Humility Comes Before Fasting

Ephesians 4:2

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What a gracious God that we serve who has given us His blessed Word, which both convicts and encourages, it reproves and it exhorts. And we as children of God should treasure the times that His Word convicts and reproves just as much as when it encourages and exhorts. Why? Because it brings to our attention the reality of the awesome process of sanctification that is taking place in our lives. It reminds us of God’s love for us as he by His love, gently molds us and makes us into the image of His very own Son, our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And that simply would not happen without the reproof and conviction from God through His Word.

Proverbs 13:1 says that

"A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke."

Just as your children should accept your discipline, we all should accept discipline from God, knowing the great benefit which will result, that is our sanctification, our being made holy, into the likeness of the One we serve.

I have no doubt that as we continue in Ephesians chapters 4-6, which will teach us how to live the Christian life in a way that is pleasing to our Lord. That as we continue through these passages that there will be an abundance of opportunity for the Holy Spirit to convict each one of us as He guides us into proper Christian living. So I want you to expect that and to receive it. And I hope you will anticipate that with joy although in the short run it is sometimes painful. I am looking forward to seeing how God will sharpen you as well as me as we continue on through this journey together.

I hope that you will approach all of your Bible study in that way, with excitement saying

"God, how are you going to change me today?"

"What are you going to teach me and how will it change my life for your glory?”

Our next passage in Matthew 6 as we work our way through the sermon on the Mount is Jesus talking about fasting and the fact that many use fasting as a way to gain attention from others which feeds their pride. It is rather incredible that fasting can be turned into a prideful thing and yet Jesus tells us that it can and it is. I think for most Christians in our day fasting is greatly misunderstood. I have spent some time trying to better understand Christian, biblical fasting and next week I hope to be ready to preach from Matthew 6:16-18. But for this week I want us to consider what may be the primary attitude that is required to truly fast and pray. That attitude, characteristic is humility. Jesus points out that fasting can be done in pride but biblical God pleasing fasting is a humble act. Without humility one cannot fast in a truly Christian way. So today let’s look at humility from Ephesians chapter 4 verse 2.

Now, the first verse of Ephesians 4, Paul said this,

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you" or beg you, "to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."

Paul exhorts us to walk in a manner or to live our lives in a manner that is worthy of our high calling. Or in a manner that is equal to or balances out with our calling unto Christianity. He raises the level of our walk to such heights that we have no choice, no hope of meeting those requirements unless we are completely dependent on God who supplies all power, which is all sufficient to keep us in the narrow way. To keep us on that narrow path which leads to eternal life.

After Paul makes this lofty statement that we should walk in a manner worthy of our calling, he does not stop there. He does not leave us hanging wondering how to do that but he goes on to instruct us on how to do so. He goes on to tell us what a Christians life looks like if that person is walking in a manner worthy of his calling. Paul gives four characteristics of a Christians life who is walking in that manner which is worthy of his calling. Look at these four characteristics.

Verse 2,

"with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love"

then verse 3 he exhorts us to

"be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Paul gives us four characteristics or four attitudes that must be present in the life of the Christian who is

"walking in a manner worthy of [his] calling”.

Four things and as with many of Paul’s writings, the order in which he lists things are of great importance. He first gives us the attitude of humility then gentleness, then patience and then forbearing love. These four characteristics are a progression, each one building on the one preceding it. The genuine exercise of one leading to the exercise of those that follow.

He begins with what many would call THE foundational characteristic or the foundational virtue of a Christian. Humility. If someone were to ask you, "What is THE attitude that would most characterize a Christian?" How would you respond? Christians are to be different so what attitude of the Christian would most set him apart from the world. I mean if you had to just give one, what would it be?

Well, I think you could make a good case for the attitude of humility which should characterize all of our lives. And I believe that that is why Paul begins with humility in this listing, and then adds to this list, because each of the next three attitudes flow from this one attitude of humility. Humility is an attitude which is not seen in and of itself but is obviously present as it manifest itself through certain actions. And in Ephesians 4:2 humility expresses itself through

"gentleness and patience and forbearing love."

The word here for humility is translated from a Greek word which literally means "humiliation of mind" or "to think or judge with lowliness or to have lowliness of mind." John Wesley observed that "neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for humility." Isn’t that interesting? You may not know it but this particular word which is translated here as humility was actually born with Christianity. It is a word that was coined by Christians and probably by the Apostle Paul himself, to describe a quality for which no other word was available in the first century.

And even after it was coined by Christians for many years Pagans used it almost exclusively to describe Christians in a very derogatory way. Now, both the Greeks and the Romans were a very proud people. So to refer to someone as one possessing humility of mind would to them be an extremely negative and even hateful act. Humility to them would not be a virtue but a sign of great weakness as one might describe a coward or a weak fool. You see back then, pride was the primary virtue of the day. Pride, the very opposite of humility was the most sought after characteristic in their society. That was the pinnacle of their humanistic faith.

It shows us in a very real sense that although much time has passed since that first century, most things have not changed at all. Attitudes remain the same. Oh there is talk of humility in our day, it has become a common word in our society, but when we come across a truly humble person, even in the Church, all to often he is the exception instead of the rule. What does it mean to walk in humility or literally "to think or judge ourselves with lowliness of mind" What does it mean? AS I attempt to explain, I want you to follow along very closely because, humility being a familiar word in our day, is common to your vocabulary but, I want to take you through some passages which I hope will cause you to truly examine your walk. And as we do, ask yourself,

"Am I walking accordingly?"

"Am I faithfully walking in a manner worthy of my calling?"

To walk in this manner is to proceed through this life regarding other people as more important than yourself. Remember humility is "to think or judge yourself with lowliness of mind." So, It is to think of others first, and yourself last. It is to think of others peoples needs, whether they be physical, spiritual or emotional as more important than your own. Now already we see a contrast with our society. In Philipians 2:3 Paul gives us a very familiar passage. He says,

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others.”

He says "do NOTHING from selfishness or empty conceit" Or that could be translated more literally like this , "Do nothing from selfishness or vainglory." Or self glory. He is saying do not do anything with the motive or purpose of bringing glory to yourself. You see that would be contrary to our definition of humility. Do not act in a way that has as its goal to bring attention to you, for that is "vainglory”, or "empty glory”. You see bringing glory to yourself is an issue of pride. Which again is the opposite of the very attribute of humility that we as believers should display. Glory is meant for God, and for God alone. So, attempting to raise yourself up in other people's eyes and bringing glory to yourself brings you into direct competition with God.

We should do all things for His sake. Pointing people to Him. Drawing attention away from ourselves and directing people to Him and His divine character. Remember what John the Baptist said at the very height of his popularity and ministry? John the Baptist with humility of mind, with lowliness of mind said of Jesus,

"He must increase, but I must decrease."

Now I know that probably nothing so far has been new to you. If your grew up in the church then you are familiar with statements like "Give God the glory" Or "We should do all for His glory" or you have probably been taught that you are to deflect the glory to Him. And all of those things are true, but if they are not understood or not practiced then they are empty words which produce nothing of value.

Think about your life. Think about your "so called" accomplishments. Maybe you graduated from college, maybe you excelled in some sport, maybe you work for a great company and hold a coveted position. Maybe your children are learning under your teaching, maybe you see that as a great accomplishment. Do you take pride in these things? We are prone to, aren’t we? Maybe you have just finished a major project successfully. Children, maybe you are doing well in school, that is a positive accomplishment. But, what is your attitude regarding any of these or any other accomplishments in your life? Do you sit back and bask in your accomplishment? Do you revel in your success? Do you glory in your achievements? Do you find ways to let others know of what you have done?

Do you quietly sit back and receive glory from others? Is your attitude that of pride? OR humility? Pride exalts self. Humility exalts God. Pride causes us to parade our accomplishments. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest bible expositors of this century says that pride results in "self-advertisement”. Advertising ourselves before others so that they will recognize us and so that we will be exalted in their minds.

And you know that we sometimes do this in the subtlest ways. We slip things into a conversation appearing innocent of pride but at the same time hoping that we will be exalted in someone’s eyes. But you must remember, true humility is an attitude, it is internal. We can appear humble because of certain actions, we can fool people for a time, but true humility is an attitude of the heart. And that is what I want you to ponder this morning. Not what are you doing as acts of humility but deep down within you what is the attitude of your heart in regard to this issue of humility and pride. How do you view yourself in relation to others and in relation to God? Are you really concerned with others well being or are you self centered? To what degree do you put others needs ahead of your own?

During the days of slavery in the West Indies, a group of Christians found it impossible to witness to the slaves there because they were almost totally separated from them as non-slaves --many of whom felt it beneath them to even speak to a slave. There were two young missionaries, however, who were determined to reach those oppressed people whatever the cost. They must have considered Philippians 2:3-4

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interest of others."

So what did these young missionaries do? They laid aside their own privileges, and in order to fulfill their calling they joined the slaves. They willingly became slaves. They worked and lived beside the slaves, becoming totally identified with them. They shared their overwork, their beatings and their abuse. And the two missionaries soon won the hearts of those slaves, many of whom accepted the God who could move men to such loving selflessness. That happens from a attitude of true humility.

But to understand true humility, the ultimate example that we must turn to is our Lord Himself. Of all the of Christ’s attributes that He displayed on the earth, His attitude of humility may be the most difficult for us to comprehend. I mean, if anyone ever deserved to exalt himself or to draw attention and praise to Himself, it would be our Lord Jesus Christ. But instead, he modeled for us humility. And we are to walk as He walked. Look at what Paul said in Philippians 2:5.

"Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus."

Paul is exhorting us in Philippians just as in Ephesians 4 to humility. And then he goes on to illustrate for us Christ’s perfect example of humility.

"Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

What a staggering and beautiful picture of humility of our Lord. Are you ever tempted to think highly of yourself in relation to others? John proclaims in 1 John 4:6

"The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked."

We have our example in Christ. Do you ever justify in your mind your self worth over someone else’s? Do you ever think that your needs are above your brothers or sisters needs or your neighbors needs convincing yourself that you are justified in ignoring someone’s poverty? Whether it be poverty in physical, emotional or spiritual things? Christ didn’t. He stooped down in pure humility into the midst of fallen and depraved humanity, who hated Him and hated His Father. And He did so in love and in obedience as well as an example to those who would follow Him.

This passage says that He "emptied Himself”, He laid aside His glory, the glory that was due him, for a time in order to point mankind to His Father, that He, the Father, may be glorified. He did not accept it for Himself. And that is so evident in his ministry. He constantly pointed His followers to God the Father. He stated that He came to fulfill His Father's will. He attributed His power to the Father as coming from the Father and not from Himself. If anyone one ever deserved to receive glory and honor and praise on this earth it would be Christ. If anyone ever had a right to exalt Himself and to "self advertise" as MLJ states it, it would be Christ. But no. He emptied Himself in humility and glorified the Father who sent Him.

That Philippians passage also said that He took on the form of a bond-servant or slave. And that He was made in the likeness of man, and that He appeared as a man. We may be tempted as humans to think that that is not such a great act of humility, that is becoming and appearing as a man. But that is considering the passage from a man centered view. Think about it. The God of all the universe of all creation who is not bound by time or space to be clothed in humanness. To be bound by flesh and blood. What a humbling experience that must have been for our Lord. The verse continues and says that He humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross. The most degrading humiliating death of the day was that of crucifixion. To be raised up on a cross in humiliation for all to see and for all to ridicule and spit upon and curse and blaspheme. Our Lord was a perfect example for us. He walked in humility, so that we might live.

And who are we to think that we should think highly of ourselves and think of ourselves as more important that someone else? Or to think that we are deserving of glory or praise when Christ Himself refused such glory and instead offered it up to God the Father? If you are going to walk in a manner worthy of your calling then you must walk in humility.

And to ignore humility, to lay it aside is to walk in pride, which is to walk in sin. The first sin was the sin of pride. Pride led the angel Lucifer to exalt himself above his Creator and Lord. Because the bright "star of the morning" continually said, "I will, I will, I will" in opposition to God’s will, he was cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-23). Because he said, "I am a god," the Lord cast him "from the mountain of God" (Ezekiel 28:11-19). The original sin of Adam and Eve was pride, trusting in their own understanding above God’s. The writer of Proverbs warns

"When pride comes, then comes dishonor" (11:2), "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling”, and again, "Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked is sin" (21:4).

Isaiah warned,

"The proud look of a man will be abased, and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (Isa. 2:11).

Notice in that verse that man will be humbled, all men will be humbled some day. And in Jeremiah 50:31-32 it says,

"Behold I am against you, O arrogant one, For your day has come, the time when I shall punish you. And the arrogant one will stumble and fall with no one to raise him up." And in the last chapter of the Old Testament it says, "For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff."

Pride is the supreme temptation of Satan, because pride is at the heart of his own evil nature. And pride is the polar opposite of what our walk should reflect.

Well, the last thing I want you to see this evening is the freeing aspect of humility. The joy and peace that is found in walking in humility. You see the world and psychology would tell you that if you do not take pride in yourself and in your accomplishments then you have a very unhealthy view of yourself and they could probably come up with a very scholarly diagnosis for that. You may think that walking in all humility will be difficult or even impossible. You may think it leads to a defeatist type attitude. You may picture a truly humble person as one who is always kicking himself or beating himself up in an unhealthy way. As someone whose head is always down and whose attitude is negative toward himself, believing that he can do nothing, or someone believing that he can accomplish nothing for the kingdom of God. You may think of someone who is entirely negative and always down and depressed.

But want I want you to see is that is simply not the case. You see a truly humble person has a proper view of himself, a lowly opinion of himself, and therefore his focus for all of life must move from himself to God. To walk humbly we are forced to focus upon God. All of those things I just described would be true of a person whose focus is upon who? Upon themselves. Right?

But for a Christians it is not so. But for the proud all things revolve around self and eventually self will fail. If your hope is in yourself you will be disappointed, if in God, you will live a life of victory.

Look at the focus. Pride says, "I can do all things”. That is what Satan said isn’t it? But humility says, "I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me”. This is so important to see. Paul was humble, yet he did not sit around in a pitiful state with an attitude of defeat. No, He realized that he could do all things, through Christ who was his strength. Do you see the power in that. Living in pride of self is like living in a house if cards. Someday it will all fall down.

Pride says advertises self. But Humility advertises God. See the change of focus? Pride parades self, but Humility parades God. Pride boasts of self and self accomplishments. But Humility boasts in the Lord. Pride says my strength and power comes from within, but humility understands that God supplies all power and is perfected in weakness. Pride says I am strong. Humility says God is strong.

Pride says that I am adequate for the job, humility says my adequacy is in Christ. Pride says look at me, humility says look at God.

A Christian clothed in humility should be the most joyful of all who walk the earth. Because his focus is on the One who can accomplish all things. Yet a prideful man must look internally, at what is truly weak and helpless.

To walk in humility is to walk with a proper view of both man, or yourself and a proper view of God and that is to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.

So, I want to encourage you this week, to walk in a manner worthy of your calling with all humility. Consider first of all God’s glory, because glory belongs to Him. He is the only one to properly receive glory and honor and praise, and also consider those around you and their needs as more important than your own. Knowing that through God all things are possible, and it is He who strengthens you to glorify Himself and to serve and minister to others.

And next week, Lord willing we will see how this Christian characteristic of humility will be key in the matter of fasting according to the will of God.

God's Love Displayed

WELCOME:

Good morning! If you are visiting with us today, I want to welcome you once again to Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It’s an honor to be worshiping with you today.

John continues his instructions once again on the topic of love. In the past two sermons we have learned that we can be assured of our salvation and that we are commanded to be discerning. Now John returns to the topic of love for the third time in this epistle. Obviously, this is a very important topic. In 1 John 4:7-21 John says….

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

INTRODUCTION:

In today’s message, I hope to show the relation of the perfect love of God to God’s character, Jesus’ return, a Christian’s claim of faith and the final Day of Judgment. But I am going to start with an overview of the doctrine of the Trinity to help us understand the perfect love of God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is truly beyond our human comprehension yet it is definitely a part of scripture. Though the fullness of the Trinity is profound and difficult to understand, there is no doubt this is how God has revealed Himself – one God existing in three persons. Many have studied this doctrine and found it to be very weighty. For example, Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor and theologian, noted after studying the topic extensively, “I think it to be the highest and deepest of all Divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don’t pretend to explain the Trinity.”

The Bible is very clear that these three persons together are one and only one God. In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” which validates that the Father and Son are one. First Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This highlights that the Father and the Spirit are one. Romans 8:9 makes clear that the Son and the Spirit are one when Paul says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you…” And finally, John 14:16-18 and 23 demonstrate that the Father, Son, and Spirit are one; Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…. Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”

Now let’s take a look at the Old Testament which highlights the idea of the Trinity in several ways. The title Elohim (“God”), for instance, is a plural noun, which can suggest multiplicity. This corresponds to the fact that the plural pronoun (“us”) is sometimes used of God. For example, in Genesis 1:26 God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” In Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” There are also passages where all three persons of the Trinity are seen at work. In Isaiah 48:16, Israel is being reminded of their promised deliverance by each person of the Trinity: “Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.” In Isaiah 61:1 it says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.”

The New Testament clearly distinguishes the Trinity as three persons who are all simultaneously actively at work. For example, in Matthew 3:16-17 which highlights Christ’s baptism, all three persons were simultaneously active with the Son being baptized, the Spirit descending, and the Father speaking from heaven. In Matthew 6:9 where Jesus gives us the model prayer, Jesus Himself prayed to the Father. In John 14:26, Jesus says, God will send the Holy Spirit in His name. And in John 17:5, Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him. All these actions would not make sense unless the Father and the Son were two distinct persons. In other portions of the New Testament, the individual activity of the Trinity is highlighted. Such as in Romans 8:26 where the Holy Spirit intercedes before the Father on behalf of believers. Also in 1 John 2:1, the Son is our Advocate. In John 14:6, John reminds us that Jesus said the Holy Spirit would abide in believers. Again, in 14:18 and 20-21, Jesus Himself said He would abide in believers. And then in verse 23, the Bible states that the Father would abide in them. Each person of the Trinity is found distinctly working in a person’s life. There are other verses that can be highlighted but I hope that you are now convinced that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit are One God manifested in three persons of the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is crucial on an infinite number of levels since it is at the very heart of the doctrine of God. This doctrine is so significant, that the Trinity has implications not only for what believers think about God but also for how they relate to Him and to one another. It is the truth of the Trinity that explains God as a relational being.

Based on that flawless relational model of the Trinity and God’s perfect desire and purpose to have fellowship with His creatures, the triune God designed us to be relational beings. Because God created us in His image, we therefore have the capacity to love others. This is perfectly demonstrated through our fellowship with God and with other human beings. Although human love falls far short of God’s love, it is a reflection of the perfect love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity.

The New Testament mentions many kinds of love, but the supreme love is the perfect and complete love that comes from God at salvation. In Romans 5:5 Paul wrote, “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” It is a love that does not derive from gushy feelings or a magical moment, nor is it attached to emotional romanticism; but instead it is the love that originates in salvation. Romans 8:28-30 highlights what true love looks like:

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

This type of love demonstrates itself in the good works of sanctification and according to Hebrews 10:24 it stimulates us to love and good deeds. However, the fullest expression of this love occurs when believers obey the Lord.

1 John 2:5 Whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.

As I mentioned earlier, this passage is actually the third time John discusses love in this letter. First in 2:7–11 he presented love as a proof of true fellowship. Then in 3:10–17 John discussed love as evidence of believers’ sonship. This third discussion of love is an example of John’s cycling back through the letter’s moral and doctrinal proofs of salvation, each time providing his readers with greater depth and breadth.

In this passage, John discusses the nature of perfect Trinitarian love as it relates to 1) the character of God, 2) the coming of Christ, 3) the Christian’s claim of faith, and 4) the Christian’s confidence in judgment.

Let’s take a look at how….

PERFECT LOVE AND THE CHARACTER OF GOD RELATE

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

John begins this passage by stating “beloved” which means “loved ones.” He then urges them to love one another as “loved ones.” But John is referring once again to agapē love—unconditional, self-sacrificing love. He is not talking about some emotion based, physical attraction, or friendship type love, but instead he is talking about the love of self-sacrificing service. It is the love granted to someone who needs to be loved not necessarily to someone who is the cutest, most attractive or even someone who is lovable. Why do we need to extend love to one another? Because love is from God. Just as God is life and the source of eternal life, He is also the source of love according to 1 John 4:16. Therefore, those who possess new life and walk in His light, they will also possess and manifest His love, since everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Because we are God’s children and are manifesting His nature, we will love one another.

Those who possess the life of God have the capacity and ability to love. However the one who does not love does not know God. No matter what an individual claims, if their life is not characterized by love for others, they are not Christians. It’s not enough to know about God, you have to know God. The Jewish scribes, Pharisees, and other leaders knew a lot about God, but they did not really know Him. The absence of God’s love in their lives revealed their lack of a real acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; therefore, they had no real love for others.

God by His very nature is love, thus He defines love; it does not define Him. We can’t impose a human view of love onto God, He transcends any such human boundaries. Because God is love, it helps to explain a number of things regarding a proper biblical worldview. For example, it explains the reason God created us. In eternity past, within the perfect fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father purposed, as a love gift to His Son, to redeem a people who would honor and glorify the Son. Therefore, He created a race of beings out of which He would love and redeem those who would in turn love Him forever. Jesus says in John 17:

John 17:7 Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.

Also, the truth that God is love explains human choice. He designed sinners to know and love Him by an act of their wills although it is not possible without the work of the Holy Spirit. According to Mark 12:29-30, God’s greatest commandment is that people love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This reaffirms that our choice to love Him is an act of our will, but to know Him is to love Him.

As part of a biblical worldview, the reality that God is love also explains His providence. He orchestrates all the circumstances of life in all their wonder, beauty, and even difficulty, to reveal evidence of His love. We know this because in Romans 8:28 the Scripture says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” By His divine providence, all things, from the minute and mundane, to the most significant and eternal, are all controlled by God’s hand.

Lastly, because God is love it explains the divine plan of redemption. If God operated only on the basis of His law, He would convict all of us for our sin and commit every single one of us to spend eternity in Hell. And He would be just in doing so! But His love provided a remedy for our sin through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all who repent of their sin and trust in His mercy. Galatians 4:4–5 says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” John 3:14–15 says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” And then in the most well-known statement of His earthly ministry, Jesus said:

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

We have talked about ways God’s love is manifested through a biblical worldview, but what about His love for mankind in general. Well, He expresses His love and goodness to all through common grace. According to Psalm 145:9, the psalmist wrote, “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.” As part of this, God reveals His love through His compassion, primarily through His restraint of His final judgment against unrepentant sinners. His compassion is further expressed in His countless warnings to sinners of their ultimate judgment and through His continued offer of grace and mercy to all.

However, this general love of God is limited to this life. After death, unrepentant sinners will experience God’s final wrath and judgment for all eternity. But God has a special, perfect, eternal love that He lavishes on all who believe and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is the love Jesus displayed to the apostles when they were in the upper room:

John 13:1 …having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

It is the type of love that Paul writes about in Ephesians 2:

Ephesians 2:4 God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

John has covered how this perfect Trinitarian love relates to the character of God and now he says that this….

PERFECT LOVE AND THE COMING OF CHRIST ARE RELATED

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Jesus Christ is the dominant manifestation of God’s love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten Son who came into this world. He came to earth in the flesh to live a perfect, sinless life so that He would be our perfect sacrifice. The incarnation was the supreme demonstration of God’s divine love toward us. It is a love that seeks those who believe. It is a sovereign love because of God’s will. It is a seeking love because it is in search of those who would believe. It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. The term “propitiation” refers to a covering for sin. Jesus Christ became our covering so when God looks at a believer, He sees Jesus Christ His Son. The prophet Isaiah foresaw His propitiatory sacrifice hundreds of years before its fulfillment. In Isaiah 53:4-6, Isaiah said:

Isaiah 53:4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

By this the perfect love of God was manifested in us. God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. John’s point is that since God, in sovereign mercy, graciously displayed His love in sending Jesus Christ to us, we should surely follow His example and love others with sacrificial, Christ-like love. God not only gave His children a perfect love when He redeemed us, He also gave us the ultimate model through His Son of how that love functions in selfless sacrifice. The cross should compel, even drive, us to love others. That is why John is encouraging all of us when he says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” John is re-emphasizing what he said back in 3:16: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” No one who has ever truly been saved, believed in Christ’s atoning sacrifice and follows after Him, can return permanently to a self-centered life. Instead we should try to:

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

John has covered how the perfect Trinitarian love relates to the character of God, the coming of Jesus Christ and now he says that this….

PERFECT LOVE AND THE CHRISTIAN’S CLAIM OF FAITH ARE RELATED

1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

Right off the bat, John makes a very emphatic yet simple point: No one has seen God (referring to the Father) at any time. Because we have never seen God the Father and the fact that Jesus is no longer visibly present here on earth to manifest Him, we will not see God’s love unless believers love one another. If we love one another, God is going to be on display to others and it will be a testimony that He abides in us and His love is perfected in us. In other words, the “unseen” God reveals Himself through the visible love of believers. This is the love that originated in God, was manifested in His Son, and is now demonstrated in His people.

In this passage John also sets forth several significant proofs to remind us once again that we can know we are saved. Assurance begins with the work of the Holy Spirit. We know this because Ephesians 1:13–14 says, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” John assures us that we can know we abide in God and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

John has already focused on the perfect love of the Father and the Son, now he emphasizes the role of the Spirit. By noting the work of each member of the Trinity, John stresses that perfect love originates from the Trinity. This perfect love is accomplished through the work of each member of the Trinity and subsequently manifested in the lives of believers. Those who abide in God will reflect His love, because God abides in them and His Spirit is at work in their hearts.

Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to the wind and said people can see only the Spirit’s effects. The Spirit’s work is not visible but the impact is. The reality of our faith enables us to know we have the indwelling Spirit. John says, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” This doctrinal test of belief in the gospel provides evidence of the Spirit’s ministry and presence in a believer. So saving faith is possible only because God grants it. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” In John’s case, his own experience of seeing and being with Jesus verified his faith. He bore witness that the Father has sent the Son to be Savior of the world. However, he would not have believed had the Father not chosen him and the Spirit opened his eyes to the truth.

John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, knows that God abides in him, and he in God.” A true believer has discerned the presence of the Holy Spirit, and has come to know and believe the love which God has for us. A true believer understands the eternal love of God, who is love, for He is the source of all love. Therefore, we can rest confidently in the assurance that the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. We will also further demonstrate the genuineness of our salvation by loving the Father and the Son, loving righteousness and fellow believers rather than the world’s system. In summary, we will increasingly love the way God loves as he transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Well, now John has covered how the perfect Trinitarian love relates to the character of God, the coming of Jesus Christ, the Christians claim of faith; and lastly he says that this….

PERFECT LOVE AND THE CHRISTIAN’S CONFIDENCE IN THE JUDGMENT ARE RELATED

1 John 4:17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Believers are to have confidence in the Day of Judgment because they have an accurate grasp of the gospel and other biblical doctrines and love is perfected in them. The Day of Judgment refers in the broadest sense to the final day of reckoning before God. John says we can live our lives with confidence as we look to the day when Christ returns and we stand before God to give account. Second Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” All believers can have a boldness as we stand before God. John declares that boldness and lack of fear should characterize our thoughts as we consider the Day of Judgment.

Why can believers have such confidence? John says, because as He is, so also are we in this world. This is an absolutely stunning and sobering statement. John says God the Father treats believers the same way He does His Son Jesus Christ. God clothes believers with the righteousness of Christ according to Philippians 3:9 and grants us Jesus’ perfect love according to John 13:1 and His obedience according to John 4:34. To think that we will stand before God’s throne as confidently as Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior is overwhelming to me. When we reach our final accounting, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

Believers who possess this perfect love demonstrate the reality of their salvation; therefore, they should not fear the return of Christ or God’s judgment because perfect love casts out fear. This real love dispels fear because fear involves punishment. However, believers perfected in love will not face final punishment. Romans 5:9 says, “…having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Anyone who fears God’s judgment is not perfected in love. So anyone who professes Christ but fears His return evidences that something is seriously amiss. That’s because 2 Timothy 4:8 says that all true saints should love His appearing.

What is it that is motivating believers to have this incredible assurance of the future? Well it should be obvious: We love, because He first loved us. It was God’s perfect love that sovereignly drew all believers to Him and enabled them to reflect His love to others.

John says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” It’s absurd to claim to love the invisible God but at the same time not show love to His children. John continues with a closing command: “this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” True love seeks nothing in return, unconditionally forgives, bears others’ burdens, and sacrifices to meet their needs. Philippians 2:3–4 really emphasizes this well:

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

APPLICATION/CLOSING:

God’s perfect love is a blessing for us to know and a joy for us to exhibit to others. Although perfect love enhances and enriches the emotional love we have for other people, this perfect love surpasses any kind of feeling the world experiences. It is a complete, mature love that reflects the essence of God and the work of Christ as it flows through believers to those in need. This applies especially to those who are a part of God’s family. We are to bear one another’s burdens and to do good to all especially to those who are a part of the household of faith. This love, which has characterized the triune God from eternity past, is also the mark of His children. John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Because this love so clearly comes from God, those who love like Him can be assured He is our Father.

John says….

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

When You Pray

Matthew 6:5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Jesus moves from one important topic to the next on and on through the sermon on the mount. He describes and clarifies what it means to be a follower of God. Just as in our day, there was much confusion in the first century regarding being a spiritual person who loves God. Many thought it meant that certain rituals must be followed, that if you just do the prescribed works at the right time on a regular basis then you would be in with God and He would smile upon you. You know, just follow the list, do the list, be careful to do the right things at the right time and God will like you, He will be proud of you and He will be honored to have you as His child.

We can fall into that kind of thinking as well. We can think that if we just do good works, do good works consistently, then He will like us. Or even as a bonus do the right works in front of other people and not only will God like us but other people will like us too.

Take the matter of prayer. Jesus talks about prayer. Prayer is the most intimate spiritual communication between man and God, from man to God. It is man reaching out to God, reaching out sometimes in great pain and agony, with tremendous emotion. It is man reaching out to God in praise and adoration. It is man asking God to have mercy on him, to protect and guide him. It is real communication with the most awesome being in all of the universe. It is God bending his ear to hear from His children. It is an incredible thing, prayer is. A close and intimate fellowship made possible because God is merciful and He cares.
This is what prayer is, yet like all things that God has created and made available to us, we, mankind, have such an innate ability to just reduce it from a most meaningful spiritual endeavor to a meaningless effort used for self promotion. We can take such a gift meant for our comfort and joy and make it a means for pride.

Jesus sets many of us straight with His words regarding prayer. It is important that we see what Jesus is getting at here. Remember, prayer is not for God’s benefit, God can do without our prayers. In fact, God can do without us. But God has chosen to pour out His grace upon us. He has chose to bless us with good things both now and for eternity. And part of this grace that He has given us is this ability to come before Him in prayer. Jesus is not interested in setting us right regarding prayer because He or the Father need to hear from us or because they are missing out on something because we don’t pray right, no. If we are not praying according to God’s way then it is you and I who are missing out on the benefit of prayer. Christ is looking out for us here—He is leading us to pray for our good because He cares.

In fact He begins with the words, “When you pray.” Jesus indicates that God’s people will be a people who pray. These are the same words he used concerning giving to and helping the poor. In chapter 6 verse 2 Jesus said, “when you give to the needy,” not if you give to the needy. Just as true believers are compassionate toward those in need, they are also a people who will pray.

The word “when” as in “when you pray" may also express a rejection for fixed ritualistic type praying as well. And the Jews of the first century were really big on ritualistic, rote praying. Praying for many had become simply what you do at certain times just because it was what you were supposed to do in contrast to intimate fellowship with a merciful, caring God.

Let me give you a few examples of this. First century Jews were expected to recite the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. In the morning it was to be recited while standing and in the evening while reclining.

Prayers were prayed at the beginning and at the end of each meal with different prayers depending on what was on the menu. There was a prayer for fruit, another for vegetables, another for bread, for unripe fruit, for sour wine and so on. The rabbis even debated over what amount of food was necessary to consider it a meal. They decided that if the food amounted to the size of an olive it was a meal and the prayers were mandatory. At the end of the Sabbath three prayers were recited, one for the lamp, one for the spices and one for the end of the Sabbath.

And there were many more required prayers: A prayer that was required when approaching a miracle, seeing a shooting star, experiencing an earthquake, hearing thunder, seeing lightening. Prayers that were offered when seeing a mountain, hills, the sea, rivers and a desert. Prayers were even required when getting a new cooking container, when entering town and when leaving a town.

I’m not sure how they kept up with all this! And if you think about the origin of these prayers we can imagine that they may have been started for very good reasons. For instance, someone might say, “If we see the splendor of the Lord in the presence of a great mountain, we ought to stop and acknowledge that God is great, mighty, powerful and creative. We should praise Him. And if we see the sky light up by the lightening that He creates we should prayerfully acknowledge His presence in it. And we should pray in the morning and at night, when we eat and when we rest.” I can see the good in many of these things. The problem may be when all of it is required and pressed upon people by religious leaders.

What are we commanded to do? We are commanded to pray always. The whenever or when you pray that Jesus starts with alludes to this. Jesus assumes a constant life of prayer: As you pray, whenever you pray, as you pray always. So prayer is important not just at certain times or at particular events but always.

Now, Jesus says how not to pray.

Matthew 6:5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

A hypocrite was a word used in the first century to describe and actor, an actor in a play. An actor is one who plays a part, who pretends to be someone else, pretends to be someone he is not. Rarely does an actor perform solely as himself. I learned this from a friend of mine who was really into theater: Sometimes a person can play so many parts on stage that they really begin to lose touch with who they really are. Have you heard of that? This friend of mine explained to me that he would get so into his part, into his role playing some character that even when he would leave the set, he would continue the part at home or out with friends or wherever. It was like he could not let the role go and be himself.

Today we don’t really use the word hypocrite to describe an actor or actress but instead as someone who just pretends in life, pretends to be someone they are not. They are not being true to who they are but are putting on a show to be seen by others. Some are such good actors that they begin to think they are this other person rather than themselves.

Jesus says, hypocrites are those who pray but pray for attention. They pray as if they are someone they are not. They are pretending, in this case, to be religious and to be God lovers, to be spiritual when in fact they are none of those things. They are instead lovers of self-seeking attention, adoration, even affirmation from people around them.

So this solemn duty and joy of prayer becomes a selfish pursuit for attention. Any spiritual endeavor can end up this way—teaching, counseling, evangelizing, attending church, obeying parents, serving. Any of these things can be selfish pursuits but in this passage Jesus focuses on prayer.

There was certainly nothing wrong with standing and praying in the synagogue in and of itself. But it was a problem if the motive was simply to be seen by others. To be asked to pray aloud in a synagogue was a big deal. The public prayers were usually done by the messenger of the congregation who would stand before the scrolls as he prayed. Those who were believed to be most spiritual would be those asked to pray in this way publicly.

That should be a humble task yet for the hypocrite it was a proud moment of attention getting fame. “Look at me,” he may have thought, “Look at me praying here, of all the people here I am the one chosen to pray.” This would be a problem. In fact, this kind of praying is not really praying at all.

Another place the hypocrite loved to pray was on street corners, high traffic areas. The Greek text says street corners on the broad streets. So not just any old street corner or not some remote street corner but on the busiest of street corners. By praying on the busiest of street corners the hypocrite would be sure to be seen by the greatest number of people.

Putting on a show to impress other people with their deeds, such is the life of a hypocrite. What does Jesus say about this? Jesus warns that those who pervert prayer in such ways have received their reward. If that is what you want, shallow attention from others, adoration of man, well okay, here you go, that is all of what you will receive. Whatever good feelings you get from your hypocrisy is what you get, the temporal praise from people, that is it.

But there is another way, a truly spiritual way that is real and that is pleasing to our Lord. Here is what Jesus says:

Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Faithful prayer in private. Real prayer to the Father, no human audience, no crowds, no show, just private prayer alone with the Father.

What does this private prayer accomplish? Well one thing is it takes away perhaps our fleshly tendency to impress others. Private prayers give us an opportunity to bare our souls before God, to be completely honest before Him without some fear of what others think. It is a way to be transparent and authentic in intimate communication with God. Our words don’t have to be rehearsed or perfect, just simple honesty where God will understand our intent—so refreshing for those who truly want to commune with our heavenly Father. Jesus further presses His point:

Matthew 6:7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Again, the desire for attention can lead to us using empty phrases, impressive language, spiritual talk just to be heard by others. We don’t have to pray that way.

How is your prayer life? I mean your private prayer life? Are you spending time with the Lord in private prayer? Are you praising Him, rejoicing in Him, sharing your heart, making requests for others and yourself? Is prayer real for you? Is praying for you true communion with the Lord? Do you only pray when others are around? If you don’t have a robust prayer life, I want to encourage you to begin praying privately this week, begin even today. Go before your God in prayer, along with Him in prayer.

Now, not next week, because I will be out next Sunday, but the week following, we will begin going through what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. I am looking forward to that. Jesus gives us an example of prayer and I think it will be beneficial for us to really understand what He says and its purpose for us. So begin reading through it and become familiar with it if you aren’t already.

Here it is. Jesus said:

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Be Discerning

Good morning! If you are visiting with us today, I want to welcome you once again to Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It’s an honor to be worshiping with you today.

We are back in First John where John is going to highlight what it means to be discerning. He told us at the end of chapter three that we can be assured of our salvation, and today he is going to help us to be discerning about teachers we listen to as well as provide some practical tests for us. In 1 John 4:1-6, John says…

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever been tricked or fooled by someone or something? You thought it was true or real but you found out it wasn’t. That was the case for many who thought they were going to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush. During the gold rush of the mid-1800s, the word “Eureka!” was an exclamation used by many who had struck it rich. Eureka means “I have found it!” This word summed up every treasure hunter’s dream and expressed the thrill of striking real pay dirt. The term eureka also meant instant riches, early retirement, and a life of carefree ease.

However, many prospectors quickly learned that not everything that appeared to be gold actually was. They were fooled! Some riverbeds and rock quarries sparkled with golden specks that seemed like a eureka moment. However, it was nothing more than iron pyrite, commonly known as “fool’s gold.” Miners had to be very discerning and careful to distinguish this fool’s gold from the real thing.

Most experienced miners could usually distinguish pyrite from gold simply by looking at it. However, in some cases, the distinction was not quite so clear. As a result, they developed tests to discern genuine gold from fool’s gold. One test involved biting the rock in question since real gold is softer than the human tooth whereas fool’s gold is harder. That must have resulted in a lot of broken teeth for those gold miners. There were other tests developed, however the ultimate point is miners had to rely on these test to authenticate real gold from fake gold. Just looking at it wasn’t enough.

Spiritually speaking, Christians often find themselves in a similar position to these gold miners. When confronted with various doctrines and religious teachings, all of which claim to be true and seem to have a bit of truth sprinkled in, believers must be able to discern those that are biblically sound from those that are not. Let’s face it, just because something glitters doesn’t mean it’s good. Christians need to be equally wary of spiritual “fool’s gold.” We must not accept something as true without first testing it to see if it meets God’s standard. If it fails the test, Christians should discard it as false and warn others about it. But if it meets the test in keeping with the truth of God’s Word, believers can embrace it and endorse it wholeheartedly. John is saying here in this passage to be discerning and test what we see and hear. So John tells us that we need to first…

LEARN TO LIVE DISCERNINGLY

Spiritual “fool’s gold” and “false teachers” are nothing new. In fact, the old and new testaments are filled with warnings about false teachers:

Isaiah 8:19 When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”

Matthew 24:4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.”

We are also warned about the counterfeit doctrines that these false teachers spread. In 1 Timothy chapter one, Paul tells young Timothy:

1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

And 2 Peter chapter two says:

2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

Therefore, we must be discerning or, as Ephesians 4:14 says, we will be “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” First Thessalonians 5:21-22 says that it is crucial that we “examine everything carefully” in order to “hold fast to that which is good [and] abstain from every form of evil.” Otherwise, we increase our vulnerability to Satan’s deceptive attacks and manipulative perversions.

Let’s take a look at Satan’s approach. Satan’s basic strategy for attacking truth was first highlighted in the Garden of Eden. The first thing he tried was he cast doubt on what God had said about eating the fruit of the tree of life when he said, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat?’” If Satan can get you to just start questioning what God has said, you have opened the door for further criticism. Secondly, Satan denied outright what God had said to Adam when he said, “You surely will not die!” Now Satan calls God a liar! That is truly an insane step to take but Satan is desperate to take everyone down with him. And finally, he distorted what God had specifically told Adam when he said, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan and his demonic forces have used this same approach of casting doubt, outright denial and distortion of truth as they have waged a relentless, non-stop campaign against the truth of God’s Word and those who are followers of Jesus Christ.

Scripture contains many references to the long struggle for knowing, upholding, and obeying the truth. In the old testament, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, and the prophets continually called God’s people back to the truth from false doctrine and idolatry. And in the new testament, Jesus Himself warned of false prophets as did Paul, John, and Jude. Today, there are many so-called pastors, teachers and evangelists that continue spewing false and perverted doctrine in an attempt to destroy you.

Just like in the Garden of Eden, the source of error can always be traced back to satanic roots. That is why Paul told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.

Let’s make it really clear: Any ideology, philosophy, opinion, or religion other than God’s truth fits into Satan’s agenda. That is why it is so important for us to recognize the difference. If we fail to be discerning, we will not only be confused and unable to discern error for ourselves, we will also be unable to accurately convey the truth to others.

So we must do three things, 1) guard the truth by knowing it, 2) hold it as a firm conviction, and 3) distinguish it from what is false. By being faithful to sound doctrine, we will be able to teach others.

John knew that his readers were under attack from false teachers so he commanded them to test those who claim to teach the truth. He gave them reasons why such testing is crucial and guidelines for how it should be conducted. So John is going to lay out a strategy that all Christians can use for distinguishing between God’s true spiritual riches and Satan’s “fool’s gold.” John starts by saying that there is…

A COMMAND TO TEST

1 John 4:1a Beloved, do not believe every spirit…

John just discussed the abiding work of the Holy Spirit in true believers at the end of chapter three, now he transitions to the work of unholy, evil spirits in false teachers and their false teachings. Because these supernatural spirits are experts in deception, Christians must be careful to closely examine every spiritual message they encounter. As I mentioned earlier, 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, tells us to, “...examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

John is literally saying to “stop believing” false doctrines. Due to the present tense of the word “believe,” John’s phrasing indicates that the action is already under way and that believers are to stop believing these spirits. If any of his readers were accepting the message of false teachers, they were to stop doing so immediately. They needed to exercise some biblical discernment just like the Bereans of whom Luke wrote in Acts 17:11 when he said, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Unbelievers, whose understanding has been darkened according to Ephesians 4:18, have no basis on which to evaluate false teachings that claim divine origin. According to 1 Corinthians 2:14, “…a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Therefore, they are highly susceptible to false doctrine and can easily be led astray into error. But believers, who have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit living within them, must test what they hear with what they know to be true, as revealed in God’s Word.

John tells us there is a commandment to be discerning and test every spirit and now he says…

THERE IS A REASON TO TEST

1 John 4:1b …but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The term translated “test” is used to refer to a metallurgist’s assaying of metals to test their purity and value. Since John uses the present tense of the term “test” it indicates that believers are to continually test the spirits “to see whether they are from God.” Christians are to continually evaluate what they see, hear, and read to determine if it originated from the Spirit of God or, alternatively, from Satan.

Of course the only reliable way to test any teaching is to measure it against what God has revealed in His infallible, written Word.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

As the perfect standard of truth, the Word of God provides believers with their primary defense against error.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God’s Word is able to divide truth from lies and to know the reality of what is going on in our hearts.

John says there are not just a few false prophets, he says “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We need to realize that Satan does not merely want to oppose the church, he wants to deceive and destroy every single person he can. Satan, with his deceitful schemes, with support from his demons, has infiltrated denominations, institutions, churches, schools, and organizations, resulting in compromise and ultimately error. There are many false prophets that Satan is using to deceive those inside and outside church.

Satan not only develops lies that directly deny biblical truth, but he is also very subtle, often mixing some truth with some error. After all, some truth mixed with error is usually far more effective and far more destructive than a direct contradiction of the truth. Those who believe everything they read from the Christian bookstore or what they hear on Christian radio or what they see on Christian television shows are prime targets for doctrinal deception. Think about it for a minute, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

So Satan masquerades his lies as truth. He does not have to always wage war openly against the truth. He is much more likely to attack the truth by infiltrating the church with subtle error. He uses the “Trojan Horse” approach by placing his false teachers in the church where they can selectively and secretly introduce destructive heresies. Satan puts his lies in the mouth of someone who claims to speak truth from God’s Word. That way, Satan disguises error as truth and makes evil look like it is good.

For this reason, Jesus Himself warned of false prophets in Matthew 7 where He says:

Matthew 7:15 Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

Christians who ignore the Lord’s warning are living a very risky life. It is absolutely imperative that believers practice biblical discernment.

John now goes on to highlight the…

GUIDELINES ON HOW TO TEST

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

John sets forth three familiar tests for determining whether a teacher and his message reflect the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan. Here are the three tests: 1) Does the person confess Jesus Christ is from God? 2) Does the person manifest evidence of the fruit of righteousness? And lastly, 3) Is the person committed to the Word of God? Therefore, true teachers are characterized by a confession that Jesus Christ is from God and is God, a possession of a righteous life, and a profession that God’s Word is the divine law. Those who fail to exhibit these traits prove that they are not from God.

Let’s take the first test…

CONFESSION OF JESUS CHRIST AS GOD

1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

The first test is a theological test although more specifically it is a Christological test. The question is, “Does this person confess and teach that Jesus Christ is from God?” The word “confesses” in this passage means “to say the same thing.” Every teacher who agrees with scripture that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, confesses a truth taught by the Holy Spirit—that Jesus Christ is God incarnate.

If you will recall, John is just echoing a very clear Christological statement that he made when he opened this letter. All the way back in 1 John 1:1-3, he said:

1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ came from God the Father as the living Word of God who became flesh:

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus is one with the Father and is manifested to us as the second person of the Trinity – the Son of God. According to God’s plan, Jesus came in the flesh to die a substitutionary death for all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

John continues to emphasize the deity of Christ and teaches that no one can honor the Father without honoring the Son because they are one. For an individual to be saved, one must believe that Jesus is eternal deity who became a man. Jesus is not a created being! However, many ancient false teachers and some current day religions such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is just a man which implies he was created and specifically denies that He is God.

Even for those who have an intellectual belief of the truth that Jesus is God, it will not save them. James 2:19 says that even the demons believe and shutter. To be saved one must acknowledge Jesus as Lord. According to Romans chapter 10:

Romans 10:9 …if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

A person’s understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is the ultimate litmus test of the legitimacy of his professed faith. In today’s politically correct world it is becoming increasingly popular to affirm that all monotheistic religions worship the same God. But the fact is, they do not! Jesus made this point very clear in Luke 10:16 when He said, “The one who listens to you (referring to the disciples) listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” Jesus also said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Every spirit propagating any religion or philosophy that does not confess Jesus, is absolutely not from God. This type of teaching is both erroneous, heretical and ultimately a rejection of Christ. John emphasizes the spirit of the antichrist several times through this epistle. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and 8-9, all believers have heard that the final Antichrist is coming, but John is telling us that the spirit of the antichrist is already in the world. This spirit of the antichrist is evident in false religions and their deviant doctrine. The true nature of Jesus Christ is predictably denied by false teachers and the religious systems they promote. However, those teachers who rightly understand Jesus Christ as God and portray Him and His work on the Cross prove they possess the Spirit of truth.

The second test for determining whether a teacher and his message reflect the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan is whether the person is…

MANIFESTING EVIDENCE OF A RIGHTEOUS GOD-LIKE LIFE

1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.

When Jesus came to earth, God became a partaker of human nature. Philippians 2:7-8 says “but [He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Although God became a partaker of human nature through incarnation, it is through salvation that believers become partakers of the divine nature. According to 2 Peter 1:4, Peter says, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature…”

In John’s statement where he says, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” he is primarily affirming the believer’s security against the false teachers. Peter highlights that all true Christians possess an incorruptible seed of eternal life that means no satanic deception can take them out of God’s saving hand. Those who have been truly born again have been given a supernatural insight into the Truth and a discernment that protects them from false doctrine and those who teach it.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul summaries this point very well when he says:

1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Believers may be unsure of some peripheral matters but should never be unsure about the foundational truths of the gospel, such as the person and work of Jesus Christ. True believers will not be fooled when false teachers invariably attempt to change the fundamental work of Christ by advocating some form of salvation by works or any other means to be reconciled to God.

Contrary to God’s Word, false teachers and their followers cling to worldly ideas. They do this because “they are from the world; therefore, they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.” Although it is not always obvious, false teachers demonstrate that they are anything but genuine servants of Christ through what they say and how they live. On the other hand, true believers, resist worldly ideas because they have overcome the world.

The last test for determining if a teacher and his message reflect the Spirit of God or the spirit of Satan is whether there is a …

TRUE PROFESSION OF THE DIVINE LAW

1 John 4:6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

In contrast to the false teachers, Truth teachers proclaim God’s revealed Word as the source of all truth. All Truth teachers accurately proclaim the Word of God, and the person who knows God listens to these true teachers. However, anyone who is not from God does not listen to their teachings.

The Canon, comprising both the old and new testaments, is therefore the sole authority by which Christians must test all spiritual teachings. God’s Word is absolutely reliable and more sure than human experiences or senses. It is trustworthy in every jot and tittle. It is unchanging and eternal. In fact, in Matthew 24:34, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” According to John 17:17, it is the truth standard and by that standard, along with the help of the Holy Spirit, believers know the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error.

APPLICATION/CLOSING

Today, John has reminded us that we are commanded to live discerning lives and to test all things we see and hear against the truth of Scripture. We are to also test those who claim to be true teachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to test them to see if they profess Jesus Christ is God incarnate in the flesh and that God the Father sent Him to become Savior. We are to test them to see if these teachers manifest a righteous, God-like life. And lastly we are test them to see if they proclaim God’s Word as the divine law.

In a world predominantly infiltrated with demonic false teaching, believers must constantly test the spirits, the false teachings of others, to discern what is from God and what is not. Using the tests that John has outlined here, we can discern true spiritual gems from doctrinal “fool’s gold.” Like the noble Bereans, we are called to compare every spiritual message we encounter to the revealed standard of Scripture. Only then can we obey Jude’s admonition in verse 3 to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” By faithfully guarding the truth in the present, believers will preserve it both for themselves and for future generations.

John says…

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Let’s pray.

Why Do Good?

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Today’s message seems to be about helping those who are needy, helping the poor with their needs. Jesus does speak to that here. But helping the needy, I think in this passage, is secondary to this issue of practicing righteousness in general and our motivations behind practicing righteousness. The helping the needy, while being very important, is an illustration of a much broader issue of the matter of what motivates our behaviors.

We may all give to the needy occasionally, or at least I hope we all do; and this passage assumes that we do when Jesus says “when” you give… and not “if” you give. So we all should participate in benevolent giving and I hope we all do. But this greater issue of motivation is one that is relevant every moment of every day. It is even an issue at this moment as you sit there and as I stand here. Why do we do what we do?

There are reasons why we do what we do and I am convinced that we, much of the time, don’t really consciously think about and evaluate this in our lives. You can ask your kids, your spouse, your friend, “Why did you do that?” And a typical answer is, “I don’t know, I just did.” Or maybe, “I just wanted to.”

This morning I am going to ask you to really think through some things with me. If you are tired or preoccupied with something then I want to ask you to focus with me anyway and let’s see if we can learn some things about ourselves today that will help us to live the way that God created us to live.

Let’s start by looking a verse 1 of chapter 6, here is what Jesus said:

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus gives a warning here with the word “beware” then He sort of goes to the most inner part of man which motivates the heart.

“Beware” is from a Greek word that is sometimes translated “be careful.” So it could read, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness before other people.” This means that “beware” or “be careful” means to be constantly vigilant. There is a reason for this command to be constantly vigilant and that is because our flesh, our inner desires of the flesh, will also be constantly vigilant to lead us to the opposite of what Jesus will command here. So we are to be constantly vigilant to not practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.

Now, let me say that Jesus is not primarily concerned with the location at which we do good deeds. He is primary concerned with the motives behind them. I can say this, in part, because of what Jesus said back in Matthew 5:14-16:

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Here Jesus is saying, let your righteousness be seen, let your light shine before others and ends with so that the Father will be glorified. So Jesus in chapter 6 is not condemning outward righteousness that can be seen by others but is instead concerned with what is motivating those acts of righteousness.

These two passages, Matthew 5:14-16 and Matthew 6:1, contrast two very different motivations for good works. One is a desire to give glory to God and the other to gain glory for oneself. So back to the question…why do you do what you do?

Followers of Christ who perform acts of righteousness to be seen by other people may be seeking human applause or human recognition rather than the glory of God. When this happens, their actions and motives imply that they are responsible for their personal acts of righteousness and deserve all the credit for them. This behavior is a very direct denial that their actions are a divine grace from God who is their Father.

So (and this is very important) their behavior, our behavior, then points to our own selfishness and also perhaps to our ignorance of the source of our righteousness as Christians, our righteousness which comes from God.

Jesus does not merely command His followers to do the right thing, He commands them to do the right thing for the right reason. And action is not truly righteous unless it has the proper motivation. The motivation for every truly righteous act is a desire to glorify God and to please Him. Jesus is urging us to resist the strong drive to glorify ourselves, to resist the desire to make ourselves look good and to resist the desire to crave the positive attention from others. He is urging us to resist the desire to do things to even just please ourselves and to resist the desire to even just approve of ourselves, you know just approve and think good about ourselves and about our good works.

Each of these motivations are self-centered and denying God’s righteous work in us. Life can become all about me instead of all about God and God in me. We just have this in us to want people to think we are special and to convince ourselves that we are special. We often times do what we do in order to impress others or ourselves. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you!

Now we may want to argue this point. Maybe we think our motives are generally to please and glorify God and I hope they are. But let’s at least consider that this is not always or is even rarely the case.

There are ways to test ourselves. You do something nice for another person. You spend a lot of time maybe making a meal for them. Maybe you spend most of the day working on a meal for another person. You get it to them and they complain about some aspect of it. Maybe it is cold when it should have been hot or it had onions in it and they don’t like onions—whatever, just some remark that you take as critical. How do you handle that?

You wash the dishes and there is one spot on one pan that didn’t get clean and someone points out that one spot without acknowledging all the clean dishes you worked hard on.

You work a 60-hour week to provide for the family and your daughter complains that she has to help with dinner.

How do we react to these things? Do we get upset, do we feel badly, do we lash out at the person who responded in these ways? If so, what does this tell us about ourselves? Were we wanting affirmation from others, were we wanting praise, or were we upset because someone didn’t recognize some good in us?

If we did any of these things, cooked a meal, did the dishes, worked a long week, and if we did all of these things with a motive to honor and glorify God, then other people’s responses wouldn’t get us all upset, angry or sad.

Or even if we think we failed in some way and another person points it out, we may not really care what they think but we may get down because we can’t approve of ourselves and our own perceived good works.

Why do we do what we do? Let your reaction to the opinions of others help you understand your motives. Jesus said:

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Don’t do good things in order to get the praise of other people. That is the implied point. If you do it for the praise of other people then that is your reward and you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

If your desire is fulfilled by the praise of others, if that is what you were after, then your deed is not pleasing to your heavenly Father. It was instead a selfish deed done for your own glory.

Let me go with you a step further. We talk a lot here about loving others. The reason we do is because we see this command over and over again in the Bible. But even here we have to be very careful.

You may do a good thing for another and you may state and believe that the reason you did that good thing was because you love the other person and you want to be kind to them. But even in that we must ask why? Because if loving others is the final and deepest motive of our heart then we have again missed the mark. Even a non-believer can have compassion on others and do good things for them.

Loving others cannot be what drives us primarily, it must be loving and glorifying God. If taking a meal is only about loving or doing a loving thing for another person then where is God in that? In fact, we may be seen as the most loving and kind person ever, but if your ultimate desire is not to please and glorify God then we are simply seeking our own glory. It matters what motivates our hearts.

We are here to glorify God, to make Him known and to lift Him up in they eyes of man—that is why we are here. We are not here primarily to be seen as nice people and to do things that seem nice. We are here to glorify God.

Jesus is reminding us that God and humans sometimes have two different perspectives on human actions. What may be praiseworthy from a human perspective may be despicable in God’s eyes. We see this in places like Amos where people are coming to the temple to seemingly worship God and God says in Amos 5:

Amos 5:21 I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Or also, Isaiah:

Isaiah 29:13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…

God was not impressed and even hated their outward acts of righteousness—why? Because they did them for the wrong reasons. They were trying to appease God by there adherence to rituals but their hearts were far from Him. They looked good to their neighbors but God saw their hearts. Either we do things for God’s glory or we do them for our own glory. Why do you do what you do?

Now, I do want to get to the rest of this passage. What is this about a reward from God? Well it is a heavenly reward not an earthly, temporal one, “…for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” The “will have” is an eschatological future. Reward means to receive in full what is due, it was a technical term meaning paid in full. It is like the account is then closed and there is no more to be received—it’s applause from men or a future reward in heaven. So it’s a reward now—looking good to others and taking credit for yourself—or a reward in the future given by God. Now for the illustration that Jesus gives:

Matthew 6:2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Some things, some righteous deeds, can be done in secret and they need not be publicly displayed. And if we don’t want to do those that can be done in secret then again, that may be a key to look at our motives.

The reference here to a sounding of a trumpet is interesting. It may be completely metaphorical. Trumpets were sounded to call attention to things. Maybe Jesus is simply saying don’t call attention to your deeds. I think this is the most likely meaning. However, the chests that were in the temple that were used to collect offerings had a trumpet shaped mouth on top of it where people would toss their coins. So Jesus could be referring to loudly tossing coins into this opening so that others could hear it. In any event, the point is not to draw special attention to their giving to the poor. Don’t blow your trumpet, don’t make a show of your good deeds, that is the point.

And what we can see is that (and we are good at this) what is intended to be a humble selfless act of helping others could easily be perverted and become a completely selfish act. Jesus calls this hypocritical. Being a hypocrite is pretending. It is pretending to be righteous, not really being righteous.

To not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing is figurative and prohibits a person from pridefully celebrating his own personal acts of righteousness. It prohibits us sitting back and thinking things like, “Wow, I am so good,” I mean just thinking it to ourselves, “I am such a good person, look what good I think I have done.” We can do all this without anyone else being involved, just well proud of ourselves, and patting ourselves on the back even if we don’t tell others about it—just feeling good about who we are. This is self approval. But again, this is looking to ourselves instead of giving God the glory and doing it for Him.

So what is our place? Our place is to humbly give, to be motivated primarily to please God, and secondly to love others.

I want to really encourage you to stop and think about your actions this week. Think about the good that you do and really ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Why am I giving to the needy? Why am I helping my family? Why am I spending my time this way? Why am I spending my money on this? Why am I reading my bible? And you can go on and on trying to figure out what is primarily driving your behavior. You may be surprised by what you discover.

Here is what we want to get to: Such a deep love for God, such gratefulness for Him in our lives, that we do what we do because we love Him dearly and we want to serve Him and make Him known. If you are not there, then don’t beat yourself up, just ask that He will help you cultivate a deeper walk with Him and a deeper love for Him. Spend time learning and on meditation on His divine nature, of His love for you, of His work for you and in you, and of all that awaits you with Him in heaven. Take time, consider who He is and what He has done for you, and let those thoughts begin to drive what you do and why you do what you do.

We are here for His glory, to live for Him. How are we doing with that? So whether you eat or you drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God!

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Love Your Enemies? Part 2

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Today we are revisiting the passage we looked at last week, picking up where we left off. If you weren’t here we looked primarily at verses 43 and 44 and came away with two main points that we were going to consider throughout our week.

The first point was this:

All people are our neighbors and if we are to love our neighbors then there is no place in the Christian’s life to elevate any people group over another. It seems to me that if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love everyone then there is, in my mind, this great leveling of all people groups in the mind of God. We are all equal.

If anyone is not being loved biblically then let’s love them biblically no matter who they are. Tearing a group down to elevate another is not loving the group we are tearing down. We are to love all people.

To love biblically does not mean that we agree with unbiblical things or condone all people’s behavior. To love biblically does not mean to buy into lies or anti-God rhetoric. To love biblically also does not mean to look the other way and never speak out. Jesus spoke out, Jesus spoke truth, Jesus talked about sin; but Jesus also healed sinners, fed sinners, and most importantly saved sinners. So the first point was that all people are our neighbors and we are to love them all.

The second point was more of a question:

But here is what I want you to think about: Do we, by our actions, condone hateful behavior, do we teach people by our actions that it is okay to hate under certain circumstances?

We can make much of the Jews’ wrong understanding of who their neighbors were and what, I would say, was their institutionalized condoning of hating people. To hate was accepted and taught in many Jewish circles. I know we can look at this and act shocked by it. We can say things like, “Well, I can’t believe they taught their people, their children, to hate and that it is okay to hate people!” But do we also teach hate by our actions?

Here is what I mean: Parents, do our children see us doing or saying things that are hateful toward other people? Kids, do your friends see you do things that they would say is hateful toward other people? Do your coworkers observe that you are hateful toward other people? Or are you loving in all these cases? I mean, are we guilty of doing what the Jews did, not by our direct teaching but by our example?

So we are to love all of our neighbors, and if we really are, then we are showing those who see us that we belong to God, that we love and trust Him.

Verse 44 says this:

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

We have instruction regarding interaction with our neighbors and, I’ve got to say this: Jesus says, love your enemies—this loving our enemies is an outward showing of behavior. What I mean is you can see me in action loving my enemy. I can do this, I can act and you can see it but what you don’t know is my heart. You don’t know if I am loving this person as a show of my good behavior, like I am just trying to impress you by how I respond to my enemy. Or am I acting from a heart that wants to obey and please God? You don’t really know, all you see is my action in that moment, right? But the last part is more telling, though you may not see it.

Jesus says, pray for those who persecute you. While praying can be public too, it is most often, for the believer, a private matter. What do we do in private? Do we sincerely pray for our enemies privately?

Do we go to the Lord in our private time sincerely praying for those who have hurt us, those who have mistreated us, those who have taken advantage of us? In private do we pray or do we rehearse the wrongs done to us? Love outwardly, love publicly and pray privately as an expression of love to our neighbors. In Luke Jesus said it this way:

Luke 6:27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Now, Jesus says something about our position with God in this matter of loving our enemies.

Matthew 5:45 …so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Why love?

Jesus does not command us to love just to turn an enemy into a friend, that may not happen. He did not command us to love in order to make our lives easier, that may not happen. Jesus did not command us to love in order to defuse a difficult situation that may not happen either. Simply being nice does not guarantee a better relationship. Don’t teach your kids that it will because it may not.

No, Jesus commands us to love because love characterizes God. We are to be sons and daughters of God and as such we should resemble and characterize Him in our conduct. We are here to represent the Father. You are not here just to be yourself, to go your own way or to show the world your uniqueness. No, we are here primarily to represent God, and loving our neighbors does that.

In human terms, like it or not men, your son or daughter shows many of your characteristics! I have five sons. And some of my boys are really different than me personality wise, yet even those that are very different still show some of my characteristics. We tend to be like those we spend time with.

The children of God should resemble their heavenly Father and that should be our goal as well, to glorify Him and to make Him known as we become more like Him. We are not here just to tell about Him but to practically put Him on display by how we act. So, how does God act? He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Now, it is true that God lavishes a special favor on His spiritual children. Let me give you a couple of examples of this:

Matthew 7:9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Or even a special future blessing for His spiritual children:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

So though we as believers receive this special grace from God, God still lavishes kindness on all of mankind. He sovereignly and providentially does this for His created beings. He provides sunshine and rain for all people. The sun is His, He made it, He controls it and He shares it with creation. The rain is His, He makes it, He controls it and He graciously shares it with creation. He gives it to the evil, His enemies, and to the good, His chosen ones.

God’s care for and provision for all people is what we sometimes call His common grace, air to breathe, sunshine to enjoy, rain to supply water for our bodies and for crops that become our food, gravity that makes it possible for us to be here, fire to keep us warm, and on and on. In this sense, God the Father is giving, graciously giving, to even those who hate Him, to those who will never acknowledge His goodness or even His presence. And in this way we are to be like Him.

Matthew 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus teaches that loving only those who love you, really serves to cheapen and make little of Christian love. Jesus challenges us here. He challenges us with two examples. First, He say, in verse 46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

This follows a common problem even among Christians…If you love, I will love you. If you are kind to me, I’ll be kind to you. Be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you. Unfortunately we may tell our kids this…be kind to people and they will be kind to you. There is this idea of thinking that either we will follow how others treat us and/or we can control people by how we treat them.

Both of these instances really miss the mark of Christian love for others. We should not be motivated to love by someone else’s love for us, and we should not be motivated to love in order to change someone or to get something from them. Instead, the reason we love is because God loves. God loves us in particular and fantastic ways, and He loves all people with kindness. And because we belong to Him, we are His sons and daughters, we also love in order to show the world who He is and simply, simply because He loves us. We have been shown extreme love and so we are to love…period.

And if we love this way then our expressions of love do not change based on other people’s behavior. Our obedience is never dependent on what other people do or don’t do because other people's behavior is not what motivates us…or this should be true of us. So, if your spouse is grumpy and griping and ungrateful, you can still love him or her. If your co-worker tears you down in front of the boss, you can still love that person in return.

Next he gives an example:

Matthew 5:46…Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus’ point is simply that there is an easy sort of love…love your brothers, love those who love you. But we aren’t called to easy or common behavior. If we can, by God’s grace and in His power, grasp this, we can be free to really live for Him. I want to try to walk through this with you in a practical way, so stay with me here and participate by following this example and inserting yourself into it. Are you ready?

Ok, you get up in the morning and you pray and ask God to help you love and honor Him this day. You get up and first thing out of bed, if you are married, your spouse complains about something you did they day before. Or if you are a child in your home, your mom or dad does this. I mean, you haven’t really even woken up well yet and immediately you start hearing complaints in a not so nice way.

So what do you do? Well, not that this would happen but just pretend with me, okay? You snap back at your spouse or your parent, jump right back at them with your own words of complaint about their coarse words.

What just happened? Well, you started the day out well, asking for God’s help but then someone ruined it for you…right? That is what we think! But here is the reality: No one ruined your day. You made choices. You chose to react to another person based on how they treated you. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is addressing here?

Matthew 5:46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

If our motive is to be like God and represent Him well, then what better way to do that than to treat someone lovingly who is not treating us lovingly? In fact, when someone is not treating us lovingly then we are handed a prime opportunity…a prime opportunity to love in a godly way where we don’t have to wonder about our motives. An opportunity for godliness is ours when people treat us in an ungodly way!

This sets us up to love no matter what. Whether treated badly or treated well, our response can be consistent and not dependent on others. Do you see the freedom in that, its like we are not enslaved to everyone around us and who they are acting like. We are instead free to love God and others no matter what. I can imagine that some of the people who Jesus healed hated the Father. Yet Jesus extended a loving hand to them, healed them. We are to be like Him.

I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that this can be very tricky at times. I mean, we cannot love in place of living out other Christian principles. To love does not mean to give up other biblical principles. For instance, God is always a God of justice. We don’t ignore justice to be loving. We don’t overlook sin in the name of love. To love is often times to report a crime, to admonish a brother, to protect the innocent to stand for life. It is not loving to ignore sin or to cover sin, so we have to be careful, we have to be balanced as the Bible is balanced and as was Christ.

Now lastly, Jesus said:

Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Ok, well, there you go. That is all you have to do…be perfect like God is perfect! The word perfect here has been explained in many ways. One popular way in this text is to say mature; however, the word really does mean perfect and especially since it says, “as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Jesus is really defining moral perfection here. He is talking about righteousness. He seems to be combining Leviticus 19:2 which says, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” and Deuteronomy 18:13 which says, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

Since we have been talking about love and loving enemies, this then means love for others, including one’s enemies, is the essence of divine perfection and a key to true righteousness. I don’t know if you have thought of love and righteousness in those terms together. Love must be included when talking about righteousness.

Think of Joseph. Joseph did not want Mary to be humiliated by divorce because the scripture says he was a righteous man. Now, many would have thought, to be righteous he should divorce her, separate himself from her to be seen as righteous, right? But Joseph saw righteousness as more than simply obeying the law—it included love, mercy and kindness in his heart toward Mary as he protected her from shame. So righteousness is mixed with love, it must be.

But what about this idea of perfection? Well, it is a command, we are commanded to be perfect yet we cannot read it and see it as a frustrating demand, as an impossible demand. Instead we need to know that in the Kingdom of God perfection really is the goal, and we really should, as much as we can, strive for it. We really should long to be like our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We should want to resemble the One who is perfect. We do have a power to pursue perfection that non-Christians lack, and God is gracious to lead us in that way. And to whatever degree we get closer to it is God’s grace. But in all of this, we need also to understand that the fullness of the Kingdom has not yet come, our transformation is still future. A perfect day is ahead for us, it is not here yet but will be here. We can watch for our perfection and long for our perfection and move toward it. That day is not now, but by God’s grace it is coming. So for now we wait, and we wait patiently, live patiently with ourselves and with others around us.

Our call is one of love, love God and love other people. Because He has loved us we can love each other. Love your enemies.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Love Your Enemies?

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The Bible and Christianity are so shocking at times. I mean maybe to you and to me it is not shocking anymore, familiarity makes that true. But really, if we read it for what it is and we really consider what God is asking of us it is really shocking. It is surprising. Think of picking it up for the first time and reading what we just read. It is so unnatural to us. If we are honest, it really is not just strange but mysteriously shocking.

I think it is interesting to hear non-Christians say things like, “Yes, the teachings of Jesus are good, He was a wise man.” What does that mean, really? Does that mean they think His teachings should be followed? Do they, do we, read a passage like Matthew 5:44 which says we should love our enemies and think that is a good way to live, I agree with that?

On the surface many people say, “We should just all love each other and get along.” But the reality in our world is so much different. When we see people wearing shirts that say “love wins” while they are attacking another person verbally or even physically, there is something wrong with that.

We are so divided in our country. There is so much hate, so much animosity. Even for Christians, we may work at tempering our actions but can we love our enemies and love them from the heart? Who are you in conflict with right now? In the conflict are you loving them from your heart? Who is making your life hard? Are you loving them from your heart? Who in your life has done you wrong? Are you loving them or are you avoiding them? Who has hurt someone you love? Are you loving in return?

Jesus is calling us to radical behavior that is so unnatural to us. He is saying, love those with whom you have conflict, with those who make your life harder, with those who have done you wrong, with those who have hurt you and with those who have hurt someone you love. And I’ll add with those with whom you have affection but will not return it.

Now let’s not forget that as these words leave Jesus’ mouth, to love enemies, as He clarifies this command, He is also committing to live this out personally, perfectly. As we fail, He covers it. As we stumble in our obedience, His perfection covers us. Let’s not forget that He lived perfectly and we are hidden in Him so His perfect life is ours through our redemption. But having said that, our aim and our goal should be to live for Him. If we are truly in Him then our goals have changed and our desire should be to live according to His ways, His commands. So this is the great journey, that is, with His help, His Spirit in us, we live for Him, meaning we live how He has described we are to live. This is our expression of love for Him, that we obey His commands, that we represent Him in this world and that we glorify His name.

So as we consider these commands, please think of them in relation to loving Christ Jesus our Lord. If we love Him we will keep His commands, right? But we need Him in us to give us the strength and the will to keep His commands. We can ask for that, pray for that. Pray for a stirring love that directs us to keep His commands; this is how we best glorify Him.

Why do we need Him? Because our flesh is strong and our will is strongly bent counter to this command. What if Christ had said, “Hate your enemies, ignore them, do to them what they have done to you, go after your enemies and get revenge, do to your enemies what they deserve?” What if Jesus would have taught us that? Well, that would be easy! We don’t need the Holy Spirit for that! We don’t really need the strength of Christ in us to carry out that command! No one has to teach us how to respond with sharp and hateful responses to our enemies, to someone who hurts us or treats us badly or just rubs us the wrong way. I don’t know about you but returning evil for evil seems pretty natural to me.

And you know what? The first century Jews who heard these words from Jesus were actually taught to hate their enemies! Yes, they were conditioned by their so-called religious leaders that it was okay and good to hate your enemies. They thought this was a good thing and that their hate was sanctioned by God, so can you imagine their surprise?

Jesus said in verse 43, look at it:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

Where did they hear that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy? They did not get this from the OT; no where in the OT does it say to hate your enemies. Now the “love your neighbor” part is biblical. For example look at:

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

So who was saying “hate your enemy?” Well, not God, not the OT and certainly not Jesus. They were hearing this from the religious leaders. What was happening was that passages like Leviticus 19:18, which commands a love for one’s neighbor, was being taken to mean you don’t have to love those who are not your neighbor.

The Essenes are a sect of Jews taught that they were to “hate the children of darkness.” In fact they were to take an oath and vow to “always hate the wicked and asset the righteous.”

One Jewish scholar commented on Leviticus 18:19 by saying “He is thy neighbor if he is good, but not if he is wicked, as is written, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13). He goes on to say “Although, Jews should not seek to kill Gentiles with whom Israel is not at war, they should not intervene to save the life of a Gentile.”

The tendency for many ancient Jews was to love their fellow Jews and hate all others. They define neighbors only as fellow Jews. This was even noticed by those outside of Jewish communities. Some Roman writers said that they inferred from the behavior of Jews that hating non-Jews was an essential part of the Jewish religion.

Here is the point. Many Jews had been taught all their lives that it’s okay to hate. Hate had been institutionalized among the Jews. It was good and it was excepted. And, you know, it was easy because it was natural, it is what the flesh wants.

Jesus begins here and continues in other parts of His ministry to define the word “neighbor,” and defining correctly who our neighbors are totally changes how we are to respond to and treat our enemies. What He teaches is that our enemies are included in the population of who our neighbors are. And this makes the command to love, sometimes, most difficult. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies.

Now to be even more clear let’s jump over to Luke:

Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

And with that parable Jesus defines who our neighbors are, all people. So who are we to love, our neighbors, all people.

Now I want to make two comments about what we have looked at so far and then I’m going to wrap up. We are going to take the Lord’s Supper in just a moment so this message will be a little short to make time for that. And we are going to pick up on this same passage next week to cover it more thoroughly and in more detail. But for today, I want to make two points, and again, just think of what we have covered so far. I want you to think of two things for the next week.

First of all, all people are our neighbors and we are to love our neighbors; then there is no place in the Christian's life to elevate any people group over another. It seems to me that if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love everyone then there is, in my mind, this great leveling of all people groups in the mind of God. We are all equal.

I am not crazy about the popular term that we hear so much right now, the term, “social justice.” The reason I’m not is because usually when I hear it, it is used if you watch carefully to try to single out certain ethnic groups and to elevate them in some way that also tends to tear down another group; or to say it another way, to give to one group by taking from another group and when I say give I don’t mean necessarily to give things, material things, but maybe to give power or position or praise or something else. So it is favoring groups over other groups, it sometimes ends up tearing down more than building up, again, tearing down one group to build up another. Where does that end? Well if you carry it out logically, then in a few years we will need a new social justice campaign now to build up the group that was purposefully torn down just a few years prior.

I realize I’m probably in an evangelical minority here, but it seems to me that we simply need to follow Jesus’ command here which is that we love everyone no matter who they are, no matter what community or ethnic group to which they belong or even gender, that we love all of our neighbors. And if we are not doing that as individuals or as a church or in the Christian community as a whole, then we need to repent of that and obey.

If anyone is not being loved biblically then let’s love them biblically no matter who they are. Tearing a group down to elevate another is not loving the group we are tearing down. We are to love the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the kind and the hostile, the black and the white, the devoted Christian and the God-hater, the Republican and the Democrat, the straight and the gay. Who is our neighbor?

To love biblically does not mean that we agree with unbiblical things or condone all people’s behavior. To love biblically does not mean to buy into lies or anti-God rhetoric. To love biblically also does not mean to look the other way and never speak out. Jesus spoke out, Jesus spoke truth, Jesus talked about sin; but Jesus also healed sinners, fed sinners, and most importantly saved sinners. What are the aspects of love?

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

We are to love our neighbors.

The last point for today is this:

We can make much of the Jews’ wrong understanding of who their neighbors were and what I would say was their institutionalized condoning of hating people. To hate was accepted and taught in many Jewish circles. I know we can look at this and act shocked by it. We can say things like, “Well, I can’t believe they taught their people, their children, to hate; that it is okay to hate people!”

But here is what I want you to think about. Do we, by our actions, condone hateful behavior, do we teach people by our actions that it is okay to hate under certain circumstances?

Here is what I mean. Parents, do our children see us doing or saying things that are hateful toward other people? Kids, do your friends see you do things that they would say are hateful toward other people? Do your coworkers observe that you are hateful toward other people? Or are you loving in all these cases? I mean, are we guilty of doing what the Jews did, not by our direct teaching but by our example?

What do our responses to mean people teach those around us? That is what I am asking you to consider and what I need to consider as well. How are we doing in this matter of loving our neighbors? Well, Jesus goes on to further explain His point and Lord willing we will pick up with this same passage next week.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Keeping Your Word

Matthew 5:33 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil.

Today we will talk about keeping our word. How many of you are liars? Most of us would probably say we are not liars, that we do what we say and we tell the truth. So let me be the first to admit that I often struggle with keeping my word. Now, you may be troubled to hear that. But I’ll tell you, if you don’t know already, that I tend to say I will do more than I can possibly do. When someone asks me for help, I tend to say sure…I can do that. And along the way, I find out that I said I can do about three things on Saturday at 10:00! Well guess what? I can’t be at three places at the same time. This is me not keeping my word. Or I’ll tell Tammy I’ll do something around the house and sometimes I will forget I said it. This is me not being careful with my words, not taking my own commitments seriously enough. And you know there are those times when I just don’t want to do something I said I will do so I procrastinate, put it off until, well, it’s too late now!

I tell you all this not just to confess my sin to you but hopefully to jog your memory and help you see that perhaps there are some ways in which you too struggle with keeping your word, doing what you said you would do. By the way, I am working on these things and trying to be more diligent with the Lord’s help to be more careful with my words of commitment and with following through where I should.

But the truth is that all of us probably struggle in some way with keeping our word. Oh and yes, my big excuse is always I am too busy…well maybe I am but that does not mean I can be disobedient to the Lord guilt free. Do let’s be honest with ourselves as we open up God’s Word today and consider ways in which we can live our lives to the honor and glory of our Lord who has redeemed us for Himself and for our joy.

We have an interesting passage to look at in verses 33-37. Six times in Matthew chapter five Jesus says two phrases: The first is “You have heard that it was said” and the second phrase is “But I say to you.” Only two times Jesus quotes directly from the OT after the phrase, “You have heard that it was said.” In those cases Jesus emphasizes not just what the OT says but also what it really means, not just the letter of the Law that they understood but also the spirit of it.

The other four times we see these phrases Jesus does not quote directly from the OT but paraphrases from it, and it appears rabbinic paraphrases of OT passages and in one case for sure, verse 43 of chapter five we even see a clear distortion of the OT passages and its intent which indicate a rabbinic paraphrase. What we see is that at least in part, Jesus is countering current day teaching from the rabbis. He is directly confronting the religious order of the day giving truth up next to their error.

Like I said last week, Jesus did not come to uphold the current day culture even religious culture but to lay out truth for God’s glory. His entry and life in this world was radical and His teaching was as well. In John’s gospel Jesus is described as the Word.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus is the Word and He is communicating truth. So what does Jesus say?

Matthew 5:33 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.”

Now this is interesting and again it appears to be a loose paraphrase from some OT passages but is most likely how the rabbis of the day taught the people regarding keeping one’s word.

The rabbis taught first: “You shall not swear falsely.” This phrase is a legal one. To swear falsely means literally “do not commit perjury,” or, “Do not lie under oath.” So this command while addressing telling the truth in a legal proceeding, it does not address or prohibit deception when one is not under oath in a legal setting. So the plain meaning of this phrase is…tell the truth while in court under oath…and that’s it. So it is not a sweeping broad statement requiring truth or keeping of one’s word, period.

Now the second phrase is, “but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” This too is interesting because while it appears to be a broader command on keeping one’s word it too has a loophole. This clause used regularly by the rabbis seems to allow for dishonesty to others. The phrase “to the Lord” is key and emphatic in the Greek which suggests that one was to be honest in commitments made to God but not necessarily to others unless God had been invoked in the oath. So, for instance saying something like “I swear to God, I will do such and such,” this then became an oath to God and must be kept. But if God’s name was not invoked then it didn’t carry the same weight leaving a place for deception.

When fulfilling a promise to an individual became a divine obligation because God’s name was invoked then there is no place for deception or dishonesty, one must keep his word. But if God’s name were not invoked then, well, you can do whatever is convenient. Here though is what the OT said:

Zechariah 8:16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; 17 do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.

Malachi 3:5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

But again, some first-century rabbis emphasized only the importance of speaking the truth to God and downplayed the importance of absolute honesty in all communications. They thought they had a special obligation to keep promises made to God specifically but could break promises made to others when it was convenient. That is the bottom line.

Now what does Jesus say about this? He begins by distinguishing Himself and His teaching from the current day rabbis with these words: “But I say to you.” “Do not take an oath at all.” What Jesus does here is He closes the loophole created by the rabbis in the Jewish system of oaths, and instead Jesus requires truthfulness, consistent truthfulness that does not require oaths at all. Here is the thing…Jesus’ followers are to be characterized by such integrity that an oath is not necessary to make their words credible and true.

Now on the surface we can all shake our heads in agreement and maybe even feel really good about ourselves, but I really want to challenge you as I have myself and ask…do you do all that you say you will do? At home? At work? With your kids? With your husband or wife or parents? At church? In ministry? to strangers? With a sales person? With a customer? to your creditors? Is your word credible all the time? When the words leave your mouth, do you take them seriously and fulfill what you say you will do?

Many of the Jews thought as long as they weren’t in court or they didn’t invoke the name of God in their promise then keeping their word was optional; if something else comes up then no big deal. But Jesus says it is a big deal—it is a big deal that our word is our word and it should mean something, as believers.

And it gets even more interesting. Jesus goes on to help us by prohibiting oath formulas that the religious had come up with, really, deceptive formulas that had been developed by religious leaders that we said to give an impression of a binding oath when the person who gave it did not believe it to be binding. What was developed was ways to lie without guilt.

Do you remember as a kid how someone would say, “Do you promise?” And you or someone you know would put their hand behind their back and cross their fingers and say, “Yes, I promise!” And someone crossing one’s fingers meant that although they said I promise they didn’t really have to keep their promise. I don’t know where that came from, I should have looked it up, but I remember seeing that as a kid. That is sort of what the Jews would do. Let me show you this from Matthew 23:16-22.

Matthew 23:16 Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “if anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.” 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.” 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

What was happening is that all these formulas were created for swearing. Jesus rebukes the rabbis because they had developed a system of deceit really. They had come up with ways to evade obligations of honesty by carefully crafting these oaths. So they could fool people who didn’t understand what they were doing or saying.

So a rabbi says yes I will do this and I swear by the temple of God! And the person hearing that thinks, wow, that sounds serious, he is really serious about his promise to me. And believes the person will do what he says. Yet the rabbi is thinking, well I got away with that one, swearing by the temple means nothing.

Or for some they may know there is this complicated system of oaths and a hears a rabbi swear by the temple and they may think, well I’ve got to go look this up—this swearing by the temple, is that binding or not? So trying to figure it all out could be a chore! This was crazy, it was deceitful, it was condoning of lying, really. And this is why Jesus says in our passage today in verses 34-36:

Matthew 5:34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

It is this system of deceitful oath making that Jesus is countering here. In the first century regular Jews were not allowed to invoke the name of God so substitutes were installed. According to the rabbis, none of the formulas that Jesus lists here were approved substitutes for God’s name. So each of these were considered non-binding oaths in Jewish law. So breaking oaths made with any of these words were not considered to be breaking one’s word.

So Jesus steps in and makes simple the complex. What does he say? Forget all this non-sense. Forget the complicated formulas. Forget the oaths all together. Listen to the simplicity of Jesus words:

Matthew 5:37 Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil.

I like simple, this is simple. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Speak words with integrity, and keep your word. When you speak, speak the truth. There is no need for complicated formulas just be honest and be truthful always. Jesus says, anything else is from the evil one or, the ESV says, comes from evil. Anything beyond simple statements of truth are from the evil one who is Satan, who is the father of lies and who deals in half truths for his deceptive purposes.

Now does this mean it is absolutely wrong for any of us to take an oath under any circumstance. I don’t think so. It does not seem to me that Jesus is forbidding all oaths in any circumstance like in a court of law but is condemning these deceptive formulas of oaths.

One reason I can say this is because in Matthew 26:63-64 Jesus was placed under oath by the high priest and did not refuse to speak but spoke, forcefully spoke the truth. Jesus kept all of His and the Father’s commands perfectly and that would include what He is teaching us here regarding oaths. So in Matthew 26 he did not violate His own words. So taking an oath in a court of law falls outside the scope of the deceptive practices that He was countering in Matthew 5:31 and 32.

Now, I have gone through a lot of detail here about oaths, our word and truthfulness. But let me sum it all up for us, and really the best way to sum it up is to quote from Jesus…

Matthew 5:37 Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”…

Let your word be your word and mean it and do it. When we say were are going to do something, most likely there is another person who is depending on it. When we fail to do what we say we will do someone usually suffers in some way. How is that loving our neighbor? How is that putting others ahead of our own interests? How is that honoring to the Lord?

There are those times, I understand, when providentially we are hindered from doing what we say we will do. I may say I will meet you for lunch and on the way have a wreck and be in the hospital. That would be me being providentially hindered. This is the exception, really not the normal problem of us not following through with what we say we will do.

Perhaps we should always make provision for God’s providential work around us when we say we will do something. Like, I will meet you for lunch, Lord willing. That means I plan to meet you for lunch, unless God providentially hinders me from doing so. Or we can so “I plan to do such and such” meaning this is my plan, my intention, but God can step in and change it. Let’s not make God into our excuse for not keeping our word, only acknowledge that He can and has the power to do so. We are to be a people of our words.

One more thing before I close. Each of us will fail at this at some point. We will commit to something we won’t do. When this happens we must repent, confess and repent, ask forgiveness of those we have let down. But there is more. We must remember that God always keeps His word. Every word that we read in the Bible, every one is true, every promise will be kept, All that He has said He will do. He is the ultimate and the only forever and always Promise Keeper. Aren’t you glad for that. And even more when we fail in this, He forgives. He keeps us in the faith, He will keep us all the way to heaven and then forever more.

Matthew 5:33 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 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 take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil.

God's View of Marriage

Matthew 5:31 It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Jesus continues in this sermon we are looking at to turn heads with His radical counter cultural statements regarding life. When Jesus comes on the scene into this fallen and sinful world, He turns people’s thinking upside down. He did not come to condone cultural behavior but to challenge it on many levels. This still happens today. When we come to Christ, we can expect to have our thinking challenged. All that we are used to may not be what God desires for us. So He tells us in His word how things should be and what to expect. We may think we have it all together and then all of the sudden truth, real truth, challenges us. We can be surprised by what we learn and how different it is than what we have always thought. You may know how it is. You are going through life seemingly doing ok, and all of the sudden you read something or hear something and realize that what you thought you were doing was ok when in reality you learn that you were doing it all wrong.

You know how it is…20 years ago the medical community said we should eat this way and now we learn the opposite is true, or at least true for now! Eat red meat we were told…don’t eat red meat. Use this kind of cooking oil, not that one; use this other one. Take supplements…don’t take supplements. What is a person to do! Unlike the medical field or any other science or idea that people have, Jesus’ ways don’t change but they may be different than what we always thought.

Well, Jesus is turning heads, He is explaining things in new ways, and what He is talking about is much more important than the foods we choose to eat. Jesus is giving us insight into what God values and what God expects of us. He is describing how we should live in a way that is pleasing to Him and to His Father.

Now why is He doing this? He does this so we are clear on where God stands concerning the issues of life. This, what we read in this Sermon on the Mount including the part of it that we will talk through today, is where God stands. He is describing holiness and a perfect standard, God’s revealed standards.

Now immediately, we have a problem. Somewhere in this Sermon on the Mount, whether it is anger, lust, divorce, loving our enemies, giving to the needy, or not worrying about life, somewhere we all find weaknesses and sinful tendencies in our lives. No one can honestly read through the sermon on the mount and think they have it all together. So our problem may not be with this part of the Sermon on the Mount but somewhere in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem is that we are not perfect, we are not perfectly holy, we have failed in many ways and we can see our failures in this Sermon on the Mount. So what then? What do we do when our sin is revealed to us? We turn to Christ.

All of this then, the holiness of God, points us to Christ. None of us have lived out the Sermon on the Mount without falling so the answer for us is Jesus Christ. He is our rescuer. He rescues us from our failures. He is the perfect One who lived out all the expectations of the Father perfectly. He alone is Holy and He alone is qualified to be our Savior.

Please don’t ignore this truth as we study these passages together. We need Jesus, not just a good Teacher or a good role model but we need Jesus to rescue us from our sins and to be, in a very real way, our Savior.

So when we grapple with and come to this conclusion that we need a Savior and Jesus is that Savior then we can take what Jesus says and we can say ok, I’m a sinner; I have sinned but there is a solution and the Solution is the person of Jesus. We can be honest about our sin, not minimize it, not convince ourselves that it’s not a big deal, not trying to convince others that we are anything other than a sinner. We can recognize our sin. Repent, yes, but also rejoice and find joy in knowing that Jesus is our loving solution.

When we get to this place then when we read about God’s view of divorce and say you have been divorced, then we don’t have to convince ourselves or others that maybe the passage doesn’t mean what it says. We don’t have to say well, God is neutral on divorce or He doesn’t really dislike divorce. No, we can say that our Holy God hates divorce, I’ve been divorced, I am a sinner. Repent and agree with God.

In other words, if we don’t see ourselves for who we are and Jesus for what He did then we may, as many people do, try to explain away much of the Bible as not meaning what it clearly means, as if to say well I know it says divorce is wrong but really it’s not that bad or really it means this other thing or whatever. No, we can take the Bible for what it says and believe it. And even when it hits closer to home with us on a sin issue, we can believe it and be thankful for Jesus who has taken our place, our punishment for such sin.

So as we talk about divorce today, don’t think I am condemning any of you or that there is no hope for you—I’m not and there is. I am not condemning you, that is not my place and there is hope for you—that is because of the work of Jesus. But let’s be honest about the passage! So with that…let’s dive in and see what God has for us.

Jesus said in verse 31:

Matthew 5:31 It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”

When Jesus said, “It was said,” he is about to clarify for us some matter of truth. We know this because in verse 32 Jesus said, “But I say to you.” It was said…but I say. In other words, this is what you have thought to be true in total, but I’m going to elaborate, clarify and give you a new understanding or a fuller understanding on this topic, clear up misconceptions and even wrong teaching on this matter. And again we need to see this as a major shift in what they had thought to be true.

Since this passage is about marriage and divorce I want to first of all talk about God’s view of marriage, God’s intention for marriage. Here is God’s view of marriage from Matthew 19:3-9:

Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’”

Let me pause here. When Jesus quotes here from Genesis 2 and says that the man shall hold fast to his wife, the hold fast there is a word that means to to “weld” together. Most of us are not welders but let me say this: A good weld should be stronger than the steel that it is holding together. So marriage between a man and a woman is to create a bond that cannot be broken. This was God’s intent when He created marriage.

Matthew 19:6 “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Jesus was asked why Moses commanded one to give a certificate of divorce, and Jesus said it is because of their hardness of heart that Moses allowed divorce. Divorce was never commanded but was allowed.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 are based on Deuteronomy 24:1 but are not an exact quotation of it. In Deuteronomy 24:1–4 the main clause, or the main point, is in verse 4. As is often the case, we or they can take a verse and miss the main point causing great confusion. Let me read this passage, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, because we need to see what it says and why it was said.

Deuteronomy 24:1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

The prohibition here is of the reunion of a divorced couple after the woman has remarried and her second marriage has ended (by divorce or the husband’s death). The original divorce, with its formal certificate (v. 1) is simply assumed (not commanded), but neither here nor elsewhere in the Old Testament is divorce explicitly approved. This passage was, however, universally accepted among Jesus’ contemporaries as permitting a husband to divorce his wife, and condoning it; Matt. 19:7 shows that not only the certificate (as here) but the divorce itself was regarded as “commanded” by Moses. This is a hardening the Mosaic acceptance of divorce as a fact (that divorce does happen) and turning it into a legal precept.

Now, the permissible grounds for divorce were debated in Jesus day. One school of thought was that divorce was restricted to “some indecency sexually” that could be authenticated, but the main school of thought was that divorce was acceptable for any reason that a husband would have—that the indecency mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1 was simply anything the husband didn’t like in his wife. So any complaint became grounds for divorce; it was very one-sided, men could and would divorce for about any reason.

The result was then that a man could and often did marry and divorce many women and did so on not much more than a whim. And unfortunately, he thought that God and the Bible condoned his behavior.

So what Jesus is doing here is clarifying, narrowing the scope of divorce to only include sexual immorality. Jesus is elevating the importance of marriage and its sacredness. He is also, I would say, protecting women from frivolous divorce. Women, if their husbands divorced them, were mostly unable to take care of themselves in this first century society. So they were left helpless and these selfish men were to blame. So Jesus is laying out God’s true view, God’s true purpose regarding marriage and it’s priority. It is not something to be frivolous with.

What we call the exception clause for divorce is there, which is sexual immorality (generally thought to be adultery), but it is narrow in scope, protecting the innocent spouse. But even then, divorce is not commanded.

So to sum up, God’s intent is that marriage between a man and a woman be permanent, until death parts them. Why? Because marriage as God created it is a picture of a solemn and permanent relationship between Christ and His Bride the Church. As Christians, Jesus does not divorce us, though we sin against Him. This is the perfect marriage. This is a spiritual union that shows the character and commitment of the groom, Jesus Christ. Though we commit spiritual adultery (sin) against Him, He does not forsake us.

We read of this in Ephesians 5:

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

It’s a beautiful picture and one that we get to represent as Christian men and women in marriage. It is easy to see that if people are all around divorcing that the picture gets tainted and what marriage represents is lost. So what do we do? We uphold the picture. We show the world what marriage is to be a life-long commitment to another, a loving life-long commitment to each other.

I’m afraid that when most get married, even Christians, the reasons for marriage is much more about another person making us happy than it is of representing God to the world. And when marriage becomes making us happy and that alone, then divorce can come easy. Let’s work to uphold the picture of marriage, let’s do the hard work of loving in marriage the way our Lord loves us.

Some of you may say, well it’s too late for me, I’ve already divorced. I will say, it’s not too late for you. You can still represent God well. You can first repent before God if you have been divorced in an unbiblical way where there was not adultery. Confess sin as sin, repent before God and receive His forgiveness.

If you have remarried then live in your marriage with a commitment to please God and uphold the picture of Christ and the church. Be committed to your spouse, ask God to help you love your spouse for the glory and honor of God.

Matthew 5:31 It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.