Sermon on the Mount: Week 8

Judging others…this is one of the most difficult topics to discuss for Christians. It is extraordinarily difficult to feel judged, to react when someone comes to you with a criticism of your behavior, and to accept when you may not be living up to the example set by Christ. But the question remains: is it ever appropriate to judge others?

The answer according to Scripture is yes. But are there certain conditions that must be met for judgment to take place appropriately? Again, a resounding yes. What does Jesus say about judgment in the Sermon on the Mount?

“Do not judge lest you be judged.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged;
and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
And 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?
Your 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.”
(Matthew 7:1-5)

Jesus is saying that at times judgment of your brother is appropriate. But a very important thing must happen first: directly addressing your own sin (taking the log out of your own eye). By doing this first, you will then be able to see clearly to approach your brother about his sin. Part of addressing your own sin first is prayer and knowing the Word of God — these actions will further allow you to be right in the eyes of God before you correct your brother.

God has many purposes for judgment. James 5:20 tells us, “…let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Salvation. Covering sin. Restoration. Building up one another and the body of Christ.

Kay Arthur provides an excellent summary of the issue of judgment in her book Lord, I’m Torn Between Two Masters:

“A careful study of [the] scriptures — including Matthew 7:1-5 — shows that judging is not forbidden. Irresponsible behavior, wrong doctrine, and sin must all be discerned, clearly identified, and dealt with…Righteousness is to be upheld, the gospel is to be earnestly contended for. Judging, therefore, is not wrong if it is done properly. It is fine to correct a brother as long as you do it in a spirit of gentleness, as long as you are spiritual, realizing that you are not above temptation yourself. It is all right to judge as long as the motivation of that judgment is love of God and love of your neighbor. The goal of judgment, remember, is not to condemn but to restore.

It is all right to judge as long as we judge with a righteous judgment, a judgment that is in accordance with God’s Word. We may judge dogs and swine, false prophets, sin, wrong behavior, and wrong doctrine. But we cannot judge the motives of a man’s or woman’s heart. But above all…we must continuously judge ourselves!” (pp 226-227)

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Sermon on the Mount: Week 6

What an incredible thing to know that Jesus Himself taught us how to pray. So often we stutter and mumble while praying, unsure of the “right” thing to say to God, wondering if what we are saying truly expresses our hopes, desires, and needs to our Father. How many of us simply turn to the “Lord’s Prayer” of Matthew 6:9-13? These are words of perfection — words that somehow encompass all that we would ever need or want to say to God.

“Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed by Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily  bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

The opening of the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name”) rightly expresses worship of our heavenly Father. We should enter into prayer expressing our praise and adoration of the one true God of the universe. But here’s the catch — Jesus is introducing a relationship here. A relationship with a God who is also our Father — someone we can approach with the love and adoration that we would approach our earthly father. I have known people who have not had the gift of an earthly father, and the realization that they have a heavenly father who can fulfill the same role (and infinitely more) is an unbelievable blessing.

The next phrase (“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”) expresses both allegiance and submission, which naturally flow from worship. We have first expressed praise for the one sovereign God and, in coming to know who He really is, we naturally bow our knee in front of Him and acknowledge that our greatest desire is to see His kingdom fulfilled on earth. Arthur points out that this portion of the prayer “has the effect, then, of drawing us into intercession for those outside the kingdom of God…we are praying that Jesus’ lost sheep would hear His voice, come to Him, and receive eternal life.” (p 147) We are also submitting to the will of God above all else and recognizing that submission to God’s ultimate purpose-plan must come before any of our own needs and desires.

Note that the next phrase (“Give us this day our daily bread”) only comes after we first express worship, allegiance, and submission to God. Jesus is teaching us here that there is an order to prayer that puts our needs and desires into the context of who God is, and who we are in relation to God. Yes, our needs are important to God — but our needs must be expressed in accordance with the character of God.  We can only understand the character of God by delving into His Word. The petition here is for a daily need to be fulfilled — the “daily bread” — in other words, daily and even momentary sustenance. What we need for now, with the full knowledge that God will provide according to His will.

The next phrase (“And forgive us our debts, and we also have forgiven our debtors”) is a confession and cry for forgiveness that also includes a recognition of the need to forgive others. Jesus had already expressed in the Beatitudes “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  Here He is saying the same thing in a different way — our own forgiveness is undeniably linked to our forgiveness of others. As Arthur states so accurately, “Failing to forgive others shows that we have no comprehension of what we are really asking for, or of the magnitude of our own debt to a holy God.” (p 149) Many people resist the truth and implications of this part of the Prayer. I think Jesus knew this, because he immediately follows the Prayer with a further explanation: “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). Plain and simple.

The next phrase (“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”) is a cry for deliverance that only comes after our confession and forgiveness of others. Jesus is not saying here that any temptation could come from God (cr. James 1:13-14), but He is leading us to acknowledge that we are always vulnerable to sin and need constant vigilance to not stray into evil behavior. The flesh is weak and we need God’s daily protection and deliverance if we are to live righteous and holy lives.

The final phrase (“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen”) is a return to worship and is a rightful reminder that it is only because of God’s kingdom, power, and glory that we can approach him on our knees in the first place. In this prayer we have given worship, allegiance, and submission. We have petitioned for our daily needs to be fulfilled according to God’s character. We have confessed our sin and asked forgiveness. We have asked for deliverance and protection. And we have come full circle, worshipping again.

Sermon on the Mount: Week 4

One feature of the Sermon on the Mount that jumps off the page is the juxtaposition of the phrases “You have heard” and “But I say” — without a deep study of the text one might think that Jesus is changing or contradicting the Law with which the Jews were so intimately familiar. However, Jesus reminds us at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, ” Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but fulfill.”

What becomes very clear is that Jesus’ teaching cuts to the heart of the matter. He is not providing “new” teaching, but rather providing new insights into the teaching that God had already provided.  As Kay Arthur states, ” Jesus was concerned for his disciples…He wanted them to understand the narrowness of the way that leads to life, the gravity of not just hearing what He said but living accordingly. It was with these concerns on His heart that He preached the Sermon on the Mount.” ( p. 78)

The other key feature of Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon is that there is always an “action” piece to the teaching. We are never simply given counsel or admonition, but He consistently tells us how we can put the teaching into action.

Concerning murder (Matthew 5:21-26), Jesus expands the Law by saying that even a person who is angry, or calls his brother good for nothing (Raca) or a fool is “guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” How do we put this into practice? Before bringing our offering to God we must go to our brother and reconcile. In other words, we have to initiate making amends with the one who has something against us.

Concerning adultery (Matthew 5:27-32), Jesus expands the Law by saying that even a person who “looks on a woman” in lust has committed adultery with her in his heart. How do we put this into practice? “Tear out your eye…cut off your hand” — take physical control of yourself and make the necessary changes to rid adultery from your life. Do not continue or make a practice of “looking” and do not let your heart follow your eyes.

Concerning vows (Matthew 5:33-37), Jesus expands the Law by saying that we should make no oaths at all. How do we put this into practice? Let our yes be yes and our no be no — don’t say we will do something we won’t, don’t over-commit, be honest with our obligations. When the intent of our heart is to not keep a promise, but we make the promise anyway, we profane the name of God. As David prayed, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

Sermon on the Mount: Week 3

In Week #3, Kay Arthur continues to prepare us for the study of the actual Sermon on the Mount by examining the true condition of the heart. According to Arthur, “men and women persist in believing that they can instill the moral, ethical structure of Jesus’ teaching without installing Jesus as their King.” (p. 46) She uses Gandhi as an example of a man who, albeit an incredible and principled leader who exemplified the teachings of Jesus, never (at least openly) accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. His heart was full of peace and love but he did not openly choose to bow his knee to confess Jesus as Lord.

What does Scripture tell us about the true condition of the heart? Genesis 8:21 tells us that “man’s heart is evil from his youth” and Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” God gave the Law to Israel to make their sin and the true conditions of their hearts evident to them. In the Law God also provided the guidance and instructions for sacrifices that would atone for sin until the coming of the True Sacrifice, Jesus Christ. In Romans 7:24, Paul reminds us that the Law is spiritual and good but it is impossible for a person in the flesh to keep the Law perfectly, which leads him to ask “Who will set me free?”

We are slaves to sin and only God can set us free. How does this happen? The process is described in Romans 6:1-7 (note the process outlined in the italicized verbs that follow):  those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are first baptized into His death, then buried with Him into death, then raised with Him from the dead through the glory of the Father, then united with Him in the likeness of His death and also in the likeness of His resurrection, and finally freed from sin because our old self was crucified with Him. The Christ who has died and been resurrected has freed us from slavery to sin! We now walk in the newness of life.

As believers in Christ, our hearts are no longer bound to the old covenant of the Law. We are part of the new covenant that God promised as far back as the prophet Jeremiah: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall by My people.” (Jer 31:33) This covenant is no longer written on tablets of stone but on the tablets of our hearts renewed by the sacrificial blood of Christ.

It is only this kind of heart — the heart bound by the New Covenant of grace — that makes possible the kind of lifestyle described in the Sermon on the Mount.

Sermon on the Mount: Week 2

Week #2 of Kay Arthur’s Sermon on the Mount Bible study continues her examination of the kingdom of heaven, focusing on the coming glory of His kingdom, the realm of Christ’s rulership, and the fact that as believers we possess this kingdom as our very own.

As we read in the parable of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27, this young man was desperately searching for the “secret” to possessing the kingdom and inheriting eternal life. He basically kept asking Jesus the same question but not hearing Jesus’ answer: you cannot earn your way into the kingdom of heaven. The key to entering the kingdom is a fundamental change of heart and this is not easy…but all things are possible with God. As Arthur says in Day 3 of this week’s study, “Salvation comes only through a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.” (pg 33)

The difficulty we face as Christians living in the “not yet” before the physical kingdom of heaven comes to earth, is that we are living amongst nonbelievers in a fallen world. These people are depicted as the “tares” in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13. As we grow up amongst each other in the “field” that is the world, there really appears to be no difference among us. That is, until harvest time comes. Then, as the true kingdom of heaven is ushered into this world, the wheat (believers in Christ) will be gathered into the kingdom while the tares (nonbelievers) will be gathered up and burned by fire.

Arthur has designed this study to not immediately delve into the Sermon on the Mount, but to instead focus on the larger theme of the kingdom of heaven to prepare readers for the intense description of the lifestyle required by believers as described by Jesus in Matthew 5-7. I appreciate this approach, and really feel that this preface to the actual Sermon will prepare our minds and hearts for the challenging teaching ahead.

Yes, the Sermon on the Mount contains vital and valuable teaching for how Christians should live their lives in this fallen world. But ultimately we are being — and will be — reminded that we are to live the righteous lifestyle exemplified by Christ because the God who has saved us is Holy. We are being prepared to someday hear these words: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

Sermon on the Mount: Week 1

Week #1 of Kay Arthur’s Sermon on the Mount Bible study begins with a close examination of the “kingdom of heaven” — what it means, where it exists, and what Jesus has to say about it in Matthew 5-7.

What does the Sermon on the Mount tell us about the kingdom of heaven? It belongs to the poor in spirit and to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The reward is great there, but some will be called “least” and others “great.” The Father dwells there, we can lay up treasures there, and only the one who does God’s will can enter.

Scripture teaches us 4 aspects of the kingdom of heaven: God’s literal abiding place is in the third heaven (cf, 2 Cor 12), God’s universal and eternal dominion is over the heavens, the invisible spiritual rulership of Jesus Christ is within the lives of those who have genuinely been born again of the Spirit of God, and Jesus will reign over the whole earth in His millennial kingdom.

As Christians, we do not have to fear the judgment of the kingdom of heaven, but Scripture is clear that we will be held accountable for our actions and how we live according to God’s Word. We are to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ with gold, silver, and precious stones (I Cor 3:10-15) — and Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount provides us with clear and specific guidance on living in this way.

Where else do we read about gold and precious stones? Both in the description of the first temple in Exodus and the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. Consider this thread throughout Scripture and what Jesus is saying to us about the realities of the kingdom of heaven. The first temple was built after a pattern that exists in heaven and, by building our lives with materials that will never burn when tested by fire, we will someday see with our own eyes a golden city whose temple is “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Rev 21:22)

*New* Fall Women’s Bible Study: Sermon on the Mount

Happy Fall everyone! We are starting a new women’s Bible study at Grace Chapel here in Lincoln, NE, and I will once again be updating my blog on a weekly basis for those who want to follow along online. We will be studying the Kay Arthur book “LORD, I’m Torn Between Two Masters: A Devotional Study on Genuine Faith from the Sermon on the Mount.”

I am excited about this study because I have never read a book by Kay Arthur before, but I have it on good authority that she is an excellent author and Bible teacher. I am also excited because this study of the Sermon on the Mount will be an excellent follow-up to the study on the Ten Commandments we finished this spring.

I hope you will study along with us as we delve deeply into Matthew 5-7, read how our Lord Jesus expounds on the Ten Commandments, and teaches us to live with a deeper faith and understanding of His Word.

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For the women of Grace Chapel, we will be meeting in the Geneva House every Monday night from 7-8:30 pm for the next 9 weeks. Please read Chapter 1 for next week and I’ll see you at Grace!