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Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18

The first eighteen verses of Matthew 6 speak collectively of our positioning as loyal subjects before our sovereign King. We’ve covered these in smaller bites, but together they make up an important course of the feast we know as the Sermon on the Mount. All that we do as kingdom citizens is to be done before God and – intentionally – not before men.

Importantly, Jesus did not say, “…if you fast”. Fasting is not an optional discipline for the serious Christian; it is assumed. Furthermore, Jesus speaks of fasting in exactly the same way He speaks of doing good works and praying, thus highlighting the importance of fasting in the normal Christian life. Lastly, we discover that the very same consequences are reserved for those who fast to receive worldly benefit: the charge of hypocrisy and loss of heavenly reward.

These are sobering considerations. The discipline of fasting has been lost to much of the church and confused by most of the rest (myself included). Frankly, I think we have made fasting too difficult, causing some to struggle unnecessarily and eventually give up on it altogether. We also have too many man-created prescriptions and plans for fasting. In my humble opinion, we should focus more on motivation than form and procedure, and trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the details. Read the rest of this entry »

One does not need prophetic gifts to recognize that the chaos and storms of 2020 will continue for the foreseeable future. The 2020s will likely be the most chaotic time most of us (at least in America) will experience in our lifetime.

Translating this into “kingdom-speak”: This decade will be the most opportunistic and pivotal time the God-assigned ambassadors to the United States of America have seen in almost 100 years.

There is no better time to be a disciple maker than in the midst of chaos and storms. If our houses remain standing, many who have lost theirs will be coming to us for refuge, encouragement, and understanding.

With this great opportunity in mind, I dare say we all could use a bit of inspection and restoration. Therefore, as we close out this incredibly chaotic year, I offer you three considerations:

Perspective: We are seated with Christ in heavenly places, with access to Heaven’s perspective (Ephesians 2:6). God offers His peace and purpose in the chaos and storms.

Furthermore, strong houses are built from an eternal perspective; they are built to last, not to survive for a year or two. Patchwork and paint-overs won’t cut it. We must secure and strengthen our house through the spiritual disciplines God has provided.

Position: God providentially positions us geographically, relationally, and with particular responsibilities. Consideration for the impact zone of these dimensions is critical. Our influence will be greatest (for God’s glory) with people in our closest spheres.

We must avoid and reject the temptation to give unbalanced attention to people and situations on our periphery (e.g., political wrangling in Washington, D.C. and riots on the other side of the country). Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore three more here. Because they are examples, the “doing” of these sayings is easier to identify – and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into kingdom citizens, not to make or justify ourselves.

Do Not Swear at All

Most of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount – you know, those sayings we are to do – are truly beyond our human ability. They are only accomplished by the life of Jesus Christ, the One who has come to live in us. Here we find an exception – one saying that appears quite easy to obey. And yet, mankind has amazingly chosen to do something in complete opposition to what Jesus has said. Truly, how do we excuse ourselves?

Consider the matter of oath taking. Jesus said:

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37

Could anything be more clear? Whatever is more than our “yes” and “no” is from the evil one. Why then do so many followers of Jesus Christ submit to the courts of this nation, put one hand on a Bible, raise the other, and swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Is this not taking an oath? Does it make it okay – or does it make it worse – that a Bible is used in this process?

These questions lead us to a deeper kingdom principle; something deeper than dos and don’ts. For those with eyes to see, this is a great example of the subtly of the evil one’s deception; leading to our conformity to the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore three more here. Because they are examples, the “doing” of these sayings is easier to identify – and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into a kingdom citizen, not to make or justify ourselves.

Guard the Lamp of Your Body

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

The house that stands in the storm will be the house of the man that guards his heart from the lusts of his eyes. This is an incredibly important issue for the church in America; particularly when you consider the houses that are being built around our pastors and our fellowships. Of all the judgment that will come to the house of God (1Peter 4:17), the judgment for this sin will be one of the most severe.

Consider the statistics. A Leadership Journal survey reports that four in ten pastors online have visited a pornographic Web site; and more than one-third have done so in the past year. Expastors.com reports that, of the 1,351 pastors that Rick Warren’s website, Pastors.com, surveyed on porn use, 54% said they had viewed internet pornography within the last year and 30% of those had visited within the last 30 days.

According to Patrick Means (2006), 63% of pastors surveyed confirm that they are struggling with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity. Furthermore, 75% of pastors do not make themselves accountable to anyone for their Internet use.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22
Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore the first three here. As with most examples, it should be easier to identify the sayings we can be doing to build stronger houses, and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into a kingdom citizen, not to make or justify ourselves.

Guarding Our Tongue

As you might expect, the sayings of Jesus are contrary to the ways of the world. In fact, they serve as a means of inspection: Has our house been weakened and compromised by conformance with the world? With the Holy Spirit’s help, the sayings of Jesus can get us back on the right track – being transformed.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

One of the more subtle and pervasive worldly deceptions can be found in the way Christians use their tongues. What we hear in the world tends to find its way into our vocabulary. In between the hearing and the saying, our minds are at risk of being conformed to the world.

It is time we went on the offensive in this regard. For most of us, there is a lot of conformance that must be undone; and replaced with the image of the glory of the Lord (2Corinthians 3:18). Before considering the following passage, ask the Holy Spirit to use it to renew your mind.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-22

The way we live with our brothers and sisters in Christ – particularly in the way we speak to one another – carries far greater consequence than we believe; for if we believed this passage, we would be truly fearful about the words we throw around at each other. James 3:6 warns that the tongue is a fire. Perhaps we should consider the “hell fire” it can be for those of us that fail to guard it. Read the rest of this entry »

Generally speaking, learning involves adding knowledge to existing foundations. For example, reading requires a knowledge of the alphabet; geometry provides a base for trigonometry, which in turn serves as a footing for calculus. Foundations and carefully constructed frameworks are critical success factors in education.

Occasionally however, students (and their teachers) are faced with information that challenges their foundations (e.g., a round earth that is not the center of the universe). Those able to understand and embrace these paradigm challenges discover and create whole new worlds. Imagine where we would be if mankind had decided to discard the possibility of human flight. How many would still believe flat-earth theory?

In Matthew 5:17-20 (the passage covered in our previous article), we find Jesus drawing on both forms of learning. First, He assures those listening that the Law and Prophets are foundational to the kingdom of God – that following and teaching the commandments of God is critically important. He then challenges their paradigm concerning the interpretation and demonstration of the Law provided by the Pharisees and Scribes by stating that entering the kingdom of God requires a greater righteousness.

There are several important lessons here, for both students and teachers:

  1. Strong foundations allow for paradigm challenges.
  2. Students need help understanding what is foundation and what is being challenged.
  3. Teachers are most often the creators of false paradigms.
  4. Transformation often requires significant paradigm shifts.
  5. Teachers must be willing to speak the truth in the face of potential opposition.
  6. Examples help tremendously – particularly when paradigm shifts are involved.

In Matthew 5: 21-47, being the best of teachers, Jesus gives ten examples to explain the righteous fulfillment of the Law required by God. We will cover each of these in turn over the next couple of weeks. But first, a few general observations. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems we commonly make the mistake of handling Biblical truth as nothing more than facts. In teaching and learning, we must come to understand the differences between the two.

  1. Facts are passive; truth is active (e.g., it makes people free, it is alive and powerful).
  2. Facts are for our head, to be analyzed; truth is for our hearts, to be believed.
  3. Facts are accessible to the whole human race; the truth is accessible only to those whom God gives ears to hear and eyes to see.

The teacher and the student both have responsibility in this regard. I mention this here because, though I did my best to fulfill my part, the following would be easily read as facts. If one does not force themself to receive it as truth, the desired effect will not be achieved.

Therefore, I encourage you to exercise your spiritual ears with a heart desiring to believe. God promises that, if you do so, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Though we may not think of it this way, the Sermon on the Mount is a carefully constructed sermon. As we have discovered, the Beatitudes come first and in a particular, purposeful order. In them, the first listeners (and subsequent readers) are astounded and perplexed by Jesus’ characterization of kingdom citizens. Three dramatic and dynamic descriptions of our relationship with the world quickly follow: we are to be persecuted (vv.11-12) as God’s gifts of proverbial salt (v. 13) and light (vv. 14-16) to the world and for His Father’s glory.

Having given such a radical description of kingdom citizens and their assignment in the earth, Jesus must have felt that it was important to reassure the disciples that God’s Law and the words of His Prophets were fixed and eternal. He did not come to change the Father’s purposes and plans in the earth; rather, it was His assignment to fulfill them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Greek word translated as “repentance” literally means “to change one’s mind”. When Jesus began His ministry, He came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15, NKJV). With that in mind, I want to challenge you to consider how you might change your mind about the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals. It is not about what we must do to be a Christian, but what God does once we become one (Lloyd-Jones, 1976). In other words, it is not a list of requirements for entering the kingdom of God, but a description of the life we are empowered to live as we enter in.

As we consider hearing these sayings and “doing” them, the greatest challenge we face is coming to terms with not only not being able, but also not being expected, to do them in our strength, power, intelligence, etc. This is not a high-minded spiritual concept. It is a very practical principle for life in the kingdom of God (i.e., our salvation). It is by grace (alone), through faith (alone) that we come to understand and enter God’s kingdom.

In his book, The Sermon on the Mount, Roger L. Shinn (1962) recognizes the salt and light passage as the first half of a kingdom paradox. The second is found in Matthew 6:1, 5, and 16, where Jesus warns His disciples to avoid giving charity, praying, and fasting to be seen by others. So, how is one to be light to the world and not let others see what they are doing? The resolution to the paradox is found in Matthew 5:17-20, the subject of our next lesson.

Before we go there, we must first understand Jesus’ metaphor of salt and light, which itself contains a mystery requiring our repentance (i.e., thinking differently). Doing so will also shed some light (pun intended) on Shinn’s paradox. Read the rest of this entry »

It is our hopeful contention that Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount so very early in His ministry to prepare those who would follow Him for the storms they would face in sharing and living it with others. The gospel of the kingdom of heaven – the good news of God’s reign in the hearts of His people – would be so radically counter-cultural, not only to the heathen Gentile, but to the Jew as well, that it was only fitting and fair to lay it out from the beginning. Full disclosure; nothing hidden.

As we read the Sermon two-thousand years later, we must use our imagination and consider the timing to appreciate God’s approach in the introduction of His New Covenant. It is both simple and instructional: Jesus first taught His followers about life in the kingdom so they could then observe Him walking it out before them and His Father. “He who hears these sayings of mine, and does them…” is the disciple-makers way.

So, what are we to do about these sayings of Jesus in the Beatitudes? Is there a way we should respond to them? Or, are we left to simply hope the blessings will one day be ours?

God intends for every Christian to respond to every offer of His grace in the same way: through faith. It is no coincidence that the process of faith begins with the hearing of faith (Romans 10:17), proceeds through obedience to the faith (Romans 1:5), and culminates with the work that perfects our faith (James 2:22). Indeed, the process of faith answers the question, “How should we study the Sermon on the Mount?” The only way to become a kingdom citizen is by grace, through faith.

The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes for this very reason. Read the rest of this entry »

Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. That is God’s promise to His children in Psalm 37:4. The Hebrew behind “delight” literally means “to be soft”. Therefore, striving to be God’s pen (and nothing else), I often find myself writing from a desire or burden He has stirred in my heart.

That desire – the desire He has placed in my heart for this series of articles – is to participate with Him in raising up and fortifying houses that will stand in the storms of life; those houses being Christian people, families, and fellowships. Storms have always been indiscriminate; both good and evil people experience them more often than we would prefer. Storms can be devastating… and they can be opportunities.

Several significant storms are brewing over America and the world. They will likely continue into the rest of this decade. Many houses will fall under their pressure, including those of our sisters and brothers in Christ. These individuals, families, and fellowships will be looking around for a safe harbor. Jesus has promised that those who hear and do His sayings in the Sermon on the Mount will have well-founded and strong houses (i.e., places of refuge). From there, the wise builders will be positioned and purposed as God’s ministering agents.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to both learn Jesus’ sayings and to discover how to “do them”. Read the rest of this entry »

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