Saturday, July 18, 2015

Attitude is Everything - Matthew 5:21-48

In the pursuit of righteousness, it's not just what you do that matters. What you do is always proceeded by thoughts and attitudes. Those thoughts are capable of producing actions. Some of those thoughts and actions could produce sin under the right circumstances.

You may never murder anyone or commit adultery or fornication...but did you think about it? Did you consider, if only briefly, that some people just need killin and this guy (whoever he might be) is pushin all the right buttons for that? What about that scantly clad young lady moving her way down the sidewalk ever so seductively? Did you ever think for a minute that it would be nice to spend the afternoon with her discussing her finer points? Maybe it was a car that caused the desire or the top was down and the woman inside had managed to sell the whole package to you all in a flash in your mind. 

When we dwell on things, when we get angry or or we covet or we lust; this is when the process of sin and unrighteousness starts. Our attitude in a given situation can produce a harvest of sin. What does Jesus say? 


21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Anger is akin to murder. If someone is angry with us or we with them; the whole thing can escalate out of control. It might start with an off hand remark about their intelligence or maybe something stupid like a small financial debt. The result could be violence or a lawsuit or worse. Instead of letting things get out of hand, we need to find ways to make the peace, particularly if we are the ones in error. We have to do what we can to keep the peace with our neighbors and with God. The issue, whatever it may be, has to be settled with as little acrimony as possible. Vengeance and loss of control are not godly behaviors and they can lead to violence and murder.  


27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Lust is a bad habit. It's a luxury we cannot afford to be burdened with. If we allow it to rule us,   serious consequences will abound. Adultery is just one result. We can lust after all kinds of things that have nothing to do with sex. It's possible to lust over a plate of bacon or your neighbor's lawn mower. Lust, unbridled desire and covetousness can lead to all kinds of sins that bring very serious consequences. Broken families, sexual disease, obesity and thievery are a few; not to mention separation from God or at least a major dent in that relationship.


31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

In the old days, men were kings and women were property. Under the Law, you could divorce your wife for burning the toast. And I am sure there were hard hearted men that did just that. The same is true today. There are men and women in marriage relationships that are abusers and philanderers and whatever else you might care to name. Forgiveness is needed. The desire to change negative behaviors must prevail. Love should rule over both husband and wife so that things to not get to this point. Selfishness must be put out of the house. The needs of your partner must always take precedence. 

Jesus does not want divorce. He is opposed to it. He offers only one valid reason for it - infidelity. He goes so far as to say that anyone who divorces for any other reason forces their partner to commit adultery. This is because it is almost inevitable that the couple will marry other people...and in God's eyes, you are still and always married to you original wife or husband. God does not believe in divorce, hence, remarriage is adultery.    


33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

The bottom line here is....if you always tell the truth, then oaths will not be necessary. Simple eh?

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Someone said if we all operated under the "eye for and eye" principle, we would all be blind and toothless. This is probably very close to the truth. I'm not sure I will be hanging around for the second slap though. 

I think that the idea behind Jesus' advice here is to avoid conflict and show your tormentor that you are of better character than they are. In time they will find no satisfaction in their bad behavior and it will stop. 

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Really, love my enemies? This is hard. Praying for them is easier than loving them. Nonetheless we are commanded to do both. Why? Maybe because they too were created by God and despite their unrighteousness, God loves them too and wants them to draw close to Him. Showing love toward them might eventually enable that possibility.

Verse 48 caps off a list of things that are nearly impossible with one that is completely impossible. Jesus says to be perfect like our heavenly Father.

Some try to say Jesus meant that we should be perfect in love like God, but really, is that not just as impossible? And the text does not say that anyway.

And that may be the point. Jesus, in this sermon, is taking the high bar of the law and raising it even higher. He knows that we will not be able to keep the law under either His interpretation or even that of the Pharisees. What I think Jesus is really teaching us about in this sermon is the character of God, His Father. 

It will not be the works of the law that saves us. It will be being born again in His Spirit; regenerated, reformed and able to change our attitude. Self control of outward acts is something most all of us can do. Changing our spiritual nature is something only God can do for us. We just have to surrender our wills. Sounds easy - takes a lifetime. That's my experience anyway. Maybe you are already perfect like our heavenly Father. If so, you can come over and walk across my swimming pool. 

Wait...I don't have a pool. We will have to go to a pond. I will drive. OK? 

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