping” while Jesus spoke to His disciples. There are times in Matthew when Jesus deliberately moves away from the crowds in order to be with His disciples (8:18; 13:36; 14:22). France, The Gospel of Matthew, 156. See also John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978), 29. Contra D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5–7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 15. Morris points out that there is no command to “repent” and the content of the Sermon is designed for those committed to Christ. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 94.
6 The basic OT texts for the Beatitudes are Isa 11:3b–5 and 61:1–4. Matt 5:3–6 corresponds closely to Luke’s beatitudes (Luke 6:20–22). But whereas in Luke, Jesus then gives for woes (6:24–26), in Matthew, Jesus provides four additional beatitudes. The first four are generally passive; the second four are generally more active.
7 Although there are nine beatitudes, the ninth (5:11–12) is really an expansion of the eighth. See David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 146; France, The Gospel of Matthew, 161.
8 BDAG s.v. makarios 2 “pertaining to being especially favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged.” The Hebrew equivalent is berakah, which occurs 415 times in the OT. To bless in the OT means “to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc.” The idea is of conferring or imparting something. Often this is done through the laying on of hands or the lifting of hands. Jesus blesses the little children, His disciples, and His Father in heaven.
9 Carson, The Sermon on the Mount, 16; Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 28.
10 The beatitudes are comparable to the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-23. All nine fruit are to be fulfilled by walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:17).
11 Stott writes: “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly the least obeyed.” Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 15.
12 These eight beatitudes are in stark contrast to the eight curses found near the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt 23).
13 The subjects of the first four beatitudes begin with the Greek letter p (ptochos, pentheo, praus, and peinao).
14 Isaiah said that the Messiah would be anointed “to preach good tidings to the poor” (Isa 61:1–3).
15 God has chosen many poor people for the gospel is designed for those who are poor (Jas 2:5).
16 The dative Greek phrase to pneumati (“in spirit”) should be understood to be practically equivalent to an adverb, indicating the “spiritually poor.” Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 155.
17 Long, Matthew, 48.
18 The NEB translates this “know their need of God.”
19 Perhaps the best illustration of Jesus’ meaning is His own parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10–13).
20 Dwight Edwards, Releasing the Rivers Within (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2003), 96.
21 Carson, The Sermon on the Mount, 17.
22 Eaton may be correct when he writes, “I believe the most important phrase in the Sermon on the Mount is this one. If we understand what it means to be ‘poor in spirit’ we shall understand the whole Sermon on the Mount.” Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 18–19.
23 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 42.
24 Wilkins notes, “The first and the eighth beatitudes (5:3, 10) form a sort of bookends, another example of the common Hebrew literary device called an inclusio, because the causal clause of the first beatitude is repeated in the last beatitude— ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (cf. 5:3, 10).” Wilkins, Matthew, 205.
25 Turner, Matthew, 150. Contra Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 96 who sees this as a reference to entering heaven.
26 Isaiah said the Messiah would bind up the brokenhearted and proclaim the hour when the mourners would be comforted, when their ashes would be replaced by a crown of joy, and their mourning would be replaced with the oil of gladness (Isa 61:1–3).
27 See Ps 119:136; Ezek 9:4; Matt 23:37–38; and Rev 6:10.
28 Mourning as a way of life is forbidden in Matt 9:15.
29 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
30 This beatitude is much like the promise in Ps 37:11, “The meek shall possess the land.” This is a Messianic psalm that refers to God’s people inheriting the Promised Land. See also Zeph 3:12–13.
31 Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life, 20.
32 Jesus demonstrated His humility and gentleness by taking on the form of a servant in Phil 2:5–8.
33 The Psalmist uses the image of hunger and thirst to depict his desire for God (Ps 42:3; 63:1; 107:5, 9).
34 See Matt 1:19; 3:15; 5:10, 20, 45, 6:1, and 33. This practical righteousness is different than Paul’s doctrine of the imputed righteous of Christ.
35 Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:43).
36 The future passive that is used in 5:4, 6, 7, and 9 implies divine agency. See Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 437-38.
37 Turner, Matthew, 152 suggests that an allusion to the language of Prov 14:21 and/or Prov 17:5 LXX is likely.
38 The best example of this is Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:23–35).
39 See also Matt 18:33; 9:13; 12:7; 15:22; 17:15; and 20:30–31. Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 52.
40 The Greek word for “pure” is katharos, from which we get the English word “cathartic.” Both mean to cleanse, purge, or purify.
41 Jesus likely has Ps 23:3–4 in mind (cf. Ps 51:10; 73:1).
42 See also Turner, Matthew, 152.
43 David Jeremiah, “Clean Hands,” Today’s Turning Point, 9/6-7/08.
44 The NLT nails Jesus’ meaning: “God blesses those who work for peace.”
45 The expressed goal of the Messiah—the “Prince of the Peace”—is to bring peace to the entire world (Isa 9:6–7).
46 The word “peacemakers” (eirenopoios) is only found here in the NT.
47 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 101.
48 See Rom 15:33; 16:20; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 3:16 [“Lord”]; and Heb 13:20.
49 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 169, notes the following descriptions used in Matthew: “sons of the kingdom” (8:12); “sons of the wedding hall” (9:12); “sons of the evil one” (13:38); and “sons of those who killed the prophets” (23:31).
50 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 82.
51 Postmillennialism is not based on Scripture or experience.
52 Bob Kerrey, “Building Character: On Being Persecuted” (Matt 5:10–12).
53 Blomberg, Matthew, 101.
54 The verb agalliao (“be glad”) is only found here in Matthew. It is a very strong word.
55 The noun misthos (“reward”) is used ten times by Matthew, the most in any NT book (5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 5, 16; 10:41 [2x], 42; 20:8).
56 Contra Blomberg, Matthew, 101 who insists that the “reward” is heaven.
57 Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life, 36.
58 Preaching Today citation: Scott Wenig, Preaching Today #182.
Have you ever failed to recognize something valuable? As Stan Caffy prepared for married life, he cleaned out his garage and donated many of his possessions to the Goodwill. One of the items he donated was a tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence that had been hanging in his garage for a decade. Stan’s trash turned out to be another man’s treasure. This particular version of the Declaration of Independence was a rare copy made in 1823. A man named Michael Sparks spotted it, and he purchased the document for $2.48. Sparks later auctioned it for almost a half–a–million. Not a bad profit.1
Just like this tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence, you and I are worth more than we think. Today, however, you may not feel like you are valuable. Perhaps you feel like you have failed God in your marriage or family. Maybe you are still suffering the consequences from a divorce or two. Maybe you failed to spend time with your kids and now that they are older they don’t have time for you. You wonder because of your mistakes if God truly loves you. Maybe you’ve never served in the church and you feel like there’s no way you could start now after so many years of inactivity. Due to your lack of spiritual commitment, you wonder how God can truly care about you. Perhaps you have wasted away your schooling or career. You had so much potential but you never lived up to it. Now it seems like you are just aimlessly going through the motions. You wonder how God could ever use you. I’m here to tell you that regardless of how you feel today, God considers you incredibly valuable. He loves you and longs for you to live out who you are.2 So give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.3 In Matt 5:13–16, Jesus issues two exhortations to motivate us to fulfill this calling.
1. Season the earth (5:13). In 5:13, Jesus tells us that as disciples we play a valuable role in our culture. He begins by declaring, “You4 are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” To discover the meaning of the salt metaphor, we need to understand the function of salt as it would be understood by Jesus’ original first–century audience. There’s only one problem: Scholars have identified no less than eleven different functions of salt in the ancient world.5 Salt had so many uses that it was highly valued. In fact, salt was so valuable that the Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with it. If a soldier did not carry out his duties, others would say, “He is not worth his salt.” That’s where we get the expression, “worth his salt.” Even today when we wish to say that someone embodies genuine quality and goodness, we say, “He [or she] is the salt of the earth.”6 So, we can safely say that the salt metaphor carries a general idea of value. Disciples, therefore, add value to the world in a broad sense.7 But we are still left to figure out specifically which of the valuable functions of salt Jesus had in mind.8
Salt can be a preservative, an antiseptic, a fire catalyst, and a fertilizer. Honestly, I can make a reasonably convincing case for several interpretations; however, it seems to me that the most likely usage of salt in this context is as a seasoning agent.9 Jesus’ mention of the taste of salt supports this interpretation.10 Salt imparts flavor and improves the taste of bland food.11 If this is the function of salt Jesus has in mind, then how are disciples to be salty? Contextually, being salty is to live out the eight beatitudes previously listed in 5:3–12. If we live out these beatitudes we will make Christ attractive. Thus, to be “salty” is to be like Christ and live out His life. As we do so, we help those around us develop a taste for Jesus.
A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale; and, as he talked with his sales manager, he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied, “Son, take my advice: Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.”12 Are you making anyone in your life thirsty to know more about Christ? Is there anyone who is curious about your life because you showcase the life of Christ? Your lifestyle should exude such a flavor that it creates in others a hunger and thirst for the gospel.13
Some people put salt on tomatoes and watermelon. Yet, I have never heard such a person say, “Oh, that is great salt!” Now I’ve heard plenty of folks say, “That is a great tomato or great watermelon.” Why? Because the job of salt is not to make you think how great salt is, but how great the salted food is. We need to sprinkle salt all over our society. Tragically, we have been so withdrawn from culture that we have turned our society over to the unrighteous to rule. When Christians pulled out of public education, politics, and the media, righteous decisions left with them. We have been called to penetrate society. How are your neighborhood, your town, and your kids’ schools different because you are around? You and I are supposed to be the “spice of life!” We need to live out who we are. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
Before I leave this discussion on the purpose of salt, it is worth mentioning that salt is also an antiseptic. Perhaps you’ve discovered this function of salt when you’ve waded into the ocean with an open cut. Salt is indeed a potent disinfectant. But whenever it is used for this purpose, it can be painful. Over the course of my life, I have had severe canker sores. I call this my “thorn in the flesh.” Whenever I have a severe batch, I gargle with salt water. As you can imagine, this is rather painful, especially when some of my canker sores are the size of a thumbnail! But after the pain subsides, I am always glad I took my salt like a man. Likewise, in the spiritual realm we need to remember that people will many times not understand or applaud our salty nature. They may plead for us to be more tolerant and understanding, or they may accuse us of being judgmental. But we are called to disinfect a dying world, and this means we cannot compromise on sin. We must love people enough to be honest with them, even if it hurts them…and us. Remember, Jesus calls His disciples “the salt of the earth” and not “the sugar of the earth.” Some Christians prefer to sugarcoat the Bible and the claims of Christ.14 This makes life a whole lot easier. No one will object if we quote passages like “Do not judge” or “Love your neighbor.”15 Yet, you and I are called to be “the salt of the earth.” And sometimes, no matter how gracious and sensitive you attempt to be, you will offend. After all, salt has a bite to it. But the tang of salt also brings healing from the infection of sin.16
After explaining the value and purpose of salt, Jesus continues in 5:13 with a word of warning: “...but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” Jesus’ words appear to present a problem for those who are scientifically astute. The question is frequently posed: How can salt lose its saltiness? Salt that loses its saltiness is a contradiction in terms like water that loses its wetness. If it is not salty, it is not salt. Strictly speaking, salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But the salt in Jesus’ day was seldom pure sodium chloride. The “salt” collected around the Dead Sea contained a mixture of other minerals, allowing the pure salt to be potentially washed out, leaving a useless residue17 that lacked the salty taste.18 While in the first–century it was possible for salt to lose its saltiness, in the spiritual realm this should be considered unthinkable! As God’s people we are the salt of the earth. We are not told to become salty; we are challenged to stay salty!19 Interestingly, the literal meaning of the word translated “tasteless” (moraino) is “to become foolish.” It is likely that Jesus is using a pun to suggest that if His disciples lose their saltiness, they are making fools of themselves.20 Tragically, many Christians are like salt–free potato chips—their lives are a walking contradiction. Instead of flavoring the culture, they are polluting the culture.
In the final phrase of 5:13, Jesus states that tasteless salt “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”21 In the first–century, when salt became tasteless it was thrown on the ground where people wanted a hard path because salt had a hardening effect on the soil. People would then walk right on top of the salt and trample it into the ground. This metaphor does not mean that tasteless disciples lose their salvation. Instead, they are cast aside in the ministry of Christ. Tasteless disciples are not fulfilling the purpose for which Jesus called them.22 Because they are useless, they lose their testimony and influence. The consequences of such failure involve the loss of present usefulness and future rewards (cf. John 15:1–8).23
The warning of 5:13 is also relevant to local churches as well. Since Jesus is talking to the disciples as a group (“you” plural) and they are later called the “foundation” of the church (Eph 2:20), this is applicable to every local church. As a corporate church, if we become tasteless and anemic we will be snuffed out of existence. We see testimony of this in church history. The seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation are no more. The churches of Corinth and Ephesus are all but nonexistent. We look in vain for the church of North Africa where the great Augustine (354–430) ministered.24 This can happen to our church as well. Even if we seem to be flourishing today, we may become tasteless tomorrow. The church of today has a tendency to brag about the size of our salt shakers (our church buildings) or the amount of salt we can put into our shakers (our worship attendance), rather than truly salting down our communities with the good news and good works of Jesus Christ.25 The whole point of salt is to leave the shaker and hit the meat. We must impact our world with the life of Christ. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
[As disciples we are called to season the earth. This requires us to recognize our value and fulfill our calling. In the next three verses, Jesus says…]
2. Light your world (5:14–16).26 In this section, Jesus declares that we are called to shine the light of Christ. He begins by stating: “You27 are the light28 of the world.” People often get very disturbed because the world is dark. That’s because the world is not light. What else can a sinful place be but dark? The world is lost and without any direction because the world is not light. Jesus is the Light,29 and we are to reflect Him.30 As a disciple of Jesus Christ, it is not enough to have private personal holiness; we must also have public exposure.31
If we were to go into a building on a pitch–dark night, turn out all the lights, and even cover up all the windows, it would be so dark we would have a hard time moving around. There would be chaos as we ran into chairs, walls, and each other trying to get out of that building. But if in the middle of all that confusion, I stood on a platform, pulled out a huge flashlight, and turned it on, guess what? I now run the show. Whoever has the light calls the shots when it’s dark. That dark building describes this dark world pretty well. People are crashing into everything, trying to find a way out of the darkness. We Christians are the light. The tragedy is that we are not using the flashlight God has given us to give the world some light. Turn your flashlight on, Christian, so people in darkness can see. And after you turn it on hold it high so everyone can see it. Christianity is not a covert operation. We don’t go slinking around in the dark to get our work done. There is no room for “secret–agent” Christians. We are not the spiritual CIA. We’re “the light of the world.”32 What we need is a group of people who are unapologetically Christian.33 Don’t apologize for being a Christian. No one else is apologizing. Homosexuals aren’t. Racists aren’t. If they can go public, so can we.
After making this general assertion, Jesus shares two parables in 5:14–15. First, He says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In Jesus’ day, cities were often set on a hill for a number of reasons. It was cooler on a hill. In that arid, middle–eastern land, the only air conditioning they had was a breeze. Cities were also situated on hilltops for protection against attack. A city set on a hill was easier to defend. It is much more difficult to storm a walled city running uphill, and defenders have always known that victory must be claimed by capturing and holding the high ground. Jesus’ point, however, is not a city’s defense, but its visibility because of its elevated position. Most cities in Jesus’ day were constructed largely of white limestone and placed on a hilltop to reflect the bright sun rays, allowing visibility from miles away. At night the white marble mirrored both the moonlight and burning lamps, acting as a beacon for directing travelers toward the city.34 Similarly, as disciples our light ought to make it easier for people to find their way to God. We are a city set on a hill that should be elevated and easily visible. We should give hope and direction for weary pilgrims in this dangerous and futile world. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
In His second parable in 5:15, Jesus zooms in from the glow of a city to the glow of a household. He says, “Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”35 In Jesus’ day, homes were lit by small clay lamps which could be held in the palm of the hand. These clay lamps were sometimes covered with a hole in the top in which to pour the oil, and a hole at one side for the wick. Since most Jewish homes were modest one–room structures, placing a lamp on a lampstand could give light to everyone in the house.36 Jesus contrasts elevating a lamp on a lampstand to covering a lamp with a basket. People don’t light a lamp to hide its light under a basket, Jesus says. That’s silly! Rather, people light a lamp in order to shed light to everyone in the house. It is not that people should not hide their lights in their baskets, but that they do not do this.37 Lamps were essential for finding one’s way in enclosed areas during the night and were placed under a basket only to extinguish the light.38 Yet, many of us extinguish our lamp when we go to work, school, or into our neighborhood or community. We assume we need to blend in rather than bring a little heat. But in these two parables, Jesus says heat it up and lift it up. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
Jesus concludes this passage with a powerful statement: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father39 who is in heaven.” This verse is a command, not a suggestion. Jesus says, “Since you are light, SHINE!” We are not here to get used to the dark but to shine as lights. The light of Christ is to shine in and through us “before men.” In other words, this is a public exhibition of light. It is important to notice that the “light” is not equated with good works. Rather, the light illumines the good works in such a way that men notice them and glorify God. What is it that lights up our works to the glory of God? I believe it is our verbal testimony to Jesus Christ. Good works by themselves are not light;40 they must be illuminated by words that direct attention and tribute to the Lord Jesus Christ.41 Sometimes Christians place a false dichotomy between words and deeds. They will say, “I testify to my faith in God by the way I live.” Others will say defiantly, “I don’t have to say anything.” The idea that we shouldn’t feel compelled to bring up the name of Jesus Christ as the explanation for our Christian character is born from either unbelievable arrogance or incredible naïveté. Our lives are not an adequate witness apart from our words. If you have your most spiritual day and your good works are clearly evident, your coworkers and classmates may just assume that you are a good Mormon. But if you name the name of Christ, people will know whose you are and where your works stem from.
Jesus expects good works and good words. Both are necessary to glorify God.42 The word “glorify” (doxazo) means to show off. That’s right—we’re supposed to show God off. Unfortunately, sometimes it is tempting to dazzle others with our good works so that we are glorified, not God. Yet, light functions best when it is least visible. If you are blinded by a lamp, you are not able to read. Jesus makes it clear that our good works should not direct attention back to us but to the Father in heaven. The purpose of shining our light is to point others to the God who is working in us.43 When people see the full moon on a clear summer night, they are not going to say, “It’s wonderful that the moon is such a powerhouse of light energy for us.” The moon has no light. It merely reflects the light of the sun. That’s how it works with Christians, too. The world sees our works, but glorifies not us but the One who is the true source of the goodness that we exhibit in our behavior.44 You could say we are like stained-glass windows. We sparkle and shine when the sun is out. But in the darkness, beauty is seen only if there is a light within.45
Yet, you may still be thinking, “I’m just not very impressive. I don’t have a lot of gifts or talents. I’m not educated. I’m not rich. I’m not outgoing. I’m not even good looking. How can God use me?” Remember that Jesus’ disciples were the little people of the world. Jesus Himself was a carpenter/preacher who was not much older than thirty. His disciples were the same age. They were not political leaders. They weren’t well educated. Some spoke with country accents. They didn’t come from wealthy or aristocratic families. They came from what we would call today small business and “blue–collar jobs.”46 So if Jesus could call His disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” He can say the same to you today. So give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
In our master bedroom there is a glider chair. Next to the glider is a standing lamp. I often like to sit in this chair and read, before going to bed. Every night, I turn on the lamp so that I can see to read. But for the past several days the lamp hasn’t worked because the light bulb has burned out. In my laziness, I keep neglecting to go into our garage and grab a new light bulb. Naturally, I instinctually turn on the lamp, but to no avail. I have the light bulb; I just need to use it.
Maybe this story describes your spiritual life. You are “the light of the world,” but you’re not lighting up your world. Your life doesn’t shed light, it casts shadows. Someone once phrased the issue this way: “If you were being tried for being for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” For many of us, this is a very sobering question. This week you may see your next–door neighbor, your mail delivery person, your children’s friends and parents and teachers, your coworkers, your server in the local restaurant, and on and on. Jesus says, “Shine your light!” Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is. Let those around you know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Show Him off to those in your life.
Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
2 Corinthians 3:4–4:7; 6:14
John 1:1–9; 12:35–36
1. How do I fulfill my calling as “salt” in my school, workplace, neighborhood, and community (5:13)? What tangible examples can I cite? How has my “saltiness” been received? Have I been persecuted because of Christ (5:10–12)? Why or why not? How have I been able to ensure that my speech is “always gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6)?
3. Am I making people in my life thirsty to know more about Christ? How has God accomplished this in and through me? When have I found people to be most receptive to Christ’s words and works? Where is God currently using me to bear fruit for Him? How can God use me to further exploit this opportunity?
5. Have I been guilty of expecting the world to be a place of “light” (5:14–15)? How can I change this faulty mindset? What is the darkest relational sphere in my life: family, friendships, work, school, or neighborhood? How can I bring the brightest light to shine in this darkest area?
7. Do people in my school, workplace, and neighborhood know that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ? In what ways have I communicated this to those who know me? How have I failed to let people know where I stand in my relationship with Christ? What can I do to be more public about my faith in Christ?
9. Is the focus of my life to bring God glory (5:16)? How have I let my light shine this week to the glory of God? Is it possible to simultaneously receive praise and still point people to Christ? How can I make sure that I do not share in God’s glory (Isaiah 42:8)?
1 Preaching Today citation: Associated Press, “Sold! One Declaration of Independence Copy,” MSNBC.com (3/23/07); submitted by David Slagle, Atlanta, GA.
2 The two images of salt and light involve “considerations less of what one does than of what one is.” Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 172.
4 Jesus emphatically says, “You—and you only disciples—are the salt of the earth.” The emphatic nature of the word “you” (humeis) is evident because (1) pronominal subjects do not need to be expressed and (2) the pronoun is placed at the front of the sentence. This is also the case in 5:14.
5 W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., Matthew. The International Critical Commentary, vol. I, eds. J.A. Emerton, C.E.B. Cranfield, G.N. Stanton (Edinburgh, Scotland: T & T Clark, Ltd, 1988), 472–73.
6 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 93.
7 A widely held view suggests that since salt had a varied use in the ancient world, Jesus is not pointing to one specific application but is using it in a broad, inclusive sense to refer to a vital necessity for everyday life. Sirach echoed such a perspective (Sir. 39:26), and Pliny commented that “there is nothing more useful than salt and sunshine.” See Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 213.
8 Hagner suggests, “The multiple ways that salt benefits the world may be the point of the metaphor.” Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 99. Nolland states, “Attempting interpretive precision is not wise here.” John Nolland, The Gospel Of Matthew: A Commentary On The Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 212.
10 Contra Blomberg who argues that it is unlikely that ancient Jews would have thought of the primary use of salt to be to enhance taste. Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 102.
11 Job 6:6 says, “Can something tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the white of an egg?”
12 David Jeremiah, Turning Point Daily Devotional, 4/17/06.
13 A wonderful parallel is Col 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
14 Paul calls this “tickling ears” (2 Tim 4:3).
15 See Matt 5:43 and 7:1.
16 David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 35–36.
17 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 174–75. Cason puts it like this: “But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth.” Donald A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed.
18 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 104. See also Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 99.
19 Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1: The Christbook Matthew 1–12, revised & expanded (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 160.
20 Carson, “Matthew.”
21 Cf. Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34–35.
22 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
23 See also Ed Glasscock, Matthew. Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 113; Blomberg, Matthew, 102; John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew. John Phillips Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 92.
24 Eaton suggests that the thought in 5:13 “deals with something communal; it has nothing to do with personal loss of salvation. The parallels are Romans 11:19–23 and Revelation 2:5, both of which deal with communities).” Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 39.
25 Hemphill, Empowering Kingdom Growth, 180.
26 A great Pauline parallel to these verses is Phil 2:14–15: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”
27 Once again, the word “you” (humeis) is emphatic. The idea is, “You disciples and nobody else are the light. You are it!” Jesus is saying that if this world is ever going to see His light and come to the knowledge of the truth, it will be because we let His light shine through us.
28 The concept of light, enlighten, lamp, or lampstand occurs in nearly 300 verses in Scripture. Hampton Keathley III, “The Subjects of the Kingdom and Their Influence in the World” (Matt 5:13–16): http://www.bible.org.
29 See John 1:4, 5, 7, 8 [2x], 9; 3:19 [2x], 20 [2x], 21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35 [2x], 36 [3x], 46.
30 Tony Evans, Time to Get Serious (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 179.
31 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 176.
32 When persecution hits (5:10–12), it is tempting to lay low instead of standing tall. It is natural to want to go into hiding instead of going public.
33 Evans, Time to Get Serious, 179.
34 Glasscock, Matthew, 114.
35 It is often suggested our responsibility as light in the world is to expose the evil deeds of darkness in the world. This may sound similar to Paul’s words in Eph 5:11; however, Paul is talking about exposing evil among believers in the church. It’s not about exposing evil among pagans in the culture. Moreover, elsewhere in the Bible, it says our primary role as believers is not to judge those outside the church (1 Cor 5:12–13).
36 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 105.
37 Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 37.
38 Wilkins, Matthew, 215.
39 The title “Father” (pater) is used in Matthew here for the first time, introducing the special relationship that exists between God and Jesus’ disciples. It is repeated incessantly throughout the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount (5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6 [2x], 8, 9, 14, 15, 18 [2x], 26, 32; 7:11, 21). Morris 106 notes, “We are so accustomed to referring to God as ‘the Father’ that we do not stop to reflect that this is a revolutionary way of thinking of ‘the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy’ (Isa. 57:15). Jesus altered forever the way that we think about God.”
40 Biblically speaking, good works are not the same as good things. Sinners can do good things. People can build hospitals and orphanages and feed the poor. But sinners cannot do good works. So what’s the difference? Good works are God–created, God–inspired works. Good works can help transform society because they have the power of God behind them. Evans, Time to Get Serious, 180.
42 Talbert writes, “Be who you are so God will be glorified.” Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5–7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 56.
43 Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 39.
44 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 177 suggests that the “good works” link back to the beatitudes in 5:3–12 and the practical Christian righteousness (5:6, 10). Contra Blomberg, Matthew, 103 who sees the good works as the “fruits in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8). The emphasis upon good works can also be paralleled in 1 Peter 2:10–11: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
45 Unknown, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 2.
46 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 93.
Do you remember the old Star Trek television series? It captured the imagination of an entire generation when it first came out. The crew of the starship USS Enterprise endeavored on a five–year mission—“to boldly go where no man has gone before.” “Go beyond!” That was the mission of the starship Enterprise and its crew. And each episode recounted their experiences as they boldly went forth.
Perhaps you’ve wished to live a Sci–Fi life. Work, school, church, and even your marriage and kids are a bit monotonous. There’s part of you that would like to embark on a Star Trek–like adventure. Yet, you realize this is fictitious. (It is fictitious, right?) Closer to our galaxy, have you ever longed to go beyond the natural realm? Do you aspire to live a supernatural life above your present circumstances? If so, the Bible has a definitive word for you. In Matthew 5:17–20, Jesus urges you and me to boldly go where we have never gone before. In these four verses, Jesus helps us understand how the commands of the Old Testament apply to our lives.1 In short, Jesus says, “We must go above and beyond.”
1. Fulfill the Law through Jesus (5:17–18). In this first section, we are called to recognize that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament. In 5:17, Jesus begins by saying, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament2]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” This verse is one of the most important verses in the Bible. For here Jesus explains one of the reasons that He came to earth—He came to fulfill the entire Old Testament.3 Jesus’ first words are: “Do not think.”4 Being the world’s greatest teacher, Jesus liked to clear up possible misunderstandings. Jesus is responding to the erroneous view that He came to “abolish” the Old Testament. Obviously, this is utter nonsense! The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church and it remains the only way that we can properly interpret the New Testament. Instead of abolishing the Old Testament, Jesus says, “I came” or “I have come”5 to point to His mission to fulfill the Old Testament.6 God’s Word was essential to the personal mission of Jesus’ life. Is this true for you as well? What role does God’s Word play in your goals, perspectives, and convictions? Do you run your life through the grid of the Scriptures?
Jesus states that He did not come to “abolish” the Old Testament. “Abolish” (kataluo) is a very strong word. In its other three usages in Matthew, the verb is used of demolishing a temple.7 Jesus says, “I didn’t come to demolish the Old Testament”; instead, I came to “fulfill” it.8 The question is, “What did Jesus mean by the word fulfill?” This is one of the most debated questions in the New Testament. Yet, three points flesh out Jesus’ meaning.9
Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The word “fulfill” (pleroo) occurs numerous times in Matthew, and it normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.”10 “Fulfill” does not mean “to bring to an end.” Rather, it means, “to fill out, expand, or complete.”11 Concerning the Old Testament, we could say that Jesus “filled it up” or “filled it full” with meaning.12 Whether we study the furnishings of the temple, probe the messianic passages in the Psalms, or delve into the details of Isaiah 53, we see Jesus Christ. Just as the fetus is fulfilled in the adult human, so Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.13 We could go so far as to say that the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ.14 Therefore, Jesus does not contradict the Old Testament; He’s the culmination of it. The entire Old Testament points to Jesus and will be fulfilled in Him, down to the smallest detail.15
My wife, Lori, is an amazing artist. She will often pencil sketch various people and animals and then allow our children to color them in. Similarly, the Old Testament is the pencil sketch and Jesus is the portrait.16 When we color in the lines of the Old Testament, we can clearly and beautifully see Jesus. Have you sought to color in the pencil sketch of the Old Testament? Have you seen your Savior as you have read the Old Testament?
Jesus’ death fulfilled the Old Testament Law.17 The Law prescribed a system of sacrifices to deal with sin. For 1500 years, day after day, week after week, and especially year after year, the people brought their sacrifices. These offerings signified that sin brings punishment and only death and blood could release someone from that punishment. Those thousands of dead animals pointed forward to a sacrifice. That’s why John the Baptizer exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).18 Through Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death, the penalty for sin has been paid. Christ provided a way of salvation that meets all Old Testament requirements and demands (Rom 3:21, 31).19 When you believe in Christ as your Savior, you have fulfilled the Law and will not suffer the eternal consequences of breaking the Law. If you have never placed your faith in Christ’s death for your sins, please do so right now. The price has been paid; all you have to do is receive the provision God has made.
Jesus’ teaching fulfilled the Old Testament Law. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20, Moses prophesied that God would speak anew through a prophet like himself. The teaching of Jesus fleshes out and reveals the full depth of meaning in the Old Testament.20 Jesus was the final Interpreter of and Authority over the Law and its meaning, as other passages in Matthew indicate. Jesus restated some of the Old Testament Laws (19:18–19), but some He modified (5:31–32). Some He intensified (5:21–22, 27–28), and others He changed significantly (5:33–37, 38–42, 43–47). Some Laws He abrogated entirely (Mark 7:15–19). Jesus was not advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish approach of adherence to the Law. Nor was He advocating that the Law be dismissed altogether. He was proclaiming that the meaning of the Law must be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the profound changes introduced by His teaching.21
At this juncture, perhaps you are nodding your head and uttering hearty amen’s. “Yes, that’s right brother, we are not under law but under grace!” Now before you get too excited, you must recognize that although we are not under the Old Testament Law that doesn’t mean we are not under any law. I think about the young man who was tired of his parents’ rules about curfews, grooming, and chores around the house. He said, “I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get out of here so that I can join the Marines.” Poor guy! He was about to trade one set of rules for a different and, in many ways, stricter set of rules.22 In Matt 5:21–48, we will see that Jesus fills up and intensifies the meaning of many of the Old Testament Laws.
Jesus life, death, and teaching completely fulfilled the Old Testament Law. Consequently, every aspect of the Old Testament must be seen, interpreted, and lived out in the light of Jesus Christ.23 Think of a powerful searchlight scanning over the night sky. The way this light works is that a relatively small source of light is passed through a great lens, which magnifies it into a powerful radiance that spreads over the sky. Now, think of a laser beam. Here, the energy source is concentrated; its power source is transformed into a light of razor–sharp intensity. In Christ, the Law becomes both a searchlight and a laser. When the Law passes through the person and work of Christ, it is both focused and enlarged; its potential to illumine and guide us is both amplified and intensified.24 In light of this, we must go above and beyond.
In 5:18, Jesus explains the duration of the Law when He declares, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not25 the smallest letter or stroke26 shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”27 The phrase, “For truly I say to you” or “I tell you the truth”28 is an authoritative statement backed up by all that Jesus is.29 When we want to emphasize a statement we often say, “Now mark my words.” Jesus said that when it comes to the Bible, we can mark not only the words as true, but also every letter and even the smallest portions of letters. In other words, the Bible is binding, authoritative, and dependable. One implication of this is that to reject the Bible is to reject Jesus and accuse Him of being a liar! Many people who want to claim Jesus don’t want to accept the Bible as His Word. But Jesus ruled out that option when He tied His life and ministry to the fulfillment of Scripture.30
In 5:18, Jesus gives two lessons on the longevity and reliability of the Old Testament: one in astronomy and the other in penmanship.31 First, Jesus deals in astronomy. In this context “heaven” is describing the universe that God created. “Until heaven and earth pass away” is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts.32 The clause “until heaven and earth pass away” is qualified by the further clause “until all is accomplished.” Whatever was prophesied about in the Old Testament was temporary and would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His future kingdom.33
After gazing at the universe through a telescope, Christ examines the Law’s penmanship with a microscope.34Jesus argues that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” This statement by Christ provides us with one of the strongest affirmations in the Bible of the inerrancy of Scripture. Since Jesus is referring to the Old Testament, it is likely that in this penmanship lesson He is reflecting on the Hebrew language. The “smallest letter” of the Hebrew alphabet is the letter yodh.35 It is about the size of an apostrophe. The “stroke” refers to a serif, a minute distinguishing mark at the end of a Hebrew letter. In English, this would be akin to the tiny stroke that distinguishes a capital O and a capital Q. Jesus is saying that every dot or comma in the Bible is inspired by God. Furthermore, Christ’s lesson about letters is His emphatic way of saying that the Law and all its teachings will continue. What Jesus does and teaches complies with the Old Testament; but more, He completes the Old Testament.36 Those who have believed in Christ have through Him met all the requirements of the Law.37 Therefore, if we want to live a supernatural life, we must go above and beyond. This can only occur when we depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ.
[The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. Now we are exhorted to practically experience this fulfillment in our own individual lives.]
2. Follow the commandments of Jesus (5:19–20). Jesus moves from talking about the Law and the Prophets to talking about the kingdom. The way that we can live an “above and beyond life” is by believing in Christ and then seeking to obey Him. In 5:19, Jesus says, “Whoever then38 annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he [or she] shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”39 There are several observations that are worth noting in this verse. First, the word “whoever” is a general all–encompassing term that applies to every disciple.40 This means that you and I must grapple with this verse. Second, Jesus’ use of the phrase “these commandments” does not refer to the Old Testament commandments (5:17–18). Rather, this is referring to the commandments found in the Sermon on the Mount.41 Jesus has already mentioned a few (5:13–14), and in 5:21–48, He gives six examples of how His commands “fulfill” the Law.42 (We will look at these commandments as we progress in our series.) Third, Jesus distinguishes between disciples in His eternal kingdom.43 The kingdom of heaven is not going to be a classless society. Some people will be greater than others. Some will be called “great,” and others will be called “least.”44 This means that some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal.45 But please notice that disobedient disciples are still in the kingdom of heaven. Even those who break Jesus’ commandments and teach others to do the same have the free gift of eternal life that cannot be lost. This is dependent, however, upon placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Fourth, heavenly distinctions are determined by our view of the Scriptures. Our attitude toward the Scriptures brings smallness or greatness, honor or disgrace. We have two equations here: Disobedience + Deception = Dishonor and Obedience + Instruction = Honor. Specifically, how well you obey and teach the Scriptures determines your reward in the kingdom.46 Finally, Jesus is the one who calls His disciples “great” or “least.”47 Part of the reward of faithfulness is one’s eventual reputation. Our reputation, our name, what we’re “called” will be a part of our eternal reward. Jesus Himself will be the one who specifies that certain persons in the kingdom are great—and that is part of the point. You and I should live in such a way that God will regard us as great subjects of His kingdom. We must live above and beyond.
So let me ask you: What value do you place on God’s Word? How much of a “stickler” are you in your obedience to the Word? Greatness in Christ’s kingdom depends on maintaining a high view of Scripture. Your view of Scripture is the single greatest predictor of your spiritual health. If you love God’s Word and are applying it in your life, you are likely to be sound in every other area of your life. John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, said, “I am a Bible–bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small.”48 Like Wesley, are you a Bible–bigot or are you a cafeteria Christian—picking and choosing what entrees appeal to you? I challenge you today to become an even greater man or woman of the Word. Here are some ideas to consider as you pursue this goal.49
Jesus concludes this passage in 5:20 with the key to the Sermon on the Mount: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses50 that of the scribes and Pharisees,51 you will not52 enter the kingdom of heaven.” Stop and feel the weight of these words. This statement is a shocker! During Jesus’ ministry on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be the most holy and righteous people on earth.53 They were clergy, the professional do-gooders. So Jesus’ declaration is like saying, “Unless you are a greater philanthropist than Mother Theresa and a greater evangelist than Billy Graham and a greater social reformer than Martin Luther King and a greater prophet than Muhammad and more peaceable than Gandhi and wiser than Confucius and more holy than the Pope, you’re not getting into heaven, period.” Whew! What do you do with that?
We must recognize that the scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, tithed, and lived according to the rules. They were pretty good at obeying the external requirements of God’s Law, but they didn’t meet the punch line of the Sermon on the Mount.54 That comes in 5:48: “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This takes the statement of 5:20 to its logical conclusion. God requires perfection—not relative perfection, where the standard is other people. The standard is God Himself—the kind of moral perfection that God Himself exhibits. This demand for perfection includes our internal thoughts, motives, and attitudes. This is where the scribes and Pharisees failed. They thought that religious performance made them acceptable to God. Yet, Jesus says that when we stand before God, we’ve got to do better than that. Jesus is not talking about beating the scribes and Pharisees at their own game, but about a different type of righteousness altogether.55 Entering into the kingdom has nothing to do with keeping the rules like the scribes and Pharisees.56 It has to do with Jesus Christ fulfilling the rules for you. No person apart from Christ can produce the righteousness that God commands. In kind, it is His kind; in degree, it is what mathematicians would call “the nth degree.” It is beyond calculation! Without God’s kind of righteousness, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven.57 We are sinners in need of a perfect Savior.
A.J. Jacobs, the agnostic senior editor of Esquire magazine, decided to spend an entire year trying to be completely obedient to every command in the Bible. In 2007, he wrote a book entitled The Year of Living Biblically. He says, “One thing I learned was how much I sinned. That was a little disturbing, but once you start to pay attention to the amount that you lie and gossip and covet and even steal—I was taken aback and that was a real eye–opener.”58 These are profound words from an agnostic. As believers we too must be reminded that we need Jesus to solve our sin problem. This recognition ought to compel us to live our lives in response to His grace.
One summer a family went on an Alaskan cruise. The family enjoyed the vacation a great deal, but the dad came home with one observation in particular that really impressed him. He said the flowers in Alaska are huge! The pansies, day lilies, and impatiens all had flowers that were just immense. Even the dandelions stood two feet above the grass with flowers that were six inches across. He wondered what kind of fertilizer the Alaskans were using, but when he inquired they said “none.” Why then, he asked, are the flowers so big? The answer came back: Nearly twenty hours of sunlight! With that much exposure to sunlight, anything would grow bigger and stronger. The same principle applies if I want to grow in Christ. If I want to get bigger in love, stronger in patience, stand taller in selflessness, shine brighter in godliness, I need to spend more time in the S–O–N—the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law for you and me. Now He asks us to follow His commands. He makes it possible for us to live a supernatural, above and beyond life.
Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
1. How does Jesus’ teaching “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets (5:17)? What is my view of the Old Testament? Do I regularly read from the Old Testament? Why or why not? Can I see Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament? If so, where has He been especially obvious to me?
2. Are there any errors in Scripture (5:18)? Why or why not? How do I personally reconcile “apparent contradictories” in the Bible? When skeptics ask me about these supposed inconsistencies, how have I responded?
3. Do I value the Scriptures like Jesus does? How can I grow in my love and appreciation for God’s Word? What has worked for me in the past? Have I talked to anyone about my lack of Bible reading? Who can help me grow to be a true man or woman of the Word?
4. When have I been guilty of breaking God’s Law and even encouraging others to do the same (5:19)? What were the consequences of my disobedience? Am I aspiring to be called “great in the kingdom of heaven?” Why or why not? Does it concern me that I could be called “least” and forfeit the rewards that could be mine?
5. What or who am I trusting in for eternal life (5:20)? How would I tell my coworker, neighbor, classmate, friend, or family member how to enter the kingdom of heaven? Is my gospel presentation crystal clear in my own mind? Is it true to the Scriptures?
1 Carson describes Matt 5:17–20 as “among the most difficult verses in all the Bible.” D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5–7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 36. Wilkins notes that Matt 5:17–20 “provides the key to interpreting the Sermon on the Mount and is in many ways the key to understanding Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom, and by extension, the understanding of Matthew’s purpose for writing his Gospel.” Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 227.
2 The phrase “the Law and the Prophets” refers to two of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible, the third being “the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). “The Law and the Prophets” was evidently the most common way Jews referred to the OT then (cf. Matt 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 28:23; Rom 3:21). The phrase “the Law and Prophets” forms an inclusio with Matt 7:12 where the phrase repeated again. See also R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 181;
David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 162.
3 Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus declares, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (9:13b).
4 The Greek phrase me nomisete (“Do not think”) is only used elsewhere in Matt 10:34. Cf. the similar phrase me dokeite in John 5:45.
5 See NET, ESV, NIV.
6 See Matt 9:13; 10:34–35; 20:28 (cf. 11:19). France notes that contrary to popular opinion, Matthew does not use this phrase as a reference to Jesus’ eternality like John does in his gospel. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 184.
7 See Matt 24:2; 26:61; 27:40. BDAG s.v. kataluo 3 defines the word as “to end the effect or validity of something, put an end to.”
8 It is important to note that the contrast is not between “abolish” and “observe,” but between “abolish” and “fulfill.” Jesus did not claim that He came to observe the Law or to keep the Law; rather He came to fulfill it.
9 Dockery & Garland provide their own points by suggesting that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets in three ways: by living in perfect obedience to them, by recapturing their divine purpose, and by completing their promises. David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 42.
10 Fulfillment is one of the dominant themes in Matthew’s gospel. The word “fulfill” (pleroo) is the key term chosen by Matthew to depict the impact of Jesus’ coming on the OT (Matt 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35, 48; 21:4; 23:32; 26:54, 56; 27:9). In addition to 5:17 Matthew uses it fifteen times in comparison with Mark’s two and Luke’s nine uses. Ten occurrences in Matthew come in the introductions to the distinctive Matthean formula quotations (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9), two in more general statements regarding Jesus’ fulfilling of the Scriptures (26:54, 56), one in the reason given for Jesus’ baptism (3:15), and two others have no theological significance (13:48; 23:32).
11 Matthew would have likely chosen to use the Greek word teleo if he had “completion” in mind.
12 See also Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5– 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 61.
13 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 108.
14 See Rom 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 5:18; Eph 2:15.
15 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 182.
16 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 120– 121.
17 Contra Blomberg who concludes Jesus meant that He came to fulfill the moral Law (the Ten Commandments) but that He abolished Israel’s civil and ceremonial Laws. However, there is no basis for this distinction in this text nor in any other NT text. Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 103–105.
18 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 108.
19 With reference to the three “categories” of Law, we can confidently say (1) Christ fulfilled the Ten Commandments by living a perfect and sinless life. Thus, when a man or woman trusts in Christ, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to that individual so we have justification. We have Christ’s righteousness so the Law can’t condemn us (Rom 8:1; 7:1–6; Rom 5:1; 4:4–8). (2) Christ fulfilled the ceremonial ordinances, the shadows and types of His person and work, by dying on the cross for us and in our place. This showed that God was also perfect justice and sin must be judged, but God provided His Son, the precious Lamb of God. The penalty that the Law exercised was paid. Again there is no condemnation because the believer is “in Christ” (Col 2:14; Rom 3:24–25). (3) Christ also fulfilled the Social Law, but now He replaces it with a new way of life fitting to our new salvation. He gives provision for the inner man—the indwelling Holy Spirit—who enables us to experience true sanctification so that we may experience also the righteousness of the Law (Rom 8:2–4).
20 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1– 13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 106.
21 See J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 323. For similar views on Matt 5:17–48 see D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed; Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 104–106.
22 Robert Jeffress, Grace Gone Wild! Getting a Grip on God’s Amazing Gift (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2005), 47.
23 Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 53.
24 Long, Matthew, 53.
25 This phrase includes the Greek double negative ou me (“certainly not”).
26 Many people are more familiar with the rendering of the KJV and NKJV, which translates “smallest letter or stroke” as “one jot or one tittle.” However, “jot and tittle” have faded out of English use.
27 Wilkins, Matthew, 229, states, “This has implications for understanding Jesus’ view of the inspiration of Scripture, which extends to the actual words, even letters and parts of letters. This is in accord with a ‘verbal plenary’ view of inspiration; that is, the very words, and all of the words, of Scripture are inspired. Scripture does not simply contain the Word of God; the words of Scripture are the very Word of God.”
28 See NET, NIV.
29 This phrase is used a total of thirty–one times in Matthew’s gospel; thirteen times in Mark; six times and Luke; and twenty–five times in John.
30 Tony Evans, The Transforming Word (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 20.
31 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 105.
32 This interpretation is confirmed by Jesus’ phraseology in Matt 24:34–35 where the phrases “until heaven and earth pass away” and “until all is accomplished” are synonymous.
33 The Law was both temporary (Gal 3:19; Eph 2:15; Heb 7:12) and eternal (Matt 5:18; Rom 3:31; 8:4). As a covenant system with Israel, it ended at the cross when the temple veil was torn in two and a new priesthood was established; as a set of moral and spiritual principles, it is eternal.
34 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 105.
35 The word for “smallest letter” is the Greek word iota (pronounced yota), which is the name of the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet. It is like our small “i” but with no dot over it. We have taken this word over into English to represent a very small thing, as when we say, “It doesn’t make one iota of difference.”
36 Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 41.
37 Ed Glasscock, Matthew. Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 118.
38 The conjunction oun (“therefore, then”) is excluded by the NIV, but is emphatic in the ESV, HSB, and NRSV. (“Therefore” is the first word in these English versions).
39 Paul agrees with Jesus’ words when he calls the Law “holy…righteous…good” (Rom 7:7, 12). He also says to Timothy that “the Law is good, if one uses it Lawfully” (1 Tim 1:8).
40 Blomberg, Matthew, 105 and Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount, 62 states that the context suggests that this verse is primarily intended for Jesus– disciples—teachers of God’s Word.
41 Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 38.
42 Wilkins, Matthew, 236. Two very interesting verses that support this view are found in Matthew’s gospel: Matt 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” Jesus is saying “From John the Baptist on, the kingdom of heaven advances (cf. Luke 16:16f). Matt 13:52: And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
43 Contra Wilkins, Matthew, 230, who writes, “‘Least’ and ‘great’ are ways to acknowledge in this present life those who have been faithful in word and deed to the revealed will of God as it is taught by Jesus.”
44 We see this kind of comparison of least and greatest two other times in Matthew: Matt 11:11: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matt 18:4: “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
45 The idea of gradations of privilege or dishonor in the kingdom occurs elsewhere in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 20:20–28; cf. Luke 12:47–48).
46 Notice that there will be people in the kingdom whose view of Scripture will not be the same before they enter the kingdom. All will be righteous, but their obedience to and attitude toward Scripture will vary.
47 Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 61.
48 Preaching Today citation: John Wesley in his Journal. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 7.
49 Robert Jeffress, Guilt–Free Living (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1995), 192–204.
50 The word “surpass” (perisseuo) refers to a quality of righteousness over a quantity of righteousness.
51 The two religious groups mentioned are often paired in the Gospels (eleven times in Matthew).
52 Again (cf. 5:18), this phrase includes the Greek double negative ou me (“certainly not”).
53 Glasscock, Matthew, 119 notes that “scribes were the religious scholars of the time. Their primary function was to copy and preserve the Scriptures. The scribes were also expositors of the Law, often called Lawyers, and normally members of the party of Pharisees. The Pharisees were a religious party somewhat like the Democrat or Republican Party in the American political system.”
54 Jesus rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees for “majoring on the minors while minoring on the majors” (see Matt 23). Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 43–44.
55 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 189.
56 The phrase “enter the kingdom” occurs seven other times in the NT (Matt 7:21; 18:3; 19:23, 24; Mark 9:47; John 3:5; Acts 14:22). The condition for entering in every case is faith alone.
57 John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 97.
58 A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007). See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2007/10/04/DI2007100401575.html
“I hate you!” “I wish you were dead!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re worthless!” “I want a divorce!” “I wish we never had you!” “I wish you weren’t my parents!” Have you ever uttered any of these statements? If we’re honest, at one moment or another we have all spoken hurtful and hateful words. Yet, typically, most of us dismiss such comments by saying, “You really made me angry.” “I lost my temper.” “I didn’t really mean it.” Or the ever pathetic, “I was just joking.” While it is tempting to minimize our angry words, thoughts, and attitudes, the truth is there can be danger in anger. This is fitting since anger is only one letter away from danger.
In one of the old Peanuts comic strips, Charles Schulz shows Sally trying to locate her memory verse for Sunday School. She has forgotten it, and can’t locate it in the Bible. She is lost in her thoughts trying to remember the reference when she suddenly says, “Maybe it was something from the book of Reevaluation.”1 Sally’s butchering of the book of Revelation is apropos, for the entire Bible is aimed at getting people to reevaluate their lives. In Matt 5:21–26, Jesus forces us to reevaluate our conception of anger. In these six verses, Jesus imparts two exhortations that will help us have healthy relationships. He says, “Nurture and esteem your relationships.”
1. Recognize that unrighteous anger is murder (5:21–22). Previously, in 5:20, Jesus said that our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now He stops preaching and starts meddling! Seriously, Jesus could have tackled any subject but He begins the body of His sermon by dealing with anger—a sin that many of us struggle with. In 5:21 Jesus says, “You have heard that the ancients [the Israelites] were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’”2 The opening phrase “you have heard…”3 alerts us to the fact that Jesus is going to quote from the Old Testament. Here, He quotes the sixth commandment: “You shall not commit murder” (Exod 20:13).4 He then reminds us of the penalty—“you shall be liable to the court.”5 At this point, Jesus’ listeners must have been thinking, “Yup, we got it. We’re not supposed to murder anybody. We’ve heard that one before. And we’ve behaved. We’re not murderers. We’re not guilty. We’re good, moral, ethical people. So preach on preacher!” You’ve got to admit, it’s always more comfortable when the preacher talks about other people, right? You’ve probably heard people say, “I’m not a bad person; I mean, I’ve never killed anyone.” Even as Christians, it’s easy to be smug and think that since we haven’t physically murdered anyone this commandment doesn’t apply to us. But Jesus undoes this thinking. He presses the sixth command inward when He drops a preaching bomb.
In 5:22 Jesus declares, “But I6 say to you that everyone who is angry7 with his brother8 shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good–for–nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”9 Jesus begins by saying, “But I say to you…” He is affirming everything in the Old Testament, but He is also fulfilling it. That is, He is “filling it full” of meaning. What was implicit in the Old Testament Law, Jesus is making explicit. He is giving insight into the original purpose of God’s Law, a purpose that had been lost among the teachers of His day.10 Jesus is saying, “I’m going to the very heart of the Law to show you how you can live out its deepest meaning.”11 In doing so, He moves from the fruit of murder to the root of murder—an evil heart attitude. Jesus insists that we are all guilty of murder because we’ve been angry in word, thought, attitude, or action. In other words, refraining from homicide does not impress God. On the contrary, since God looks upon the heart,12 unrighteous anger can render one subject to God’s judgment. The terms “court” and “supreme court” refer to God’s heavenly court since no human court is competent to try a case of internal anger.13 Jesus goes even further when He states that the offender is guilty enough to go to hell. Have you ever been angry with anyone in word, thought, or attitude? Jesus says, “You deserve to go to hell!”14 Fortunately, Christ’s death has made salvation available to those who believe. If Jesus hadn’t paid for your sin with His death, you would spend eternity in hell, not just for murder but even for speaking insults. Thus, nurture and esteem your relationships.
Let’s break down these insults quickly. The phrase translated “good-for-nothing” is the Aramaic term raca.15 Take a moment and pronounce this word. It sounds wicked, doesn’t it? It also sounds like you’re about ready to hock a logy in someone’s face. YUCK! In Jesus’ day, raca was an Aramaic insult that meant something like “You worthless son of a motherless goat.” (This is not a literal translation!) The word means, “You brainless blockhead,” “you empty–headed fool,” “you idiot,” “you imbecile.” I think you get the idea. You used the colorful description raca when you were angry and wanted to attack a person’s self–worth and dignity. The same is true of “You fool!” The word behind “fool” is the Greek noun moros, from which we get “moron.” In Jesus’ day, moros was used to describe a person’s mental abilities; however, it was also used to describe a person’s moral character. If you referred to someone as moros you were calling that person “a stupid liar,” “a stupid cheater,” or “a stupid infidel.” It was an insult on someone’s morals as well as their character. Although raca and moros seem to be synonymous, raca seems to express contempt for a man’s head (his intellect), while moros expresses contempt for his heart (his character).16
The problem of name–calling was far more serious in Jesus’ society than ours. Theirs was an honor–and–shame society. Most people had little to trade with except their honor, and to belittle other persons publicly was a serious matter. If a person were to lose his or her good reputation, it was about the same as dying. Jesus seems to say that when you treat persons as nothing by calling them names, you have in effect, already murdered them. Character assassination is just another type of murder.17
It’s interesting that Jesus includes the phrase “with his brother”—“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother…” Isn’t it true that our anger tends to flare up most often against those we know the best and love the most? 18 It’s hard to get angry and stay angry at people we don’t know. But let a friend or a relative do something we don’t like, and suddenly we blow our top.19 We tend to have little patience with our loved ones. Yet, Jesus’ primary concern is our relationships with those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. He cares about how we treat our spouse, children, siblings, and fellow believers. In Col 3:19 Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” Although this verse is directed to husbands, it is applicable to wives as well. We need to stop our guilt trips, fault-finding, name-calling, yelling, sarcasm, and blaming. Speaking once again to husbands, Peter says that if we don’t treat our spouse with love and respect, our prayers will be hindered (1 Pet 3:7). In Eph 6:4 Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (cf. Col 3:21). As parents, we need to make sure that we show our children God’s love and compassion. In 1 Tim 2:8 Paul states, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” The qualification for me to pray is to forsake ungodly anger. If we are angry, our fellowship with God is adversely affected, which means we lack power. The next time you become angry at your spouse, children, or fellow believer, think long and hard before cursing them. Don’t be lulled into thinking that it’s no big deal if you shout at your spouse or kids. It is a big deal.
So does this mean that every expression of anger is sin? No! Jesus and Paul both called people “fools.”20 But this was not flippant name–calling. Jesus and Paul labeled people “fools” because they were blindly allowing their religious practices to distort their lives with God. They were simply making statements of fact. Moreover, Jesus did get angry in the Gospels. He was angry when He cleared the temple (John 2:13–22). He was angry with those who assailed Him for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Yet, His anger was not a personal attack. When Jesus was angry, it was because of injustice and sin. Jesus exercised righteous anger.21 Like Jesus, we should exercise a righteous anger (Eph 4:26). We should be angry with abortionists, drug peddlers, pornographers, racists, and vicious world dictators. When others pervert and destroy God’s purposes, we should have a sense of righteous indignation. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t struggle with righteous anger; we tend to struggle with unrighteous anger.
So how can you get a grip on your anger? Consider the following suggestions.
[Jesus says, “We must recognize the danger of unrighteous anger.” Why is this so important? Because Jesus says that unrighteous anger is on par with murder. You are not only to reign in your own anger, but you must also...]
2. Reconcile with those who are angry with you (5:23–26). Jesus gives two illustrations exposing the seriousness of anger, the first in a worship context (5:23–24), and the second in a legal setting (5:25–26). In these verses, Jesus changes from “everyone” to “you”24 to ensure that every disciple applies what He says directly to himself or herself. In His first illustration, Jesus says reconciliation takes precedence over worship.25 “Therefore26 if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Please notice the word “first.” Jesus is speaking about the priority of reconciliation. Reconciliation is important enough to interrupt worship. Harmonious relationships with people must be in place before any true worship can take place. The expression “presenting your offering at the altar” assumes a sacrifice being given in the temple at Jerusalem.27 This saying, presumably uttered in Galilee, envisions a worshiper that has traveled some eighty miles to Jerusalem with his offering. Most likely, the offering is a sacrificial animal. The thought is that the person leaves the animal on the altar and then makes the week-long journey back to Galilee to reconcile with his brother or sister. The improbability of this scenario emphasizes Jesus’ point that we must deal with strained relations.28 Nurture and esteem your relationships.
Notice that Jesus makes an important distinction in this verse. He says if “your brother [or sister] has something against you.” The phrase “something against you” probably implies a “just claim.”29 In other words, the “beef” with you is legit! Jesus didn’t say “if you have something against your brother [or sister].” Why? Because if you have something against your brother or sister you need to just let it go. If someone has done something to offend you, forgive them. Settle the issue before God. If there is something about that person that causes you not to like him or her, overlook it. Prov 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Now, of course, if another believer has done something seriously sinful that caused harm to you or others, Matt 18:15–17 tells us how to approach the person. In this context, however, Jesus says that some believers should NOT attend church until they have pursued reconciliation. Yet, every week people sing songs, listen to sermons, take communion, give offerings, and even pray while they are harboring anger in their heart. Worship depends upon a congregation of worshipers who seek to be reconciled with each other and their neighbors.30 Peaceful, harmonious relationships, particularly within the church.
The second illustration stresses the importance of making things right quickly. Jesus urges us to have a sense of urgency when it comes to reconciling with an opponent, most likely someone outside of the church.31 In 5:25–26 Jesus says, “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not32 come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”33 This illustration assumes that you owe your accuser a debt of some kind, and to collect on it he is taking you to small claims court. Jesus is saying: Don’t wait until you get to court to work out some kind of deal; settle out of court. Beware of Judge Judy! Because if the court has to decide the matter, you will be thrown into debtor’s prison and won’t get out until every last cent34 is paid. Remaining imprisoned until a debt is repaid down to the last penny elicits a sense of impossibility (cf. Matt 18:34), since the debtor had no chance to work to create funds. So if you have offended someone, it’s your responsibility to quickly do what you can to make it right. That means you approach that person and say, “I was rude to you, and I was wrong, and I am sorry. I took advantage of your kindness, and I am sorry. I borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, but here’s a small payment and I’ll pay the rest when I can. I made a promise to you that I didn’t keep, and I was wrong, please forgive me.” If there are people out there whom you have sinned against, it is your job to reconcile.
It is interesting that Jesus stated a practical reason to reconcile with one’s enemies—to avoid being thrown into prison. In other words, don’t wait until it’s too late—till tomorrow, till next year, or till kingdom come—to make peace with others.35 This will hurt you and will hurt the one that is angry with you. A root of bitterness can creep in and overtake you or your opponent (Heb 12:15).
In both of these illustrations, it is worth noting that Jesus seems to expect conflict. The point is not so much to eliminate conflict, but to resolve it. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’re being sued, shame on you.” Or “If your brother has something against you, shame on you.” Conflicts are inevitable. The focus is on resolution. Nurture and esteem your relationships.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I have tried to reconcile, but my opponent is unwilling.” If you have done everything in your supernatural power to reconcile, you have honored God. Rom 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The willingness to reconcile must be shared by the other party. Don’t beat yourself up over this. But make sure that you have made right what you need to, and that your anger and insult and self–righteousness about it have been replaced by humility and a willingness to reconcile. Sometimes we have hurt someone deeply and it is fully our fault, but when we go to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness we are snubbed. We may be snubbed, but we must still go and seek reconciliation.
Again, I must ask you: Have you done what you can to be at peace with your antagonists, your in–laws, your ex, your parents, your children, your spouse, your coworker, your friend, your neighbor? If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting? God calls you to nurture and esteem your relationships.
Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17
1. How can someone tell when I am angry (5:20–21)? When was the last time I was really angry? What made me so angry? How did I respond inappropriately? If I could have this situation over again, what would I do differently? Read Proverbs 14:29; 29:22; Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:8; and James 1:19.
2. Have I made excuses for my unrighteous anger? If so, what justifications have I used? Today, will I acknowledge MY unrighteous anger as sin? Will I confess my murderous words and actions to those that I have sinned against? Meditate daily on Psalms 66:18 and 139:23–24.
3. Why does reconciliation with a fellow believer take precedence over worshiping God (5:23–24)? Am I willing to postpone worship in order to make things right with a brother or sister? When have I taken the first step toward reconciliation with a believer I have offended? How did the person I sinned against respond? After taking this step of obedience, how did I feel about my fellowship with God?
4. Is there a relationship with an unbeliever that I feel imprisoned by (5:26)? What can I do to avoid the consequences that God will bring for refusing to quickly make things right with the person that I have sinned against? Read Ephesians 4:26. How can I make sure that the sun does not go down on my anger? How will I seek to practically fulfill this principle?
5. In those situations where I know someone is angry with me, have I done what I can to be at peace? Read Romans 12:18. Have I done my part to be at peace with my antagonists, my in–laws, my ex, my parents, my children, my spouse, my coworker, my friend, my neighbor? If not, what will I do to pursue reconciliation with these individuals?
1 Doug McIntosh, “The King Interprets His Decrees, PT. 1” (Matt 5:21–32):
2 Eaton correctly explains why Jesus is referring to the OT Law and not the misuse of the Law. See Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 71–72. See also Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5–7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 68–69. See also “Jesus versus Moses or Jesus versus the Pharisees” in David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 166–67.
3 Jesus repeats this introductory phrase in Matt 5:27, 31, 33, 38, and 43.
4 This is an exact quotation from Exod 20:13 of the LXX. Cf. Deut 5:17. Wilkins writes, “Although Hebrew possesses seven words for killing, the verb used in Exodus 20:13 makes “murder” (rasah) a more accurate rendering than “kill.” It denotes premeditation and deliberateness. This does not apply to killing animals (Gen. 9:3), defending one’s home (Ex. 22:2), accidental killings (Deut. 19:5), the execution of murderers by the state (Gen. 9:6), or involvement with one’s nation in certain types of war. It does apply, however, to self–murder (i.e., suicide), accessory to murder (2 Sam. 12:9), or those who have responsibility to punish known murderers but fail to do so (1 Kings 21:19). Penalty for murder was death; it was not reducible to any lesser sentence (Num. 35:31).” Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 241–42.
5 The expression “and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment” is not a direct statement of the OT but is a common understanding based on a number of OT passages that require judgment for murder (see Deut 17:8–13 the process of “judgment” in cases of bloodshed). The fact that men and women have been created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27; 9:6) lies behind this prohibition. This penalty was already in force before the Sinaitic law in the decrees to Noah (Gen 9:6). BDAG s.v. krisis 2: “board of judges, court, specif. a local court (s). It should be noted though that the word krisis is not used anywhere else with this meaning.
6 The “I” (ego) is emphatic.
7 Present tense participle: “everyone who is angry in an ongoing way.” David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 49; Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount, 74. The NEB translates the verb “everyone who nurses anger in his heart.” The present tense participle suggests one who holds on to his or her anger and expresses it in sinful ways. Anger is not the sin. It is a natural human reaction. The problem is how we handle the anger. Anger becomes dangerous when it is nurtured, justified, and encouraged. Unfortunately, anger is frequently mishandled. Sometimes, instead of expressing our anger directly and appropriately, we engage in cold–war tactics and refuse to talk about the issues. Or we employ hit–and–run guerrilla warfare. We take potshots at another in public, and that person does not know where the fire is coming from or why. The greatest danger is when the anger is allowed to well up inside until it explodes. This can lead to homicide.
8 The NKJV and KJV include the insertion of the Greek word eike (“without cause”). After a lengthy textual discussion, the NET study notes conclude, “While ‘without cause’ makes good practical sense in this context, and must surely be a true interpretation of Jesus’ meaning (cf. Mark 3:5), it does not commend itself as original.”
9 Matthew recorded eleven references to the Greek word gehenna. Carson writes, “The expression ‘fire of hell’ (geenna tou pyros, lit., ‘gehenna of fire’) comes from the Hebrew gehinnom (‘Valley of Hinnom,’ a ravine south of Jerusalem once associated with the pagan god Moloch and his disgusting rites [2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jer 7:31; Ezek 16:20; 23:37], prohibited by God [Lev 18:21, 20:2–5]). When Josiah abolished the practices, he defiled the valley by making it a dumping ground for filth and the corpses of criminals (2 Kings 23:10). Late traditions suggest that in the first century it may still have been used as a rubbish pit, complete with smoldering fires. The valley came to symbolize the place of eschatological punishment (cf. 1 Enoch 54:12; 2Bar 85:13; cf. Matt 10:28; 23:15, 33, and 18:9 for the longer expression ‘gehenna of fire’). Donald A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed.
10 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
11 Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 55.
12 “People look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7b NET).
13 John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978), 85; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 114. The NIV transliterates the Greek word sunedrion as “Sanhedrin,” the Jewish Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day. But this is most likely incorrect.
14 Jas 2:10 states, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
15 English versions such as NIV and NJKV/KJV include this rendering.
16 Morris, The Gospel of Matthew, 115 quotes A.B. Bruce.
17 Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 50.
18 Ed Young provides least four ways we express anger:
The Toxic Waste Approach. Some people handle anger as if they are dealing with toxic waste. They bury it deep within themselves and present an A–OK outward appearance. But over the years, the anger begins to leak out and contaminate them. It enters the stream of their thoughts and causes them to be sick. Unresolved anger can impact their attitudes, relationships, and ultimately their faith. Are you harboring any toxic waste of anger inside you?
The Volcano Approach. Some deal with anger like a volcano. Volcanic people can rumble and rumble for days, weeks, and even years. Then the day comes when they say to themselves, “I’ve been taking this for five years, and I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to give that person who made me angry a piece of my mind. And they spew the hot lava and burning ash of their anger all over another person, leaving behind only the charred remains of a relationship. Volcanic people rarely apologize for being angry—which is one reason they are like volcanoes.
The Snow Cone Approach. Others express anger like a snow cone. When they become upset, they immediately turn on the big chill. They give the person who wronged them an ice–cold shoulder, and the icicles virtually drip off the eaves of their words: “No, nothing is wrong. No. Nothing. Really.”
The Microwave Approach. Finally, some people express anger like a microwave oven. They confront a situation that angers them with a near instantaneous response. It’s almost as if you can hear the ten–second time–cook button go beep…beep…beep…BAM! They explode. Those who have a short fuse are often set off by things that others find minor in nature. Their anger is just below the surface at all times. How do you express your anger?
See Ed Young, Fatal Distractions (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 31–33.
19 Remember the words of the Apostle John: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). And the reference in that context is to Cain who hated Abel before he killed him.
20 During His final fateful week in Jerusalem, Jesus referred to the teachers of the law and Pharisees as “blind fools” (Matt 23:17), using a related term to what He prohibits in 5:22. See also Luke 11:40; 12:20; 1 Cor 15:36; Gal 3:1.
21 In Jesus’ parables, God displays anger and wrath (Matt 18:34; 22:7).
22 Heb 12:1 refers to “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Although this may refer to the specific sin of unbelief, in principle this points to that sin which renders us spiritually ineffective.
23 Preaching Today citation: From Life’s Little Instruction Book, Volume II (Rutledge Hill Press, 1994). Christian Reader, Vol. 32, no. 6.
24 This is a shift from the second–person plural to the second–person singular.
25 The principle from 1 Sam 15:22 applies here: “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’”
26 “Therefore” (oun) connects the illustration with the explanation of the root problem of anger in relationships.
27 Wilkins, Matthew, 243.
28 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 203.
29 Daniel Hill, The Gospel of Matthew. New Century Bible (London: Oliphants, 1972), 122; Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 108.
30 Long, Matthew, 57.
31 Turner, Matthew, 170; France, The Gospel of Matthew, 203. The last contrast in Matt 5:38–48 where disciples are enjoined to love their enemies should be read alongside Matt 5:25–26.
32 The Greek double negative ou me is used for emphasis.
33 Hagner writes, “It is a mistake to allegorize the details and identify the adversary or the judge with God. At the same time, however, since God’s judgment is in view in vv 21–22, it is impossible to avoid at least the suggestion of the same in the present passage (cf. 18:34–35; cf. too the context of the passage in Luke 12:57–59). Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 118.
34 The “cent” (kodrantes) is the Roman bronze/copper coin quadrans, the smallest Roman coin.
35 Long, Matthew, 57.
A young Bosnian couple was incredibly unhappy with their marriage. Consequently, Adnan and Sana each turned to online chat forums. Adnan chatted online at work, and Sana chatted from an Internet café. Each spouse found a willing online listener with whom they shared their marriage problems. Adnan and Sana felt loved, nurtured, encouraged, and understood. Both spouses felt that they had finally found their real soul mate. Eventually they decided to meet up with their online chat partner. They arranged to meet outside a shop and both would be carrying a single rose so they would know the other. Shock of all shocks, Adnan and Sana discovered that their perfect partner was their own spouse. (Adnan was chatting with “Sweetie” and Sana was chatting with “Prince of Joy.”) Instead of reconciling and rediscovering their love, both are filing for divorce—with each accusing the other of being unfaithful.1
What a sad, but true story. This Bosnian couple failed to keep their promises to one another. Their Internet affair wasn’t something that just happened overnight. It was a case of “internal affairs” stemming from restless hearts. In Matthew 5:27–37, we will discover that, “Integrity is a heart matter.” Jesus explains that if we are to be people of integrity we must control our hearts and our minds. He provides two means by which God’s people can be people of integrity.
1. Deal radically with your passions (5:27–32). Jesus compels us to do whatever it takes to be men and women of purity. In 5:27 He states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.’” Jesus quotes the seventh commandment, in Exod 20:14 (cf. Deut 5:17).2 Upon hearing these words, Jesus’ audience must have felt pretty smug. Jesus, however, shocks His listeners by raising the bar on their ancient sexual standards. In 5:28 He declares, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery3 with her in his heart.”4 Jesus’ words make it clear that adultery is not limited to the physical act.5 Looking lustfully at another woman breaks the bond of oneness that a man has with his wife. This goes against the familiar statement used by husbands and wives, “You can look, but don’t touch.” Jesus says, “Don’t look and don’t touch!” It is important to note the word “look” (blepo).6 This word is a present tense participle that can be translated “keeps looking.” Jesus is not talking about a glance; He is talking about a gaze. The first look doesn’t get us into trouble. It’s the second look. It’s the third look. It’s that case of whiplash as you walk about in the mall or that prolonged look in the rearview mirror while you are driving.
But let’s be very clear: Sexual desire was given to us by God and is portrayed in the Bible as a good gift. Admittedly, the gift is often labeled “Handle with Care,” but sexual desire comes from God.7 There is no sin in sexual attraction. It is not wrong to notice physical beauty in the opposite sex, but it is wrong to take that person to bed in our minds. We are constantly “on” as sexual beings. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of being human.8 In today’s world, attractive men and women are everywhere. You can’t escape it! Everywhere you look there is temptation lurking. To complicate matters, Satan takes what was intended to be good—sex in the context of marriage—and tempts us to use God’s gift outside of marriage. Granted, you can’t stop Satan from tempting you, but you can put a stop to the temptation at precisely that point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) said it well, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop that bird from building a nest in your hair.” You can say, “I will not think about that. I will not entertain that possibility.”
At my former church I was close friends with a former elder who farmed for a living. One day as we were walking around his ranch, we were discussing the power of the mind. My friend said, “Lust is powerful. Even though I am in my eighties, I still struggle with lust and I can’t do anything about it. Although I spend my days working the land, far removed from women, I still live with my mind.” My friend taught me that the most important sex organ is the brain.9 Actions, habits, character, and attitudes all start with a thought and thoughts are fostered by what we choose to take into our minds. Integrity is a heart matter.
So how can a person control his or her sex drive? This is a question for the ages! Fortunately, Jesus is a step ahead of us. He anticipates this question and provides an answer. In 5:29–30 Jesus says, “If your10 right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right11 hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”12 The first issue that must be resolved is: Are these verses figurative or literal? I can assure you that these verses are figurative.13 Otherwise, this sermon would be a case of the blind leading the blind. After all, no one is perfect in his or her purity. Now stop and think about these verses. If you were to gouge out your right eye and chop off your right hand, the problem remains. You would still ogle with your left eye and fondle with your left hand. Cutting off your hand or plucking out an eye doesn’t keep you from committing mental adultery. So should you pluck out your left eye and cut off your left hand as well? No! We still have a mind’s eye, and in many ways that is the most dangerous eye of all. Since evil arises in the heart (Matt 15:19), amputation cannot cure lust. Jesus is speaking figuratively, employing a figure of speech called hyperbole, which makes a point through an exaggerated statement.14 You remember what your mom said: “I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate.” Christ is not saying, “Cripple yourself”; He is saying, “control yourself!”15 Take radical steps to deal with your passions. Consider the following suggestions:
The alternative of not dealing decisively with sexual sin is hell. No one can measure up to this standard. It is better to deal with the issue of sin by acknowledging sin and the One who paid for our sin on the cross. The standard for Jesus’ kingdom is perfection. The only way we can reach perfection is complete forgiveness and justification through Christ. The standard of perfection is God’s own character. If you have been less than perfect sexually speaking, will you receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers? It’s as simple as acknowledging your sin and believing that Jesus’ perfect person and work paid the penalty for your sin. Integrity is a heart matter. Let Jesus give you a new heart today.
In 5:31–32, Jesus continues His discussion of what constitutes adultery.16 Many people assume that Jesus transitions to focusing on divorce; however, His real point is that an unbiblical divorce is the moral equivalent of adultery. Jesus explains: “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery [if she remarries];17 and whoever marries a divorced woman [a woman who has been divorced for something short of unchastity] commits adultery.”18 In 5:31, Jesus refers to Deut 24:1–4, which permits divorce for “some indecency” (ervat davar). This Hebrew phrase means “nakedness of a thing.” Although this phrase can include adultery,19 it typically refers to some gross sexual impropriety short of adultery.20 (In the Old Testament an adulterer was stoned to death!) In Israel a man divorced his wife simply by giving her a written statement indicating that he divorced her. It was a domestic matter, not something that went through the courts, and it was quite common. In most cases a divorced woman would remarry another husband, often for her own security. Jesus says that new marriage, whether from the perspective of the divorcee or the one marrying her, is adulterous.21 Although a certificate of divorce has been given, Jesus is saying that God does not view the divorce as having occurred. In other words, a certificate of divorce does not annul the marriage. Instead, it causes you to commit adultery. You can’t commit adultery unless you are married. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is saying, “Everyone who divorces his wife makes her commit adultery except in the case in which she has already committed adultery herself.” Again, this discussion is not about divorce, but adultery. Jesus forbids divorce except for porneia (“unchastity”)22 which is translated “sexual immorality” (ESV, HSB) or “marital unfaithfulness” (NIV). Since “adultery” has already been specified by another word (moicheuo; 5:27–28), porneia must be something less specific than sexual infidelity but, following the Mosaic intention, more than something frivolous. It is likely that porneia includes any sinful activity that intentionally divides the marital relationship. Jesus states unequivocally the sacredness of the marital relationship but allows divorce to protect the non-offending partner and to protect the institution of marriage from being a vulgar sham.23
Yet, even in the case of porneia, reconciliation and forgiveness are always to be the goal in a Christian marriage. If all attempts at reconciliation fail, then divorce is possible; but it is not the first step, and it is not mandatory.24 The spouse that is victimized by adultery or some other deviant form of sexual unfaithfulness may have the right to file for divorce, but he or she is certainly under no obligation to do so. The freedom to divorce was never to be a mere device for “serial monogamy.” Marriage is supposed to serve as a reflection of the faithfulness of God. 25 Divorce is a concession by God to the sinfulness of man. God’s ideal is the stability of permanence in marriage. We need to be reminded of this again and again. It is easy to think that our next spouse will make us happy; however, it doesn’t always work out that way. Every person I know who has gone through divorce has experienced greater pain than they imagined. Many seek to relieve their present pain in marriage only to find a greater pain in divorce. This is not to mention the greater social issues such as the harm children suffer for the loss of a parent.
Can I get on a small soapbox for just a moment? Many Christians vehemently oppose homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage on the grounds that it destroys the family. Although, I too adhere to marriage between one man and one woman, I find it disconcerting that Christians aren’t up in arms over adultery and divorce among believers. If you look in terms of damage done to the children of America, you cannot compare what the homosexual movement has done to what adultery and divorce has done to this society. In terms of consequences to children, it is not even close!
However, I need to balance these words by urging you to treat those who are divorced with love and respect. It is especially important to be sensitive to those whose marriage was dissolved by their spouse’s unfaithfulness. We must always remember that God’s heart breaks for those who are divorced, who have placed their marriages in peril by succumbing to sinful situations or whose lives have been upended by an unfaithful or irresponsible spouse. We must continually affirm the permanence of marriage while at the same time offering full mercy and forgiveness for those who have suffered from failed relationships26
[Jesus says, “Deal radically with your passions.” This is critical because sexual immorality can destroy your spiritual well-being and your marriage. Jesus now follows His words on adultery with a few choice words on oaths and vows.]
2. Honor your commitments because you are committed (5:33-37). It’s not a coincidence that Jesus’ words on subduing our immoral passions are followed up with words on honoring one’s vows. After all, committing adultery and divorce involves breaking the most solemn vow—marriage. Jesus declares, “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (5:33-37). In 5:33, Jesus paraphrases several Old Testament passages27 prohibiting the failure to fulfill one’s vows. He also forbids swearing upon anyone or anything to add certainty to one’s oath.28 It is important, however, to recognize that Jesus isn’t suggesting that all oaths are wrong.29 In a court of law, a person is operating under the jurisdiction of governing authorities that are trying to establish human norms. To submit to taking an oath is complying with those norms and, by extension, is submitting to God (Rom 13:1–7; cf. Heb 6:16–18).30 Furthermore, the Bible records that God the Father and the apostle Paul swore to impress His truthfulness on people.31 Jesus also testified under oath as did Paul.32 So we must dig deeper to determine what was happening in Jesus’ day. Most likely, there was a casual use of oaths. Perhaps people were attaching “in the name of God” or “as God is my witness” to everyday promises—the pledge to buy a cow, the vow to visit a relative, or the commitment to pay a debt.33 We make false oaths today as well when we say: “I sweaaaar!” “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother’s grave!” “I swear on a stack of Bibles!” “I cross my heart and hope to die!” All these attempts at persuasion are fabrications and dishonesty. If we have to use an oath to convince someone of our integrity, we are behind the eight ball from the start.
It has been said, “Oaths arise because men are so often liars.” We live in a world where lying is so commonplace that we don’t know whom to trust. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we ought to be radically different. True speech must be a part of our character. We should not need to confirm our statements with an appeal to a higher authority. Our word should be enough (cf. Jas 5:2). The bottom line is this: We don’t tell the truth because we have taken an oath, we tell the truth because we are truthful.34
When Chris Spielman played for the Buffalo Bills, he was everything a middle linebacker should be: tough, strong and smart, with passion, total commitment and loyalty to the game. He played the entire 1995 season with a torn pectoral muscle that he sustained in the season opener. But football took a distant second place in his thinking during the 1998 season. He chose to stay home. He cooked, took care of his kids, and cared for his wife—by choice. Stefanie, Chris’s wife, was struggling through the stark reality of breast cancer. Surgery, chemotherapy, and nausea were Stefanie’s opponents. During her fight Chris was at her side. He even shaved his head (to match his wife’s hair loss during chemo) to help his kids understand. Spielman’s actions supported his “family before job” credo. When he was asked by a reporter if he’d consider a return to the Bills late in the season Spielman said, “I’d play in a heartbeat, but what kind of man would I be if I backed out on my word to her? I wouldn’t be a man at all.” Football fans saw Spielman as a man because of his aggressive, leave-it-all-on-the-field style of play. But what really makes him a man is his personal sacrifice and unending commitment and loyalty to his wife and children.35
A good test of our credibility starts at home. When you promise your spouse you’ll do something, does he or she believe you? Does your child believe you? Our integrity depends upon our follow-through. Jesus’ disciples were called to be promise keepers. Are you a promise keeper? Have you maintained your purity, not merely physically, but mentally as well? Are you devoted to your spouse for better or worse? Are you a man or woman of your word? Can people count on what you say? Integrity is a heart matter.
2 Samuel 13:1–2
Deuteronomy 23:21, 23
1. On a scale of 1-10 (with ten being excellent), how am I doing in the area of purity (5:27–8)? What circumstances produce the greatest level of vulnerability to sexual temptation in my life? Is there anyone that I am currently accountable to? If not, who will I ask to become my accountability partner? If I was mentoring a teenager, how would I advise him or her to remain pure? How would my counsel change if I was counseling a newly married spouse?
2. If sexual sin begins in the mind, what steps can I take to deal with these issues in my thought life (5:29–30)? Oswald Chambers said, “This line of discipline [5:29–30] is the sternest one that ever struck mankind.” In light of Chambers’ remark, what sacrificial steps am I taking to avoid sexual sin? Are there some additional steps that I need to take in light of hearing this sermon? Are there other areas of sin that I am not dealing with or issues in my conscience that I am ignoring? How does sin in other areas affect my ability to resist sexual temptation? What happens when I compartmentalize things in my mind and heart?
3. Would I be committed to my spouse if he or she was sexually unfaithful (5:31–32)? Why or why not? Have I known any couples who have survived infidelity? What I have learned from their experience? Is my marriage motivated more by love or duty? Why are both necessary in the course of a marriage? What stands at the heart of my marriage? What are my spouse and I currently doing to ensure that we remain true to one another?
4. Have I learned how to hurt with people who have suffered through divorce? In the case of a divorce with biblical grounds and an “innocent” party, have I exhibited love and compassion to the person who has been sinned against? In the case of a divorce on unbiblical grounds, have I expressed my biblical concern and exercised tough love?
5. Am I a man or woman of my word (5:33–37)? Why or why not? What recent examples can I cite? What would those who know me best say? Would they say that I am a person of integrity? To what degree do they trust me? Is my word as good as gold? Do I see any commitments I make as an expression of my integrity before God and others?
2 It is possible that Jesus also alludes to the tenth commandment concerning covetousness (Exod 20:17; Deut 5:21).
3 If the woman isn’t married and the man isn’t married, and they lust for one another, is it still wrong? Technically, it can’t be adultery if neither is married. Here we are dealing with technicalities again. The self-righteous Pharisees were the fathers of such technicalities. But Jesus also uses the Greek word porneia (Matt 15:19; Mark 7:21), translated “fornications” (KJV) or “sexual immorality” (NIV), that is, “unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication,” applied in the NT to all kinds of illicit sexual conduct inside and outside of marriage. (See BDAG s.v. porneia 1.) We can’t get off that easily.
4 Carson points out that the Greek text of Matt 5:28 can be translated with a bit different slant. It could be that the man looks at a woman “so as to get her to lust.” Carson adds, “The man is therefore looking at the woman with a view to enticing her to lust. Thus, so far as his intention goes, he is committing adultery with her, he makes her an adulteress.” Donald A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed. See also Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 74–75.
5 See the powerful analogy of marital faithfulness in Prov 5:15–23.
6 Jesus uses blepo (“look”) five times in this sermon (Matt 5:28; 6:4, 6, 18; 7:3).
7 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 133.
8 Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 58.
9 See Randy Alcorn, The Purity Principle (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 42.
10 Jesus again moves from the second-person plural to the second-person singular (cf. Matt 5:23–26).
11 Morris notes, “Most people being right-handed, the right side often stood for the more powerful or important side. The eye is the medium through which the temptation first comes to stimulate the lust, and the hand represents the instrument by which the lust is physically committed.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 119.
12 As before (Matt 5:23–26), Jesus uses two illustrations to aid our understanding. Jesus’ saying in Matt 5:29-30 is also found in Matt 18:9–10 and Mark 9:42–48.
13 Constable writes, “The reference to cutting off the ‘right hand’ (v. 30) is also metaphorical, but how symbolic is it? Some take the ‘right hand’ as a euphemism for the penis (cf. Isa. 57:8). This view has the context in its favor. Others take the right hand literally and view it as the instrument of stealing another man’s wife. The radical treatment of parts of the body that cause one to sin has led some like Origen) to castrate themselves. But that is not radical enough, since lust is not thereby removed. The ‘eye’ (v. 29) is the member of the body most commonly blamed for leading us astray, especially in sexual sins (cf. Num 15:39; Prov 21:4; Ezek 6:9; 18:12; 20:8; v. 11. Eccl 11:9); the ‘right eye’ refers to one’s best eye. But why the ‘right hand’ (v. 30) in a context dealing with lust? This may be merely illustrative or a way of saying that even lust is a kind of theft. More likely it is a euphemism for the male sexual organ (cf. yad, ‘hand,’ most likely used in this way in Isa 57:8 [cf. BDB, s.v., 4.g]; see Lachs, pp. 108f.).”
14 Figures of speech are meant to have an emotional charge, and thus effective. However, figurative language means more, not less. Turner states, “Hyperbole shocks the reader with the real point.” David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 171.
15 John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 103.
16 The introductory Greek formula, Errethe (“It was said”) is shorter than all the others in this chapter and is linked to the preceding by the Greek connective de (“and”).
17 Adultery violates the marriage bond. While most people agree that divorce is permissible in the case of sexual unfaithfulness, some question the implied right to remarry. But Jesus is clearly addressing the issue of one who divorces and “marries another” in Matt 19:9. Therefore, in the case of immorality, it’s permissible if someone divorces and marries another person (see Rom 7:2; 1 Cor 7:39). Blomberg states, “Ancient Jews (like Greeks and Romans) almost universally agreed that lawful divorce granted the person the right to remarry.” Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 111.
18 See also Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount, Electronic ed.
19 E.g., Lev 18:6–18; 20:11, 17, 20–21; Ezek 20:10; 23:29; Hos 2:10.
20 E.g., the term “indecent” (ervah) usually has to do only with indecent exposure of the genitals. See also NET Study Notes.
21 Carson, “Matthew,” Electronic ed.
22 This is a poor translation by the NASB since “unchastity” is archaic. In fact, the term is not even recognized in a typical spell checker.
23 Wilkins, Matthew, 246.
24 Wilkins, Matthew, 242.
25 Marriage is for the tough and spiritually mature. In Matt 19, after Jesus talked about divorce, His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (19:10).
26 Ken Hemphill, Empowering Kingdom Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004), 191.
27 See Exod 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; and Deut 5:11; 6:3; 22:21–23.
28 Jesus rejects the use of oaths for at least four reasons. First, oaths require that His disciples speak the truth as a matter of course. Second, people tend to abuse oaths. Third, humans are bound to God in all of life, not just when we call upon God as a witness. Finally, an oath is used to guarantee the truthfulness of a human statement and calls upon God as a supporting witness. David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 60–61.
29 Some very conscientious believers have taken Jesus’ words literally and have refused to take an oath of any kind even in court. However, Jesus’ point was the importance of truthfulness. He probably would not have objected to the use of oaths as a formality in legal proceedings.
30 For example, in the earlier days of the U.S. judicial system when a person gave an oath in court, such as, “So help me God,” it provided a standard of judgment. If a person lied under that oath before God, that person was liable to God’s judgment.
31 See Gen 9:9–11; Luke 1:68, 73; 2 Cor 1:20; and Gal 1:20. Paul’s readers were not familiar enough with his character to have justifiable trust in his plain statements
32 See Matt 26:63–64; Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thess 2:5, 10.
33 Long, Matthew, 61.
34 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 149.
Last month, my neighbor and workout partner turned a stunningly youthful forty. His generous wife bought him a thousand dollar mini-gym. Ted and I were beside ourselves! We were finally going to lift weights as God originally intended. There was only one problem: The three flat boxes that were delivered looked nothing like the gym we were expecting. We needed to put this weight-lifting paradise together ourselves. (I hate it when there is no demo model!) We read on-line that the estimated time to put everything together was eight hours! I about cried when I read this! To make matters more excruciating, the directions were dreadful! Whoever wrote these directions is either a rocket scientist from MIT with a chip on his shoulder, or an utter imbecile with a sadistic sense of humor. Unlike me, Ted is very mechanically inclined. Yet, even Ted said, “I have never put together anything more difficult than the Marcy 4300.” In time, we assembled the beast. Or, should I say, Ted finally subdued this project. I just handed him tools and tried not to make too many blunders. In the end, the only way we completed this task was by following the directions. Even though the directions were confusing, difficult, and disputable, without them we would have been sunk. Therefore, we poured over every page, photograph, diagram, and step-by-step direction, gleaning what help each could offer.
Likewise, in the spiritual realm, the only way to deal with an especially daunting task or relationship is by studying the directions in God’s Word. This admonition is especially important when it comes to loving those who hurt us. We live in a society of raw power: the one with the strongest fists or the most guns wins. Instead of the Golden Rule, our ethics are, “Do unto others first, before they do unto you.” “If they do anything bad to you at all, finish them off before they can do anything worse.” Or my personal favorite, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” All of these expressions are natural responses; however, you and I are called to live a supernatural life. In Matthew 5:38–48 Jesus says, “When you love without limits, you are like God.” In these eleven verses, He lays down two discipleship commitments.
1. Forgo your own “rights” (5:38–42). Contrary to popular belief, you have no rights. When you became a disciple, you signed up to die to self.1 In 5:38 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’” Jesus quotes the law of retaliation that is found in three Old Testament passages (Exod 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21).2 This phrase causes some to say that the Old Testament Law was savage and bloodthirsty, but that is not true. Actually, it was the beginning of mercy. And it is the foundational law of all civilization. Although it allows retaliation, it limited retaliation by setting restrictions. The law was intended as an equalizer of justice.3 If a person knocks out my tooth, I get his. And if I poke out his eye, he gets mine. Retaliation as we know it sets out to get more than that. We want to up the ante. We want two eyes for an eye or a life for an eye.4 But this law limited retaliation and disproportionate revenge. In other words, people could only get back what they lost. In addition to being merciful, the law limited retaliation for the offended. It didn’t allow the whole family to get into the act. When wronged, we tend to line up forces of family and friends to retaliate. If a person cuts off my ear, I want to cut off his head. And if I cut off his head, his brother will kill me, and if he kills me, my brother will kill his brother, and pretty soon we have a clan war. Without the law of retaliation, revenge goes from the individual to the family to the clan to the tribe and ultimately to whole nations. So what seems like a blood-hungry law was actually a way of limiting violence and bloodshed.5 Furthermore, while the law allows one to get even within limits, it does not require one to get even.6 So even in the Old Testament one could forgo retaliation.
Of course, Jesus’ teaching generally goes above and beyond the Law. In 5:39a Jesus declares, “But I say to you, do not resist [retaliate against]7 an evil person…” The word translated “resist” in this context means “do not render evil for evil.”8 Jesus is talking about revenge, not self-preservation. He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?”9 Obviously, this is a high standard to live up to! Yet, Jesus style-discipleship is not for spiritual wimps!
In 5:39b–42, Jesus provides four illustrations of what it means to not retaliate against an evil person.10 In His first illustration in 5:39b Jesus says, “but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” This verse is often used to prohibit any form of self-defense. But is this Jesus’ intent? First of all, notice that Jesus specifically mentions “the right cheek.” Approximately 90% of the people in the world are right-handed. [Bring a young man on stage and provide the following slow-motion visual demonstration.] I am right-handed and if I punch you with my right hand, I will hit you on the left cheek. If I try to hit you on the right cheek with my right fist, I won’t hurt you one bit. Jesus is not referring to a situation where another person is attempting to punch your lights out. He is speaking of a slap across the right cheek with the back of the right hand. Second, in Jesus’ day a slap to one’s face was considered a gross insult by the Jews, and was among the most demeaning acts one could inflict on another person. Slapping someone on the cheek was a sign of contempt and did not pose a serious safety threat.11 It was considered a terrible insult.12 Receiving the back of the hand meant that you were scorned as inconsequential—a nothing.13 If a man struck you with the back of his hand instead of punching you in the mouth, you could collect twice the damages because an insult was worse than an injury in Jesus’ honor-shame society.14 Even today, the Irish often say, “The back of my hand to you,” which means, “You are scum.”15 Third, Jesus is not describing a physical attack and telling us to roll over and “play dead.” You should not encourage your children to be beat up by bullies. Nor should you stand by and watch while an innocent person is attacked. You should not let thieves, murderers, and terrorists have their way in our society. When necessary, you should seek to protect yourself, your family members, and victims of injustice and cruelty. But what Jesus is saying is this: When someone insults you, do not seek revenge.16 You should not trade insults, even if it means you receive more.17 You must avoid retaliation and personal revenge!18 When you love without limits, you are like God.
A couple of years ago when Tiger Woods won the Master’s Tournament, Fuzzy Zoeller responded with some mean, racist remarks—remarks he intended to be funny, but were only mean-spirited. Fuzzy received a great deal of well-deserved criticism for his comments, but Tiger Woods’ response was, “We all make mistakes and it’s time to move on.” Tiger could have returned the insult—the media would have loved it—but he refused to retaliate. Instead, he said, “Let’s move on.”
Do you share Tiger Woods’ response? Is this your attitude when you bear the brunt of insults? Can you say, “We all make mistakes and it’s time to move on?” Jesus did not give tit for tat. He was not in the business of getting even. Some of us would even the score, even if it kills us–and it may! By nature we are vindictive. Vindictiveness will eat our heart out. It will sour our spirit. How unlike the Savior we are. As soon as someone starts a rumor about us, we get on our high horse. Our backs arch like a cat. We show our fangs. We are ready to do battle. If given a chance, we will hang their hide on the wall. We are still in kindergarten spiritually, compared to our Lord. We believe that we must defend ourselves and vindicate ourselves. When it came to this kind of thing, our Lord Jesus was not concerned about His reputation. Are you willing to leave retaliation in God’s hands? This is not to imply that you are to be passive in your relationships. Jesus often confronted those around Him, but He was not vindictive. Jesus did not threaten His accusers with harm. He did not say, “I’ll get even. I’ll get the Father after you.”
In Jesus’ second illustration in 5:40 He says: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.”19 This is where we get the expression, “I lost my shirt.” The Greek word translated “shirt” (chiton) is translated “tunic” in many English versions.20 The term refers to a long-sleeved inner robe similar to a nightshirt that a person wore next to the skin.21 Jesus instructs His disciples that if someone tries to sue for their tunic, they should let him have their “coat” (himation) as well. This cloak was the outer robe (cf. 27:35), which was an indispensable piece of clothing that the poor used for a sleeping cover.22 It was possible in Jesus’ day to sue others for the very shirt on their backs. However, no one could take another’s cloak. So even if you lost your shirt (or tunic) in court, and your opponent asked for your cloak and won it, he had to return it every evening for you to sleep in. That was the law.
What was the situation here? Evidently, Jesus was giving advice to the poor among His followers—those who had been reduced to the garments on their backs because of persecution for their faith. His teaching is simply this: “As they sue you (no doubt falsely) for your shirt and win it, give them your cloak too, even though they cannot legally take it.” Jesus makes a startling demand of His disciples. They must reverse the dynamic. Instead of defending themselves or seeking retaliation, they must give to this person who is so unfairly attempting to take their most basic necessities.23 This is supremely radical, and it is meant to point one’s persecutors to Christ.24 When you love without limits, you are like God.
In Jesus’ third illustration in 5:41 He says: “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” This verse provides the background for the expression, “Go the second mile.” In Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers had the authority to force civilians to carry their loads for one mile. However, Roman law said that a person only had to do this service for one mile and then he was free to go. Obviously, the Jews held to the letter of the law on this. They measured the mile in steps: one thousand exactly. And they counted every single step. When they got to one thousand they stopped, put down the pack, and left the Roman to carry his own load or find another victim.25 The Jews hated the Romans making them carry their loads. I can just see some slave saying, “Fine. I may have to carry this soldier’s stuff, but you never know what might happen to it. It could get really dirty if I accidentally drop it in the mud. You just never know.” Jesus’ point is: “Don’t behave like this! Instead, offer to go another mile. Give your opponent more than he has the right to demand.26 Ask him, ‘Is there anything else I can do to help you?’” You should demonstrate a humble servant’s heart and cheerfully go beyond what is expected or demanded.27 When your boss gives you a dreadful project that is too much to bear, seek to serve him or her. If your boss treats you poorly, honor him or her and find out how you can go the extra mile. Seek to be a blessing. When you love without limits, you are like God.
In Jesus’ fourth and final illustration in 5:42 He says: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” This illustration has to do with the law of lending.28 Deut 15:7–11 indicates that debts were canceled every seven years. The borrowers loved this. The lenders were not quite so enthusiastic. If I was a lender and someone came to me for a loan in the sixth year, I would think twice before giving it to him. If he didn’t pay it off quickly, my loan would turn into a gift. The closer the seventh year got, the more tightfisted businessmen became. But Jesus said they were not to allow the seventh year to govern them. Whenever a person had a need, God’s people were to give generously. After all, the people in Jesus’ day were not asking for home-improvement loans. They needed money for food. In our day and age, does this mean that a Christian banker should never refuse a loan application, no matter how bad a person’s credit report looks? Does this mean you have to loan money to irresponsible people again and again, even if you know they won’t make an effort to pay it back? Or that every time you’re approached by someone on the street that you have to give them your money? No, because this commandment doesn’t relieve you of your obligation to manage your resources responsibly. It’s your responsibility to practice generosity, but it’s also your responsibility to practice discernment. Jesus is talking about people in legitimate need.
Do you like paying taxes? If you’re like most Americans, you probably resent it, right? Maybe you wish you could find some way to make sure the government doesn’t get a dime. I wonder if Jesus would suggest that in addition to paying your taxes with gladness that you also pay the second dollar. Perhaps Jesus is asking you to sacrifice an even more costly commodity—your time. The government supports all kinds of social programs that feed, house, and educate the poor. You could resent having to pay for these services or you could say, “You know, I can do better than that. I can volunteer for programs that provide jobs for those who need work, shelters for those who need housing, food for the hungry, and community health services for those who are diseased.29 I can build a house or teach someone to read. I can support an organization that provides baby supplies for unwed mothers.”30 When you love without limits, you are like God.
[The first commitment you must make is to forgo your own rights. This is necessary because as a disciple you have no “rights.” If you are to live like Jesus, you must go above and beyond the Law. The second commitment you must make is to…]
2. Kill your enemies with kindness (5:43–48). Obviously, I am speaking figuratively here. The primary way you demonstrate that you are Christ’s disciple is by your love for others,31 particularly your enemies. In 5:43 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’” The phrase, “You shall love your neighbor” is a quote from Lev 19:18. The word “neighbor” conveys the idea of one who is near. The neighbor could be a fellow believer or an adversary. The phrase “hate your enemy” is not a direct quote from any Old Testament passage; it was an inference from various texts (Deut 23:3–6; 25:17–19; Ps 139:21).32 The crowd that was listening to Jesus’ sermon must have said, “Okay, I will love my next-door neighbor, but those blasphemous Samaritans and unclean Gentiles—well, that’s another matter.”33 However, in 5:44, Jesus once again goes above and beyond the Law by declaring: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”34 Here, love is not simply praised, it is commanded.35 This requires supernatural strength. It has been said, “To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine.”36 Now if you have been raped or molested, you don’t have to be friends with your enemy. In cases like this that would be unhealthy and dangerous. But you are still commanded to love your enemy. However, Jesus does not say that you need to like your enemy or like what he does. Rather, you are called to love him or her. Biblical agape love requires that you are concerned about the welfare of even your enemies. This means that you will do things that will benefit and not harm them. How do you know if you really love your enemy? Do you pray for him or her?37 You can be confident that you love your enemy when you pray for him or her. Has it ever dawned on you that your greatest enemy and persecutor may be your spouse, your child, your sibling, or your parent?
Why should you love your enemies? Jesus gives the purpose in loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you in 5:45: “so that38 you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”39 You may be saying, “Wait a second, I thought I already was a son or daughter of God.” If you have believed in Christ as your Savior, you are a son or daughter of God. The focus of this verse is not on attaining a relationship with God, but rather on being a person who shares the characteristics of God. That is the meaning of the Semitic idiom “son of.” We would say, “Like father, like son.”40 We say of a son, “He’s a chip off the old block.” Of a daughter we say, “She’s the spittin’ image of her mother.”41 When you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, you are like God who is so gracious that He gives good things even to those who rebel against Him. Jesus says that His Father sends sunshine and rain to fall on believers and blasphemers. God deals with enemies and friends alike. When you deal with both enemies and friends with their highest good in mind, you are like God.42
In 5:46–47, Jesus poses two pairs of rhetorical questions that get to the heart of the matter. He says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward43 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet [bless]44 only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Jesus declares that friendship with one’s friends is nothing exceptional. Everyone does that…even tax collectors. In Jesus’ day, the tax collectors would collect taxes for the Roman government and then add a surcharge, which they kept. Since tax collectors worked for Rome, they were viewed as traitors to their own people and were not well liked. (Around April 15th many Americans are not too fond of tax collectors either.) Tax collectors were the most despised people in Jewish society, yet even they had love for those who loved them. Jesus’ point is, this is true of everyone. So how is your love going to surpass that of the tax collector? Is there something about your love that cannot be explained in natural terms? Is there something special and unique about your love that is not present in the life of the unbeliever? These are important questions because your love must be supernatural. Do you stop being kind and gracious to others because you know that they dislike you?
Jesus concludes this passage in 5:48 with the words: “Therefore you45 are to be46 perfect,47 as your heavenly Father is perfect.”48 This verse summarizes not only this passage (5:38–48), but everything that has been said thus far in the Sermon on the Mount (5:3–47). Jesus makes it clear that the goal of Christianity is perfection. You are called to be like Jesus, the only one who lived a perfect life. The burden of trying to be perfect is so heavy, someone has observed, “The Christian life has not been tried and found difficult; it has been tried and found impossible.” So how can you deal with this? How can you put together the demands of Scripture with the realities of life? One solution to this tension between holy expectation and unholy performance is to change the standard and make the demands relative. “No one can be perfect, you know, so there must be some sort of sliding scale here. Just do the best you can. Try to one-up your neighbor.”49 Unfortunately, this thinking can become a reason not to rise to anything better. Yet, Jesus calls you to rise above your imperfect love to His perfect agape love.50 This can only occur when you trust in His perfect person and work.
http://www.sermonnews.com/MembersOnlyStory.asp?ID=1805You might read 5:48 and wonder, “Could I ever do that?” If so, you’re asking the wrong question. I don’t know if I could ever go into combat. I see the images on television—the firefights, the bravery, the sacrifices, the casualties—and I wonder if I have what it takes. The first and hardest decision, however, is not whether I could jump into a firefight with an AK-47, but whether I could join the military in the first place. If I reach the point where I feel called to enter the military and I sign the papers, then at that point I’ve already decided that I am willing to go into battle. Answering “yes” to the first question, “Can I serve in the military?” automatically answers the second, “Can I go into combat?”
The demands of the Sermon on the Mount work the same way. When you look at the requirements, you rightfully ask, “Could I really do that?” But that’s the wrong question to focus on. The first and most important question is: “Can I answer Jesus’ call to discipleship?” If you answer that affirmatively, you automatically answer the question, “Can I carry out Jesus’ discipleship demands?” As a disciple, because you’ve already decided up front that you’ll obey Jesus’ commands, the question now is not will you live the life, but how?51 When you love without limits, you are like God.
Perhaps you’ve seen the movie on the life of Mahatma Gandhi.52 Gandhi studied Christianity in England but never became a Christian because he claimed Christianity didn’t seem to work for Christians. Although he wasn’t impressed by the Christians he met, he was very impressed with Jesus, especially His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi tried to incorporate Jesus’ wisdom into his own life. At one point in the movie, civil war breaks out between Pakistan and India. The war stems from divisions between the Muslims of Pakistan and the Hindus of India. Gandhi lies on a cot after weeks of fasting in protest to this war. A distraught Hindu man approaches him. His only son, still a little boy, has been shot and killed in the conflict. His heart is full of sadness, bitterness, and revenge. Gandhi can barely speak, but tells the man how to heal his own heart. “Find a little Muslim boy whose father has been killed. Take that boy as your son, and raise him as a Muslim.” The distraught man walks away completely confused and disappointed. Apparently he thought the weeks of fasting had weakened Gandhi’s ability to reason. It made no sense to him whatsoever.
If Gandhi could seek to live out the Sermon on the Mount the way he did, how much more so can you as a believer in Jesus Christ? When you love without limits, you are like God.
1 Thessalonians 5:14–15
1. In the past, how have I retaliated against those who have hurt me? To whom am I now relating according to an “eye for an eye” (5:38)? How can I begin to be merciful in that relationship as my heavenly Father would be?
2. How do I respond when I am insulted or taken advantage of (5:39b–42)? Have I learned to ignore hurtful words spoken by hurting people? Am I willing to go the extra mile in my work and giving? Can I do so with a godly attitude? Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” If I fulfill Jesus’ words in 5:39–42, how will I make friends with those who treat me poorly at home, work, and school?
3. Over the course of my life, how have I tangibly loved my enemies (5:44)? Am I presently seeking to love an enemy? If so, what am I doing to express my love for him or her? Am I currently praying for my enemies? If so, what are my specific prayer requests for these individuals?
4. Is my love for my enemies clearly a supernatural work that can only be attributed to God (5:46–47)? What examples can I cite that confirm this? How can I reach out to my enemies in a way that shows them love? Read Romans 12:17–21.
5. How does Jesus’ standard of perfection make me feel (5:48)? Is it easy to focus on Jesus’ person and work as my sole source of perfection? Why or why not? How can I learn to daily preach the gospel to myself? What difference might this make in my Christian life?
1 Matt 16:24–27; Mark 8:34–38; and Luke 9:23–27.
2 This is quoted verbatim from the LXX.
3 Most commentators doubt that it was intended to be applied literally in every case, but it was a graphic metaphor to establish equivalence of loss in a given circumstance. Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 248.
4 David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 174.
5 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 153
6 David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 62.
7 The word anthistemi (“resist”) only occurs here in Matthew. In the passive it means “resist”; however, in the active it means “retaliate.” Here, it means to take justice into one’s own hands.
8 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 130.
9 Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 63.
10 These four illustrations find a partial parallel in Luke 6:29–30.
11 See John 18:22–23; Acts 23:2–5; and 2 Cor 11:20.
12 See also Job 16:10 and Lam 3:3. Donald A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed. R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 220.
13 This remains true in the Middle East even today.
14 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
15 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 155.
16 See Jesus’ example in Isa 50:6. The LXX even uses the term “slapping.”
17 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 113.
18 See Prov 20:22 and 24:29.
19 Cf. 1 Cor 6:7 where Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be wronged and defrauded rather than to institute a lawsuit.
20 E.g., NET, ESV, NIV, NKJV.
21 The simple clothing of a person in the first century was a loincloth, covered by one or more body-length tunic(s), the outer cloak, a girdle acting as a belt, a head covering, and sandals.
22 Exod 22:26–27; Deut 24:12; Ezek 18:7; Amos 2:8.
23 Wilkins, Matthew, 250.
24 Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount.
25 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 157.
27 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 128.
28 Some hold that Jesus’ words may allude to begging; giving alms was viewed highly in the ancient world (Matt 6:1–4; Deut 15:7–11).
29 Long, Matthew, 63–64.
30 Bell, “Sweet Revenge.”
31 Jesus to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).
32 Blomberg, Matthew, 114.
33 Long, Matthew, 64.
34 See the example of Stephen in Acts 7:60.
35 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 130.
36 Alfred Plummer, Matthew (London: Paternoster, 1910), 89.
37 See also Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 103.
38 The NASB update (1995) altered the confusing NASB (1977) rendering of “in order that.” This gives the impression that there is something that one must do to be “a son of your Father.”
39 Matt 5:45 refers to what theologians call “common grace” (i.e., God’s care extends to believer and unbeliever alike).
40 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 226.
41 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 165.
42 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 164.
43 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 227.
44 When Jesus spoke of greeting someone, He didn’t mean a simple “hello.” To greet someone in the Middle East is to wish the best to them. Their greeting was all bound up in blessing: Blessing on you, blessing on your children, and blessing on your children’s children. Even the pagans did that. In fact their greetings were known for that. They were often long and elaborate. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 165. See also Blomberg 115.
45 The word “you” (humeis) is emphatic. These words are directed specifically to the disciples.
46 Matthew’s use of the future tense here (lit., “you shall be perfect”) has an imperatival thrust, as the NIV indicates.
47 Wilkins writes, “The word “perfect” (teleios) is also used in the LXX in Deuteronomy 18:13: ‘You shall be perfect before your God.’ The word used in the Hebrew text (tamim) denotes the idea of wholeness or completeness (Lev. 23:15, 30; Josh. 10:13), specifying the soundness of sacrificial animals (Ex. 12:5) or the complete commitment of a person to God, including ethical blamelessness (Gen. 6:9; 17:1; Deut. 18:13; 2 Sam. 22:24–27). The Greek term teleios carries the same connotations: the end, completion, or complete thing, that which is made whole or perfect. But it can also indicate a person who has attained spiritual maturity. But with the Father as the goal, Jesus is not saying, ‘Be mature as your heavenly Father is mature.’ He is saying, ‘Be perfect, like your heavenly Father.’ The disciples are to pursue the Father’s perfection as the goal of their lives.” Wilkins, Matthew, 254.
48 This remark echoes the more common OT statements like Lev 19:2 or Deut 18:13: “you must be holy as I am holy.”
49 There are, however, two problems with seeing that meaning in 5:48. First, maturity is not a property of God. The Bible teaches that God is immutable. He never changes. In fact, He cannot change in any way because He is already perfect. Maturity presupposes movement from immaturity, and God was never immature. That’s one problem. A second problem is the analogy in the verse: “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If God’s perfections are absolute, so ours are supposed to be also. We are not simply to be mature in the same way He is mature, because He isn’t mature. He is perfect. We are to be that also. There isn’t much wiggle room here. In fact, there is no wiggle room at all. Perfection is the moral standard that God demands. When it comes to applying this, our minds move very quickly to the recognition that we simply aren’t that way. Moral perfection is not something that we can attain to. If we are to achieve perfection, it will not be by means of our own efforts. It will be because God gives us the perfection that we lack on our own. In Phil 3:9 Paul said his desire was to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
50 See John 15:13; Rom 5:7–8.
51 Adapted and revised from Brian Jones, “Discipleship Before Forgiveness,” Non-Religious Devotional Thoughts (8/6/08).
52 The movie is called “Gandhi” (1982) and was written by John Briley and directed by Richard Attenborought.
“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Typically, this expression means: If you have a great body, don’t hide it under modest attire. Show yourself off for the world to see. If you have a brilliant mind, don’t be humble and unassuming. Expose the genius within. If you have money, spend it so that people know you’re loaded. Perhaps you can see the problems with the notion, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Yet, for some bizarre reason many Christians assume that this expression is valid in the spiritual realm. It’s common for Christians to brag about how much they give, how much they pray, how much they serve, and how spiritual they are. Honestly, we’ve all been guilty of this behavior. It’s easy to be spiritually smug and let pride enter into our lives. We all want to be recognized and appreciated. We all want to impress people with our gifts and devotion. Yet, the Bible is clear that we must seek to impress God alone.1 This requires a motives check-up. After all, motives matter when it comes to being approved and rewarded by God. This means you must do the right thing in the right way.2 In Matt 6:1–18, Jesus shares three practices3 that will enable you to do the right thing in the right way.
1. Give without fanfare (6:1–4). Jesus urges you and me to give with pure motives that please God. He begins in 6:1 with a principle4 that introduces and summarizes 6:1–18. Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed5 by them; otherwise you have no reward6 with your Father7 who is in heaven.” The word “beware”8 always warns of danger ahead, like a bridge being out of order or a road being under water.9 To refuse to obey such a sign is both foolish and dangerous. Here, Jesus warns you to beware of seeking to impress people. He doesn’t say that you can’t be impressive. Many Christians are impressive people. Jesus is not opposed to public righteousness10 that is an act of worship (cf. 5:20). We are commanded to be “salt” and “light” (5:13–16). Jesus’ primary concern is with your motives. God looks at the heart (motive) before the hand (action)! If your motives are to hear people “ooh and ah” over your righteousness,11 you have your reward…but it is on earth, NOT in heaven. Jesus’ words are absolute. He is saying, “Anyone who does a good deed so as to be seen and appreciated by others will lose his or her reward, no matter how ‘good’ and beneficial the deed is. There are absolutely no exceptions!”12 It is imperative, therefore, that you do the right thing in the right way.
After laying down the overarching principle, in 6:2–4, Jesus focuses on the topic of financial giving.13 He says in 6:2: “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites14 do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men.15 Truly I say to you,16 they have their reward in full.”17 Jesus says “when” you give. The word “when” is a key word throughout this entire passage. Jesus does not say “if” but “when.” He assumes that His disciples will give…including YOU! This means giving is not optional. Yet, maybe you’re thinking, “I’m barely making ends meet and you want me to give?” Absolutely! You’re never too poor to give. If you’re struggling to get by, give to someone who is struggling more than you. The Lord will meet your needs, especially if you are obedient to give. The question that Jesus is addressing in this verse and in this entire passage is not “when” but “why.” Why do you do what you do? It is important to see that Jesus does not forbid public giving, but He doesn’t want you to “sound a trumpet.” This is a figurative phrase from which we get our expression “toot your own horn.”18 In other words, do not give for the purpose of being “honored” by people.19 When the offering plates are passed, don’t cough loudly just as you’re giving. Don’t slam-dunk your offering into the plate. Don’t give so that your name will be inscribed on a building, on a plaque, on a brick, or in a list of donors for all to see. If you do, that will be your reward. The word translated “in full” (apecho) is a technical term for commercial transactions and means to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.”20 When you seek to impress people you are not giving but buying, and you get what you paid for. [Take out a receipt.] This receipt shows that I made a purchase at Jack In The Box and received some “food” (if you can call it that). I paid for my food. I received it in full and consumed it. End of story. This is equally true when I seek to impress people instead of God. I am paid in full with no hope of any future reward.
Fortunately, Jesus offers an alternative to giving with fanfare. In 6:3–4 He says: “But when you give to the poor,21 do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”22 Please don’t take this verse literally or else you will have to undergo a lobotomy. This is a hyperbolic phrase that means “give in secret.”23 Don’t give with your right hand while you wave your left hand in the air. Instead, just drop your check in the offering or send it in the mail, without drawing attention to yourself. Fold the check. Keep the envelope sealed. Give in a spirit of humility and simplicity, as an act of worship.24 Try giving anonymously sometimes, even if it means that you do not receive a tax deduction. Why? Verse 4 says, “so that25 your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward26 you.” Again, there’s nothing wrong with public giving that is an act of worship. But there’s plenty wrong with giving money to impress people. If you do, it is like taking municipal bonds and cashing them in early. You get accolades, but not nearly what you would if you waited. This is the principle of delayed gratification at work. You will receive your reward later, but from God Himself.27
Does this mean that you should never tell anyone what you give and who you give to? No! Acts 2:45 tells of Christians selling possessions and giving to the needy. In 4:36–37, Luke tells us that Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the feet of the apostles. If Barnabas was looking for status and prestige, his motive was wrong. But it’s certainly false to say that it was wrong for others to be made aware of his gift, because Scripture itself reveals that! Barnabas’ act of generosity was commonly known among the believers and was publicly and permanently recorded in Acts. Numbers 7 lists the names of donors to the tabernacle. 1 Chronicles 29 tells exactly how much the leaders of Israel gave to build the temple. This is recorded in Scripture for our encouragement and motivation. Jesus does not object to the fact that people may know what you give, but that you would give in order to impress people rather than God. We need heroes in the church. We need to know that our friends and leaders are giving. This motivates and challenges us to give even more sacrificially. The key is: why do you give? Do you give to please God or to impress people? When it comes to giving, make sure you do the right thing in the right way.
[Jesus urges you to give without fanfare. Why should you give in secret? Because God will reward you. The second practice is…]
2. Pray without pride (6:5–15). Jesus’ teaching on prayer is the centerpiece of the entire Sermon on the Mount.28 In 6:5–8, Jesus contrasts prideful and humble prayer: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen29 by men.30 Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you,31 when you pray, go into your inner room,32 close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition33 as the Gentiles do,34 for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.35 So do not be like them;36 for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Again, Jesus’ concern is praying to impress others. He is not opposed to long prayers or public prayers except when you are seeking accolades from people. Jesus’ point is: When you pray to impress people, you are paid in full. Instead, pray in secret and receive a reward from God. Perhaps a few questions would help. Do I pray frequently or more fervently when I am alone with God than when I am in public? Is my public praying an overflow of my private prayer? What do I think of when I am praying in public? Am I looking for “just the right” phrase? Am I thinking of the worshipers more than of God? Am I a spectator to my own performance? Is it possible that the reason more of my prayers are not answered is because I am more concerned about bringing my prayer to men than to God?37 Do the right thing in the right way.
In 6:9–13, we delve into what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer.”38 I prefer, however, to call this “The Disciples Prayer” since it was designed for Jesus’ disciples.39 In these five verses, there are a total of six petitions.40 In 6:9–10, there are three petitions that promote God’s glory;41 in 6:11–13, there are three petitions that concern our well being.42 This pattern indicates that we should have more concern for God than we do for ourselves.43
Petition 1: God’s person (6:9). Jesus says pray, “Pray, then, in this way:44 ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.’” Jesus does not say, “Pray this prayer verbatim three times a day.” He says, “Pray, then, in this way.” In other words, our prayers should resemble the categories and content of the Disciple’s Prayer—worship and petition.45 This prayer is the skeleton and we are to add meat to the frame Jesus provides. The word “our” demonstrates that this prayer is for the gathered community, not private prayer. Only fifteen times was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament.46 Where it does occur, it is used of the nation Israel or to the king of Israel. Never was God called the Father of an individual or of human beings in general. He was Yahweh and Adonai. In the New Testament, Jesus comes on the scene and emphasizes the fatherhood of God. He expands the intimacy that we can have as we approach God in prayer. However, God is not your pal, your buddy, or the man upstairs—He is your Father who is in heaven! He is high and lifted up and He still expects to be approached with awe. The word “hallowed” means set apart. “Name” refers to personhood and character. “Hallowed be Your name” means, “Show the world who you are!” God wants His name exalted in our lives. You are to set apart God’s name as distinct from other names.47 You are to honor His name. You are to ask God’s name to be made holy in your life.48
Petition 2: God’s program (6:10a). Jesus says pray, “Your kingdom come.” In the New Testament, God’s kingdom is expressed as both a present reality49 and a future consummation.50 Jesus inaugurated His kingdom during His earthily ministry, but the fulfillment of His kingdom will not be fully consummated until He sets His feet down in Jerusalem and rules and reigns. When this occurs, we will experience a theocracy (not a democracy) where Jesus is King. In the meantime, we pray that God’s kingdom will come in our life and eventually to the earth. As we approach our presidential election next week, our prayer must be, “God, may Your kingdom come.” You may be concerned that if your candidate is not elected the end is near. That may well be the case! Did you ever stop and think that God may be speeding His kingdom to earth by electing the candidate that you oppose? Regardless of who is elected, God will bring about His kingdom. You can count on it!
Petition 3: God’s purpose (6:10b). Jesus says pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”51 This is a prayer for God’s control of earth and your life as He has of heaven. In heaven, the angels respond to God’s commands perfectly and immediately. God expects this same type of obedience from you. This means that you go into your day saying, “Lord, I want to live this day for You. May Your will be done in my marriage, my family, my work, and my church. Use me to fulfill your will perfectly and immediately. I don’t want to make You look bad. I want to be Your representative.”
Petition 4: God’s provision (6:11). This petition deals with our personal needs. Jesus says pray, “Give us this day our daily52 bread.” This is not just talking about food. “Bread” is a figure of speech,53 which represents our needs.54 It’s interesting that twice in this brief sentence we have an emphasis on “today.” “Give us today what we need today.”55 Jesus only promises you TODAY, not tomorrow, next week, or next year (cf. 6:34). He wants you to live in daily dependency upon Him. After all, you are not guaranteed tomorrow. Jesus wants you to know that you don’t provide for yourself, neither does your company, your spouse, or your family. He alone meets your needs. In this crashing economy it is tempting to be worried about your job, your investments, and your retirement. Now if that is where your confidence lies, be worried. In fact, worry yourself to death because things are bad and they may not get better! But if your confidence is in the Lord to meet your daily needs, you have nothing to worry about.
Petition 5: God’s pardon (6:12, 14–15). This petition deals with our interpersonal relations. In 6:12, Jesus says pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus assumes that you and I will forgive. In 6:14–15, there is a P.S. to the Disciple’s Prayer.56 Please read these words slowly and soberly. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions,57 your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”58 Stop for just a moment and feel the full weight of these words.
In 6:14, Jesus promises forgiveness if you forgive others. In 6:15, He explicitly states that if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you! What is Jesus saying here? This passage is not about salvation because Jesus’ audience is saved. The issue is fellowship.59 Notice the phrase “your heavenly Father” (6:14). Jesus’ target audience is in the family. Yet, Jesus is saying that when you refuse to forgive, God withholds fellowship forgiveness. This means you will lack intimacy with God and He will not respond to your prayers. This may sound severe, but remember the underlying ethic in Jesus’ teaching is love—love for your heavenly Father and love for people. God loves you so much that He will allow you to come face to face with your sin. He will confront you with your refusal to forgive by withholding fellowship. This is to bring about deep repentance and restoration of the love between the parties involved.60 So how should you respond in light of Jesus’ words? I propose three applications.
Remember the debt you have been forgiven. There are five key Greek words in the New Testament for sin. Only one is used in the Disciple’s Prayer. It is the word translated “debts” (opheilema, 6:12). This word has to do with a balance owed. That’s why Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts.” Every time you sin, you go into debt to God. You have taken on an obligation you cannot possibly meet. It’s like charging $100,000 to a credit card with a $1,000 limit when you have only a $1 bank balance. Sooner or later, the collection agency is going to come looking for you. Sin makes us overdrawn debtors to God—even if we are already Christians. As a result, our fellowship with God is broken. Only compassion and forgiveness can balance the books.61 The more aware you are of your great evil the more you will be able to forgive. If you feel that you are not as sinful as the next person, you can’t forgive. However, if you know God’s forgiveness you will forgive, for a forgiven person is a forgiving person.62 Today, will you see anew and afresh the enormous debt that you owe God? Will you choose to see the sin that still pervades your life even though you are a believer? Will you be broken before God so that you can forgive those who sin against you?
Rely on the Holy Spirit to enable you to forgive. The word “forgive” (aphiemi) literally means “to release, to let go of.” Simply put, forgiveness is letting go of my right to hurt you for hurting me. In the New Testament, the word forgiveness was used primarily to describe the release of someone from a financial obligation. Forgiveness gives up the right to hurt back.63 When you forgive someone, you are saying, “What that person did to me was wrong. He has hurt me deeply and deserves to pay for his offense. But today I am releasing him of the obligation he has toward me. I am not forgiving him because he has asked to be forgiven or deserves to be forgiven. I am forgiving him because of the tremendous forgiveness God has offered me.”64 Does biblical forgiveness work like a charm? Not in the sense that you may think. Although I have forgiven various individuals, fleshly thoughts toward these individuals still rear their ugly head. When this occurs, whether it is hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly, my goal is to release my negative emotions to the Lord. Forgiveness does not mean that you will forget, it means you let go of your desire to retaliate. Instead, you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:44). Obviously, this requires supernatural empowerment.
Recognize the personal benefit of forgiveness.65 It is possible to develop a root of bitterness that will defile you and many others (Heb 12:15).66 If you choose not to forgive, you will be the one who suffers. In the end, those whom you don’t forgive are holding you as a hostage.67 Stop for just a moment and think about the person or persons that you have chosen not to forgive. [Show the congregation a Ziploc bag with a rotten potato.] If I could, I would have you purchase as many potatoes as you have enemies. For every enemy, I would then have you write your enemy’s name on a potato and then date it. I would then have you carry this Ziploc with you everywhere—to work, to church, into the shower, to the dining room table, even into your bed. Perhaps your bag would become quite heavy. Lugging this around, paying attention to it all the time and remembering not to leave it in embarrassing places would be a hassle. Over time the potatoes become moldy, smelly, and begin to sprout “eyes.” This is what happens when you refuse to forgive. Often, we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, but it clearly is a gift to ourselves.68 Save yourself some grief. Unload your unforgiveness today.
Petition 6: God’s protection (6:13). This final petition deals with our spiritual concerns. Jesus says pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” If this passage teaches that God leads us into temptation, then doesn’t that contradict James 1:13, that God does not tempt anyone? The word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can mean “temptation,” “testing,” or “trial.” Prior to the time of the New Testament, this word only meant “testing” or “trial.” The New Revised Standard Version translates this word “trial” in 6:13.69 If their understanding is correct, Jesus apparently is teaching that we should pray that God would allow us to escape from trials.70 The idea of escape or deliverance is carried on in 6:13b: “deliver us from evil.” Most English versions read: “deliver us from the evil one”71 rather than simply “deliver us from evil.” Either translation is possible, but “deliver us from the evil one” is the better translation,72 particularly since Matt 4:1–11 records the temptation of Jesus by Satan, the evil one. The point of all of this is that you are incapable of handling spiritual problems on your own. You need God’s help. He alone is capable of handling each and every problem you face. As we come to the conclusion of the Disciple’s Prayer in 6:13, the NASB has the final sentence in brackets. Other versions have this sentence in a footnote. Scholars tell us that these words are probably not part of the original prayer taught by Jesus, but that they were added later as a doxology of praise. Although they may not be part of the original, they make a fitting conclusion to the prayer:73 “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Whether inspired or not, these words remind us that God is great and that He is in control. As you reflect on these words, please recognize that when you fail to pray you are basically saying that you can make it on your own. This is the epitome of arrogance.74 So acknowledge your need and pray without pride.
[Jesus says that you must pray without pride. When you do, He promises that He will reward you. The third and final practice is…]
3. Fast without notice (6:16–18). Jesus hits upon the controversial topic of fasting. In a world of golden arches and pizza temples, this is a hard word. We are gluttons who worship food. Nevertheless, Jesus says, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), on Mondays and Thursdays.75 But when they fasted, they looked miserable and tried to draw attention to themselves. They seemed to say, “Look at me; I’m fasting!” They are like some politicians who ride in helicopters over natural disasters. Their faces are grim and mournful, but it is only a “photo shot.”76 Jesus says, “Don’t you be like them!” Instead, look to the positive examples in Scripture. Old Testament believers fasted (Neh 9:1–2; Dan 9:2–20). Jesus fasted in preparation for His earthly ministry (4:2) and implied that Christian disciples would fast following His brief ministry (9:15). The early church fasted (Acts 13:2–3; 14:23; 2 Cor 6:5; 11:27). Yet, fasting is not commanded in any of the New Testament letters.77 This is likely the case because many godly individuals cannot fast for medical reasons. However, fasting still seems to be assumed, even though it is not commanded.78 So what exactly is fasting? In Scripture, fasting is typically a time of abstaining from food for the purpose of devoting one’s self and one’s time to the Lord.79 We should not think of fasting as a way to get something from God. We fast as one means of drawing closer to God.80 You become keenly aware of your dependence on God when you are very hungry. This is designed to stir us toward God. But be careful of your motives. Do not think things like, “This will help me lose weight or purify my system.” Fasting is to purify the believer’s heart, to spend time focusing on God, to learn to deny the physical in order to grow the spiritual. Fasting is for repentance, for sorrow, for purification. Fasting helps us become more sensitive to God. If you are going to fast make sure that your doctor gives you the freedom to do so. The motive and manner are crucial; the length and frequency are optional. Jesus cares about our motives. This is why He says, “Give without fanfare, pray without pride, and fast without notice.” Do the right thing in the right way.
It has been said, “The secret of religion is religion in secret.” Oswald Chambers (1874–1917) said, “My worth to God in public is what I am in private.” Who are you when no one is looking? That is the ultimate question. Do the right thing in the right way.
2 Corinthians 8–9
1. When I perform spiritual disciplines do I struggle with impure motives (6:1)? Am I able to discern the motives and attitudes of my own heart? If so, have I been able to honestly acknowledge what I sense to myself and others? Read 1 Corinthians 4:1–5. The Russian author Turgenev wrote, “I do not know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like, and it is terrible.” Do I agree with this assessment? Why or why not? Read Jeremiah 17:9 and Psalm 139:23–24; and Mark 7:21–22.
2. Am I giving to the poor (6:2–4)? If so, in what capacity and to what extent am I currently giving to those who need my help? What is the motivation behind my giving? Is it to show others how generous and thoughtful I am? Is it to make myself feel less guilty about the impoverished? Is it to meet a tangible physical or material need? Or is it to be obedient to God and to please Him? What role do all of these motivations play in my life?
3. How would I describe my prayer life (6:5–15)? In what ways do I struggle praying privately and corporately? Have I learned to talk to God as my heavenly Father (6:8)? Am I praying for His name, kingdom, and will to be promoted (6:9–10)? When I pray for my own needs, am I praying biblical petitions (6:11–13)? What role does extending forgiveness to others play in my prayers (6:12, 14–15)? Do I recognize how essential this is to my entire spiritual well-being? In light of this passage, who will I consciously and continually choose to forgive?
4. Have I ever fasted (6:16–18)? What was my experience like? Would I do it again? If so, how would I fast differently with the knowledge I now possess from Jesus? Am I motivated to fast even though it is not explicitly commanded in the New Testament? Why or why not? How would I explain fasting to others? Why might God want me to fast? Am I willing to be obedient to fast even though my flesh may recoil at the prospect?
5. Do I believe that Christ will grant me eternal rewards for my pure motives and obedience (6:1, 2, 5, 16)? If so, how am I currently living in light of my future accountability to Him? Read Matthew 6:19-24; 16:27; Romans 14:10–12; 1 Corinthians 3:9–15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; and Revelation 22:12. What insights did I glean from these passages? How can I balance salvation by faith with rewards for obedience?
1 Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 206.
2 David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008),
3 Why does Jesus choose these three worship practices? William Barclay explains, “To the Jew there were three great cardinal works of the religious life, three great pillars on which the good life was based—almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus would not for a moment have disputed that; what troubled him was that so often in human life the finest things are done from the wrong motives.” William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 (Chapters 1 to 10), rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 185.
4 Matt 6:1–18 resembles the structure of 5:20–48. Matthew moves from a general principle (6:1; cf. 5:20) to three (6:2–18) or six illustrations (5:21–48). Turner, Matthew, 179.
5 Earle writes, “The two most common verbs for ‘see’ in the NT are blepo (135 times) and horao (59 times). But here it is theaomai (24 times), which means ‘look upon, view attentively, contemplate’ (Thayer, p. 284). From this verb comes the noun theatron, ‘theater.’ What Jesus is saying is: ‘Don’t make a theatrical show of your religious activity.’ To put it more briefly, we might say, ‘Don’t parade your piety.’” Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament, One Volume Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 5.
6 The term misthos (“reward”) is found in Matt 6:1, 2, 5, and 16.
7 The name “Father” (pater) occurs ten times in the first eighteen verses.
8 The word translated “beware” (prosecho) means “to turn toward.” Specifically in this context: “to be in a state of alert, be concerned about, care for, take care.” See BDAG s.v. prosecho 1. It serves to highlight the command which follows it. This is literally “think constantly.”
9 Ken Hemphill, Empowering Kingdom Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004), 196.
10 In Matthew “righteousness” (dikaiosune) refers to practical or functional godliness.
11 The apostle John writes, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).
12 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
13 Yet, it must be remembered that this principle is applicable to every area act of righteousness (e.g., Bible reading, feeding the poor, mission work, raising children).
14 The word “hypocrites” (hupokrites) originated in the Greek theater. The actor who wore a mask to display a character portrayed someone he wasn’t (see Matt 6:2, 5, 16; 7:5; 15:7; 22:18; 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29; 24:51).
15 John describes the Pharisees as those who “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:43).
16 The phrase amen lego humin (“truly I say to you”) which previously occurred in Matt 5:18 and 26, is found some thirty-two times in Matthew, more than twice as often as in any other gospel.
17 I highly recommend the excellent book by Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, revised and updated (Wheaton: Tyndale, 2003). See especially Appendix E: Should Giving Always Be Secret? (pp. 443–47)
18 John Nolland, The Gospel Of Matthew: A Commentary On The Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 274; Turner, Matthew, 183.
19 The word “honored” (doxazo) elsewhere is translated “glory” and often speaks about glorifying God (Matt 5:16). God’s displeasure, therefore, is understandable since Isa 42:8 declares: “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another…”
20 See BDAG s.v. apecho 1: “to receive in full what is due, to be paid in full, receive in full.”
21 The OT also declares the importance of giving to the poor: Prov 14:20–21, 31 and 19:17.
22 Bear in mind the account of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41–44/Luke 21:1–4).
23 Alcorn writes, “That Christ’s command cannot be literal is self-evident, because a hand lacks the ability to know anything, and a person’s brain would inevitably know what both the right hand and the left and were doing. There is no center of intelligence in one hand as opposed to the other, nor is there an ability for the brain to withhold information from one hand while disclosing that to the other. We aren’t able to throw a switch so that we don’t know we are giving or what we have given.” Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 444.
24 Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 444.
25 The conjunction hopos (“so that”) is used again in Matt 6:18.
26 The word translated “reward” (apodidomi) is a different word from that translated “reward” in 6:2. The word used here literally means “to give from.” The question then is “from what?” From what does God give? His heavenly treasury.
28 Turner, Matthew, 184.
29 This is literally “to shine (phaino) before men.” Believers are admonished to let their lights shine before men but the purpose is that God, not themselves, be glorified (cf. Matt 6:2; 5:16).
30 Morris writes, “In all this Jesus is not condemning public prayer or praying in a public place; it is praying in such a way as to maximize its effect on other people that he condemns.”
31 The word “you” (su) is emphatic—“you” in contrast to the religious leaders.
32 This is an allusion to Isa 26:20 (LXX), which in its context speaks of Israel hiding from judgment in anticipation of blessing. Turner, Matthew, 185.
33 The word battalogeo (“meaningless repetition”) is only used here in the NT. Its meaning is uncertain.
34 Examples of such endless babbling are found in 1 Kgs 18:26 and Acts 19:24–34. The belief was that endless repetition of specific requests endeared the petitioner to God, and hence God would be obligated to answer.
35 In support of the fact that Jesus is not forbidding long prayers is that Jesus Himself is portrayed as praying at length (Luke 6:12). He also repeated Himself in prayer on occasion (Matt 26:44). He further instructed His disciples that “they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Jesus’ point was not that one should avoid long prayers, but one should avoid the Pharisaic misconception that prayers are effective precisely because they are long. Perhaps the best comparative example of prayer in the Bible is the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10–14). The Pharisee prayed thirty-three words compared to the tax collector’s seven. But God heard the shorter prayer because it was offered to Him sincerely rather than out of pride.
36 Davis writes, “The problem was not that the Jews loved to pray. The problem was that the Jews made praying certain prayers a rigid requirement. For example, Jewish custom required all Jews to pray certain passages of Scripture in the morning before 9:00 a.m. and the same passages of Scripture in the evening before 9:00 p.m. Jewish custom, moreover, required that all devout Jews pray 19 specific prayers three times a day—once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. Understandably, because they prayed these prayers day after day after day, there was a tendency for many of the Jews to pray these prayers as quickly as possible and without thinking about what they were actually praying. Their prayers became vain repetitions.” Barry C. Davis, “Prayer 102” (Matt 6:11–15): an unpublished sermon.
37 D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 60–61.
38 Luke’s version is much shorter. It is found in chapter 11:2-4 and not in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6), which is the parallel to Matthew 5–7.
39 See also Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 118; Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 274. Blomberg rightly states that “the Lord’s Prayer” is a better designation for John 17.
40 The Disciple’s Prayer takes approximately thirty seconds to pray. There are precisely seventy–four words in the Greek text of this prayer. There is not a single wasted word.
41 Jesus’ words in 6:9–10 convincingly show that prayer is, first and foremost, about God, not about people. “Hallowed…come…done” are all aorist imperatives placed first in the Greek sentence for emphasis. The placement, the tense, and the mood all speak of urgency and emphasis. This is how believers should reverence God. The phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” refers to all three of these verbs.
42 After spending some time in my own alliteration, I discovered a similar structure in John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew. John Phillips Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 113–16.
43 The top priority is the promotion of God’s reputation, the advancement of God’s rule, and the performance of God’s will. Turner, Matthew, 187.
44 Hagner writes, “Houtos [“in this way”] suggests Jesus’ words are to be used as a model for prayer rather than simply repeated in prayer. Luke (“when you pray, say”), on the other hand, seems to suggest the repetition of the actual words of the prayer (as was already done in the early church).” Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 147.
45 This prayer is not exhaustive; its focus is worship and petition. R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 243.
46 Bible scholars pretty much agree that behind the Greek word pater (“father”) is the word abba in Jesus’ native Aramaic tongue. Rather than the formal word for “father,” abba is the family word, something like the affectionate “Daddy” that we use in English. (See also Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).
47 Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 70.
48 See 2 Sam 7:23; Ezek 36:20; John 17:6, 26.
49 See Matt 4:17; 12:28; Luke 17:21.
50 See Matt 6:10; 13:2ff.; Luke 11:2; John 18:36.
51 This petition is essentially synonymous with the preceding petition (cf. its omission in Luke 11:2). See Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 148.
52 The word translated “daily” (epiousios) in the phrase “our daily bread” appears only here and in Luke 11:3. Up to the last century, no other use of the word was found anywhere else in ancient Greek literature. Scholars struggled over its exact meaning and how they should translate it, until one day a small fragment of papyrus was discovered with this word on it. That little scrap of paper actually turned out to be a woman’s shopping list! It was a note that she had written to remind herself to buy supplies of a certain kind of food for the coming day. Davis, “Prayer 102.” See also Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 203.
53 This is called a metonymy: a part for the whole.
54 Bread has this larger significance in the Bible (cf. Prov 30:8; Mark 3:30; Acts 6:1; 2 Thess 3:12; Jas 2:15).
55 It is worth noting that epiousios (“daily”) can mean “bread for tomorrow.” See NASB alternate translation. Blomberg, Matthew, 120 prefers this option because of the supposed eschatological emphasis.
56 R.T. Kendall, Total Forgiveness (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 73. See the entirety of chapter three, “The Lord’s Prayer and Forgiveness,” pp. 66–93.
57 The word opheilema (“transgressions”) occurs elsewhere only in Rom 4:4, where it refers to a financial obligation.
59 Contra Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 69.
60 Herrick, “The Issue of Forgiveness…”
61 Evans, The Victorious Christian Life, 141.
62 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 68.
63 Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Your Church Sign (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 81.
64 Robert Jeffress, Grace Gone Wild! (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2005), 107.
65 The vast majority of Christians have accepted that leaves three of five common myths about forgiveness that prevent so many people from experiencing the freedom that comes from letting go of offenses: (1) Forgiveness can only be granted to those who remorsefully ask for it. (2) Forgiveness releases our offender of any consequences. (3) Forgiveness requires rebuilding a relationship with our offender. (4) Forgiveness means forgetting our offender’s actions. (5) Forgiveness should be withheld in some extreme situations. See Robert Jeffress, When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2000), 226.
66 Prov 19:11 says, “It is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression.”
69 See also the New Jerusalem Bible: “And do not put us to the test, but save us from the Evil One.”
70 Davis, “Prayer 102.”
71 E.g., NET, HSB, NRSV, NKJV, NIV, NLT.
72 Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 151–52.
73 Turner, Matthew, 189.
74 Davis, “Prayer 102.”
75 Blomberg, Matthew, 121.
76 Long, Matthew, 72.
77 Turner, Matthew, 190.
78 As far as I can determine, fasting is not commanded in the Bible at all unless you draw it from Leviticus 16 and the order for the Day of Atonement. There was only one fast specifically mentioned in the OT, the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev 16), which was observed in the seventh month. The Jewish leaders appointed additional fast days to remember specific times of stress in Israel’s national history (cf. Zech 7:3-5; 8:19).
Fasting is always, or nearly always, a voluntary practice, about which more in a moment. Doug McIntosh, “Kingdom Life, False and True” (Matt 6:1–8, 16–18): http://www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/Matthew/Matt17.pdf, 3–4.
79 Proper fasting is described in Isa 58.
80 Spiritual fasting may involve also a setting aside of certain activities and replacing those activities with other activities that cause us to focus our attention on God (cf. 1 Cor 7:5–6).
When I was a teenager I was into lifting weights. Over the years, I accumulated a lot of muscle books and magazines. These resources were not cheap, but I got my monies’ worth because I read them over and over again. I had a great collection and continually added new editions. After getting married when I was 22, I no longer had the same intense desire to become “buff.” (That tells you a bit about my motivation, doesn’t it?) We ended up keeping a lot of my personal belongings in our basement storage shed. The box that contained all these books was designated to this storage area. One day as I was preparing for my final semester of seminary, I decided I needed to sell my bodybuilding books because Lori’s birthday was a few days away and I needed some cash to buy her a gift. After calling various bookstores in the yellow pages, I decided to take my prized collection to Powell’s—the largest used bookstore in the world. After walking into Powell’s and placing my box on the counter for evaluation, I went to find Lori a good book on quilting. I found one that I liked for $10.00. As I went to purchase the book, I found out that my collection amounted to either $6.00 cash or $7.25 credit. I couldn’t believe it. Every single one of my books cost more than this, and my box was filled to overflowing. Even a professional bodybuilder would have had trouble carrying this box. On two occasions, before signing for my money, I longingly peeked into my box of books. This collection was a part of me, and yet a pittance was all that I could get for it! Needless to say, I humbly took the cash, bought my book, and disappointedly walked out of the store.
On a larger scale, have you purchased a new car, driven it off the lot, and discovered that it depreciated by 33%? Worse yet, have you had someone “key” or rear-end your new car, damaging the showroom appearance? Are you in a situation where you recently purchased a home and now need to move, but you can’t get what you paid for your house? Have you diligently put money away for retirement and now you need to draw upon your earnings, but you’ve lost half of what you invested? Undoubtedly, you’ve experienced that sick feeling in your stomach on account of money and possessions. Do you ever feel that your possessions possess you?1 Most likely, if you’re honest, you’re nodding in agreement. One of God’s goals is for you to realize that your money and possessions are not owned, they are loaned.2 Perhaps you have seen the classic bumper sticker, “You can’t take it with you.” The point of this expression is: There’s no afterlife so live like a pagan, spend everything you have, and go out with a bang! Surprisingly, Jesus agrees with the slogan, “You can’t take it with you.” However, Jesus tacks on an expression: “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead.”3 In Matthew 6:19–24, Jesus shares three directives that will help you send your wealth ahead.
1. Transfer your treasure to heaven (6:19–21).4 Jesus commands you to prioritize heavenly treasures over earthly trinkets. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, this is a message about money! Ugh! I’m going to stop reading now.” Please don’t do this. Sermons on giving are a lot like root canals—they are painful but they are necessary and even helpful.5 In 6:19, Jesus begins with a negative command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” This verse is better rendered, “Stop storing up treasures for yourselves!”6 The words translated “store up” (thesaurizo)7 and “treasures” (thesaurous) have the same root.8 So Jesus is literally saying, “Do not treasure for yourselves treasures.” What does He mean? Should we not bother with a savings account? Is He saying don’t invest in Wall Street? Don’t have any money put aside for tough times that may come? This can’t be what Jesus is saying because the Bible applauds saving9 and caring for our family members.10 The apostle Paul even indicates that you can enjoy what God has given you.11 What Jesus prohibits here is the selfish accumulation of goods.12 Notice the phrase “on earth.” Jesus’ concern is stockpiling on earth rather than stockpiling in heaven. He doesn’t want you to have a wonderful earthly bank account while your spiritual bank account is bouncing checks because what you have stored up is solely for yourself. This is a poor investment. Jesus is clear: You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead.Jesus commands you not to store up treasures on earth because they are temporal. In Jesus’ day banks did not exist, so people saved their wealth in three ways. First, they collected clothes. A nice wardrobe of fine garments was as good as money in the bank.13 These clothes could be sold in the future.14 The only problem was that these garments were very susceptible to moths. And since they didn’t have mothballs and cedar-lined closets, moths would eat holes in the garments.
A second way of accumulating wealth was to store grain in barns.15 Famine was an ever-present reality in the ancient Near East because of the undependable rains. If a man could store his grain until a famine came and prices soared, he could become fabulously wealthy. Most of our English versions indicate that what will destroy the second standard of wealth is rust.16 However, the word “rust” (brosis) conveys the act of eating.17 As a consequence, it is most likely that Jesus is talking about rats, mice, roaches, and termites that eat away the grain.18 Wealth will be destroyed, obliterated, made to vanish.
The third method of saving was to exchange assets for gold. The people in Jesus’ day generally buried their gold under their house floors.19 Palestinian houses were made of baked clay, so a burglar broke in by digging a hole in a wall.20 In fact, thieves in the first-century were called “diggers.”21 Thieves can carry off just about anything, in one way or another. In essence, if moths and vermin don’t destroy your wealth, thieves will break in and rob you blind. No matter what kind of wealth you have and no matter what you do to protect it, eventually it will be gone. Earthly treasures are perishable and vulnerable.22 When you invest heavily in the treasures of this world it is the equivalent of buying a company’s stock the day after they’ve declared bankruptcy. Not a very good deal!23
So why do you and I seek to accumulate “treasure” on earth?24 (1) Security. We want to know that we are taken care of, so what brings us the greatest security of life and soul is to have material security. (2) Personal worth, esteem, and value. Material possessions and wealth often indicate that people are successful in what they have done with their lives. We feel good about ourselves if we dress, drive, dine, and decorate well. (3) Power. With wealth and material success, we believe that we can have and get and be what we want. Wealth gives us control over our own fate and over other people. (4) Independence. With wealth I can be my own “god” and not rely on anyone else. (5) Pleasure. With wealth we can indulge our every fantasy, whether it is the exotic vacation, the luxurious wedding, the finest dining, or the most decadent home.
As tempting as these benefits are, the echo resounds: You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead. Again, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” He is not speculating…He’s speaking of sure things. When He warns you not to store up treasures on earth, it’s not just because wealth might be lost. It’s that wealth will definitely be lost. Either it leaves you while you live, or you leave it when you die.25
If storing up treasures on earth is the wrong priority, what’s the right one? After giving a prohibition, Jesus moves to a positive command. In 6:20 He says, “But store up for yourselves treasures26 in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” Matt 6:20 is one of the clearest verses in the Bible supporting eternal rewards. Now I realize that some people think it’s selfish to seek rewards. While I can appreciate these sentiments, there are some problems with this notion: First, Jesus commands believers to seek eternal rewards. The Greek verb translated “store up” is a command! The verb is also in the present tense and refers to that which is to be the constant pattern and objective of your life. Second, Jesus never rewards selfishness, only selflessness. If Jesus thought that the motivation of rewards was selfish, He would have never commanded this pursuit. We dare not attempt to be more spiritual than Jesus.27 Finally, Jesus is all about treasure—your heavenly treasure—because it glorifies Him! He wants you to keep and enjoy your treasures forever. Since heaven is the only place your treasure will be safe, He commands you to store it up for your good and His glory! You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead.
Suppose I offer you $1,000 to spend today however you want. Not a bad deal. But suppose I give you a choice—you can either have that $1,000 today, or you can have $10 million if you’ll wait one year—then $10 million more every year thereafter. Only a fool would take the $1,000 today. Yet that’s what we do whenever we grab on to what will last for only a moment, foregoing something far more valuable we could enjoy later for much longer. A year may seem a long time to wait. But after it’s done—as when our lives here are done—it will seem like it passed quickly.28 A few years ago, a group of world-class athletes were asked the following question: “If you could take a drug that would cause you to win a gold medal, but it would kill you in ten years, would you take it?” Amazingly, the majority said yes. They’d sacrifice fifty or more years of life for a gold medal.29
What would you give up to have treasure in heaven? Would you be thriftier with your family food budget? Would you occasionally split a meal with your spouse when you eat out? Would you forgo your Starbuck’s addiction? Would you spend less money on Christmas gifts? Would you let go of cable TV? Would you drive a lesser car than you could otherwise afford? Perhaps you would be willing to drive used cars? Would you have a less expensive wardrobe? Maybe you could shop after-holiday sales? Would you sell your large home and downsize to a more modest home? Perhaps you could refinance your mortgage? Maybe you could choose to enjoy simpler or fewer vacations or possibly turn your next family vacation into a mission trip? Or perhaps you could cash in a retirement fund so you can support yourself and serve others? Would you use your work skills to benefit God’s work in a more direct way? Would you negotiate a four-tens workweek so you can devote one full day a week to ministry?30 These are ways that treasures in heaven can be accumulated. Be creative, come up with your own ideas, and let the Holy Spirit direct you. But reflect on these words from Andrew Murray (1794–1866): “We ask how much a man gives; Christ asks how much he keeps.”31 You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead.
In 6:21, Jesus provides the reason for His command to “store up treasures in heaven:” “For where your32 treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If I had been preaching the Sermon on the Mount, I would have reversed these words. I would have said: “For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” Yet, Jesus is smarter than I am. What He’s saying is this: “I want to capture your heart.33 I want you not only to do what is right, but to want to do what is right. And here is my prescription for you: Invest your money in the right things, and your affections will follow your investments.” We have a tendency to turn this principle on its head. We think that the important thing is to feel good about something before we do it. We want our emotions to lead us. If and only if we feel good about doing what is right, then we will do it. Jesus says that life works in the opposite way. Emotions follow motions. Motions create emotions. Investment creates interest. The first step in godly living is to do something that we don’t want—at least emotionally—to do. We take the first step by faith and write a check for something that we really don’t want to write it for. It is only after we do that that we enjoy a sense that God has changed our heart about it.34 Don’t wait for your heart to move on its own, because it might never happen. Instead, begin to move your treasure today to what matters in heaven…and your heart will follow.35 Jesus said what you spend money on or invest money in, you will come to love. Your heart always follows your money. The reason God doesn’t have some people’s wallets is because He doesn’t have their hearts.36
How do you know what has your heart? Let me ask you a few quick questions: (1) What occupies your thoughts when you have nothing else to do? What occupies your daydreams? Is it your investments, your position? If so, those are the things you treasure, and that is where your heart really is. (2) Similarly, what is it that you fret about most? Is it your home or perhaps your clothing? If so, then you know where your treasure lies. (3) Apart from your loved ones, what or whom do you most dread losing? (4) What are the things that you measure others by? Do you measure others by their clothing? By their education? By their homes? By their athletic prowess? Do you measure others by their success in the business world? If so, you know where your treasure lies, for these questions are a very revealing mirror because we measure other people by that which we treasure. (5) Lastly, what is it that you know you cannot be happy without?37
[Jesus directs you to transfer your treasure to heaven because He wants to richly reward you. Now in His second directive, He says…]
2. Recognize your responsibility to be generous (6:22–23).38 Generosity breeds light while stinginess breeds darkness. In 6:22–23 Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” In this context, the eye is used metaphorically.39 Many English versions imply that Jesus is concerned about the health or clarity of the eye. But these translations are somewhat misleading. The KJV is more accurate with its literal rendering, “If your eye is single…if your eye is evil.” (This is where we get the expression “evil eye.”40) But what does it mean to have a “single” eye or an “evil” eye? In our culture, we have various expressions about the eye. Sometimes the eye can describe a person’s physical condition. Someone who is red-eyed or bleary-eyed is tired. Sometimes we refer to the eyes to describe a person’s feelings or character. Someone who is dreamy-eyed is in love. Someone who is sharp-eyed is crafty. Someone who is cock-eyed has a distorted view of reality. Someone who is bug-eyed is excited or surprised. In the Old Testament, we find references to people being single-eyed. A single-eyed person is someone who is generous.41 The New Testament also uses forms of the word to refer to those who are generous.42 When Jesus refers to someone having a single eye, He means that person is someone who gives to others with open-hearted generosity. The warm heart shines through warm eyes. The opposite of the single eye is the evil eye. It refers to a stingy or begrudging spirit.43 The same expression occurs in Jesus’ parable of the generous vineyard owner who paid all his laborers the same wages regardless of the hours they worked. When the workers who had put in a full day’s labor bitterly complained, the owner asked them: “Is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matt 20:15) This crew wanted to have more for themselves, or for the others to have less.44 The evil eye is a stingy spirit. If one’s eye (ethical perception) becomes clouded by greed the result is darkness (selfishness) in the whole self.45 Jesus is saying, “If you look upon the things of this earth with a generous perspective, your life will be useful. If, however, you look upon the things of this earth with greed in mind, then your life will be wasted.”46 Remember, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead. Generous people give of themselves and their money to those who have need.47 As a result, they will experience joy in this life and in the life to come.
A man in New York City had a wife who had a cat. Actually, the cat had her. She loved the cat. She stroked it, combed its fur, fed it, and pampered it. The man detested the cat. He was allergic to cat hair; he hated the smell of the litter box; he couldn’t stand the scratching on the furniture; and he couldn’t get a good night’s sleep because the cat kept jumping on the bed. When his wife was out of town for the weekend, he put the cat in a bag with some rocks, dumped it in the Hudson River, and uttered a joyful goodbye to the cat. When his wife returned and could not find her cat, she was overwhelmed with grief. Her husband said, “Look, honey, I know how much that cat meant to you. I’m going to put an ad in the paper and give a reward of $500 to anyone who finds the cat.” No cat showed up, so a few days later he said, “Honey, you mean more to me than anything on earth. If that cat is precious to you, it is precious to me. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll buy another ad and up the ante. We’ll increase the reward to $1000.” A friend saw the ad and exclaimed, “You must be nuts; there isn’t a cat on earth that is worth $1000.” The man replied, “Well, when you know what I know, you can afford to be generous.”48
If you have an understanding of heavenly treasures and how God’s kingdom works, you can afford to be generous. You can establish priorities by the way you give and live.49 Generosity is possible because you realize that life is short and your money and possessions will fly away like an eagle (Prov 23:5). You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead.
[Jesus has urged you to choose between two treasures (6:19–21) and two eyes (6:22–23). Now He prepares for the climax by discussing two masters. He says…]
3. Choose your master wisely (6:24).50 In this final verse, Jesus explains that you cannot serve God and wealth. He puts it like this: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate51 the one and love52 the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
In Jesus’ day, a slave owner could actually rent out one of his servants to another taskmaster.53 Such an arrangement always put the servant in a bind. What if the two men gave conflicting orders? How was he supposed to respond? Who was he supposed to listen to? Perhaps you’ve been in a situation like this at work, with two supervisors telling you to do two different things, disagreeing about how you should do your job. Frustrating, isn’t it?54 You might be able to have two jobs, but your relationship with God is an exclusive relationship. There’s a throne in your life only big enough for one. Christ may be on the throne or money may be on the throne. But both cannot occupy that throne.55 The reason is simple: God and money are not employers, they are slave owners. Each demands single-minded devotion. You cannot be a full-time slave to two masters. If you serve God with your whole heart, the seductive love of money will be squeezed out.56 Notice, Jesus didn’t say you couldn’t have money; He said you can’t serve it. What does serving money mean? Serving money means that you are consumed with money: you think about it all the time, you bring it up in nearly every conversation, and you are scared to death of losing it. Serving money means that money determines what you do. It calls the shots. Does God tell you what to do with the things you have, or do you go ahead and make those decisions independently of Him? Does God direct your life, or do you do it yourself? That’s His concern. His concern is about priorities. Money is a good servant but a poor master.
In his book, I Talk Back to the Devil, A.W. Tozer writes, “Money often comes between men and God. Someone has said that you can take two small ten-cent pieces, just two dimes, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape. Go to the mountains and just hold two coins in front of your eyes—the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all because there is a dime shutting off the vision of each eye.”
Just as we cannot follow a road that forks, we cannot serve God and wealth at the same time. God requires a single eye and single service.57
In the game of Monopoly, players buy land and collect money. When one player has enough money and at least one monopoly of properties, he or she can buy houses and hotels and collect rent on them. Eventually, one player receives enough rental money through land and building holdings to bankrupt the other players, thus ending the game. Parker Brothers, the makers of Monopoly, take for granted one final instruction—when the game is over, put all the pieces back in the box. People who live for the present, who spend their strength on what cannot last, are like children who play Monopoly as though it were reality. In the end, we all get put in the box and we are gone. What matters is what remains when the game on earth is over.58
One day in the not so distant future, Jesus Christ will return and He will bring the treasures that you have stored up with Him. In the final chapter of the Bible, Jesus’ declares: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev 22:12). He is bringing back what you have invested with Him from the one place in the universe that it can never be lost. Only heavenly treasure can provide genuine security and permanence.59 You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead.
“I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity.”
John Wesley (1703–1791)
“I place no value on anything I possess, except in relation to the kingdom of God.”
David Livingstone (1813–1873)
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”60
Jim Elliot (1927–1956)
1 Corinthians 7:29–31
1 Corinthians 15:41–42
2 Timothy 4:1–10
1 Timothy 6:17–19
1. How am I presently storing up for myself earthly treasures (6:19)? What are my most valuable possessions? In what specific ways have I witnessed the decay and destruction of my belongings? Have I ever been robbed? If so, what did this do to my sense of security and permanence? When and how have I learned about the temporal nature of earthly goods? Do I live in light of Proverbs 23:5? How would I explain this verse to my children?
2. Over the course of my Christian life, how have I stored up treasures in heaven (6:20)? What specific treasures have I sent ahead? How am I going to store up for myself treasures in heaven?
3. Where have I invested my earthly treasures (6:21)? How have my passions followed my financial investments? Where is the Lord asking me to give? Will I obey? If not, why the hesitation? Do I still think that the more things I possess the happier I will be? How can I become more content with what God has entrusted to me?
4. Would others describe me as a generous person (6:22–23)? Why or why not? Andrew Murray (1794–1866) once said, “We ask how much a man gives; Christ asks how much he keeps.” When it comes to the money that God has entrusted to me, how much do I keep for myself and my family? How can I make additional sacrifices to bless others? How can I strive to increase my standard of giving instead of my standard of living?
5. Can I honestly say that God is my only master (6:24)? What person or pursuit competes for first-place in my life? How can I put the Lord back on His rightful throne? Who can hold me accountable in this commitment? Whom do I admire for the way he or she handles money? What does that person do that I would like to emulate or do better?
1 Read Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7:29–31.
2 Erwin Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 104.
3 Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, revised and updated (Wheaton: Tyndale, 2003). 97.
4 See the parallel in Luke 12:33–34.
5 Robert Jeffress, Guilt- Free Living (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1995), 107.
6 France points out, “A present imperative in the negative often implies that the act prohibited is already occurring, as against an aorist subjunctive, used to prevent something contemplated but not yet actual.” R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 258.
7 For other NT uses of the verb see Luke 12:21; Rom 2:5; 1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 12:14; Jas 5:3; and 2 Pet. 3:7.
8 The English word thesaurus is drawn from these Greek words.
9 Prov 6:6–11.
10 1 Thess 4:11–12; 2 Thess 3:6–15; 1 Tim 5:8.
11 1 Tim 4:3–4; 6:17.
12 Luke 12:15; Jas 5:2–3.
13 See Gen 37:3; 2 Kgs 5:23.
14 The average person in the first-century might have only three or four garments in his or her lifetime.
15 See esp. Luke 12:18.
16 The Greek language, however, has another word for rust (ios) that destroys metal (see Jas 5:3). Nevertheless, if the translation “rust” is correct this term may refer to idols (Neh 9:18; Isa 41:7; Dan 11:8), since the possession of idols was a form of wealth in ancient times (Gen 31:19, 34; Hos 8:4).
17 Brosis is translated “food, meat” everywhere but here (see John 4:32; 6:27, 55; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 8:4; 2 Cor 9:10; Col 2:16; Heb 12:16).
18 David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 196. It is likely that Matt 6:19–20 alludes to Isa 51:8.
19 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 157.
20 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 211–12.
21 The verb used in connection with the thief (diorusso) literally means to “dig.” Archaeological discoveries have found that people during Jesus’ time often placed their valuables in the ground under their house. This functioned like a safe. Stealing someone’s wealth would therefore require digging directly where the wealth was located or channeling through the mud bricks of the house walls at an angle and coming to the safe from the side.
22 Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 121.
23 This is why Jesus called the man who never stored up treasure for himself a “fool” (Luke 12:13–21).
24 Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 303.
25 Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 97.
26 Paul uses similar language in 1 Tim 6:19.
27 Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 142.
28 Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 104.
29 Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: Living Today in Light of Tomorrow (Irving, TX: GES, 2003), 83.
30 See also Bruce Wilkinson, A Life God Rewards Devotional (Sisters: Multnomah, 2002), 104–105.
31 Bruce Wilkinson with David Kopp, A Life God Rewards Devotional (Sisters: Multnomah, 2002), 101.
32 It is worth noting that the pronouns in this verse are singular while the pronouns in 6:19–20 are plural. The change to singular emphasizes personal responsibility as opposed to corporate responsibility; even if others do not listen, the one who hears Jesus’ commands should obey.
33 Your heart is your intellectual and volitional core, the source of your deeds (Matt 15:17–20).
34 Doug McIntosh, “A Rationale for Living” (Matt 6:19–21): http://www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/Matthew/Matt21.pdf.
35 Wilkinson, A Life God Rewards, 89.
36 Tony Evans, Time to Get Serious (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 104.
37 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
38 See the parallel in Luke 11:34–36.
39 Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 158; Talbert, Matthew, 122.
40 Turner, Matthew, 197.
41 Prov 22:9.
42 Paul uses the noun form of the word “single” to refer to those who are generous (Rom 12:8; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:11, 13). James uses the adverb to refer to God who gives generously (Jas 1:5).
43 Prov 23:6; 28:22; Deut 15:9.
44 David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 90–91.
45 Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount, 122.
46 Ed Glasscock, Matthew. Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 154.
47 We are responsible to help those who are in need, especially the family of faith (Prov 19:17; Acts 11:27–30; Rom 15:25–27; 2 Cor 8:1–15; Gal 6:7–10; Eph 4:28; 1 Tim 5:3–7). We are also called to encourage and support God’s work in spreading the gospel of the kingdom both at home and around the world (1 Cor 9:3–14; Phil 4:14–19; 1 Tim 5:17–18). Wilkins, Matthew.
48 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 213–14.
49 Tragically, Christians now give less than 2% of their income to Christian or charitable causes. Yet, giving was 3% during the Great Depression.
Church Leaders Intelligence Report Enclosed: 08/13/08.
50 See the parallel in Luke 16:13.
51 The verb “hate” (miseo) is a Hebrew idiom that meant “to love less” or “to be indifferent toward” (see Gen 29:30, 31, 33; Deut 21:15; Mal 1:2-3; Matt 21:15; Luke 14:26; John 12:25; Rom 9:13).
52 Jer 8:2 indicates that “to love” means “to serve” (to be devoted to).
53 An example of this may be the slave-girl in Acts 16:16.
54 Ken Hemphill, Empowering Kingdom Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004), 240.
55 Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 105.
56 Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward, 110.
57 Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 93.
58 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 217–18.
59 Turner, Matthew, 196.
60 Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, 94.
One morning Death was walking into a city when a man stopped him and asked what he was doing. Death answered, “I’m going into the city to kill 10,000 people.” The man replied, “That’s terrible that you would kill 10,000 people.” Death responded, “Taking people when their time has come is my job. Today I have to get my 10,000.” Later, as Death was coming out of the city, the man met him. Again, he was furious. He said, “You told me this morning that you were going to take 10,000 people, but 70,000 died today.” Death answered, “Don’t get mad at me. I only took 10,000. Worry killed all the rest.”1
Worry has an uncanny knack for killing people. The poet Robert Frost (1874–1963) wrote, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is because more people worry than work.” Seriously, worry has become an American pastime. For many people, worry has become so ingrained in their personalities that once the old worries are gone they search for new ones. They’ve become dependent on worry as a lens through which to view life, and they’ve forgotten any other way to live.2 Is there reason to be worried today? Most people would say there is. High energy costs, a worsening economy, rogue nuclear nations, threats of terrorism, widespread job layoffs, and tension in the Middle East—all these make for uncertain times.3 Economic stress is taking its toll on Americans’ emotional and physical health. Surveys show that more than half of Americans report irritability, anger, fatigue, or sleeplessness. Almost half say they self-medicate by overeating or indulging in unhealthy foods. Money and the economy topped the list of stressors for at least 80 percent of those surveyed. Finances now overshadow the more typical daily stressors of work and relationships.4
Fortunately, in the midst of a world of “worry-warts,” Jesus isn’t worried. Even better, He has a definitive Word for you. In Matthew 6:25–34,5 He says, “Don’t worry, be hopeful.” Now there are some passages in the New Testament that are difficult to interpret, but this is not one of them. Jesus uses the word “worry” six times and He says, “Don’t worry” three times. Jesus is against high anxiety and unhealthy worry. Consequently, He provides two reasons you shouldn’t worry.
1. Worry is an exercise in futility (6:25–30). Jesus promises to meet your needs because He cares for you. He begins this section with a negative command: “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on” (6:25a). The phrase “For this reason” ties back to 6:24.6 Jesus’ point is: If you can’t serve God and money, then you can’t worry7 about the material things that money can buy.8 The phrase “do not be worried” can be literally translated “stop worrying.”9 Jesus wants His followers to stop worrying over food, drink, and clothes because He will meet their basic material needs. Now, I need to put forth two disclaimers. First, don’t worry doesn’t mean don’t plan. The King James Version translates the phrase “do not be worried” as “take no thought.”10 This is misleading because it gives the impression that future planning is unnecessary. Over the years, many people have mistakenly assumed that this is a prohibition against career ambition, financial planning, and life insurance. But this is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is pro-planning! He wants you to work hard and plan for your future. To do otherwise is to be foolish. Second, don’t worry doesn’t mean don’t be concerned. If you’re not concerned about your children playing near traffic, you’re a terrible parent.11 If you’re not concerned about your health, you’re a fast-food junkie. You need to have some degree of healthy concern.12 Otherwise you won’t meet deadlines or go in for medical checkups.13 The root idea of the verb “worry” (merimnao) means “to be pulled apart.”14 There’s a difference between concern and worry. Concern is when you can do something to help a situation, so you do what you can do. Worry is when you can’t do something, but you don’t want to leave it up to God. In other words, worry is concern gone haywire.15 You can spiritualize it all you want, but worry is a sin. If you are a worrying Christian, you are a sinning Christian. It doesn’t carry much weight with Jesus that He’s your first love, then you act like you can’t trust Him to look after you. Worry is a hideous sin to God because it is an indictment against Him, a slap at His love. So don’t worry, be hopeful.
Jesus now gives four reasons why you shouldn’t worry.
Fog can blanket a city for seven blocks and be as much as 100 feet deep. But if you could take that fog and change it into water, it would only fill up a single glass. Worry is like a gigantic fog that can blind you and cause you to take your eyes off of the Lord. But when you see worry for what it really is, you realize that it is nothing more than a mere glass of water. When you try to actually grab onto the worry that you are consumed with, it is so fleeting that it isn’t even there.37 Jesus says, “God will guide you through the fog of worry if you let Him lead the way. He alone can overcome your worries. Don’t worry, be hopeful.
[Worry is an exercise in futility. Why is this so? For the simple reason that Jesus will meet our material needs. Jesus now provides a second reason we shouldn’t worry.]
2. Worry is a demonstration of faithlessness (6:31–34). These verses repeat the prohibition from 6:25, summarize the reasons for 6:26–30, and draw a conclusion.38 Jesus says, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’” The prohibition is stated in 6:31: “Do not worry.” The grammar in 6:31 is different than 6:25. Here, Jesus is saying, “Do not begin worrying” (cf. Phil 4:6).39 In 6:32–33 two reasons are given for why you should not worry.40 First, “the Gentiles [i.e. the unconverted41] eagerly seek all these things” (6:32a). In Jesus’ day, the pagans pursued food, drink, and clothing because they didn’t know God as a loving Father. They were tormented by anxiety because they believed their future was in the hands of Fate and Fortune.42 Jesus is saying that worry is practical atheism.43 When you and I worry, we are behaving just like unbelievers. Do I ever worry? Of course I do. I have many responsibilities and pressures. Yet, my desire is for worry to be a small town I pass through, not a place to hang my hat. I want worry to be a momentary phase, not a lifestyle. The second reason not to worry is: “your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (6:32b). If my children worried about whether I was going to feed and clothe them, I would feel pretty bad about the way they thought of me as a father. They indict me when they worry. When you worry, you are saying, “God, I don’t really know about You. I’m not sure You are a caring God. I’m not sure You are a providing God. You are good for church on Sunday, but I’m not sure about You. So I’ve got to take care of this myself.” God will take care of you. Don’t worry, be hopeful.
After providing two reasons not to worry, Jesus gives a command in 6:33a. Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” This is a present tense command. The word “seek” (zeteo) was used to describe the activity of a hunter who hides in a blind to hunt birds. He is hunting for food, not just for sport. He focuses his whole mind on those birds. His eye always looks for them. He keeps his bow and arrows ready. The birds will be within shooting range for only a moment, so he is constantly alert. Just as a bird hunter makes birds the center of his attention, you are to make God’s kingdom your top priority.44
This means if you are to be anxious about anything, it should be the affairs of God’s kingdom.45
In 6:33b, Jesus now moves from a command to a promise. He states that if you fulfill the condition of seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness “all these things [material necessities] will be added to you.”46 Jesus specifically limits this promise to those who obey 6:33a. Rather than a blanket promise, this is a conditional promise that applies to disciples who are sold out to Christ. Those committed to building their own temporary financial kingdom receive no such assurances. This promise is hopeful upon seeking first God’s kingdom. This is not a license for laziness. One element of seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness is working. Disciples are promised survival, not affluence.47
Is this promise always fulfilled? Does God always provide for the needs of His children throughout the world? When Christians seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, they will become world Christians, and He will meet the needs of those in poverty in other parts of the world. God is not saying that there will never be anyone who starves. These are maxims that are generally true but not exhaustively true. This statement is much like the book of Proverbs in the sense that it states general principles. They are not meant to explain every individual particular occurrence. Sometimes God will provide a time of need in order for believers to trust Him, turn to Him, or to improve their character. Nevertheless, as David said in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.” Don’t worry, be hopeful.
In 6:34, Jesus hammers the death nail in worry. 48 For the third and final time He says: “So do not worry about tomorrow.” Jesus then gives two reasons you should not worry. First, “tomorrow will care for itself” (6:34b). The problem with worrying about tomorrow is you never run out of tomorrows. You must learn to live life one day at a time. God only gives you help you need for today. He doesn’t give you tomorrow’s help today. So don’t worry about what you are going to do tomorrow, because when you get to tomorrow, God’s grace will be there to meet you and give you what you need.49 As Mark Twain once said, “I’m an old man and I’ve known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”50
A second reason not to worry is: “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (6:34c). Jesus is saying something quite interesting: You won’t sink under the burden of today’s crisis, but tomorrow’s agenda puts you over the weight limit. Have you ever tried to carry too many bags of groceries at the same time? I have. I’m a “one-tripper.” I carry in all the bags at one time. It doesn’t matter how many there are. I will strap five or six plastic bags to each wrist and load myself down. I know what you’re saying, “He’s a manly man!” Yes, indeed! But there’s only one problem. Recently, a gallon milk jug fell out of my arms and exploded on our garage floor. I have also spilled eggs and bruised fruit. I leave spills all over the place. The lesson is: Don’t carry too much baggage at once. Learn to make multiple trips instead of one. Jesus tells you to carry today’s bag today and make a fresh trip tomorrow.51
Tomorrow will have trouble. It is unavoidable. No Christian should ever be caught in what I call the “then syndrome.” “Then things are going to be trouble-free.” “When I get married, then I’ll be beyond trouble.” Yeah, right! “When I have children, then I’ll be trouble-free.” Okay, scratch that one. “When I get a promotion, then I will be happy.” Nope! It is futile to try to live a problem-free life. You can spend all your time and energy fortifying the castle of your life, but there is always a place that goes unguarded. Tomorrow will have its challenges and trials, no matter how hard you try to prevent them.52 Leave tomorrow alone. When that day dawns, God will give you the grace and the strength you need for it. At the present time, you have the grace and the strength He has given you for today. Your calendar gives each day its own number. Live them in that order, just as God arranged them. Stay in one square at a time.53 Someone said, “Worrying doesn’t rob tomorrow of its sorrow, it robs today of its strength.”54 Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t worry, be hopeful.
If you’re a chronic worrier, here’s a suggestion you might find helpful. First, find a shoebox. Tape the lid on, and then cut a little hole in it. Call it your “worry box.” Whenever you feel tempted to worry, write your worry on a piece of paper and drop it in the box. You can say, “Lord, this is my concern, and it has the potential to become a worry. You have told me not to worry, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put it in my worry box and let You take responsibility for it. Anything that I put in this box will be there because I can’t handle it. Once it’s in the box, I’m going to trust You to handle it for me, Lord.”55
My little daughter, Jena, loves to jump into my arms. She climbs onto our bed and says, “Daddy, Daddy, I’m going to jump into your arms and you’re going to catch me. Right, Daddy?” She demonstrates her trust in me by taking a leap off our bed. Do you think I’ve ever dropped her? No, not on your life! I always catch her and I always will. Jena has no fear that her daddy won’t catch her. Likewise, God asks you to take a leap of faith and trust in His ability to catch you. He is trustworthy and He alone can meet your needs. So trust Him today.
Philippians 4:6–7, 12–13, 19
1 Timothy 6:9–10
Psalm 37:25; 104:27–28
1. How could Jesus’ words in 6:25–34 be used to justify idleness? Is there a difference between being anxious and being irresponsible? Read Matthew 25:14–30. How does this parable help answer these questions? See also Acts 20:34–35; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; and 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13. Why is a godly work ethic emphasized in the Scriptures?
2. What do I worry about the most? Why? What does constant worry reveal about my faith? How do my biblical values and convictions determine how I handle life? How can worry be a form of practical atheism for me? Who will hold me accountable for my worry?
3. What are the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual consequences of worry in my own life? How has worry affected those around me? Read Philippians 4:4–7. What concepts stand out to me? How could this passage change my perspective and circumstances for the better?
4. Has there ever been a time when I have really worried over my material needs? How has God faithfully met all of my needs? What is “enough” when it comes to money and possessions? Am I able to draw the line when “enough is enough?” Read 1 Timothy 6:6–8. Are these verses a good commentary on Matthew 6:25–34? Why or why not?
5. Augustine (354–430) said, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee [God].” How can I consciously and continually find rest in God? What causes me to feel restless? What can I do to consciously prepare myself to abide in Christ during these seasons?
1 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 221.
2 David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville: Word, 2001), 61–62.
3 David Jeremiah, “Worried about the Future,” Today’s Turning Point, 10/1/08.
4 SermonNews.com, “Health Takes Hit as Economy Creates More Stress,” cited in USA Today, 10/7/2008.
5 Cf. Luke 12:22–31.
6 Ed Glasscock, Matthew. Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 154. Matt 6:25–34 may encompass the entirety of Matt 6:19–24. See Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 163; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 157.
7 Matthew uses the verb merimnao (“worry”) seven times in his gospel (6:25, 27, 28, 31, 34 [2x]; 10:19). Six of these occurrences are found in 6:25–34.
8 David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 198.
9 The present imperative with the negative me (“not”) implies to stop what is already in progress (cf. Matt 6:19).
10 This phraseology is repeated again in Matt 6:34.
11 Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 56.
12 Wilkins writes, “Sometimes merimnao expresses an appropriate feeling of intense concern and care for something, such as the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 7:32) or someone’s welfare (Phil. 2:20). In this case we can render this word in English as “concern.” Concern is appropriate when it is directed toward right things, kept within bounds, and causes us to do our proper duty. However, merimnao also expresses intense feelings of anxiety about issues of life, such as what to say when arrested for preaching the gospel (Matt. 10:19), about many less important things (Luke 10:41), or about the pressing daily matters of life.” Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 296.
13 David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 93.
14 Dockery & Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 94.
15 Tony Evans, “Overcoming the Stronghold of Worry,” The Alternative View (7/2001).
16 Tony Evans, Returning to Your First Love (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 277–78.
17 Tony Evans, Time to Get Serious (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 106.
18 Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 57.
19 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 224.
20 “You” (humeis) is emphatic. The disciples are far more valuable than birds.
21 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 264. See John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978), 164.
22 Job 38:41 and Ps 147:9 promise that God provides for the ravens. This is an interesting point because Jesus most likely had in mind ravens who were unclean birds under the Old Testament law (see Lev 11:15 and Deut 14:14).
23 Wilkins, Matthew, 297.
24 Rowell, Go the Distance, 107–108.
25 Phillips writes, “The only person who succeeded in increasing his lifespan was King Hezekiah. Fifteen years were added to his life and during that time Manasseh, his son and heir, was born to him. But when Hezekiah saw what Manasseh was like, he doubtless wished he had died at God’s appointed time (Isaiah 38:1–5; 2 Chronicles 33:1–10).” John Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew. John Phillips Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 120.
26 It’s possible for Matt 6:27 to be translated, “adding a cubit to one stature” (see NASB note). However, the word helikia (“life”) usually refers to length of days or age rather than the height of one’s stature. BDAG s.v. helikia 1. The word pechus (“hour”) does indeed refer to a cubit (approx. eighteen inches), but this does not seem to make sense in the context, even as hyperbole. Words for space measurements can be used metaphorically as time measurements (Ps 39:5). See Turner, Matthew, 198.
27 Tony Evans, “Overcoming the Stronghold of Worry,” The Alternative View (7/2001).
28 Ed Rowell, Go the Distance (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002) 103.
29 Plants have a short lifespan (Pss 37:2; 90:5–6; 102:11; 103:15–16; Isa 40:6–8; Jas 1:10–11; 1 Pet 1:24–25).
30 This is a first class conditional sentence which Matthew assumes to be true. God does provide for His creation.
31 Though traditionally krinon has been regarded as a type of lily, scholars have suggested several other possible types of flowers, including an anemone, a poppy, a gladiolus, and a rather inconspicuous type of daisy. In view of the uncertainty, the more generic “flowers” is to be preferred. See NET Study notes
32 Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 75.
33 The green grass of spring when cut, dried, and bundled was a natural source of fuel for fire ovens and was a common biblical metaphor for dramatic changes of fortune and for human frailty and transience.
34 Jesus rebukes His disciples with this phrase in Matt 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; and 17:20. The phrase is only used elsewhere in Luke 12:28. France writes, “‘Faith,’ in Matthew, means the confidence that God can and will act on his people’s behalf.” France, The Gospel of Matthew, 270. Morris notes, “Whenever this term occurs in the New Testament, it is always applied to the disciples.” Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 170.
35 Wilkins, Matthew, 298.
36 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 229.
37 Doug McIntosh, “Dealing With Worry” (Matt 6:25–34): http://www.cornerstonebibch.org/html/Sermons/Matthew/Matt23.pdf, 6.
38 Turner, Matthew, 200.
39 This is the same verb that is used in 6:25. In 6:25 it is a present tense imperative; here it is an aorist subjunctive. Morris writes, “If there is a difference, Jesus is now telling them [His disciples] not to begin to be anxious about anything, whereas in the earlier verse he spoke of the continuing attitude.” Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 160 n. 102.
40 See also Isa 26:3: “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.”
41 See NET.
42 Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 127.
43 Robert H. Mounce, Matthew. A Good News Commentary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 58.
44 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 231.
45 Philips, Exploring the Gospel of Matthew, 121.
46 This passage does not mean that food, drink, and clothing will come to disciples automatically without work or foresight. The text addresses only the problem of undue anxiety about these things. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 166–67.
47 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 272.
48 The language in this verse is similar to the saying found in Prov 27:1. James also seems to draw upon this verse (Jas 4:13–15).
49 Evans, Returning to Your First Love, 284.
50 Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 65.
51 Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 63.
52 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
53 Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 65.
54 Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 60.
55 Evans, “Overcoming the Stronghold of Worry.” See also Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life, 68.
This past Thursday evening, I was reading a discipleship book to my children. At the end of each chapter there are discussion questions. One question was: “What negative characteristic turns people off about Christians?” As I posed this question to my children my boys responded by saying, “When Christians judge other people.” WOW! Honestly, I was taken aback by this response because my boys are eleven and nine. I wondered, “How could they know this so early in their Christian maturity?” I concluded that it is an intuitive. Even young Christians can sniff out inappropriate judgment.
It goes without saying that unbelievers pounce all over Christian hypocrisy and judgment. A Hindu professor once found out that a man in his class was a Christian. The professor said to this student, “If you Christians were like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” A learned Muslim who recently became a Christian said, “If Christians were truly Christians—like Christ—there would be no Islam.”1 A USA Today poll shows 72% of unchurched Americans agree that a God exists, but the same percentage says “the church is full of hypocrites.” 44% say Christians get on their nerves.2 People flat-out don’t like Christians. Yet, when is the last time you heard someone say, “Man, Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists get on my nerves!” It doesn’t happen, does it? People show respect and honor to these religions. Now it’s easy to object, “This just isn’t fair. The media has turned Christians into cultural punching bags.” Yet, we must ask, “Have we brought some of this pain upon ourselves?” If we’re honest and humble, we would probably have to say, “Yes, guilty as charged.” Just stop and think for a moment. Are you notorious for criticizing the media? Politicians? Your teachers? Your pastors? Your boss? Your coworkers? Your neighbors? Your friends? Seriously, can you even watch a football game without being critical of the quarterback, the coach, or the referee? Most Christians are critical. Some are even bold enough to boast that their spiritual gift is criticism. Yet Jesus says, “Be slow to judge others and quick to judge yourself.” In Matthew 7:1–12, Jesus gives two exhortations dealing with judicious judgment.
1. Judge with humility not superiority (7:1–5).3 In this first section, Jesus clarifies how you should relate to other believers in the matter of judgment.4 In 7:1, Jesus tells you what you shouldn’t do: “Do not judge.”5 No sentence in the Bible is more familiar, more misunderstood, and more misapplied than Matt 7:1. Therefore, we must first determine what this verse doesn’t mean. “Do not judge” doesn’t mean you can’t say anything critical or pointed to another person. In this context, Jesus Himself alludes to certain people as dogs and pigs (7:6). He also warns His disciples, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (7:15). In both of these examples, Jesus makes a judgment about various individuals. Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus requires His disciples to confront believers who are in sin (18:15–17). Furthermore, the New Testament is clear that Christians are to judge both error and sin.6 So despite what many people believe, the ideal Christian is not an undiscerning, all-accepting jellyfish who lives out the misinterpretation of “judge not.”7 Christians can and should judge.
So what does this verse mean? First, you are not to pass final judgment on any person.8 Final judgment belongs to the Lord. You are not in the condemning business. If anyone needs to be condemned, God Himself can take care of that. You should have no part in it. This is why curses like “God damn you” or “Go to hell” are so wicked! The one who utters these curses is attempting to play God! Second, you are not to judge the motives of others. The Bible says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Often we are quick to come to negative conclusions about others based on why we think they did something. But try as we might, we see only the outside. God alone sees the heart. What Christ means when He says “Do not judge” is that we are to refrain from hypercritical, condemning judgment. There is a universe of difference between being discerningly critical and hypercritical. A discerning spirit is constructive; a hypercritical spirit is destructive.9 All of this means you can judge what people do; you cannot judge why they do it. You can judge what people say; you cannot judge why they say it.
In 7:1b–2, Jesus tells you what God will do. He says the reason that you shouldn’t judge is “so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged;10 and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”11 When Jesus says “Do not judge so that you will not be judged,” He uses a future passive verb. He is referring to being judged at the judgment seat of Christ.12 In other words, God will use the same basic standard you use to evaluate others when He evaluates you!13 In Matt 5:7 Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.” If you are gracious in your dealings with other people’s failures and shortcomings now, you will receive mercy in the future when the Lord evaluates your life. As the old saying goes, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”14 The longer I am in pastoral ministry, the greater my empathy for the struggles of my pastoral colleagues. The longer I walk with Christ, the more I empathize with my fellow believers. The longer I am married and strive to raise a family, the more I can empathize with other couples and parents. It is hard to be who you want to be, isn’t it? I want to grant grace and extend mercy to others. I want to believe the best and be kind. But when necessary I want to love brothers and sisters enough to call them on sin.
In 7:3–5, Jesus tells you what you should do. He uses an illustration that comes from His background as a carpenter’s son (13:55).15 He puts it like this: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”16 Undoubtedly, Jesus didn’t say this with a straight face. He must have been smiling and giggling as He said this. Visualize a man with a plank in his eye walking through the lobby of the church trying to find a person with a speck of sawdust in his eye that he might remove it! But the very image of such a man looking into a mirror but unable to see the plank in his eye because he is blinded by the plank is funny indeed. Again, Jesus did not say that Christians are not to judge under any circumstances. His warning was against hypocritical judgment—someone with a “log” in his eye passing judgment on someone with a “speck” in his eye (7:3). He was warning disciples not to make the mistake of the Pharisees! Jesus’ concern was making sure that we are qualified to judge. This is why He said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (7:5). Thus, believers are to judge error and sin, but in a gracious and non-judgmental fashion.
We naturally tend to exaggerate. We often inflate the faults of others while at the same time underestimating our own.17 You could say we are perfectionists when it comes to other people, but extremely tolerant when it comes to ourselves.18 We find it so easy to turn a microscope on another person’s sin while we look at ours through the wrong end of a telescope!19 Yet, when we let Jesus convict us of our sin, we will be able to judge others with humility, sensitivity, and compassion.
Have you ever had someone attempt to help you remove something from your eye? If so, you can readily understand the amount of gentleness and tenderness that’s required. The eye is very sensitive. It takes a compassionate hand and a delicate touch to do surgery in the eye. When you have eye trouble, you need a doctor who knows what he is doing because even the slightest mistake can have catastrophic consequences. In the same way, when we minister to one another in the Christian community, we must do so only after careful introspection to make sure our own motives are pure. Then we can proceed with appropriate care and humility.20 Sometimes in our haste to help others, we can cause more damage than the original speck of dirt caused. This doesn’t mean you must be perfect before you can correct another Christian. However, Jesus’ words do require you to have dealt as decisively as possible with any obvious areas of disobedience in your own life before you attempt to correct someone else. Otherwise, it is as if you are attempting to perform surgery blindfolded. In that situation, neither the patient nor the doctor feels confident!21 Moreover, if you are committing the same sin, the judgment you pass on someone else boomerangs on you. And you definitely don’t want that! Remember, be slow to judge others and quick to judge yourself.
There are a number of ways you can lovingly confront a person.22
1. Make sure your own heart is right with God before you confront someone.
2. Pray for the person that needs to be confronted.
3. Set up a time with the person to talk, in private without interruption, but don’t put it off.
4. When the occasion calls for it, confront immediately.
5. Don’t take out your own anger on someone.
6. Begin with a word of encouragement.
7. Ask the person, “If I could share something with you that would help you, would you want me to?”
8. State the issue as you see it. Give your perspective on the issue. Say, “This is the way I see it, please help me to understand.” Admit that maybe you misunderstood or got the wrong perspective.
9. Ask how you can help the person.
10. Be confidential.
11. Pray for the person.
[How can you judge judiciously? By judging with humility not superiority. The second exhortation that Jesus gives is…]
2. Judge with wisdom not independence (7:6–12).23 In this section, Jesus indicates that the only way to proceed with confidence in judging is by first requesting wisdom in prayer. Admittedly, not every Bible student agrees with this understanding. Some hold that 7:6, 7–11, and 12 are all independent sayings of Jesus that have no connection to 7:1–5. Yet, this is unlikely for four reasons. First, there is a structural connection. In both sections (7:1–5 and 6–12), there is a similar structure made up of three elements: what you shouldn’t do, what God will do, and what you should do.24 Second, there is a grammatical connection. The word “therefore” in 7:12 implies that the final verse in this section ties back to the previous eleven verses. Third, there is a personal connection. Jesus is challenging us to redirect our destructive energies to that of productive prayer. More than this, nothing neutralizes a critical spirit more than prayer. You cannot long be angry at those for whom you are praying, seeking their salvation and best interest (cf. 5:44). Lastly, there is a practical connection. We have just been taught by the Lord that we are not to be critical of others, standing over them as their judge. How can I distinguish between destructive criticism and discernment? It is a difficult, even impossible, assignment. I must have divine enablement.25
In 7:6, Jesus tells you what you shouldn’t do, with a most unusual statement: “Do not give what is holy to dogs,26 and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Today dogs are loved as pets and pigs are loved as breakfast. But in Jesus’ day, dogs and pigs were despised because they were unclean animals. When you read the term “dogs” you likely think of well-groomed household pets that are called “man’s best friend.” But in Jesus’ day dogs lived in filth, running the streets and scavenging for food (Ps 59:14–15). These dogs Jesus is referring to are not poodles; they are Dobermans who have not been fed for a week. In fact, the bizarre behavior of dogs produced fear, because their often intense hunger could cause them to attack and eat humans (cf. Ps 22:16–17). Can you imagine giving holy food from the temple to an unclean dog scavenger? Of course not!
The pig in the ancient world is far different than modern cartoon characters like “Porky Pig.” Although pork was a highly prized food among many people in the ancient Mediterranean world, it was rejected by Jews, probably because pigs, like dogs, were scavenging animals. Their omnivorous habits occasionally led pigs to feed on decaying flesh, a practice deplorable to Jews. Pigs were often dangerous because they ravaged fields (Ps 80:13), and while running wild in city streets were often responsible for the death of little children. Pearls were extremely precious. To throw them into the pig pen would be to not only lose them in the slime, but also to anger the pig, who might come after you for throwing him inedible food.
You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize that these terms “dogs” and “swine” are figures of speech for people. They are not complimentary terms, either.27 But exactly who are these dogs and hogs? Jesus is talking about people who openly reject the gospel of Christ.28 He is not talking about unbelievers, but enemies of the gospel. Jesus is saying don’t cram the truth down close-minded people’s throats. Don’t waste your words on those who will not listen. Rather, go to those who are receptive and hungry for hope. The descriptions “what is holy” and “pearls” most likely refers to the message of the gospel (13:45–46), indicating that this holy message must not be defiled by those who are unreceptive to, or have rejected, Jesus’ invitation. Something so valuable should not be given to those who have no appreciation for such precious truths; their nature is demonstrated by their rejection of that message. It is a warning against mistaken zeal in proclaiming the gospel to those whose only intent is mockery or ridicule, or worse.29
This verse should be understood as a warning against gullibility, the opposite of judgmentalism.30 You will have to be very careful in how you apply this verse. It is easy to say, “Well, I’m not going to throw my pearls before swine anymore.” My spouse, my sibling, or my parent has not been responsive to the gospel. They have even mentally or emotionally persecuted me. That may be the case, but you still bear the responsibility to love your family member and share Christ with him or her. It is unlikely that he or she is a dog or pig, regardless of what you may think. The key here is pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray that the Lord would show you how to go about persevering in difficult relationships with unbelievers who are hostile in their rejection of Christ and His gospel. Pray the Lord would make it clear when it is time to move on to more fertile fields (John 4:35–36; cf. Matt 9:36).
In 7:7–11, Jesus tells you what God will do as He transitions into a section on prayer.31 He says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” These five great verses on prayer have become the bread-and-butter of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity movement. It is suggested that these verses support “Name it and claim it” theology. This view sees God as a celestial slot machine. Pull the handle enough times in prayer, be persistent, and you will get what you want!32 However, these verses are not prayer verses for anything in general, but specifically for wisdom in judgment!33 In the Old Testament, King Solomon asked for wisdom, and God granted him wisdom (1 Kgs 3–4). In the New Testament, James said, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5). The expectation is that Christians will faithfully ask God for wisdom in dealing with conflict and judgment. It should be unthinkable that you would approach anyone without first seeking the Lord in prayer. Not just once or twice but continually. These are present tense imperatives: “Keep on asking and it will be given to you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.” Pray for the person’s response before you think about approaching him or her. Pray for hard hearts to be softened. Pray for wisdom on how to approach the brother or sister in sin. Pray for repentance and the reconciliation of relationships.
Will God respond to such prayers? Absolutely! Look at the comparisons in 7:9: bread and fish; stone and snake. What’s the point? Very simply, bread and fish are good for you; stones and snake are not. The earthly son has requested two good items, the earthly father responds accordingly. The reverse is also true. If an earthly son asks for a stone to eat, any loving father would refuse. (Everyone needs minerals in their diet, but this goes a bit too far!) God knows how to give you what is good for you. This is especially true in matters of conflict. He is not going to let you down. You know how much you want to bless your children, right? Well, God as the perfect Father wants to do right by His children. He wants to bless you and give you what is good.
In 7:12, Jesus tells you what you should do. He concludes this passage and the body of the Sermon on the Mount with the so-called “Golden Rule:” “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12).34 This is one of the most misunderstood statements in the Bible.35 This statement is not the sum total of Christian truth, nor is it God’s plan of salvation. We should no more build our theology on the “Golden Rule” than we should build our astronomy on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”36 When taken in isolation though, this verse seems to suggest “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours;” if you want someone to do something for you, then do the same for them. Yet, “you get what you give” hardly seems to be a fitting climax for the body of the Sermon on the Mount.37 Rather, this is practical outworking of the Old Testament law in Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This verse applies specifically to 7:1–11. We should ask, therefore, “How would I want others to treat me in view of my sinfulness and obvious flaws?” I would not want to be harshly criticized or smugly condemned. I would want to be treated with consideration, with an evident spirit of love, encouragement, and a desire to build me up rather than to tear me down. I would not want my sins to be overlooked or excused, but lovingly to be confronted and corrected. If I were one who had heard the gospel and concluded that I wanted no part of it, I would hope that once I had made my disinterest and rejection known my feelings and decisions would be respected. I would desire that the same points not be raised over and over again, and that I would not have to avoid contact with the Christian or to terminate our friendship in order to avoid arguing the same points over and over again. I would greatly appreciate having my critics spend their efforts in persistent prayer, reporting my faults to God alone, and asking Him to strengthen and sanctify me. Were I an unbeliever I would prefer for the Christian to prevail upon God for my conversion rather than to pester me.38
Tom Higgins is one of the humblest men in our church. Although Tom has a wonderful personality by nature, he has been refined through life’s humbling seasons. He is a former alcoholic who has been sober nearly twenty years! Tom is a huge fan of Alcoholics Anonymous. Before believing in Christ, he attended AA meetings for years. Over the years, he has shared with me that those who are fighting addiction are helped most, not by people who scold and judge, but by those who have admitted their own powerlessness and confess that change comes only from a higher power. AA has learned some truths that the church doesn’t always practice: We can only help others when we recognize that we are desperate and sinful people who need a higher power. Of course, we know that the higher power is the Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus Himself wants to break you today so that you, as a broken vessel, can humbly help others in their spiritual pilgrimage. Be slow to judge others and quick to judge yourself.
Romans 2:1; 14:4–13
1 Corinthians 4:4–5; 11:31
1 John 5:13–17
1. When have I illegitimately judged another Christian (7:1)? Is there a specific non-essential issue that I am prone to judge? Why is this issue such a “hot-button” for me? How can I balance my position on this matter? This week, pray the following prayer: “Lord, may I be slow to judge others and quick to judge myself.”
2. How have I judged another believer for a sin that I have committed or am currently committing (7:3–5)? Have I been guilty of having a double standard toward another brother or sister in Christ? Will I repent of my hypocrisy? Will I confess my sin to the brother or sister in Christ that I judged and offended? Am I guilty of judging unbelievers? If so, how can I remedy this faulty worldview? How can I view people who sin with a spirit of grace and concern rather than with a spirit of condemnation?
3. Have I been cramming or force-feeding Christianity down people’s throats (7:6)? How do I know that I’ve gone too far? What are telltale signs that I can recognize in the future? When it comes to sharing the gospel with lost people, how can I know when “enough is enough?”
4. Do I aggressively seek God for His wisdom and discernment in matters of judgment (7:7–11)? How can I ensure that this is an active and strategic part of my Christian life? Would others characterize me as a man or woman of prayer? Why or why not? How can I grow in my prayer life? This week, will I seek help from a prayer warrior that I respect?
5. How have I learned to do unto others as I would have them do unto me (7:12)? In what particular relationship do I struggle living out this kingdom principle? What tangible step of obedience can I take this week to love this person as I would love myself?
1 Preaching Now Vol. 7 No. 27 7/29/08: R.T. Kendall, Ministry Today, Jan-Feb 2008.
2 Church Leaders Intelligence Report Enclosed – 8/20/08.
3 Cf. Luke 6:37–42.
4 The basic meaning of the Greek word for judge (krino) is “to set apart so as to distinguish, separate.” Then, by transference, “select” and “pass judgment upon.” BDAG s.v. krino. Hagner actually inserts the word “unfairly” into his translation of krino in 7:1. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993).
5 The present tense command could be translated “Stop judging!” “Don’t make a habit of judging.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 165. J.B. Phillips renders this verse, “Don’t criticize people, and you will not be criticized.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment.” Although there is some measure of truth in these renderings, they miss the mark because God is most likely the One who judges, not other believers.
6 See John 7:24; 1 Cor 5:5; Gal 1:8; Phil 3:2; 1 Thess 5:21; 1 John 4:1.
7 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
8 The word “judge” (krino) in this context means to come to a negative conclusion about another person and then to condemn him or her. David S. Dockery & David E. Garland, Seeking the Kingdom (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1992), 101; Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 160.
9 Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount.
10 The Greek text is emphatic: “With the judgment you judge you will be judged.”
11 See Rom 2:1–3.
12 All three passive verbs in 7:1–2 (krinete [“judge”], krithete [“you will be judged”], metrethesetai [“it will be measured to you”]) clearly imply divine agency and should be viewed as instances of the divine passive. Wallace 437–38. France notes that this is also supported by Jesus’ words in Matt 6:14–15 about forgiveness. “Just as God will only forgive the forgiving; so he will judge people as they judge others.” R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 274.
13 This is especially true for teachers: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (Jas 3:1).
14 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 274.
15 Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 305.
16 The following Scriptures provide clear guidance on judging other believers: Rom 2:1; 14:4–13; 1 Cor 4:4–5; 11:31; Gal 6:1–5.
17 Ken Hemphill, Empowering Kingdom Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004), 249.
18 Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life, 161.
19 Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount.
20 Paul summarized this principle well in Gal 6:1: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
21 Robert Jeffress, Grace Gone Wild! (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2005), 195.
22 See also Jay Dennis, The Jesus Habits (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 56–57.
23 This is a very difficult section. Regarding 7:6 Hagner writes, “This verse appears to be a detached independent logion apparently unrelated to the preceding…or following context, inserted here for no special reason but only as another saying of Jesus.” About 7:7–11 he says: “This is another self-contained unit having no connection with the material that precedes or follows it.” Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 171, 173.
24 Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 131–32.
26 To refer to a person as a dog was a grave insult, reducing the person’s status to among the lowest in the social scale (2 Sam 16:9). Dogs are looked down on in verses like Prov 26:11 and Matt 15:26–27. The Jews also used the word “dogs” to refer to Gentile outsiders (cf. Phil 3:2 and Rev 22:15).
27 Isa 66:3 and 2 Pet 2:22.
28 Matt 10:14; Acts 13:44–45, 50–51; 18:5–6.
29 Wilkins, Matthew, 310–11.
30 Donald A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed.; Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 240; David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 203.
31 France argues that these verses don’t link with 7:1–6; however, they do link back to 6:25–34. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 278.
32 Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount.
33 In Luke 11:9–13, when this is given is not wisdom but the Holy Spirit.
34 Wilson observes, “People have argued that the Golden Rule isn’t unique to Jesus. Confucius said, ‘Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself.’ The Stoics had a very similar saying. In the Old Testament Apocrypha we read, ‘Do not do to anyone what you yourself would hate.’ Rabbi Hillel in 20 BC said, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is only commentary.’ But notice that each of these is in the negative, somehow limiting or prohibiting certain actions. Jesus’ statement is in the positive, guiding and directing all our actions toward others. It is like the command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ It is not a negative limitation but a positive guideline, a high standard indeed. See Ralph F. Wilson, “Prayer: Asking in Faith” (Matt 7:7–12): http://www.jesuswalk.com/manifesto/12_asking.htm.
35 See Eaton’s extensive remarks on 7:12 in The Way that Leads to Life, 170–76.
36 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Loyal (Matthew): Electronic ed.
37 Long, Matthew, 81.
38 Deffinbaugh, “The Fatal Failures of Religion.”
In the early 90s, I played basketball at Multnomah Bible College. My basketball career is now a blur of mediocrity. However, one particular game stands out to me: Multnomah Bible College vs. Reed College. Reed is a well-known bastion of tolerance that is the antithesis of Multnomah. What I vividly recall from this game was the warm-ups. The moment our team took the floor for our layup drills, Reed starting playing AC/DC’s infamous songs “Highway to Hell” and “Hell’s Bells” over and over. The Reed players and fans laughed and mocked while we just went about our business. This desperate but rather clever attempt to “get into our heads” failed. We beat them by a whopping fifty points! (I had to share this.) What I remember, however, was my grief that many (if not all) of these young people were headed to a Christless eternity. What these players and fans thought was one big joke was actually dead serious. This led me to ask the question, “What is the difference between these Reed students and me?” I quickly thought through total depravity and unconditional election, but then recognized that certain passages emphasize the necessity to believe in Christ.1 In other words, from humankind’s vantage point what distinguishes us from one another are the choices we make. We make decisions and then those decisions turn around and make us.2 To say it another way: “Your decision about Christ affects your destination.” In Matthew 7:13–23,3 Jesus gives two charges that will help you to make correct choices.
1. Choose narrow over broad (7:13–14).4 In these two familiar verses Jesus warns, “Don’t worry about being PC—Politically Correct; instead, be SC—Spiritually Correct. He begins with a command and then follows it up with two reasons: “Enter through the narrow5 gate for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow6 that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (7:13–14). Jesus sets before the crowd an either/or choice regarding eternal life.7 There are two gates, two ways, and two destinies. The key to understanding this section is that one enters through the gate and then begins traveling the road of discipleship. Jesus is the narrow gate. His narrow gate leads to a kingdom. The way of discipleship then stretches throughout one’s years on earth, ultimately leading to life eternal.8 Unfortunately, many people will choose the more appealing wide and broad gate not realizing that it leads to eternal destruction. Obviously, Jesus didn’t say these words with a smile on His face. It doesn’t make Him happy that only a few find the way; He’s simply stating a sad fact of life. Even in America, only 34% of people consider themselves born-again Christians. Yet, more reasonable observations place the percentage at about 23%. That means 77% of Americans are headed to destruction…and America is one of the greatest Christian nations in the world. No matter how you slice it, Christians are a minority in any population sample.9 But Jesus predicted this 2,000 years ago.
Interestingly, Jesus uses the term “narrow” in both 7:13 and 14.10 This description has never been welcome, but it is particularly offensive to 21st century ears. “Call me vain, call me proud, call me mean—but don’t call me narrow!”11 People are all about tolerance, pluralism, and inclusivism. Yet, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Peter declared, “And there is salvation in no one else [than Jesus]; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This message isn’t too popular in our pluralistic culture. But this is not my idea; it was Jesus’ idea…and it is His message! In the end, therefore, life’s biggest decision is what you do with Jesus. There are two gospels in this world: the polluted gospel: Christ + something = nothing, or the pure gospel which is Christ + nothing = everything. You cannot find God’s will or way by appealing to the majority.12 Instead, you must look to Christ. The word that is translated “find” (heurisko) is never used to describe an intense yet futile search for something that is hard to find; it’s used to describe something that is found simply by making the effort to look for it.13 Seeking and finding are closely related. The implication is not that many people look for the way yet never find it; the implication is that not many bother to look. If you look to Christ you will find Him. Your decision about Christ affects your destination.
[Jesus says, “Choose narrow over broad” because the narrow way leads to life. The second charge that Jesus shares is…]
2. Choose accuracy over appearance (7:15–23).14 When Satan wants to steer people in the direction of the broad gate, he uses special human messengers called “false prophets” (7:15). In the verses that follow, Jesus warns us to differentiate between true and false prophets.15 Why is it so important to be able to recognize a false prophet? Because a prophet speaks for God! He stands at the crossroads, where the two gates are, pointing people either to the narrow gate or the wide one. If what the prophet says is wrong, then all who believe his message are in danger of being lost forever. In 7:15, Jesus speaks a principle that clarifies this section: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The word translated “beware” (prosecho) is both a warning and a command, which means you should constantly be alert.16 The reason for concern is that false prophets are deceptive—always have been, always will be. This is why 24 out of 27 New Testament books warn believers against false teachers. If they were easy to detect, there would be no need for continual warnings. Furthermore, one of the primary responsibilities of elders is to protect the church (i.e., sheep) from false teachers. In the fourth century, Augustine said, “There are many sheep without, many wolves within.”17 Augustine unknowingly prophesied about the church of America in the 21st century! Think about it: If you were Satan, how would you seek to deceive people? You would most likely use religion and religious teachers. The church of Satan is too extreme and in-your-face, but cults and world religions are Satan’s “bread-and-butter!” The backdoor or incognito approach is always more effective. Remember, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).
Appearances can be deceiving. Every year People magazine publishes an issue dedicated to the 50 most beautiful people in the world. (I guess I’m #51, because I’ve never been included in their list.) This is one of their most popular issues, because these are, in fact, beautiful people. But when you look beyond the perfect smiles, perfect hair, perfect bodies and examine the content of these people’s lives, you will see that they are just as messed up as anyone—if not more so. Their lives are characterized by divorce and rehab and career conflict and on and on. They may be the 50 most beautiful people, but they’re not the 50 most “together” people; they’re not the 50 most “emotionally well-adjusted” people; they’re not the 50 most godly people.18 But, of course, an entire issue dedicated to any of these topics probably wouldn’t sell very well because we are appearance oriented. Similarly, believers can be duped by appearances when it comes to preachers we prefer. If a preacher is boring or unimpressive in stature or appearance, we disregard him. If a preacher is captivating, good looking, and speaks positive thoughts we adore him. We can be very gullible! This is why Jesus says we must beware of false prophets.
In 7:16–20, Jesus explains how to identify false prophets: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” These verses are bracketed by the phrase “you will know them by their fruits” (7:16, 20). This section of Scripture has been used by believers to support judging whether someone is saved. I have heard countless “fruit inspectors” exclaim, “Bill/Jane is not living like a believer so he/she can’t be a Christian! After all, you will know them by their fruits.” While this may sound biblical, it is not! The Bible does not condone “fruit inspecting” as it pertains to someone else’s salvation. It is God’s responsibility to judge, not yours or mine! There is an old maxim: “A text out of context is a pretext.” Matt 7:16, 20 may be the best case in point. It is widely assumed that the “fruits” in this passage refers to “the fruit (note singular) of the Spirit” of Gal 5:22–23. However, every believer struggles with the fruit of the Spirit. If salvation is dependent upon the fruit of the Spirit, any godly person would assume he or she is lost. Others believe that the fruits refer to “works” that give evidence of one’s salvation. Yet, by whose measure of works should we judge someone’s salvation? The amount of fruit necessary to please one Christian “fruit inspector” may not please the next “fruit inspector.”19
What is false about false prophets is not their outward works.20 Jesus has just declared that they look like sheep! If false prophets did not perform good works no one would believe them. Today false prophets often live and act like Christians.21 How many times have you heard someone say of a cultist, “But he lives such a good life, I can’t believe he’s not a Christian.” Thus, their falsity is not found in their actions.22 Obviously, there has to be another more reliable solution to these verses. And there is! What makes a prophet a prophet? What makes a false prophet dangerous? The answer to both of these questions is words; specifically, prophetic words or prophecies. By “fruits” Jesus is referring to what comes from the lips of a false prophet, not the life of a false prophet. This is confirmed in Matt 12:33–37 where Jesus uses nearly identical language.23 Therefore, Jesus admonishes disciples to be “fruit inspectors” of those passing themselves off as prophets.
The Jewish audience Matthew addresses would naturally think of two Old Testament passages. One refers to a false prophet whose prophecy actually came to pass (Deut 13:1–5);24 the other to a false prophet whose prophecy was not fulfilled (Deut 18:20–22). In both situations, the emphasis is not on how the prophet lived, but on what he said.25 The people of Israel were told to observe what a prophet says and see if it aligns with what God says, regardless of any signs the prophet might perform with his prophesying. It may surprise you to know that it makes no difference whether signs or wonders accompany a prophet’s message. If his message does not agree with what God has said, that prophet is to be recognized as a false prophet.26 The true test for discovering a false prophet or teacher is to compare his or her message with God’s Word. This has always been the test for discovering who speaks for God and who does not. Since God cannot possibly contradict Himself (Num 23:19) and His Word stands forever (Isa 40:8), we must judge those who claim to speak for God by the Word.
Fortunately, the Scriptures provide several criteria for indentifying false prophets. Deut 18:20 says false prophets speak in the name of other gods; Micah 3:11 says false prophets prophesy for money. In 1 Cor 12:3 false prophets do not confess Jesus as Lord. In 1 John 4:2 false prophets do not confess Jesus having, and remaining in the flesh. In Matt 24:24–27 false prophets do not view Jesus’ return as a cosmic event. In 2 Pet 2 false prophets have libertine ethics.27 We can discern whether a prophet’s message is false by knowing the truth! The FBI trains their agents to detect counterfeit bills by studying authentic bills. If they can master the genuine article they can easily pick out what is counterfeit. This is also true with false teaching. If you immerse yourself in the Scriptures and biblical teaching, you will be able to ferret out what is false. You don’t have to be a “cult expert,” you just need to be a diligent Bible student.
This past month, the American Humanist Association unveiled a provocative $40,000 holiday ad campaign proclaiming, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” These ads will appear on Washington, D.C. buses starting next week and running through December.39 Yet, how do we define “good” if we don’t believe in God?40 If we reject God’s Word, by what standard can we measure goodness?
I have a terrible sense of direction. I’m not being humble; honestly, I embarrass myself with how I can get lost while I am driving. Fortunately, a saint in our church bought me a GPS for my car. Since I don’t like to read maps, I use the voice activated feature. What she didn’t know is that I’m technologically impaired as well. Instead of finding the narrow gate through Northwest Baptist Seminary, I found the Narrows Bridge. I was sincere, but I was sincerely wrong. I had the right equipment, but I used it incorrectly.
Matthew 24:11, 23–25
1. How do I know that I have eternal life (7:13–14)? What or who am I trusting in? C.S. Lewis said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one; the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without sign posts.” How can I explain the concepts resident in this quote to unbelievers that I come in contact with? As a believer, how am I seeking to walk through the small and narrow gate in my Christian life?
2. From my vantage point, who are contemporary examples of false prophets (7:15-20)? How can I discern that these individuals are indeed false prophets? When others ask me about these individuals, how can I humbly and graciously share a biblical perspective?
3. When have I been guilty of illegitimately judging other believers according to their fruit (7:16)? How would I feel if others judged me according to the same standard (see 7:1)? How would I fare? If I would be found lacking, why do I continue to inspect fruit in others?
4. Why are good works so deceptive (7:22)? How have I seen this to be the case in my own life? Since works are so deceptive, where should Christians look for assurance? How should Christians interact with those who claim to be believers but are not living obedient lives?
5. Augustine said, “He who believes that God is holy will despair trying to appease Him.” When have I observed my utter inability to please God? How has this changed my view of myself in relation to God? Why is it still so easy to struggle with my own pride and self-will? What can I do this week to humble myself before God and others?
1 E.g., John 3:16–18, 36; 8:24.
2 Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1991), 270.
3 The body of the Sermon on the Mount concluded in Matt 7:12.
4 See Jer 21:8 and Deut 30:19.
5 The Greek word translated “narrow” here is stenos. A stenographer is someone who takes large words and narrows them down to a small symbol for efficiency’s sake.
6 The Greek word translated “narrow” is thlibo, which means “to press in from all sides.” This term can carry the idea of restricted (i.e., the gate to eternal life is narrow and restricted).
7 Charles H. Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Ethical Decision Making in Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 140.
8 Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 321–22.
9 Doug McIntosh, “The Confusion Factor” (Matt 7:13-23):
10 The NASB translates two different Greek words as “narrow”: stenos (7:13) and thilbo (7:14). The latter term means “pressed together” (cf. Acts 14:22). Morris writes, “The verb…conveys the basic idea of pressing (which can lead to the thought of affliction); here it is that of compression and thus narrowness. The perfect points to a continuing state. It is not the obvious opposite to ‘broad,’ and perhaps we should detect an allusion to the persecutions that are part and parcel of the Christian life.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), Hagner says, “Given the context of the preceding ethical teaching of the sermon, the radical character of discipleship is in view.” Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary series (Dallas: Word, 1993), 179.
11 R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), Electronic ed.
12 Eaton makes an extensive case for 7:13–14 referring to believers. Michael Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 176–85.
13 E.g., finding food and lodging (Luke 9:12), or finding workers for the vineyard (Matt 20:6).
14 Cf. Luke 6:43-46. Wilkins, Matthew, 322 writes, “Warnings of false prophets form an important theme in Matthew’s Gospel (e.g., 7:21–23; 24:11–12, 24), similar to how the Old Testament gave analogous warnings (e.g., Jer. 6:13–15; 8:10–12; Ezek. 13:1–23; 22:27–29; Zeph. 3:1–4).”
15 We are told to recognize that false brethren exist, but it is not our job to pick them out. However, we are to attempt to discern false prophets because they pose a real, critical, and immediate threat to the church.
16 BDAG s.v. posecho 1: “To be in a state of alert, be concerned about, care for, take care.” In this context, it means “beware of” something.
17 Preaching Today citation: Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John (Tractate 45).
18 Steve May, “Form Vs. Content” (Matt 7:13–23): http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/series/religionvs.spiritualitysermonseries/formvscontent.html.
19 Bing writes, “As Christians, we are created in Jesus Christ to do good works (Eph. 2:10) and expected to do good works (1 Tim. 6:18; Titus 2:7, 14; Heb. 10:24), but good works are never attached to the condition for salvation, which is faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 4:4-5). While good works can be corroborating evidence for one’s faith in Christ, they are not sufficient to prove or disprove it. Only faith in God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ guarantees and proves our salvation.” Charlie Bing, “Can Good Works Prove Salvation?” GraceNotes no. 28: http://www.gracelife.org/resources/gracenotes.asp?id=28.
20 Long writes, “Discerning whether or not a leader is authentic is not easy. It takes time, insight, and wisdom, for false leaders look genuine…” Thomas Long, Matthew. Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1997), 84.
21 Carson writes, “Living according to kingdom norms can be feigned for a time; but what one is will eventually reveal itself in what one does. However guarded one’s words, they will finally betray him (cf. 12:33-37; Luke 6:45). Ultimately false prophets tear down faith (2Tim 2:18) and promote divisiveness, bitterness (e.g., 1Tim 6:4-5; 2Tim 2:23), and various kinds of ungodliness (2Tim 2:16).” Donald A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), Electronic ed.
22 If fruit is works, then 7:18 become self-contradictory: “A false prophet cannot produce good works.” If this statement is true, in other words, a false prophet is a complete and utter degenerate. All he does is vile and evil. Nothing he does is righteous. So here’s the problem: what happened to his sheep’s clothing?
23 Matt 12:33–37: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
24 The careful Bible student might see a problem in this passage and Matt 7:18. It’s that reference to a false prophet producing good prophecies. Can’t false prophets get it right once in a while? Not really. They can utter accurate predictions on occasion, but even when they do, the prophecy is not good.
25 R. Larry Moyer, Free and Clear (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 105.
26 Isa 8:19-20 gives this same test concerning spiritists and mediums.
27 Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount, 141.
28 This is the first use in Matthew of “Lord” (kurie) as an address to Jesus.
29 See Matt 5:20 for a reference to “enter the kingdom of heaven.”
30 For “doing the will of God” see Matt 6:10 and 12:50.
31 Jesus in His mercy has told us one thing that will happen on the Day of Judgment. This is not a parable; this is not a metaphor. This is prophecy. It is exactly what many scholars deny prophecy is: future history. When Jesus here uses the verb “will,” when he speaks in the future tense, he speaks literally, and these events must happen.
32 The word ginosko (“knew”) has a number of nuances of meaning. It can mean “to know” at a basic level. It can also mean “to understand, comprehend,” and even be a euphemism for sexual relations. A rarer but important meaning is “to indicate that one does know, ‘acknowledge, recognize’ as that which one is or claims to be.” Thus in our passage it can mean, “I never recognized you (as being my disciple).” See similar uses in John 1:10; 1 Cor 8:3; and Gal 4:9.
33 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 289.
34 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 281–82.
35 Some commentators have tried to dismiss the claims of these defendants by suggesting that they will lie or exaggerate, that they really will not have done what they will claim to have done. There is nothing in the text that supports such an accusation. That misinterpretation is a desperate device to evade what Jesus is telling us in this passage.
36 Eaton, The Way that Leads to Life, 192–93.
37 Wilkins, Matthew, 325.
38 Lutzer, Spend Eternity with God, 16.
39 SermonNews, “Holiday Ads Ask, ‘Why Believe in a God’?”: Taken from Associated Press, November 12, 2008, Eric Gorski.
40 David wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good” (Ps 14:1).
I want you to stop and think about the house that you live in. If I asked you to describe your house to me, you would most likely tell me about the location, the color, the design, the square footage, the size of the lot, and the number of bedrooms. But you probably wouldn’t tell me about the foundation. Perhaps you don’t know anything about your foundation. Yet, it is the foundation of your house that makes all the difference. Prov 24:3 states, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.”1 This is true not only of your house; it is also true of your life.
In Matthew 7:24–27,2 Jesus tells a parable3 that compares and contrasts two builders: one wise and one foolish.4 He emphasizes how critical it is to have a strong foundation. The use of a building metaphor should not surprise us; Jesus was a carpenter. As part of the firm of Joseph and Sons in Nazareth, He had built the furniture that people put into their homes and He had probably built some of the homes as well. Jesus knew the difference between a solid house and a shoddy one.5 However, this story is not just for architects, carpenters, and contractors. It is for you and me. Building a house is simply an analogy for building a life. The point is this: You are building a life and the foundation you choose is the most important feature of your life. In the verses that follow, Jesus provides two options for building your life.
1. Build your life on the strong foundation (7:24–25). Jesus says, “The only way to build a strong foundation is by obeying His words.” He begins His parable in 7:24 with the word “therefore,” which looks back to the entire Sermon on the Mount.6 In light of His teachings, Jesus says, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine7 and acts on them, may be compared to a wise8 man who built his house on the rock.”9 By using the word “everyone” (cf. 7:26), Jesus reveals that His words are intended for all people for all time. He begins by stating that you must “hear” His words. In order to do so you must expose yourself to the truth. You can do this by reading the Bible, by reading Christian books, by attending worship, by getting involved in classes and small groups, and by meeting with Christian friends who can teach you. While this may sound daunting and tedious, this is what you do in every other area of your life, right? If you want to learn a skill or profession you must seek out the necessary information. An athlete listens to coaches and more experienced players. A craftsman becomes an apprentice to learn from those who are more experienced. A student teacher learns from a teacher in a classroom environment. In each of these cases, it is essential to not just hear the truth but to listen to the truth. Anyone who is married knows that there is a difference. Anyone who has a teenager knows that there is a difference between hearing and listening. The key to listening is to interact with the one doing the speaking. The best listeners I know are people who ask lots of clarifying questions such as: “What do you mean?” “Are you saying...?” “Can you explain that further?” These questions show that a person is listening. We should ask clarifying questions when interacting with Christ’s words. Is God warning me of something? Do I need to repent? Is this a promise that I can claim or a command I need to obey?
Jesus urges you to hear His words, but He doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that you must act upon His words. If you are going to build on a solid foundation you must actually DO what Jesus wants you to do. Hearing His words is not enough. You are building your life on His words ONLY as you obey them (see Jas 1:22).10 Let me explain: I have heard that vegetables are good for you. I believe this is true. I have even prayed that the Lord would change my taste buds and give me a desire for vegetables. Yet, I rarely obey what I know to be true by eating veggies. Oh, that analogy doesn’t work for you? How about this: Do you floss on a daily basis? Why not? You know how to floss, right? You’ve seen the charts at the dentist’s office and you’ve purchased your top-of-the-line, mint-flavored floss in its fancy holder, right? You make a commitment that you will floss every day. But after a week you stop flossing. You don’t floss because you don’t really believe that your teeth will rot and fall out.
In the same way, you can hear all of Jesus’ words and know them like the back of your hand, but if you don’t do what He says, you aren’t building on the right foundation.11 Fortunately, you are likely seeking to obey Jesus’ teaching. You have made a commitment to obey His words.12 Even though your marriage is a mess and others encourage you to find happiness and divorce your spouse, you remain faithful to your spouse and to the Lord. When your finances have been especially tight and you’ve been tempted to not give to the Lord, instead you trust the Lord and give in obedience. In an impure world that glorifies immorality, you choose to abstain on a daily basis. When your children challenge your parental authority, you continue to persevere, loving them and sharing God’s Word with them. When you have been the victim of gossip and slander and your flesh rises up to take revenge, you choose to forgive. When there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day, you still find a way to serve Christ’s church and people in your community. As your pastor, I know who many of you are. But more importantly, God knows who you are.
In 7:25, you will discover why it’s so critical to build on the strong foundation. Jesus says, “And the rain fell, and the floods came,13 and the winds blew and slammed against that house;14 and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. Just look at the word “and” in 7:25. Jesus does not say “if the rain falls” or “if the floods come” or “if the winds blow.” He says, “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house” (italics mine). Jesus tells you straight-up that storms will come and you will not be spared! And if you’ve walked with Christ for any length of time, you’ve observed that people who hear and do the words of Jesus have the very same crises in their lives that people have who don’t do His words.15 Obedience to Christ does not mean you will not get rained on. Anyone who tells you that the Christian life is all sunny days has lied to you. Nevertheless, the storms are what test us. Living in the sunshine of life doesn’t tell us much about ourselves. Anybody can build a house that will stand firm when the sun is shining and the wind is still. It is the storms that reveal the strength of your foundation. When you build on the rock you must expect storms, because only storms can show your wisdom to the world around you.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed thousands of homes in South Florida. Yet in an area where the wreckage looked like a war zone, one house remained standing, still firmly anchored to its foundation. When a reporter asked the homeowner why his house had not been blown away, he replied, “I built this house myself. I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for 2” x 6” roof trusses, I used 2” x 6” roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane—and it did.”
When personal storms come many lives will be destroyed and left in shambles. Most people don’t find the narrow gate (7:13–14). Most people don’t build on the foundation of Christ’s words. But if you construct your life according to Christ’s building codes you will not be disappointed.17 While obedience to Jesus’ words is not a protection from the troubles; it is a protection in the troubles. Yes, you may lose some widows and the house of your life may be shaken but it will not collapse and be swept away. I want to encourage you: All the time that you have invested in laying your biblical foundation will pay off. If you haven’t already seen the results and benefits, I can assure you that one day you will. Building on the rock is the best flood insurance you can invest in. Storms will come and go. You are either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or entering into a trial. Nevertheless, if you’ve built your life on the foundation of Christ, you have nothing to fear. A good storm will demonstrate the stability of your foundation.
Seven years ago we began building a house. Scrub brush had been cleared away. The dozer had come to dig the hole for the foundation to be poured. Lori took the kids to see the progress. When they arrived they eagerly piled out of the van and ran to see what had been done. As they looked into the hole where the foundation would soon be poured, four–year–old Joshua stood staring with a perplexed look on his face. After a moment he blurted out: “Where’s the rock?” Lori had no idea what he was referring to. She said, “What rock?” Joshua replied, “The rock that the wise man built his house upon.” Joshua wasn’t trying to be cute or funny. He just remembered that a wise man must build his house upon the rock—He wanted to be assured that our house would have a rock!
Does the house of your life have a rock? Have you built your life on a strong foundation? We all need the rock. Without the rock, we would all just roll away. Place your faith in Jesus Christ today. If you’ve already placed your faith in Him continue to grow in Him.
[You can build your life on the strong foundation, but unfortunately you may not choose to do this. So Jesus now presents the alternative. As a builder, you can…]
2. Destroy your life on the wrong foundation (7:26–27). Jesus modifies His previous parable and applies it negatively to those who refuse to obey His words. In 7:26 He says, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” The opposite of a wise man is a foolish man. The Greek word for “foolish” is moros. I don’t need to tell you what this word means in either Greek or English. A person who disregards Jesus’ words is called a stupid moron. He is foolish. He didn’t build on the rock of Jesus’ words! Please note: The foolish builder also heard Jesus’ words but didn’t act upon them. The decision not to act on Jesus’ words, for whatever reason, is already a decision to do a great deal. It is the decision to live by someone else’s words, for we all live by someone’s words.18 Every person is building a life according to some scheme, some design. People don’t build at random. Everyone has a world view or a philosophy.19 Who or what is your foundation? If it isn’t Jesus Christ, make sure He is today.
Why did the foolish man build his house on the sand? He miscalculated the weather. He thought every day was going to be sunshine. He thought his life was always going to be smooth. So he figured a sand dune would do as a foundation. Let’s face it; it is appealing to build on the sand. It’s found in a good location. It’s adequate. It’s easy. Who wants to dig down deep if you don’t have to (see Luke 6:47)? It takes more work to build on the rock. It takes more time and energy. And it costs more. It is easier and faster to build on the sand. It’s always easier to take shortcuts in building a home. It’s cheaper to use inferior materials. And for a while, no one may notice. But somewhere along the line, you will pay for your shoddy workmanship. The same is true when it comes to the foundation of your life. It is easier to go with the crowd. It takes less time and energy if you simply maintain a superficial faith. And frankly, most of the time, who can really tell the difference anyway? It’s easier to just show up for church for an hour a week than it is to develop spiritual roots. But there’s only one problem with this mentality, the Bible teaches that storms are lurking on the horizon.
In 7:27, Jesus closes His parable with a storm warning: “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great20 was its fall.” Jesus concludes His parable and the entire Sermon on the Mount with an illustration of warning rather than of encouragement. I thrive on encouragement. I like to encourage others and be encouraged myself. Yet, as much as I appreciate encouragement, there is something about a strong word of warning that snaps me to attention. Jesus is saying, “You neglect My warning at your own peril!” Jesus’ warning has both a future and temporal application.21 The word “great” (megale) is the last word in 7:27, hence the last word of the Sermon on the Mount. The point is that if you reject Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity separated from Him. This is the future judgment. Yet, there is also a temporal judgment that concerns believers. If you choose to disregard Jesus’ commandments, you too will fall in this life and at the judgment seat.
Do you know what many Christians do when it starts raining? They try to change foundations. When the sky gets dark, the winds pick up, and the rain begins to pour they pick up the telephone, call the most spiritual people they know, and say, “Help me build a new foundation under my house. It’s falling apart.” But you can’t change foundations when you’re in the midst of a storm. You have to lay your foundation before the storm comes, so that when the rain, the floods, and the winds come, your house is secure. This is also true in the natural realm. It is hard to lay a foundation when it’s raining. Workers have to stop pouring concrete when it begins to rain. The foundation has to be poured on sunny days.22
Our family loves to spend time at Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. Whenever we enjoy a week at Cannon Beach Conference Center, there is a sand castle building contest. All of the kids spend an hour or so building the most elaborate sand castles. The only problem with these impressive sand castles is that when a wave rolls in, everything that these children have created is washed away.
How is your foundation? Is it built upon the rock or is it built upon sand? If it’s built upon the rock, keep on. Continue doing what you’re doing. Seek to stretch yourself further in God’s Word. Pray that He gives you an even greater hunger and thirst for His Word. If your foundation is built upon sand and you know you’re sinking down, build your foundation on the rock of God’s Word. Today, I invite you to do a building inspection of your life. If you want a stable life—one that doesn’t cave in when the rain comes—build it on the rock TODAY. One way to facilitate this is by working through the “Sermon on the Mount Personal Evaluation” worksheet below. Place a checkmark by the attitudes you have had and behaviors that you have actively been doing the past few weeks. Remember, you will not be rewarded in heaven for what you heard and believed, only for what you did.
If you have never believed in Christ as your foundation stone, do so today. At the moment you believe in Christ, your foundation turns from sand to stone. If Christ is your foundation stone, build your life on His teachings. I would encourage you to go home and find a small rock. Put the rock next to your computer monitor. Take it with you to the office. Put it in your kitchen or at your dining room table. This can be your stone of remembrance. It can signify your new relationship with Christ or your commitment to obey Him wholeheartedly.
The Sermon on the Mount concludes in 7:28–29 with Matthew’s powerful first-hand account: “When Jesus had finished these words,23 the crowds were amazed24 at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority,25 and not as their scribes.”26 The crowds27 were amazed at two things: the matter and the manner of His teaching. They were astounded by what He taught. He differed from anyone they had heard before. He didn’t urge them to new forms of religion, to give more money, or to attend services more often. He didn’t summon them to a greater commitment to a religious routine. He kept going back to their motives, to what they were deep inside. He said that what mattered to God was their relationship with Him. He said that true religion wasn’t a performance; it was a deep reality of who we are deep inside.
In addition to their amazement at the matter of Jesus’ teaching, the crowd was impressed by the manner in which He taught.28 Jesus taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law. Rabbis were highly educated. They knew their 2,000 years of religious tradition inside and out, and they had studied all the learned opinions but they did not teach as if they had authority. In most of their teaching they simply quoted the experts. Listening to them was like listening to someone read an extended footnote. As a college student, you don’t have credibility or authority so your professors expect you to liberally use footnotes to bolster your authority. Jesus, however, uses no footnotes! Standing 2,000 years away from the Sermon on the Mount, we may not appreciate the significance of this difference. Jesus was about thirty years of age, not very old by the standards of the ancient world. He had grown up in Nazareth, a small town of little importance. He was a carpenter. He had not gone to the schools the rabbis attended. He had never studied the religious traditions. And yet, Jesus spoke with an authority that the older scribes did not possess.29 Even the Old Testament prophets introduced their message by saying, “Thus says the Lord.” That little phrase appears almost 3,000 times in the Old Testament. The prophets did not speak with their own authority; they spoke with the authority of God. It is striking that Jesus never used that phrase. He spoke with His own authority. He spoke with authority all through the sermon when He interpreted or reapplied the law, when He promised, when He commanded, when He prohibited. Not in the name of God, but as God Himself. The people had never heard anyone do that because no one like Him had ever appeared on earth before. Indeed, Jesus Christ was and is amazing!30
The sad thing is: The crowd didn’t accept Jesus as Savior; they were merely impressed. Don’t stop at being impressed with Jesus’ words. Amazement is not enough! Many religious leaders, professors, literary writers, and moral people have been impressed with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. But this is inadequate. Belief in Christ is necessary for salvation. Obedience to Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount is necessary for Christian health and growth. Therefore, if we could sum up Jesus’ words we might put it like this: “Draw a line on the rock, not in the sand.”31 The rock signifies the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus; the sand symbolizes your worldview.
I haven’t been to the doctor in many years. In fact, in the eight years that I’ve been in Olympia I’ve only been to the doctor once! I have my reasons for why I don’t go to the doctor, but they aren’t important or valid. I know this though: When I go to the doctor, I must believe that he is able to help me. I must then submit myself to his authority so that I can become well. If I refuse to trust in the doctor and submit to him, I have no one but myself to blame for my own demise. Similarly, if you want to be eternally well, you must trust Jesus Christ for your spiritual deliverance. Additionally, if you are seeking to be healthy and whole in this life and the next, Jesus asks that you trust Him and then submit yourself to His authority. Draw a line on the rock, not in the sand.
Directions: Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, yet obedience to Jesus’ teaching is important in this life and in the life to come. In the chart below, rate yourself on the various attitudes and behaviors that you have actively been practicing (1 = much room for growth to 5 = growing strong in grace). Remember, the Sermon on the Mount was not intended to be admired, but obeyed. Consequently, you will not be rewarded in heaven for what you heard and believed, only for what you did in obedience to Christ.
Am I poor in spirit?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I mourn?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I gentle?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I merciful?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I pure in heart?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I a peacemaker?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I persecuted for the sake of righteousness?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I the salt of the earth?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I the light of the world?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I keep and teach Jesus’ commandments?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I reject ungodly anger?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I reconcile with those who are angry with me?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I controlling my thought life?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I honoring my marriage vows?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I honor my word?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I give without fanfare?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I pray without pride?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I fast without notice?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I storing up treasure in heaven?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I refusing to worry?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I judge myself before I judge others?
1 2 3 4 5
Do I pray for wisdom and discernment?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I trusting in Christ for salvation?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I guarding against false prophets?
1 2 3 4 5
Am I building on the right foundation?
1 2 3 4 5
Luke 6:47–49; 4:32
Matthew 13:54; 22:33
Mark 1:22; 6:2; 11:18
1. How often do I read and listen to God’s Word in the course of a week (7:24)? What are the best methods of filling my mind with God’s Word? To what degree do I obey and apply what I read and hear? Have I grown in my obedience to the Savior in this past year? If so, how have I specifically progressed as a disciple?
2. What personal storms have I experienced in this past year (7:25)? How did I fare spiritually in the midst of these storms? What did I learn about my spiritual foundation (i.e., my obedience to Jesus’ words) in the midst of my personal storms? In what ways do I need to strengthen my foundation? How will I go about this and who will help me?
3. Who do I know that is building on a sound foundation (7:26)? How can I challenge these individuals to build on the rock of Jesus’ words? As a Christian, how have I been guilty of building my life on the sand? What specific areas of my life need to be stabilized or restructured? How can I go about this building process in 2009?
4. What made Jesus’ teaching so amazing? How did He teach with such authority (7:28–29)? How can I learn to teach like Jesus taught? What specific methods, skill-sets, and character qualities would help me be more effective in my communication of God’s truth? Do I believe that I am a teacher? Read Hebrews 5:11–14. What responsibility do I have to teach God’s Word to those who have been placed in my life?
5. What have I learned from my study through the Sermon on the Mount? How has God changed my heart? In what ways have I determined to obey Jesus’ teaching? What are my spiritual goals for 2009?
1 In Prov 9:1 wisdom was personified as a woman who builds a house; but here the emphasis is primarily on the building—it is a sign of security and prosperity (C. H. Toy, Proverbs [ICC], 442). One could still make a secondary application from this line for a household or “family” (cf. NCV, which sees this as a reference to the family). See NET study notes.
2 Cf. Luke 6:47–49: “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” Morris writes, “This passage is similar to Luke 6:47–49, but the similarity is more in the thought than the language.” See Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 181.
3 After other lengthy teaching block, Jesus often concludes with a parable (Matt 13:52; 18:21–35; 25:31–46). This is the only parable in the entire Sermon on the Mount.
4 Other parables of wisdom and folly are: Five foolish women and their friends (Matt 25:1–13); the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21); a shrewd man of the world (Luke 16:1–19); the empty house (Matt 12:43–45; Luke 11:24–26); the unfinished tower (Luke 14:28–30); and the rash warfare (Luke 14:31–33). See David L. Larsen, Telling the Old Story (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), 147.
5 See Haddon W. Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991), 288.
6 Most commentators suggest that the conjunction oun (“therefore”) links back to Jesus’ discussion about false prophets in Matt 7:15–23.
7 The word “my” (mou) is stressed by its position in the Greek sentence. Matthew is alerting us to the fact that Jesus’ words are God’s very words. The phrase “of mine” is repeated twice for emphasis (7:24, 26).
8 The wise person is a theme in Matthew (cf. 10:16; 24:45; 25:2, 4, 8–9). Wilkins writes, “The wise person shows that he or she has carefully viewed the shifting sands of life’s teachings and understands that Jesus is the only secure truth of life (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10 – 11). The wise person thinks ahead to when there will be storms and sacrifices and builds his or her life on the rock of Jesus’ words. The choice is no less stark in our own day. Wise men and women build their lives on Jesus, regardless of the cultural or religious weather.” Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 327.
9 Keener writes, “The Hebrew Bible often employed the rock image for the security Israel had in God if they obeyed Him (e.g., Deut 32:4, 18, 31; Ps 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14), as in a time of flood and disaster (Is 28:14–19); other biblical images may also be indirectly relevant (see on Mt 16:18): a house was built by wisdom (Prov 24:3; cf. Ps 127:1; Jer 22:13).” Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 255.
10 Matt 7:21–23 contrasts “saying” and “doing”; Matt 7:24–27 contrasts “hearing” and “doing” (cf. Jas 1:22–25; 2:14–20).
11 In Luke 8:20–21, Jesus said to “hear the word of God and do it” is to be His mother and brothers. That is, those who obey Him enjoy a closer relationship to Him than even His closest family members. In John 15:14, Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Those of you that have been obeying Jesus’ words, you are His intimate disciples. He wants you to know He loves you. You are special to Him. Let the truth be known: To experience intimacy with Jesus, we must obey His words. There are no other options or short cuts. In my flesh, I wish there were some other way. But there isn’t. Jesus wants our heart-felt obedience above anything else (1 Sam 15:22). Jesus is saying His words are the foundation of our lives and they are to be obeyed. This means whatever we hear, read, and study, we immediately apply to our lives. Application is essential!
12 Bruner writes, “It is worth noting that Jesus compliments and encourages those who hear and act on His words.” Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: Matthew 1–12 (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 289.
13 Historically, water is the most destructive force of nature. It is not wind, earthquakes, tornados, hurricane, or volcanoes. Interestingly, in Luke’s account, the focus is on the powerful eroding work of water.
14 This phrase is similar to the parable of the sower in which the seed sown on rocky ground lasts only a short time, until “affliction or persecution arises because of the word” (Matt 13:21).
15 The language of Matt 7:25 is identical with the language of 7:27. A life of persecution is a real possibility for Christians (cf. John 15:20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom 8:17; 1 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 2:21; 4:12–16).
16 Revised from Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 290–91.
17 See 1 Pet 2:6–7.
18 Bruner, The Christbook, 290.
19 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 290.
20 Bruner suggests that the only finally great thing about greatness-seeking Christians is the greatness of their fall. Bruner, The Christbook, 290.
21 France writes, “To derive a purely eschatological reference from ‘will be like’ in vv. 24 and 26 (so Schweitzer, 190–91) loads too much onto the natural use of the future tense to describe the future response of someone currently hearing Jesus’ words.” R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 297.
22 Tony Evans, What Matters Most (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 267.
23 Matthew uses the phrase “finished these words” to close several of the major sections in his gospel (cf. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). They form one possible outline of the book.
24 Wilkins writes, “Amazement at Jesus’ teachings does not indicate acceptance. The term ‘amazed’ is the passive form of ekplesso, which in Matthew is not a description of faith. It indicates a variety of emotional responses but not a commitment to Jesus’ messianic ministry. The word is used to describe Jesus’ hometown’s unbelieving reaction to his ministry (13:58), his own disciples’ astonished response at the difficulty of a rich man being saved (19:25), and the crowds’ astonishment at Jesus’ teaching on marriage at the resurrection (22:33). Amazement is not the same as a commitment of faith. Only when a person accepts Jesus’ invitation and enters the kingdom of heaven does he or she become a disciple.” Wilkins, Matthew, 328.
25 The Latin root of “authority” means “that which allows growth and life.” Our resentment of the authority of God in Christ is, therefore, foolish. Preaching Today citation: Diogenes Allen in Quest: The Search for Meaning through Christ. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 7.
26 Jesus considers Himself the agent (7:21–23) and His words the standard of judgment (7:24–27). David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 224.
27 The term “crowd” (ochlos) in Matthew refers to those who have an interest in Jesus but who don’t believe in Him as Savior.
28 Matthew repeats the idea of amazement at Jesus’ teaching in Matt 7:28–29 in 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and 26:1.
29 This aspect of Jesus’ authority is a characteristic of Matthew (cf. 8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21:23–24, 27; 28:18).
30 Robinson, What Jesus Said About Successful Living, 293–94.
31 Revised from Ramesh Richard, Soul Passion: Embracing Your Life’s Ultimate Purpose (Chicago: Moody, 2003), 126.