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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Word For The Week

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:21-26
I find it fascinating to watch the news with an eye toward human nature playing itself out in world events, both in matters great and small. The story that I have found to be most interesting is the recent spat between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell, where the two of them are essentially playing the dozens on each other. It reminds me of many an argument that is had by children where one would say, “You’re a pig-face!” and the other would reply, “Says who?” Says who? It’s a simple question with a significant answer, because it ultimately addresses the epistemological inquiry into authority – who can speak authoritatively?

Most people’s proclamations are nothing more than the mere opinions of men, one man says this while another says that and none of them have any claim to truth. It is much like the story of three blind men who were led to an elephant and asked to describe their experience. One man, who grasped the elephant’s tail, said that it is a thin creature, much akin to a rope, while the second man grasped the elephant’s trunk and described the animal as being like a water hose. The third man grabbed the elephant’s leg and described the animal as being like a tree trunk. While each of the men was correct in describing their experience with the elephant, none of the men fully grasped the character and nature of the elephant. They could not see the elephant in all of its splendor and glory, only those aspects of the elephant that were within their reach and that the elephant allowed them to experience.

Our personal experience cannot tell us about the nature and character of God beyond that which God reveals to us. Our interpretation of our experiences, much like that of the three blind men around the elephant, can be incomplete or wildly off the mark. If we look down a railroad track our eyes will tell us that those two tracks eventually come together, but that is not truth. Our every-day experience tells us that the world upon which we live is flat, but that is not truth. Conventional wisdom said that the Pittsburgh Steelers could not win three playoff games on the road and then win the Super Bowl, but that was not truth. People lack the authority to pronounce truth – often times they are merely guessing – but Jesus creates truth by merely speaking. After all, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God said, “Let there be…” and there was, simply by speaking. Jesus called Lazarus from the grave and the decomposed corpse became a living soul, Jesus has the authority to speak. He who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind has the authority to speak. He who gave his life as an atoning sacrifice for my sins and yours has the authority to speak. We can trust the words of Jesus Christ because He alone has the authority to speak.

But the question is this: who are you listening to? That which controls your thinking is your god, so whose words control your thinking? Whose words guide your actions? Do you keep your own council? Are you your own god? Or do you submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, responding to His words as brought to your remembrance by the Holy Spirit? Who are you listening to? Listening leads to thoughts which lead to actions which lead to habits which lead to character traits – who you listen to will shape who you are, so is your soul being shaped by the Savior or do you live by the world’s conventional wisdom? Hip Hop says that women are nothing more than disposable pleasures but Jesus says that in the beginning He created them male and female, equal in dignity though complementary in function. Society says that divorce is a perfectly fine option but Jesus says that what God has put together let no man tear asunder. The world says that every religion is of eternal value but Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life – no man comes to the father but by me.” Who are you listening to? Who has your ear? Who do you trust? In whom do you place your faith? When it’s decision time whose counsel do you keep? When someone makes you angry do the words of Jesus guide your tongue? When someone disappoints you do the words of Jesus guide your thoughts? When you get that call at 1:00 in the morning – you know, that call – do the words of Jesus guide your feet, or do you hear Marvin Gaye whispering sweet nothings in your ear? “Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up!” Just because it’s good to you doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Whose words guide your thoughts and actions?

In our text today Jesus teaches that Christians should live a life of love. It is not enough to refrain from negative actions toward our brothers and sisters, we must truly love them. I know that there have been times in my life where I’ve said, “I didn’t kill him, but I sure wanted to.” Has anyone else had that testimony? Jesus says that we are just as guilty as if we had pulled the trigger, because it is the things that come from the heart that defile us, and our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? Some people try to push the cop-out, “Well, Jesus knows my heart.” That’s true, Jesus does indeed know our hearts, and that’s why He had to die on that old rugged cross – He knows our hearts – and that is why He commands us to live a life of love.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, r`aka, shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.” Have you ever met someone who was just mad for no reason? Just all the time mad? At everyone? For no reason? Have you ever found yourself to be consumed with unfocused anger, just mad at the world? Jesus says that wounding our brothers and sisters with our unnecessary anger is just as sinful as if we’d pulled out the Gloc and put two to the dome. As the cliché says, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. We are not to live this life angry at the world, mad for no reason, we are to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.

Living a life of love doesn’t mean being a punk – Jesus isn’t saying that we are to let people run over us and punk us out. Jesus is saying that our response to such people should be love, and if you love someone you won’t let them hurt themselves by trying to get over on you.

Say what?

God is our Father, and our Father is quite protective of His children. I have seen too many instances of people trying to pimp the people of God just to find themselves on the business end of God’s wrath. I have been through too many instances where I have turned a problem over to God and God wrecks shop exceeding abundantly above anything that I would or could have done to my enemies. This is why Paul reminds us to leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. If you love someone then you will not allow them to put themselves in a position where they will face God’s vengeance, so we don’t have to go on that show, “Pimp my Christian” – we need to live a life of love as God prepares a table for us in the face of our enemies.

Pastor Jeff Johnson from Indianapolis told the testimony of one of his members who worked in the corporate world. The member was faithful to God, to his family, and to his church and was very good at his job. He was so good at his job that his boss blocked every move that he tried to make for his career advancement because the boss wanted the man to keep making her look good. Eventually the man went to his boss and asked her point-blank if she would help him get a promotion and she flatly told him that he would get it over her dead body, so the man went back to doing his job faithfully. A few days later the woman had an aneurysm and died, and the whole office was going to her memorial service. The man didn’t want to go but he didn’t want to be spiteful so he went anyway. As he approached the casket he was met by the regional director who greeted him and told him that people knew about the work that he’d been doing, that he was a top-notched employee and an asset to company. Then the director asked the man if he would be interested in managing the department that he currently worked in, and of course he accepted. And you know where he got that promotion? Right over her dead body!

You’ve got to be careful how you treat a child of God! The Bible says that no weapon formed against us shall prosper, and Jesus says that no man can snatch us out of His hands. I KNOW that my God is good but we have to live a life of love, not talking about those who do us wrong, not plotting revenge against those who hurt us, not returning evil for evil or even harboring resentment against those who have wronged us. Someone once said that resentment is like setting yourself on fire hoping that someone else will be bothered by the smoke. We have to live a life of love! God will handle the rest if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

The second thing that Jesus teaches is that love is more important than rituals. Too often we get so caught up in the things that we do that we lose sight of the people to whom we should be ministering. Paying your tithes is important, coming to church is important, but if there’s a family emergency then you need to take care of your family first. THEN bring your tithe to the church. Notice in the text that Jesus didn’t say to forget about the offering – he said take care of the inter-personal matter first, get things right with your brother first, THEN bring your offering. Notice that the offering wasn’t used for anything else – it was set aside for worship – but the first priority was the personal matter, getting things right with the brother. If we can’t truly fellowship with each other then we can’t truly worship God, and God doesn’t want your praise or your prayers to be hindered by your petty problems with people, so before you come to worship squash any drama between you and your brothers and sisters in Christ – and don’t forget your offering.

Within the context of Jesus’ teaching the people brought offerings to the Temple – livestock, lambs, goats, bulls and so forth. The purpose of the offering was twofold: first, as an offering to God as an act of worship, but second it was for the purpose of supporting the Levitical priesthood. The Levites were given no land as an inheritance in the Promised Land since their mission and calling was the Temple priesthood, but the children of Israel were commanded to support the Levites through their tithes – since the Levites could not support themselves in ministering to the children of Israel the children of Israel were to support the Levites and their ministry.

We have the same arrangement today, since the pastor spends his time ministering to the people of God he cannot support himself through the sweat of his brow, thus the people of God are to support the man of God and the advancement of God’s kingdom through our tithes and offering. Our tradition is 10% of what we get – that was the Old Testament model, a tenth – but in the New Testament the believers had all things in common, selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. We can go with the Old Testament model of a tenth or we can go with the New Testament model of giving it all since Jesus paid it all; but all that we are asked to give is a tenth.

It’s just like that little boy with the five loaves and two fish. He gave out of a spirit of love, not out of compulsion or out of duty and he did not give begrudgingly. Love compelled him to give all that he had – his whole lunch – and due to his act of love over 5,000 people were fed. How many people can be fed based upon our love? How many people can depend on our love? How many people would be dead and gone if their sustenance depended upon our love? We have to live a life of love because love is more important than rituals. Love is more important than showing up for a couple hours on Sunday. Love is more important than going through the motions. Jesus commands us to live a life of love – it’s more important than just routine rituals.

The third thing that Jesus teaches in this text is that love can take precedence over justice. People are much more forgiving of those that they love. Many of us who are Democrats are quite forgiving of Bill Clinton for his indiscretions, but we were quite indignant about Rep. Mark Foley’s fetishes. Many of us who are Republicans got all high and mighty when it came to Bill Clinton lying to the public about a personal matter, but when George W. Bush blatantly lies to the public about Rumsfeld staying on as Secretary of Defense throughout 2008 nary a Republican blinked an eye. We are much more forgiving of our friends than our enemies, and in our text Jesus teaches that we are to turn our adversaries into friends, thereby avoiding the judgment that we rightfully deserve.

Jesus said, “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” I have often said that rules fill the vacuum that is created by an absence of love. Rules don’t guide the interactions of loved-ones, rather principles and general understandings are the norm within loving relationships. If I love you then I am going to do right by you, and if you love me then you can trust me to do right by you. Rules aren’t needed when you operate under love, but where there is no love you are held accountable to the letter of the law. Where the is no love nobody cares about you, they only care about justice. Where there is no love nobody knows your name, they only know your docket number and your prisoner ID. Jesus commands us to live a life of love, understanding that love is more important than rituals and that love can trump justice.

We see this principle at work almost every month when some young man gets arrested for doing something utterly stupid and the camera crews find his mama. The young man could have been caught standing over a dead body with a smoking gun in his hand, finger still on the trigger, and his mama will unfailingly defend her baby. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins and that is seen every week on TV as some mother’s tears cover the sins of her wayward son. It was seen in Simi Valley when a sympathetic jury let four guilty cops go free in the Rodney King beating case. It was seen in LA when a sympathetic jury let OJ Simpson go free in the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. It is seen every day in our prayer closets when we pray for forgiveness and God hears our prayers, forgives our sins, and cleanses us of all unrighteousness.

We who have been saved by the name of Jesus Christ know that love trumps justice, because each of us has been saved by grace through faith. Each of us were loved when we were lost and lonely, saved when we were stuck in our sin-sickness, redeemed when we were wretched and worthless. Even though the wages of our sin merited death we were given the free gift of salvation by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God demonstrated His own love in this; while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, the Righteous One sacrificed His life for us, the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. Love can cover a multitude of sins, and Jesus calls us to live a life of love. Will you listen to what He has to say? Will you enthrone Him as Lord of your life? Who is your God? Who has the authority to speak into your life? Will you choose Jesus today?

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who wants you to live a life of love,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Emancipated by Athanasius @ 8:36 AM

Read or Post a Comment

Society says that divorce is a perfectly fine option but Jesus says that what God has put together let no man tear asunder

But how do we know when it's God who put it together, as opposed to a lesser god? You mentioned that we each view the world from our own limited perspective. We're not always good at discerning whose voice we're listening to.

When Demetrius and I were getting married, due to our status as an interfaith, interracial couple, we had a lot more questioning to do--really, it was "thrust upon us" by some people's reactions--before our wedding. And because I was Catholic, we went through the pre-Cana process. Yet I've often thought about how relatively easy it is for couples to get married with little or no thought.

Not trying to be combative, but trying to understand. If God wasn't in the decision to get married in the first place, does God somehow become involved once the deed is done? Do you think there is a difference between a marriage performed by the state and a marriage sanctioned by a church in this regard?

Would try to flesh that out more, but Daughter is singing in church, so I need to get going. Hopefully you understand what I am asking. Sometimes we assume we know others' perspectives without checking them out, and I think that most of us need to get better at really listening.

Posted by Blogger Renee in Ohio @ Sunday, January 07, 2007 9:51:00 AM #

Context, as always, is key - Jesus was speaking about those who actually believe in God, who take their marital vows before Him, who pledge to Him that they will remain faithful to their spouse for as long as they both shall live. It's less mystical than practical - if you united with your mate under the authority of God then you do not have the option of haphazardly leaving your mate. There are things that violate marriage in such a way as to nullify the marriage vow, but the remedy was stoning the offender. Today we don't stone people, but infidelity (q.v. Matthew 19:1-11) is certainly grounds for divorce - the vow has already been broken, there's no need to punish the victim. You have to take Scripture as a whole, and if you remove the stoning then you have to allow for the effects of the stoning, specifically the victim is free to remarry. That said, the overwhelming majority of divorces have little to do with infidelity - especially among so-called Christians - and that which was put together under the auspices of God let no man tear asunder.

As for those who don't believe in God, their actions, it is safe to say that God is nowhere near their madness. In fact, when the returned exiles of Israel took unto themselves wives who did not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob they were commanded to divorce their wives and take on believing wives, because God was not in their original madness, and Paul takes a similar tract, saying that if the unbeliever wants to be divorced then let them go and you're free to remarry.

"What God has put together" primarily refers to marriages dedicated to God in our day and time; God's hand isn't on anything else.

Posted by Blogger Athanasius @ Sunday, January 07, 2007 2:57:00 PM #

i like how you said if you have a family emergency, take care of your family first and then give the tithe. most people would say the opposite. I know God provides in every circumstance. Either way. that was a good word, and very good to read. thanks.

Posted by Anonymous tithe and offerings guru @ Thursday, January 25, 2007 5:12:00 PM #

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You

Posted by Blogger Micky @ Monday, April 09, 2007 6:52:00 AM #
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