Matthew

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.

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.”

Dealing with Sin and Temptation

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

As Jesus continues to preach in what we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, His first public message, he moves in verse 27 of chapter 5 to the seventh commandment which we can read in Exodus chapter 20. Remember Jesus has said that He did not come to do away with or destroy the Law but to fulfill it. In this sermon he does with the seventh commandment what He did with the sixth. He takes the Old Law and He shows us not just its basic meaning but shows us its intent or the heart of the Law.

And we have to know that when He does this, He is not simply saying here is a new standard for you but is saying here is the standard that I will keep perfectly for you. He is saying here is what I will do for you, this is the extent to which I will keep these commands so that you can be saved through me, through my life.

Now this does not negate our responsibility to live in accordance with God’s commands but it does show us that our trying to live in accordance with God’s commands will not save us because we will fall short. But Jesus never, not once, fell short…not outwardly and not inwardly.

Our purpose for keeping the commands is not to save us, that is Jesus’ job. Our purpose is to express our love to Him. So if we are serious about showing our love, our gratitude to Him and our desire to honor Him then this is how we are now to live.

Jesus said:

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”

“Adultery” usually referred to sexual relations by a married person with a partner other than his or her spouse, but v. 28 makes it clear that Jesus is not limiting his commandments to married people but speaking of sexual sin in general. The grammar of v. 28a leads to two possible translations. Jesus could be speaking of one who “looks at a woman with the intention of committing adultery” or to one who “looks at a woman for the purpose of getting her to lust after him.” Either way, the present tense participle blepōn refers to one who continues to look rather than just casting a passing glance, and in either case the mere viewing or mental imagining of a naked body is not under consideration. Instead Jesus is condemning lustful thoughts and actions—those involving an actual desire (the most literal translation of the verb epithymeō) to have sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. Yet despite the danger of over applying this verse, an even greater danger is that of under applying it. Adultery among Christians today is a scandal, yet it almost never occurs without precipitation. Christians must recognize those thoughts and actions which, long before any overt sexual sin, make the possibility of giving in to temptation more likely, and they must take dramatic action to avoid them (Blomberg, 1992, pp. 108-109).

It is in verse 28 where we begin to see the extent of the command of God. It is talking about intent and the heart. Sin begins before an outward action. You can analyze this in many ways but I think we would all agree that something moves us to sin. Something moves us to action whether sinful action or holy action. Something internal moves us, motivates us; and these are desires and desires are a part of our inner being. When I say inner being I mean they are hidden from others. It is possible for me to have a desire that no one on this earth would ever know about, no one but me. And unless I tell you what it is or unless it is revealed through some action of mine, you will never know it is there. This is where we must be careful. It is the cultivating of sinful desire that leads us to sinful behavior.

Jesus is saying that lust, an internal desire for sin, is sin. If it just stays right there, inside of me or you it is still sin. Adultery can be committed in the heart and this adultery is sin. And if it is not dealt with it may very well likely manifest itself beyond the heart to full blown outward behavior of sin. How serious is this? Very. And to show its seriousness Jesus gives two metaphorical illustrations.

The first illustration has to do with the eyes and the second with the hands. The tearing out of one’s eye and the cutting off of one’s hand. Now I realize this sounds gruesome and it is if we take it literally. But this is best understood as being figurative hyperbole, not literal. No where in the Bible does Jesus promote self-mutilation and this should not be taken that way either. Instead Jesus is using this to illustrate for us the seriousness of sin and how radical our actions should be to avoid it.

Think about this: How might your life be different if you took sin as seriously as Jesus does. What if we hated sin, all sin, as much as God does? How would we change where we go, what we do, what we put before our eyes and what we listen to? How we spend our spare time, what we daydream about and who we hang out with? How would we deal with known vulnerabilities in our lives? I think this is what Jesus is getting at here. He is saying, listen…there are times when drastic measures should be taken to keep oneself from further sin. And this is how He illustrates such drastic measures:

Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.

Pretty radical. In fact, in much of Biblical counseling material this is used and described as “radical amputation.” “Radical amputation” is a term to describe making radical life changes as a first step toward lasting change. It can also be seen as potentially, at least first steps, moving toward true repentance.

John MacArthur says of this passage, "Jesus’ point is that we should be willing to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if doing that will help protect us from evil. Nothing is so valuable as to be worth preserving at the expense of righteousness.”

Now let’s talk about this for a moment. I want to describe radical amputation and then I want to talk about its limitations. Sin and temptation often lurk in unknown places. They can sneak up on us. However, much of sin and temptation is predictable. Most of us know particular sin and particular temptation that we are most subject to. For some it may be gluttony, for others lust or some struggle intensely with drunkenness. Maybe for you it is anger or worry or fear. Think about where you struggle most.

As you analyze this, then think about where are you most tempted, I mean a physical location. Is it at home, is it at some other particular place, restaurants, driving, at they gym? Identify where you may be most tempted. Next you can think about with whom are you most tempted or with what group of people are you most tempted. Think about under what circumstances you may be most tempted. When you are tired, when you are overwhelmed, when you are hurting, when you are happy? Maybe a time of day comes to mind, after work, in the morning, at night?

Do you see where we are going with this? Now you have identified many factors regarding the sin and temptation you may deal with — locations, people, circumstances, times of day and you can go on. Now, if you are serious about dealing with sin, particularly habitual sin then you can re-arrange your life in a way to avoid many of these factors, this is amputating these things that you have identified as contributors to your sin and temptation.

And since Jesus is talking about the heart, not just outward behavior, then we must as well. Where are our temptations even if no one else knows about them? Are we able to make these hard choices, disrupt our lives even, for the sake of righteous living, for the sake of honoring our Lord? What do you need to pluck out of your life? What do you need to cut off, remove from your life? And are you wiling to do that?

Now, a word of caution. We live in a world of sin with temptation all around. We cannot avoid, all sin and temptation always. On a deserted Island we would be tempted to sin. So the full solution is not to build walls around our lives and desires and just keep all temptation away. That is not the full solution and that is not the point here. The point is that we must be willing to take steps, significant steps, in the way of righteousness and be serious about battling temptation in our lives. Are we serious about sin? That is the point, that is the thing we must ponder in our lives.

Jesus said, in this life we will have troubles. Temptation, ugliness of sin, our sinful desires—all of this is trouble and, frankly, overwhelming and impossible to deal with on our own. But we are not on our own. We have Jesus who has been trough temptation, we have Jesus who has promised to be with us, we have Jesus who is interceding for us with the Father. Do you know what that means? It means He is for us. He is for us. Jesus said, “In this life you will have troubles.” In the ESV tribulation, here is what Jesus said in John 16:33:

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

So we see what this means. Jesus really has overcome the word. He entered into it, He lived among people, He dealt with many of the things we are faced with and He handled it all perfectly and sinlessly. Now He is the One who leads us through this world, with us and for us! And we can make choices that seem hard to avoid falling prey to sin through temptation. He helps is with that, He helps navigate us through that.

And then we have this blinding reality:

Matthew 5:30b For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

This like a wake up call, a clear statement that hopefully helps us to see what is real and important. It is like Jesus is saying, is your sin worth so much to you that you are willing to go to hell for it? Is whatever pleasure you may be deriving from your sin so great that up against eternity in hell it will be worth it?

This is not about losing ones salvation it is about never fully trusting in Christ. He is describing a person who deeply loves his or her sin, it is all to him or her. It is their life to the point that they will not let it go even when faced with the reality of its end for them. Jesus just has to be plain with them and with us here. What is your sin worth to you? This passage forces us to or should force us to deal honestly with ourselves.

I want to encourage each of us to work at identifying sin, even habitual sin in our lives. And then take the next step to plan how you will perform radical amputation in your life to guard against the sin. And then follow your plan. And at the same time humbly cry out to the Lord for His help, for His power and for real change in your life. Take a step, yes, but cry out to Him along the way. Yes,“Do whatever it takes to correct your heart attitude,” but don’t think you can do this apart from the strength of Christ!

Do you remember the scene in the Garden just prior to Jesus’ arrest? Do you remember His struggle? He was praying and asking the Father to remove the cup of the crucifixion if it be possible yet He yielded to the Father’s will. In this interaction with the Father, we read that Jesus being in agony prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

This was Jesus, we see Him in this intense struggle and what did He do in this struggle? He cried out to the Father for help, He prayed and He relied on the Father through the struggle. The Father sustained Him and He continued in righteousness and carried out the plan of redemption.

Amazing! If Christ so needed the strength of the Lord God how much more do we need the Strength of Christ? If the Father can carry the Son through, how much more can Christ carry us through? And all the while Jesus understands, as He was tempted as we are.

Rely on Christ and fight sin with all your might. Believe that Christ his near while performing radical amputation, making needed changes in your life to resist sin. I believe that is the message, the message that each of us needs to hear!

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

References:

Blomberg, C. L. (1992). The New American Commentary - Matthew (Vol. 22, pp. 108-109). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.