Bible Text: Matthew 6:5-8 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount When You Pray St. Matthew 6:5-8 by William Klock This morning I want to jump back to Matthew 6:5. Remember that here in Chapter 6 Jesus tells us about the externals of our religion by focusing on the three main outward acts of piety that the Jews were concerned with: giving, prayer, and fasting. We skipped over prayer. Now I want to take some time to look at in more detail, because I think that of these three prayer is the most important, but at the same time it’s one of the least understood (or most misunderstood) aspects of the Christian life. One of the most frequent questions people as me as a minister is “How should I pray?” Or people ask me what they’re doing wrong when they pray and don’t receive an answer or don’t feel the presence of God with them. The fact is that we all have something to learn about prayer. None of us has a perfect understanding of God’s ways and none of us has a perfect understanding of how to approach him. I don’t think any Christian can boast of having a perfect prayer life. And this isn’t a new problem. That’s why Jesus taught his disciples about prayer and we can learn a lot from what he says here and especially from his sample prayer: the “Lord’s Prayer.” But he starts saying this. Follow along with me in Matthew 6:5-8: 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. 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. 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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. I want to look at three main points that come out of what Jesus says in these verses about prayer, and the first one of those points is that true prayer is that which is offered to God, our heavenly Father. That might seem obvious, but look at what Jesus says here. He reminds us of the hypocrites, like the Pharisees, who would stand in the front of the synagogue and pray loud and elaborate prayers, not with God as their audience, but only really caring that the other people there noticed them and thought they were extra holy. The Jews were supposed to pray three times a day and Jesus is addressing those who chose to stop what they were doing and make a show of their prayers. If their work required their attention, some men might quietly pause to pray. Others would keep going about their business while praying, but the hypocrite would see the time and stop on the street corner, kneel down, and put on a show for everyone around to see. You see, all prayers are not offered to God. In fact, I’d venture to say that very few prayers are really offered to God. And I’m not just talking about pagan prayers offered to false gods. Even in our churches, I think that maybe one in a hundred prayers might truly be offered to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re often just like the Pharisees. Lots of our prayers are done to be seen by others. I find that I often have to check myself at the pulpit and at the altar and ask, “Is this being offered to God or to men?” Each of us needs to ask if our prayers bring us into the presence of God or if they’re done for the sake of our audience. If we’re honest with ourselves, when we pray we’re more often thinking about other things. Maybe you’re praying in a group and you spend most of the time thinking not about what is being prayed by someone else, but thinking about what you’re going to pray and making sure you’ve composed it just right. Even when we are focused on prayer, we’re often thinking more about what we’re asking for than about the great God we are approaching when we ask. R.A. Torrey said, “We should never utter one syllable of prayer, either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to him.” That’s a hard thing to do. Torrey’s experience is probably something that a lot of us can identify with. He says, “I can remember when that thought transformed my prayer life. I was brought up to pray. I was taught to pray so early in life that I have not the slightest recollection of who taught me to pray….Nevertheless, prayer was largely a matter of form. There was little real thought of God, and no real approach to God. And even after I was converted, yes, even after I had entered the ministry prayer was largely a matter of form.” “But,” he says, “the day came when I realised what real prayer meant, realised that prayer was having an audience with God, actually coming into the presence of God and asking and getting things from him. And the realisation of that fact transformed my prayer life. Before that, prayer had been mere duty, and sometimes a very irksome duty, but from that time on prayer has been not merely a duty but a privilege, one of the most highly esteemed privileges of life. Before that the thought that I had was, ‘How much time must I spend in prayer?’ The thought that now possesses me is, ‘How much time may I spend in prayer without neglecting the other privileges and duties of life?’” Some of us are like R.A. Torrey and it takes us a long time to figure that out. Lots of Christians never figure out what it means to pray to God. If we’re an average evangelical church, statistically only about 15% of you are spending time in regular prayer with God on at least a daily basis. And a big part of that is that we never grasp what real prayer is – because we never learn what it means to enter the presence of God. Psychiatrists say that a lot of our prayer is nothing more than wish-fulfilment – we just recite over and over what we want to see happen. They’re probably right. Because when Jesus tells us about real prayer he says that we are to pray conscious of being in God’s presence and when we are in real communion with him. And that’s why I frequently say, if you’re prayer life isn’t what it should be – if you aren’t finding communion with God, if coming to his Table isn’t providing you a sense of his presence – you need to deal with the sin in your life. You need to confess it and repent of it and allow that broken communion with God to be restored. And that naturally brings up the second point. If prayer is communion with God, how can sinful men and women enter into the presence of our God who is perfectly holy? Can we do it? If we can, what does that mean for the way that we approach God? And the answer is our second principle. True prayer is prayer offered to God the Father on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ, his Son. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our heartssprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.(Hebrews 10:19, 22) Jesus teaches us the same principle when he says in St. John’s Gospel: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) What does that mean? Well, this is what we celebrated a few minutes ago when we baptised Ginger into the Church – into the Body of Christ. It means that as sinful men and women God would have to turn us out of his presence. He’s holy – perfectly holy – and we’re not. We and God are kind of like oil and water or like magnetic opposites. Holiness and unholiness don’t mix. You can’t have darkness in the presence of light. God’s very being and character mean that despite his love for us, he must turn away from everything that is unholy and imperfect if he is to be true to his Word and true to his very nature. If Jesus had not come to pay the penalty for our sin, we would have no access to the holy throne of God. Every prayer would be rejected. The Good News is that every sinful man and woman can come into the presence of our holy God. Through Jesus Christ we can be cleansed and purified and, covered by his perfect righteousness, we are accepted into God’s presence. In fact, through Jesus Christ we are not only allowed into God’s presence – we’re encouraged and exhorted to come. He expects us! But this also means that prayer is only for those who come to God through Jesus Christ – for those who realise that they can’t come to God on their own merits. Prayer is not for atheists. It’s not for people who are morally “good,” but think of Jesus as just another good man or great teacher. The best of us, the holiest man or woman who has ever lived, can never compare to the perfect holiness of God. Prayer is for Christians and for Christians alone. None of us can approach God on our own merit and expect him to hear us, let alone give us anything. But it is by the shed blood of Jesus Christ that the worst sinner in the world can come any time and with boldness before the throne of God to pour out the deepest desires of his heart and receive what he asks for. All we have to do is humble ourselves and acknowledge that we merit nothing and then turn to Jesus Christ and let him be the righteousness we don’t and never will have. That’s an awesome thing and it’s possible because of the death of Jesus Christ. God loved us enough to send us his only Son to pay the penalty we deserved. You see, true prayer is prayer to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. But there’s another important point Jesus makes here. Prayer is offered to God and it’s made through Jesus Christ, but it’s also in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul stresses this to the Ephesian Christians. In 2:18 he says, “Through him [that is, through Jesus Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Paul tells us, again, that when we pray, we approach the Father through Jesus Christ, but he also says here that when we do so, we make our prayers in the Holy Spirit. Jesus opens the way to the Father, but it’s the Holy Spirit dwelling in us that leads us through the door into the throne room. The work of the Spirit is to lead us to God, to show us where God is, and basically to make us aware of God as we pray. It’s the indwelling Holy Spirit, given to us by Jesus Christ, that “tunes” us into God. Without the Spirit we wouldn’t know where to go. The Greek word that St. Paul uses actually refers to an “introduction.” And that’s what the Spirit does: he introduces us to God and makes him real to us. And at the same time he shows us how to pray. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27) This is why I have a problem with those who say that you can be a Christians, but not be filled with the Holy Spirit. You might as well say that you can be a Christian and not have Jesus Christ or not have access to the Father. All three persons of the Holy Trinity are with us as Christians. Prayer is being in the presence of the Father, but we can’t get there without Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. But even with the Spirit indwelling us, there are times when we pray and feel far from God or we feel like our prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. When we feel that way one of two things is probably wrong. The first thing is that we may be hindered by sin in our lives. David says in Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sin pushes us out of God’s holy presence. If God doesn’t seem near, ask the Spirit to show where you have missed the mark and then confess that sin to God openly. But the other problem we have is distraction. Other things can fill our attention and crowd out or obscure a sense of God’s presence. Those are times when we simply need to be still. We need to stop and ask God to work through his Holy Spirit to lead us back into his presence. I know from my own experience, from what other Christians have told me, and from many the great saints of the past have written, that some of our best time of prayer are the ones that start out without a sense of God’s presence, but come into it fully by praying. But so far in these three things, we’ve really only looked at our end of prayer – the us talking to God part. Jesus addresses the other half too. He reminds us that God is more willing to answer our prayers than we are to pray and that, because of that, the Christian who prays according to God’s will, can pray with the greatest of confidence. He said, “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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” John Newton probably had this in mind when we wrote: Come, my soul, thy suit prepare: Jesus loves to answer prayer; He, himself has bid thee pray, Therefore will not say thee nay. That doesn’t mean that God’s like a genie who has to grant whatever thing we ask him for. God is willing, yes. But if we expect to receive the things we ask for, we have to ask according to his will and according to his ways. This seems to be where a lot of Christians get into trouble. They come to God with confidence and ask for all sorts of things, but then they get frustrated when they don’t get them. The problem is that they aren’t asking according to God’s will. And the only place we’re going to learn God’s will is by reading the book he left for us – the book that he gave us specifically so we could know him and know his will and his ways. St. John understood this. In his first, 3:22, he writes something really profound about prayer. He says, “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments anddo what pleases him.” Those are amazing words and they echo exactly what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. The Apostle John saw his prayers answered and he had confidence that they would continue to be answered. We look at that and scratch out heads. “John, how can you say that? My prayers aren’t always answered!” And Johns says, “God answers my prayers because I keep his commandments and because I do the things that please him.” John understood just what we’ve been talking about: sin hinders our prayers, and for them to be answered, we need to pray what is pleasing to him and what is according to his will. I mentioned R.A. Torrey earlier. Let me close with a story he tells about a woman from his first pastorate. She attended his church regularly, but she wasn’t a member. One day he approached her about this and her response was that she simply didn’t believe the Bible. He asked her why. And she said, “Because I have tried its promises and found them untrue.” So he asked her to give him an example of one promise that she had found untrue. She said, “The promise that says that whatever things you desire when you pray, believe that you shall receive them and you shall have them. Once I prayed for something very earnestly, but I did not receive it. Isn’t it true that this promise failed?” He told her, “Not at all.” “But doesn’t it say that you shall receive whatever you ask for if you believe?” Torrey agreed that she wasn’t too far off on that one. But he also said, “You first have to ask yourself if you are one of the ‘you’s.’” She didn’t understand him so he asked again, “Are you one of the people to whom the promise is made?” She was a little indignant. “Isn’t it made to every professing Christian?” Torrey said, “Certainly not! God defines very clearly in his Word just to whom his promises to answer prayer are made.” She said, “It does?” When she asked to see the verse, he took her to this last verse we read from 1 John: “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments anddo what pleases him.” The prayers that God answers are made by those believers in Jesus Christ who keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. Torrey told her, “Those are the ‘you’s.’” Then he asked her, “Do you keep his commandments?” She had to admit that she didn’t. And she came back to God and eventually became one of the most active and useful members of his congregation. But you see, I know for a fact that this woman wasn’t alone. There are lots and lots of Christians, even many in our church, who are just like her. It’s sad and there’s no reason for this to be true of anyone. But you need to ask yourself: are you one of the “you’s?” Are you someone who knows the Word of God and who desires God and seeks to follow his ways and keep his commandments. Are you one who desires to please God? If you are, then you can pray with great confidence – to God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. Please pray with me: Almighty God and Father, give you thanks that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us so that the doorway to your throne would be opened to those who put their trust in him. Move in us by your Spirit to purify our hearts and to draw us closer to your throne, through your Son, and give us a desire to do that which is pleasing to you. And drive us to the study of your Word we might grow to know your will and make our petitions in full accord with it. We ask this, coming to you now through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:16-18 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount The Discipline of Fasting St. Matthew 6:16-18 by William Klock Today I want to jump ahead twelve verses in Matthew Six, to look at the sixteenth through eighteenth verses. Next week we’ll back up and look at the verses in between, where Jesus tells us about the discipline of prayer and gives us what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer” as an example to follow. Since I want to look at what Jesus has to say about prayer in depth, we’re going to skip over it this week. You see, in these first eighteen verses of Chapter Six Jesus describes the outward religion of his followers – the outward acts of piety. And he does this in a very Jewish way. For the Jews there were three main outward acts that showed their faith: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. We looked at almsgiving last week and this week I want to look at what Jesus tells us about fasting. In each case, Jesus contrast the Biblical understanding of these outward acts with what had become the norm in his day. The Jews had come to see them as things you did in order to show other people how religious you were. The Pharisees made a show of giving to the poor and of making their contributions at the Temple. Jesus gives the example of the Pharisee going to the Temple and praying loudly before everyone there and giving thanks that he was not like the poor, scum, tax collector kneeling humbly in the back. And here he tells us that in the same way, our fasting is to be done before God, not as a spiritual show to be put on before men. Now, I think that we all understand the concepts of giving and of prayer – even if we don’t do those things as often as we should. But fasting is something foreign to our culture, and for that reason it’s foreign to a lot of us in the Church. And yet Jesus, in these verses assumes that his disciples will fast. Look at his instructions in verses 16-18: And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Most modern Christians live as if these verses don’t exist. As Evangelicals we tend to focus on inward religion or religion of the heart, but we have a hard time with an external and bodily practice like fasting. If we think of fasting at all, we might think of it as an Old Testament thing; as something that the Jews did on the Day of Atonement, but a thing that Jesus did away with. After all, it was John the Baptist’s disciples who came to Jesus asking why his disciples didn’t fast like they did. Jesus told them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast” (Mark 2:18). But the fact is that Jesus himself went into the wilderness at the start of his ministry and fasted for forty days and nights. When he answered the people who criticised his disciples for not fasting, he did also tell them, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:20). Again, Jesus tells us here in Matthew Six how to fast on the assumption that we would. And in both Acts and the Epistles we see the apostles fasting. So we can’t just say that fasting is an Old Testament thing, a Roman Catholic thing, or even an Anglo-Catholic thing. S let’s look at the Old Testament first to see what it says about fasting. As I just said, the first instance of fasting is what God commanded the Jews to do each year on the Day of Atonement. God connected it with mourning for sin and repentance of it. On that one day each year the Jews were to mourn their sins and look for the reconciliation that God had provided through the sacrifices. So it’s no surprise that “fasting” and “humbling oneself before God” were seen as pretty much the same thing. When a Jewish man or woman wanted to show their penitence for past sin, they would weep and fast. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile, they had forgotten the commands God had given their ancestors. They often lived in gross sin, but didn’t realise it because of their ignorance for God’s Law. So when the Book of the Law was read to them and they became aware of their sin, Nehemiah called the people to a national day of repentance. He called them to put on sackcloth and to fast while they gathered to confess their sins. The book of Jonah tells us that when the people of Ninevah responded to Jonah’s preaching and repented, they did so by proclaiming a city-wide fast and by putting on sackcloth. When Daniel sought after God, he first made a confession of his sins and the sins of his people, prayerfully, having put on sackcloth and ashes and after he had fasted. And think of Saul of Tarsus. When he came to Christ he was moved to penitence for his persecution of Christians and didn’t eat or drink anything for three days. Even today, when we as God’s people are convicted of our sins and moved by the Spirit to repentance, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for us to mourn, weep, and fast. Honestly, I think we could be better served with a national day of repentance and fasting than by a national day of prayer. Back in the middle of the Sixteenth Century, just after the Reformation in England, the leading bishops of the Church of England wrote two books of homilies or sermons to be read in the churches. A lot of the clergy were poorly educated and didn’t know how to preach, but there was also a need to teach the people the Bible – something that had been lacking for centuries. One of those homilies has to do with fasting and it suggests that fasting is one way we can apply to ourselves Jesus’ statement, “when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in that day.” The homily makes the point that Christ the bridegroom is “with us” and that we are enjoying the marriage feast when we are rejoicing in him and the salvation he gives. But it says, the bridegroom is “taken away from us” and the feast is put on hold when we are oppressed by defeat, affliction, and adversity. “Then is it a fit time,” says the homily, “for that man to humble himself to Almighty God by fasting, and to mourn and bewail his sins with a sorrowful heart.” Do you ever feel far from God? That’s a good time to examine your life in light of God’s commandments and spend some time fasting, praying, and mourning your sin, asking for forgiveness and a measure of grace. But Scripture doesn’t just link fasting with mourning; it also links fasting with prayer. In the Bible we see many of the great saints humbling themselves before God as a way of showing how they depended on him for future mercies. It’s not that fasting while praying was what happened all the time, but we do see the example of people who, when the need was great – when they were seeking God’s direction or his blessing – set aside worldly distractions so that they could pray more fervently. Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai after the covenant was renewed and when God had taken Israel to be his people. Jehosaphat saw the armies of Moab and Ammon advancing toward him and “set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). Before Queen Esther took her life into her hands by approaching the king uninvited, she asked Mordecai to gather all the Jews and to hold a fast on her behalf. Ezra proclaimed a fast before leading the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem, “that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey” (Ezra 8:21). Again, Jesus fasted at the beginning of his public ministry, and the Apostles themselves followed his example. Before Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey, the church at Antioch prayed and fasted. They knew that before we set out to do big things for God, we need seek his guidance and blessing. Finally, the third reason we find for fasting in Scripture has to do with self-discipline and self-control. I didn’t really understand this aspect of fasting until I was talking with another priest about the subject of natural family planning. I had always thought about it from a pro-life standpoint and from the position of our being willing to submit to God’s sovereignty. But my friend looked at it from the standpoint of self-control. And that really struck me, because self-control isn’t a fruit of the Spirit that we as modern Christians are very good at. Our culture doesn’t value it except maybe in the grossest sense, and we’ve acclimatised ourselves to our culture. Fasting, whether it’s from food, from marital relations, from TV – you get the idea – teaches us self-control. You see, self-control is meaningless unless it includes the control of our bodies, and that kind of control is impossible without self-discipline. St. Paul describes it in terms of an athlete. To compete in the games the athlete has to be fit – that’s why he trains. Not only does he have to control his diet, get enough sleep and exercise, but, Paul says, every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). As Christians we’re in a spiritual race and so we need to do the spiritual equivalent of the physical training an athlete engages in. In that same passage St. Paul even goes so far as to talk about pummelling or buffeting his body – beating it into submission until it’s black and blue – and subduing it – leading it around as if it were a slave. Now his point wasn’t to be masochistic. It wasn’t a false asceticism like wearing a hair shirt or sleeping in the cold with no blankets. And it wasn’t a Pharisaical attempt to win the admiration and approval of men. St. Paul rejects all those sorts of things. God made our bodies. We have no reason to punish them, but we do have the duty of disciplining them – bringing our bodies and our wills to the point of obedience. Fasting is one way of building self-control. And this aspect of fasting also makes the point that we’re not just talking about eating and drinking. There are other things we do that we can take a fast from. So, back to Jesus’ teaching on fasting. He assumes that we will fast. His point, just as it was with giving and with praying, is that when we fast we should be different from the hypocrites who do it only to draw attention to themselves. When they fasted they made a point of really looking like they were fasting. They deliberately looked miserable. They didn’t go through their normal daily routines, like taking a bath and putting on clean clothes. Just to make themselves look really miserable, they’d rub ashes in their hair and on their faces. They thought that going around miserable, dirty, stinking, and covered in ashes was what made them holy – and so they made show of their “holiness” for everyone to see. The sad fact is that lots of people admired them for it – but that was all the reward they got. Remember what we read about giving last week? If you give to win the approval of men, you’ll get it – but you’ll receive no reward from God. The same principle applies here. In contrast, Jesus says, “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” Take a bath, comb your hair, wash your face, iron your clothes. He’s not saying you have to go around pretending you’re not fasting, being slap-happy with everybody. But he is saying, don’t make a show of your fasting. Fast, but otherwise go about your day like you would any other day. The point isn’t to be seen by men, but to be seen by our Father in heaven, who will reward us. The point of fasting isn’t to advertise ourselves; it’s to discipline ourselves. It’s not to get a reputation with others for holiness; it’s to be humble before God. If we manage to discipline ourselves and be humble before God, that’s reward enough. In each of these three cases where Jesus talks about the externals of our religion (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) he’s contrasting the legalistic and Pharisaical way of doing things with the biblical way of doing them. The Pharisees did all these things ostentatiously and to be rewarded by men. But Jesus tells us, Christian piety is secret and is motivated by humility and is rewarded by God. I think it might be easier to understand the difference between these two attitudes if we look at where each one comes from and what it leads to. You see, religion that is showy and hypocritical is ultimately destructive. Giving, praying, and fasting are all authentic activities in their own right. To give is to serve others. To pray is to seek God. To fast is to discipline ourselves. But if we’re hypocritical when we do these things it destroys their integrity by turning them, whether giving, praying, or fasting, into opportunities for self-display – for blowing our own horns to the world. So where does this hypocritical attitude come from? Jesus says over and over again in these verses that the hypocrite does his good works “before men in order to be seen and praised by men.” But hypocrites aren’t really obsessed with men – they’re really obsessed with themselves. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “Ultimately our only reason for pleasing men around us is that we may please ourselves.” So the solution should be obvious. What we need to do is to become so conscious of God, that we cease to be conscious of ourselves. This is where Jesus puts our focus. Look at it this way: total secrecy isn’t possible for any of us. Whatever we do, say, or even think, even if there’s no one else around to watch, is still seen and known by God. And it’s not that God is up there as some kind of celestial killjoy or policeman just waiting to catch us. He’s a loving heavenly Father, who desires to bless us and looks for every chance he can to do so. So the question to each of us is, which matters to you more? Are you interested in men seeing your good works or God seeing them? The hypocrite goes through the motions of religion so that he can be seen by men. It’s interesting that the Greek word that St. Matthew uses here is the same word from which we get our word “theatre.” The hypocrite puts on a show – a performance. Their religion is a public spectacle. But, you see, the real Christian knows that he is being watched too, but in his case he knows his audience is God. And here’s the thing: we can bluff a human audience. We can fake out men and women and make them think we’re holier than we really are. Even when we don’t try, people will often see you or me engaged in some outward act of piety and comment on how much more spiritual we are than they – while all the time we’re cringing with the knowledge that we’re not as holy as they think we are! We can fool people into thinking that our giving, our praying, and our fasting are real, when in fact we’re acting – putting on a show. But God sees our hearts. That’s why if we do things to be seen by men, we degrade that thing, but if we do it to be seen by God we make it something noble, and through that noble thing God will work in our lives. Let me close with an illustration. I think most of you are familiar with David Wilkerson. He wrote The Cross and the Switchblade. He writes about how he was pastoring a growing and healthy church. On the outside everything about his ministry looked really good, but on the inside, he says, he was restless; something was missing. Then one night while he was watching the “late show” it occurred to him that it might do him some good if instead of watching TV, he spent that time in prayer – he might fast from television and see what would happen. Well, he immediately thought of a bunch of excuses. He was tired at night and needed to relax. It was good for him to be able to connect with what people were seeing and talking about. But he wasn’t entirely convinced by his excuses. So he prayed, “Jesus, I need some help in deciding this thing, so here’s what I’m asking you. I’m going to put an ad for that [television] set in the paper. If you’re behind this idea, let a buyer appear right away. Let him appear within an hour…within half an hour…after the paper gets on the street.” His wife was not very impressed with the idea when he told her about it the next morning, but he went ahead and put the ad in the paper anyway. It was a funny scene the next day after the paper hit the streets. Wilkerson sat on the couch with the TV set on one side, his wife and kids on the other, and the clock and telephone in front of him. After twenty-five minutes, just as he was saying, “Well, Gwen, it looks like you’re right. I guess I won’t have to…” the telephone rang. “Do you have a TV set for sale?” a man asked. “That’s right. An RCA in good condition. Nineteen inch screen, two years old.” “How much do you want for it?” “One hundred dollars, Wilkerson said quickly. “I’ll take it,” came the reply. Have it ready in fifteen minutes. I’ll bring the money.” Well, that was the beginning. Out of the times of prayer that followed, David Wilkerson was directed by God to the plight of the teenage gang members in New York City. Out of his efforts to help them came a work that God continues to bless, not only in New York, but all over. Now I don’t know how exactly this will apply to you in your life. As the story makes clear, fasting doesn’t always have to mean not eating. We all need to work on self-control in different ways and with different things. But whatever your daily habits or routines are, there are certainly things that you could set aside, even if only for a little while, so that you can spend more time with God. You don’t have to tell anyone about it. But that’s okay, because you have the promise of the Lord Jesus that our Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we know that for many of us these words about fasting are something we’ve never give much thought to and never really put into practice, but we pray that your Spirit would be at work in our hearts and minds to show us ways in which fasting will bring us closer to you and to your blessings and promises. Give us the grace and humility to submit to your lordship. We ask this in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 18:21-35 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock The Unforgiving Servant St. Matthew 18:21-35 by William Klock A Homily Delivered to the REC General Council of 2008 The parable of the unforgiving servant is a familiar story. Jesus used it to answer St. Peter’s question: “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” As Jesus tells the story, a king decides to settle his accounts. He looks in his books and notices that one of his servants owes him ten thousand talents. If Jesus were telling the story today, that would translate into something like a gazillion dollars. It was a debt that could never be paid. The king threatened that he would sell this man with his wife and children to be slaves if the money wasn’t forthcoming. And as if somehow more time would make a way for him to repay the unpayable debt, the servant begged the king for an extension. And seeing the man beg for mercy, the king, we’re told, chose to have compassion on him and forgave the entire debt. And yet that same servant, on his way home from the king’s palace, went looking for one of his fellow servants who owed him the relatively small sum of a third of a year’s wage. As the king had first threatened him, he threatened his friend. And yet when his friend begged for mercy, instead of reflecting the compassion he had just been shown by the king, the servant had his friend thrown into prison. It’s no wonder that the king was enraged when he heard what had happened. It’s no wonder that the king called his servant back and, as the text says, “delivered him to the tormenters, till he should pay all that was due.” Jesus’ point was forgiveness, but not just that we would forgive others. He wants us to understand first and foremost the forgiveness that God has first shown to us. And so in Jesus’ parable we also have a profound illustration of what God has done for each of us through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the king who was mercifully willing to forgive that gazillion dollar debt. We forget that the king had loaned that money out expecting to get it back. To forgive it cost him tremendously. And just so for God when he forgave our debts. To satisfy his justice, to satisfy his holiness, he gave his own Son, who left his Father’s side, took on human flesh, condescended to our level and become one of us, and painfully died the death of a common criminal so that he could repay the debt that we owed him – the debt that we could never repay. The amount of our debt to God was incalculable. All this “while we were yet sinners” – while we were his enemies. We committed cosmic treason against our Creator, yet in his love for us he chose to have mercy. That’s amazing grace. We talk about grace. We sing songs about grace. Do we understand what grace is? Grace is God’s favour shown to those who do not, cannot, and will not ever merit it. It is God’s amazing grace that propels us into the world ready to share the Cross of Jesus Christ with every person we meet. But that only happens when we understand just how low we are by nature and just how great God’s love and mercy are toward us. People and churches that lose sight of their unworthiness, of their sin, and of their need for divine grace are often great at preserving orthodox doctrine, at preserving classical Anglicanism, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, or the 1940 Hymnal. They may even be great at providing a home for the disaffected and persecuted members of other denominations. But they’re terrible when it comes to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As St. James says, our faith – our understanding of ourselves and our understanding of what God had done for us – is reflected not so much by what we say, as by what we do. Dear friends, where is our passion? Is our passion for spreading the Gospel, or is our passion for other things, however good they may be? Because a people who are not spontaneously motivated to share the Gospel by the great grace they have been shown, are a people that have never truly understood the great grace of that Gospel in the first place.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:1-4 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Investing in God's Kingdom St. Matthew 6:1-4 by William Klock Despite the fact that the average Canadian household gives less than $300 to charitable causes each year, charity is a common thing in our society. And if you talk to people about it – especially non-Christians – the general attitude about it is that “charity” is just what good people do; that charity is widespread because men and women are basically benevolent. That’s why we give to good causes – or as is more often the case today, that’s why we’re happy to hand over half of our earning to the government so that they can engage in charity, whether that’s running schools, operating a food pantry, or providing medical services to the poor. We do it because people are basically good. That’s the answer most people give. But that’s the wrong answer. True charity came into the world through Christianity and through the Church. Whether you’re looking at the Red Cross or the United way, public hospitals or food stamps, those things are the by-product of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not to say that some pre-Christian pagans didn’t throw the occasional coin to a beggar on the street, but ancient writers tell us that that kind of charity was uncommon, and that when it did happen it was done by men who wanted others to see them as magnanimous. Before Jesus Christ there were no orphanages or hospitals. Before Jesus Christ there was a world of hard work and poverty. Unwanted children were left exposed to die (and so were the elderly as I described a couple of weeks ago). Slavery was widespread. People starved where just a short distance away others lived very affluently. But when Christ came he created a sacrificial and loving people. It didn’t take long for them to start caring for the poor and the sick. St. Joseph’s Hospital wasn’t built by pagans. It was built as a ministry to reach out to those in need in our community. It was Christians who brought in labour laws to keep people from being exploited and laws that abolished slavery. It is the Church that takes the Gospel to other lands and as witness of the love of Christ builds hospitals and schools. This Christian love for others was something that even the ancient pagans acknowledged. The Greek philosopher Aristides defended the Christians when he wrote to the Emperor Hadrian: “They do not commit adultery nor fornication, they do not bear false witness, they do not deny a deposit, nor covet what is not theirs: they honour father and mother; they do good to those who are their neighbours….They love one another: and from the widows they do not turn away their countenance: and they rescue the orphan from him who does him violence: and he who has gives to him who had not, without grudging….When one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them sees him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor or needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.” That was the amazing witness of the Body of Christ to the world. This was supposed to have been the witness of Israel to the world too. Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s command to care for those in need, and yet his people were more often condemned for trampling on the poor, the widow, and the orphan. When charity did happen in Israel, it was more often than not done to attract the attention of other men. And so Jesus came into the world and changed all of that. In the power of the Holy Spirit charity flowed from a divine love that welled up in God’s people. Here as we start Chapter Six we see this new spirit of charity for the first time: 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. 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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4) Verse 3 really stands out and makes Jesus’ point clear: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” For the Christian there is to be no show, no ostentation, when we give – and not just before men, but even before our own selves. That’s the kind of charity that’s inspired by the presence of the Lord Jesus in our hearts! And it’s in that spirit that the early Christians gave and won a reputation for charity. It’s in that spirit that Christians have, ever since, been caring for those who are in need. But here’s the thing: this kind of love for others can never exist in a heart that hasn’t been given over and surrendered to God. I see two main points in what Jesus says here, and that’s the first one: true charity comes from a life that has first been surrendered to God. Jesus says that we are to give, not before men, but before God, looking for only his approval. A good example of this is the church at Philippi. We talked a little bit about them in our study last Sunday evening. They were known for being outstanding examples of Christian giving. They gave first to St. Paul, because he was their father in the faith. They loved him, and when he left and was gone for a while, they eventually sent messengers to look for him and to find out how he was. When they found out that he was at Thessalonica and was in financial need, they took up a collection and had it sent to him. They did the same thing a second time too. The Apostle wrote to them saying, “Even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:16 NASB). Even when he was in prison in Rome at the end of his life they continued to send him their gifts. But the Philippians weren’t generous with St. Paul alone. Things were bad in Jerusalem and the Christians there were in desperate need. We’re told that things got so bad there that the members of the church had to pool their resources to survive. When the first Church council met at Jerusalem, the council asked Paul to go to the Gentile churches for help. And that’s exactly what Paul did. In the book of Galatians he tells the people there about the council, but he also made his appeal for help: “They only asked us to remember the poor — the very thing I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). We know he made a similar appeal to the Philippians. They’d never met any of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, but their response was overwhelming – the Christians at Philippi actually fought over who would have the privilege of giving. You see, they had learned to give to St. Paul when he was in need and now they were ready to give even more liberally to the church at Jerusalem. We know all of this because the Apostle Paul held up the Philippians as an example of real Christian charity a few years later when he wrote to the church at Corinth: We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia [that’s the Philippian Church], for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) What Paul tells us is really amazing, because here we have a description of a bunch of people, who only a few years before knew nothing more than the values of the Greco-Roman world. They had known absolutely nothing of charity, and yet here we see them now competing beyond their actual resources to give to their brothers and sisters in a distant part of the empire where there was great need. These weren’t wealthy people. St. Paul says that they were poor too. What made the difference? Look at 2 Corinthians 8:5. Paul tells us in that last phrase: they didn’t do “as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” The key was that they had first given themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. That leads us to the second principle in Jesus’ words about giving: In our stewardship, the Christian is to look for spiritual rewards. When we give we have two options. Either we give to please men and to make a show to others or we give how God leads us for the pleasure of pleasing our Lord. And Jesus tells us that if we do the first – if we give to be seen before men – then we have our reward. It might be short and fleeting, but we will have the praise of men. But he also says that if we give to please God, we will receive a spiritual reward. Jesus said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” If we look again at St. Paul’s epistles we can see how what Jesus teaches here works out in our Christian life. In Galatians Paul talks about reaping what we sow. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 6:6-10: One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches [this is why churches have an obligation to support their ministers]. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption [that is, if he blows his time, talent, and treasure on fleshly pursuits, all those things will be gone, but not only that: the body doesn’t last and the unbeliever has no eternal reward to show for it – only eternal damnation!], but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life [that is, if he gives of his time, talent, and treasure for spiritual causes, for God’s causes, the Spirit of God will see that he receives a great reward in heaven]. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity [that is, as God chooses to bless us with resources], let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. St. Paul teaches a great principle here. We can choose to invest in this life or we can choose to invest in the next. To some extent we have to invest in this life just to survive – we do need food and shelter. But remember that what we invest for this life has no lasting fruit for eternity. But, giving of our time, talents, and treasure in obedience to the Lord, to the spread of the Gospel, and to meet the needs of those who are poor and suffering (especially when they are our brothers and sisters in Christ), will have results not only in this life, but also in eternity. St. Paul says something else in these verses that we shouldn’t forget. He tells us not to be weary in well-doing. We here aren’t a very large congregation and we don’t get a lot of requests for help. Churches like St. George’s United downtown get numerous requests for help every day. Being part of the local ministerial association I hear about the needs that are so often brought to the churches in the Valley, and sometimes it just feels like there’s no end to the need. Sometimes meeting the needs and requests that are made can feel like a burden. I think that we’re all prone to feeling this way as we respond to the needs of the local church, of the ministries in the community, and to the appeals we see for help on TV. St. Paul understood this and it’s exactly what he’s addressing. And yet he’s telling us: Don’t complain. There’s always going to be one more cause for an offering, but let us give as we are able. Let us not become weary. Let us take confidence in the promise that we will one day reap what we sow – so don’t lose heart. As I said, there were two principles that Jesus explicitly makes about giving in the Sermon on the Mount. I want to suggest that there’s a third principle that isn’t explicit. We need to understand it because Jesus teaches it elsewhere and because it flows from his character. That’s the principle of sacrificial giving. We see this illustrated in Scripture by St. Paul. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9, 11: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich….So now finish doing it as well [he’s still talking here about the offering that was taken up for the saints in Jerusalem], so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. Maybe you’ve never given sacrificially, but have you felt the Lord asking you to do so – maybe even asking you to give from what you don’t already have? Let me conclude with how Dr. Oswald J. Smith learned to give sacrificially. He was the pastor of the famous People’s Church from 1915 until 1959. Just after starting his ministry there, he was sitting on he platform of the church during their annual missionary convention. He was unaware of their normal procedure, and he was somewhat surprised to see the ushers going up and down the aisles handing out envelopes. Surprised turned to amazement and amazement to horror, however, when one of the ushers had the “audacity,” as he said, to walk up the aisle and hand him an envelope. He read on it, “In dependence upon God I will endeavour to give toward the missionary work of the church $____ during the coming year.” He had never seen anything like that before. He had a wife and a child to take care of and at the time was only earning twenty-five dollars a week. He had never given more than five dollars to missions at any one time in the past, and that was only once. He started to pray, “Lord God, I can’t do anything. You know I have nothing. I haven’t a cent in the bank. I haven’t anything in my pocket. Everything is sky-high in price.” It was true. This was in the middle of World War I – but for that matter, his situation doesn’t sound very different from our own today. But, he said, the Lord seemed to say, “I know all that. I know you are getting only twenty-five dollars a week. I know you have nothing in your pocket and nothing in the bank.” “Well, then,” he said, “that settles it.” “Oh, no, it doesn’t,” the Lord answered. “I am not asking you for what you have. I am asking you for a faith offering. How much can you trust me for?” “Oh, Lord,” said Dr. Smith, “that’s different. How much can I trust you for?” “Fifty dollars.” “Fifty dollars!” he exclaimed. “Why, that’s two week’s salary. How can I ever get fifty dollars?” If we converted that to today’s dollar it would be about $2000. But again the Lord spoke, and with a trembling hand Oswald Smith signed his name and put the amount of fifty dollars on the envelope. Smith wrote later that he didn’t know how he paid it. He had to pray each month for four dollars, but each month God sent it. And at the end of the year, not only had he paid the whole amount, he had himself received such a blessing that he raised the amount to one hundred dollars during the next year’s missionary conference. He went on to give much more later and to lead his church into an ever-expanding and ever more effective programme of home and world missions. Friends, that is real sacrificial giving and it was born solely out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you’re concerned about your giving (and if you are a Christian you should be), then start by yielding yourself to the Lord, look for spiritual causes, and ask the Lord to lead you in his own pattern of giving. Please pray with me: Father in heaven, you promise to care for each one of us, to provide our daily bread and to care for us just as you care for the birds and the flower of the field, and yet we show our lack of faith in you when it comes to our giving. Rather than put our faith in your promise to provide, we tighten our fists in fear that we might lose what little we already have. Father, strengthen our weak faith and give us a desire to serve and care for others the way your Son served us. Let us not only be generous with what you have given to us, but let us be generous, as Oswald Smith was, with what we trust in faith that you will provide, and all the time giving not to win the approval of men, but to please you, our Father. We ask this through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Ephesians 6:10-20 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year The Whole Armour of God Ephesians 6:10-20 by William Klock I want to look this morning at our Epistle lesson, taken from the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus. I think these are probably fairly familiar words to all of us. They come at the end of the letter – they’re an exhortation. The Apostle Paul has been addressing the problem the Ephesians were dealing with and he’s been teaching them the finer points of the Gospel. And here at the end he gives a reminder to them – and to us – of what its really all about. He reminds them that as Christians, especially when we’re doing the work of the Kingdom, we will face battle. It’s a given. The Enemy always seems to do one of two things: either he works to get us off track and away from the Gospel or he works to make us complacent in our faith. But when we’re on track, when we’re not only faithful to Holy Scripture in our doctrine, but also faithful to the Gospel in our living, when we lift high the Cross, the Enemy will always oppose us. And so St. Paul, at the same, warns us and exhorts us in these verses. Look at them again with me. Ephesians 6:10-13: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. We all struggle. Sometimes it’s our daily struggle to personally fight and overcome the sin in our lives. Sometimes it’s our struggle to find assurance of our salvation or of God’s presence with us when times are tough. Sometimes it’s the discouraging things that happen within the Church, when brothers and sisters choose to fight with each other instead of against our common Enemy. Here St. Paul gives us both our assurance and our marching orders. “Don’t be strong in yourselves,” he says, “but be strong in the Lord and in his might!” Remember that the last couple of Sundays I’ve been talking about the necessity of relying on God and not on ourselves. When we struggle we have assurance because we know that it’s God doing the work, not we ourselves. And so here he tells us to put on his armour and to pickup hisweapons. Paul’s first point is that God’s armour is necessary. Whether you look at it from the standpoint of our own weakness or the strength of our enemy, we can’t fight, let alone win, the battle with what we’ve got on our own. Think about the fact that as men and women we can’t even so much as think a good thought or do a good deed. Our nature and our wills are inclined to nothing but sin. The first thing we have to do is to be strong in the Lord. This is the God of whom David wrote, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1). Jesus Christ is our captain and as we go into battle he gives us his very self. We not only put on the armour he gives us, but he also calls us to “put on himself” so that we can be “strong in the power of his might.” Our battle isn’t against the powers of this world so much as it’s against the one who came craftily in the Garden as a serpent and whom, after his thousands of years of experience at deceiving the human race, the book of Revelation tells us has become a great dragon. He works through deception. As evil as he is, he comes looking like an angel of light. He whispers things into our ears, just as he did with Eve, and helps us rationalize our sins – to twist sin into virtue – and then when we finally realize our sins for what they are, he accuses us, whispering in our ears that we’re not good enough to fight on God’s side as the battle rages. St. Peter describes our enemy as a lion on the prowl, just looking for whomever he can devour. The point is to discourage us. Scripture warns us over and over about our Enemy – not so that we’ll feel afraid or discouraged, but to show us just how urgent it is that we join the battle. St. Paul warns us, not so that we’ll go run and hide, but to exhort us “to withstand in the evil day” and “to stand firm.” His second point is that this armour is God’s armour and not our own. Jeremiah wrote, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5). The strength of the flesh is nothing more than the strength of our Enemy who is the prince of this world. David wrote in Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” That’s the key. St. Paul exhorted the Corinthians saying, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). We go out to battle against the darkness. Let us first put on the armour of light! When the Enemy tempts us to cruelty, to pride, to selfishness or any other sin, let us respond with “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” as the Apostle tells us in Chapter 4. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth [against the lies and false doctrines of our Enemy], and having put on the breastplate of righteousness [against our sins and our sin nature], and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace [to remind us that our righteousness is not our own]. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith [against our infidelity], with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation [which gives us our hope], and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouthboldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:14-20) St. Paul’s third point is that we need to put on all or the whole armour of God. It isn’t enough to just put on the belt of truth or the breastplate of righteous. You can’t expect to win the battle with the shield of faith, but not the sword of truth. Imagine a knight going off to battle with a shield, but no sword. Imagine a tank without a gun on top or a bomber with no bombs. But notice that there is one piece of armour missing. There’s a helmet for the head, a breastplate for the body, and shoes for the feet – and there’s a shield that can cover everything in the front, but Paul doesn’t mention a backplate. The armour of God doesn’t have a defensive piece to cover our backs. Why? Because in the battle God calls us to fight, there’s no turning back. Every soldier in God’s army is called on to push forward against the enemy, or at worst to stand his ground. In 1066 when William the Conqueror landed with his troops in England, the first action he took was to burn all of his ships. He didn’t want his troops retreating back to Normandy. He gave them one choice: fight on or die. God tells us that we are either for him or against him. There’s no fence-sitting. There are no neutral parties in this war. Once we make Christ our Lord and Master there’s no going back It’s also telling that Paul talks about the shield of faith. Not the helmet or the breastplate or the shoes of faith; the shield of faith. You see, the helmet only covers the head. The breastplate only covers the breast and the shoes only cover the feet, but the shield covers the whole body. You can move it up and you can move it down. In every temptation and in every battle with the Enemy we need to put faith first and foremost – having a lively faith that assures us with confidence. Without that the rest – the helmet, the breastplate, and the shoes – is all worthless. Without faith, the sword of the spirit is no Scripture. Without faith, the belt of truth can never be truth for us. Without faith the breastplate of righteousness is really unrighteousness. We’ve talked about this before. All of these other things only fall into place in the presence of a true and lively faith generated in our hearts by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Without faith it’s impossible to please God, but without it, it’s also impossible to resist the Enemy. So pick up the shield of faith so that you can douse all the “flaming darts” of the Evil One. He throws his darts at us and they’re both sharp and fiery. If we don’t have the shield of faith, they strike and they go deep – and, like all sin, their fire spreads. One sin leads to another bigger one until the entire body is on fire with sinful passions. St. John reminds us that the entire world lies in wickedness, set on fire by the devil, who is the author of all wickedness and sin – all the fiery works of the world. But he exhorts us saying, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). But notice that the armour of God isn’t all defensive. If we are to put on the whole armour, St. Paul also tells us that we are to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The writer of Hebrews tells us that sword is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God, which was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and which works in our hearts by his moving is what opens our eyes to sin. That sword, sharp as a razor, cuts deep and excises the sin in our lives and trains us in holiness. Does the flesh tempt you to sexual impurity? Strike with the sword: 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Do you struggle with worldliness? Strike with the sword: 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Does Satan make an assault on your faith and tempt you to superstition or idolatry? Strike with the sword: Matthew 4:10, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Are you tempted to give up the fight and lose hope? Strike with the sword: 1 Corinthians 15:54-56, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The shield of faith defends the Christian soldier from the attacks of the Enemy, but we’re not called to duck and cover. With the sword of the Spirit we charge forward to take him on. In Canada the government is gradually chipping away at our freedom to preach the Word of God freely and unfettered. There’s a sense in which we can rejoice in that. It means we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and the Enemy doesn’t like it. The last thing the he wants is for God’s arsenal to be opened up to his people. He wants us stumbling around unprotected. So open the Scriptures. Read and study. Arm yourself with the sword of the Spirit! Finally, it’s not enough to know God’s armour. You have to put it on. In the corner of my living room, leaning against the wall, is a Confederate officer’s sword from the Civil War. My great-great-Grandfather served the State of Alabama as an artillery officer. In his hands that sword was put to use. It doesn’t do much good now, just sitting in my living room. It looks neat. It’s a reminder of the past and of a cause long gone. Yet we tend to do the same thing with God’s armour. We know it, but we don’t use it. We don’t put it on. We know truth, but we don’t live by it. We have faith, but we forget about it and live as if we lack the hope that faith gives. We have the Gospel, but don’t tell anyone about it. We have a Bible, the sword of the Spirit, but it sits on the coffee table or on the nightstand collecting dust. That’s what the enemy wants! Complacent Christians who have all the head-knowledge, but never put it into actual practice – who don’t live it. Don’t get me wrong. You have to have the head-knowledge first. Without it the heart can never be given over to God and to his truth. But our problem is that the head-knowledge doesn’t make it to the heart. A suit of armour makes a nice decoration. An old sword does too. But the whole armour of God was never meant to decorate the corner of the room. It was meant to be worn – to be put on and used. If the armour is on a stand in the corner, you can bet there’s a knight around somewhere doing anything but fighting a battle. You can’t do battle with the Enemy without the armour. Put it on and jump into the action! God has not only given us good armour to get the job done, he’s given us a good Captain to lead us, even the “Lord of hosts, who has all power and might.” John Boys wrote, “The continuance of fight is little, but our reward great. In Rome the military age was from seventeen to forty-six…. The days of our age are threescore years and ten, and in all this time there is no time for peace; we are legionum filii, born in the field, and sworn soldiers in our swaddling clouts, always bearing arms against the common enemy from our holy baptism to burial.” God’s going to do one of two things: either he’ll bring an end to the battle or he’ll end it for us individually by taking us home to be with him. We’ll be soldiers no more, because he’s promised that on that day he’s going to put palm branches in our hands and crowns on our heads as conquerors. St. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Please pray with me: Our Father, we give you thanks for the promise of victory over the enemy. Remind us to put on your armour daily and go to battle for the sake of the Gospel. Show us where we’re being complacent or fearful and give us the grace to strengthen us for the battle, through Jesus Christ we ask. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:48 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount God's Perfect Standard St. Matthew 5:48 by William Klock Today we come to the end of the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. And as we come to 5:48, I want to remind you of a verse we looked at about six weeks ago. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. He told us that unless our righteousness is greater than that of the most righteous men of that day, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. So we might ask, “Okay, Jesus, how much more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees do we have to be? If they hold up to seventy-five percent of the standard, what kind of righteousness do we have to have? Is seventy-six percent good enough? Eighty percent? How good do we have to be to make it into your kingdom?” I think the people listening to Jesus preach were thinking about just these kinds of questions. The standard of the Pharisees was a hard one, but the Pharisees, after all, seemed to manage it. Someone was no doubt thinking, if the Pharisees can do it, I can do it too – and I can do just a little bit more. Like the two men out camping who were awakened in the night by a bear in the camp. One man started putting on his shoes and his buddy looked at him like he was crazy and said, “What are you doing? Shoes or no shoes, you can’t outrun a bear.” And as he laced up his shoes, the first man said, “No, I can’t outrun the bear, but I don’t have to – I just have to outrun you!” And so we might think, I don’t quite know what the standard is, but all I have to do is outdo the Pharisees by just a little bit! Jesus gives the answer to those questions in 5:48 and in doing so he crushes any idea we might have of trying to please God on our own – of trying to earn our way into the Kingdom. He sums up everything he’s been saying: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. This is, I think, the most important and the most significant verse in the whole Sermon on the Mount. It sums up everything Jesus has told us so far and everything else he’ll tell us follows from it. If you can understand this one verse, you will understand the essence of everything else Jesus teaches. And more importantly, if you understand this verse, you understand the core of the Gospel itself. Jesus says that the requirement for entrance into the Kingdom is perfection. But what is perfection? St. Matthew uses a Greek word here that is used throughout the New Testament and it literally means “complete.” It’s the word that’s used of a legion when it’s fully outfitted and ready for battle or for a ship that’s fully rigged, manned, and ready to set sail. And when that word is used in relation to morality, it means “blameless” – without fault. It’s interesting, because both meanings of the Greek word reflect the meanings of the two Hebrew words used in the Old Testament when it talks about perfection. The first of those is the word shalem. You’re probably familiar with it, because it’s related to the word shalom, which has to do with complete well-being and blessedness. Shalem itself specifically means “whole” or “complete.” The other Hebrew word was used in relation to sacrifices and means “entirely without defect” or “without blemish.” Think of the sacrificial animals used in the Temple. They were to be without defect or blemish. And so the Bible’s shows us God’s standard: complete and total moral uprightness. The man or woman who wants to get into God’s Kingdom has to be free of any and every moral spot, stain, or blemish. Even the smallest spot of stain – even if it’s morally microscopic – bars from entry into God’s kingdom. He or she must be blameless, just as the Lord Jesus Christ was blameless. And yet in Romans 3:23 St. Paul tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no man or woman who has ever lived up to God’s standard of perfection. All of us fall short. All of us are sinners. In fact, when St. Paul writes about “falling short” he uses a term borrowed from archery – it describes the arrows that don’t make it to the target – the ones that don’t have enough power behind them and end up stuck in the grass somewhere between the archer and the target. And Paul tells us that none of us can ever hit the target – let alone the bullseye. All of us fall short. None of us can ever enter the Kingdom based on our own work or effort. The thing we need to understand here is that God’s standard is set by his own perfection. We can’t meet it on our own. We can’t even hit the target. Nothing we will ever do is perfect. So we need to realise that only God himself is perfect and that if we’re ever gong to be “perfect as he is perfect” (as Jesus calls us to be), it will only happen when he works for us and in us. King David understood this. In Psalm 18 he writes, “As for God, his way is perfect” (18:30 NIV) and then a couple of verses later he writes, “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (18:32 NIV). Who is God? He’s the one who is perfect. What does he do? He works in us to perfect sinful men and women. David’s point is that it is God who is responsible for his own perfection, but he’s also responsible for ours! He makes us perfect in three ways – and here’s the heart of the Gospel, the heart of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. The first thing God does is give us a perfect record – he wipes the slate clean. Then he begins working at perfecting us from the inside out. And finally he brings us to complete perfection at the moment of our death. How does he wipe the slate clean? How does he give us a perfect record? To understand this we have to remember that sin is an offence against God’s justice. It can’t just be winked at, overlooked, or even just forgiven. God embodies perfect justice and for him to simply overlook our sin would be for him to act contrary to his own being and character. Our sin has to be dealt with – it has to be punished. Justice must be done. That’s why God the Father sent God the Son to die on the cross in our place. He who was perfect and deserving of no punishment, bore our sins in his death, paying the penalty we owed, and cancelling all of God’s claims for justice against sinners forever. This is the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross was the place where God punished sin once and for all and cancelled the debt for all those who come to believe in Jesus and put their trust in him, not in themselves, for their salvation. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “by one sacrifice [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV). But notice that the Hebrews passage says that through Jesus’ sacrifice, God has made perfect “those who are being made holy. He’s not only purged our record clean, but he is at work within us to make us holy – to work in us to bring us closer to actual perfection in how we live our lives. You see, through Christ we may be made perfect forever in terms of our slate being wiped clean, but we are still far from perfect in our actual thoughts, words, and actions. This is what St. Paul writes about in Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Paul understood that his record was wiped clean before God on the basis of his faith and trust in Christ, but he also understood that the practical work of his being perfected wasn’t a done deal. As followers of Christ St. Paul’s experience ought to be true of us too. No Christian ever stops growing in righteousness. Think about this in your own walk with God. When you first became a Christian you were probably excited and thankful. A lot of people talk about becoming a Christian and suddenly being convicted of some of the sins in their lives and putting an end to them, but the fact is that once things settle down, we all realised that we have a long way to go to perfection. Before we believed the Gospel we had all sorts of wrong ideas about God, about ourselves, and about what God requires of us. We had lots of sinful habits. Even after we put our trust in Jesus, lots of those wrong ideas and sinful behaviours remain. But God doesn’t leave us there. As we study his Word and as we fellowship with and learn from other Christians the wrong ideas and behaviours gradually change. The closer we get to God, the more we hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s the second aspect of Gods work of perfecting us. Now there are people out there that will tell you that if you work at his hard enough, eventually you can reach perfection in this life. That was the heresy of the “Holiness” or “Higher Life” movement of a hundred years ago, but that heresy still has a hold on many Christians today. But it always has and we know that because St. John warns against it in his first epistle where he writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). If anybody ever tells you that he’s reached the point that he doesn’t sin anymore – that he’s perfect – you can tell him that he’s at least still guilty of one sin: lying! You see, the Christian who is growing in holiness, growing in Godliness and Christlikeness, rather than finding himself perfect, will actually find himself seeing just how sinful he really is. The Holy Spirit will open his eyes to sins he never realised he had so that he can work to overcome them with God’s help. Trust in Christ doesn’t end the day we’re baptised. The Christian being made perfect learns to lean on and trust in Jesus Christ on a daily and even an hourly basis as he struggles with sin and looks for forgiveness and cleansing. If we’re not trusting in Christ on a daily basis, we need to ask ourselves whom we’re lifting up. Are you lifting up God, or are you lifting up yourself? Are you thinking highly of God, or are you thinking highly of yourself? In our culture it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking too highly about ourselves. It’s like a seesaw. If God is up, then we’re always going to be down, but if we’re up, then God is down – and that’s what you don’t want. We need to have a big view of God and a small view of ourselves. That’s how it has to be if we’re going to learn to trust in God. The person who thinks highly of himself trusts in himself – he thinks he can do it on his own – that he can save himself – or at least that he can merit God’s favour, even if only a little bit. And yet Scripture, as we saw last week, paints a sad picture of us. That’s why my goal every time I preach, in the words of Charles Simeon, one of the great Anglican preaches of the 19th Century, my goal is to “humble the sinner, exalt the Saviour, and promote holiness.” Anything less fails at being biblical and anything less will end up with a congregation full of people who trust in themselves. If we understand how big God is and how small we are in terms of righteousness and holiness, God will be everything to us and we’ll grow every day in our understanding of his love for us. The lower we get, the higher he gets and the more we will learn to lean on him for the help, strength, and encouragement that we need so desperately. Perfection is possible, but only after our deaths – that’s when God perfects his saints. This is why death is no longer a feared enemy for Christians. This is why St. Paul could talk about death as “gain,” and how he could say that life in eternity was “better by far” than this life we have now. He understood that death brings us into the presence of Jesus Christ, and he understood that it results in the Christian finally becoming perfectly Christ-like. In death we become holy as Jesus is holy. This is salvation. It’s past, it’s present, and it’s future. It touches us in every aspect of our living. I think, though, that one of our biggest struggles is in the area of assurance – especially in those times when we see our sin and as much as we fight and struggle with it, it doesn’t go away. St. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is saying that if you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ, God has already begun the work of perfecting you; and because God doesn’t change, his purposes will not change. God never starts something that he doesn’t finish! We can find great assurance in these words. Are you afraid of falling away from God? These words assure us that we cannot be lost! Were you the one responsible for your coming to faith in Christ? No! It was God. He called you. He wiped your slate clean. If there was ever a time in your life when you were seeking God, it was only because his Holy Spirit was there moving you to seek him – just as the great hymn says: I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me; It was not I that found, O Saviour true; No, I was found of thee. It’s no surprise that that hymn was authored anonymously. Whoever wrote it knew that he couldn’t take credit for his faith and didn’t even take credit for writing the hymn! Without God enabling him, no man, no woman will ever turn to God. It’s God who finds us, God who calls us, God who perfects us – and he never starts anything that he doesn’t finish. These words in Philippians give us hope when we feel like we’re getting nowhere spiritually. They remind us that we will one day be like Jesus. Paul wrote, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” And in Romans 8:29-29 Paul tells us what that good work is. There he tells us about God’s great purpose for calling men and women to himself. His purpose is for us “to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God is so delighted with Jesus Christ that he has set the whole course of creation and history in motion just so that he could call out a race of sinful men and women, put his life and Spirit within them, and transform them to be like his Son. We may feel far from Christ sometimes, but we can have assurance that God will complete what he started because our transformation depends not on us, but on him! Even if there comes a time when you or I choose to give up on conforming to the image of Christ, God won’t give up on us. We all sometimes find sin our lives that we choose not to give up. We like it. We’re used to it. Sometimes that sin has come to define who we are, and when the Spirit convicts us we choose not to give it up. But even then God doesn’t give up. He pokes and prods and whittles away at us. Sometimes he may even smack us around spiritually and take us to rock bottom. He will do whatever it takes to get you and me out of our sin and to set us back on the path he’s laid out for us. As long as we insist in doing things our own way, it will get tougher, because God is going to be true to his nature – to who he is – and his nature is to be against sin. He loves you and me. At the same time, he also has to set us straight. The pop-psychologists today call it “tough love.” God spoke to Israel through the prophet Hosea. His people had been disobedient. He likened them to a woman who repeatedly left her husband to prostitute herself. God was forced to judge them for their sin, and yet through it all he loved them. At first he said that he would come to them like a moth – gently coming to set them straight and to draw them back to himself. He says in Hosea 5:12, “But I am like a moth to Ephraim, and like dry rot to the house of Judah.” But he also says that if his people ignore the gentle proddings and refuse to repent, “I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue” (Hosea 5:14). We need to understand this principle. God is determined to lead you and me into righteousness – to conform us to the image of his Son. So when we sin, he will deal with us gently if he can. But we can also be sure that he will also be as rough as he needs to be when we don’t respond to the gentle nudging. He will even break your life into little pieces if he has to in order to get your attention. Think of the image of the potter and the clay. He will mould and make us into vessels fit for his use. But if we get stuck in our ways – if we ignore his hands and push against them – and in time we begin to harden into something other than what he desires us to be, the potter won’t stop short of smashing the clay so that he can reassembled the pieces and set it back together according to his pattern. One way or another his purposes will be accomplished for us, but too often we learn the hard way. Dear friends, learn this lesson. Don’t force God to come to you as the roaring lion. Don’t let your clay harden so much that the potter has to break you to pieces so that he can put you back together in the image he wants. Learn to recognise the fluttering moth and the gentle hands of the potter – the little inconveniences, the little failures, the times of restlessness, the times when you just can’t seem to get things going according to your plans – learn to recognise those things as God’s gentle warnings that you’re off track. If you and I can learn that, we’ll be able to go on from strength to strength, and we’ll be able to rejoice that he who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise for the cross of Jesus Christ – for the fact that while we were yet sinners, you sent your Son to die in our place. Thank you for wiping our slates clean, thank you for filling each of us with your Spirit to work in us and to make us more like your Son. And thank you Father for the promise that one day we will be just like him. But in the meantime we confess our continued rebellion against you and against your standard of perfection. Soften our hearts and humble us. Turn our eyes to your Son and to the work he is doing within us that might become more like him and with each step become more useful to you and to your Kingdom. We ask this through the name of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:43-47 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Having the Cross in Your Heart St. Matthew 5:43-47 by William Klock This morning as we continue our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we come to the last of his six real-world examples of what it means for the Christian to really fulfil the Law. And I stress especially that these are real-world examples as we come this week to what I think is the most challenging of them all. It’s the one statement that for many really sums up what Jesus was all about in his ministry, yet at the same time is probably for us the most challenging and condemning statement in all of Holy Scripture. Open your Bibles and look with me at Matthew 5:43-47. Jesus says: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Jesus begins again with the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees – with their twisted version of God’s Law: “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” Nowhere does the Law say any such thing. Leviticus 19:18 commands that God’s people are to love their neighbours. Remember that the point of the Law was to show that no man could live up to God’s holy standard – that every one of us is sinner, condemned to suffer the wrath of a holy and just God, and therefore in need of the righteousness of another – in need of a Redeemer. But the Pharisees bent and twisted the Law into their own set of rules that they could keep and feel good about. So they parsed this command out and came to the conclusion that if we are to love our neighbours, then it must also be true that we are to hate our enemies. Then they went on to determine precisely who their neighbours were and who their enemies were – they wanted to know whom they were obliged to love and whom they could hate. And in doing this they turned a blind eye on the rest of the Law. To them the “enemy” was anyone who was not a Jew, or any Jew who collaborated with Gentiles. They hated the entire outside world. And yet God, earlier in that same chapter, had given the command that the Jews were to leave the gleaning of their fields and vineyards “for the poor and the sojourner” – the alien non-Jew living in Israel. In verse 34 God says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” And in Exodus 12:49 God said, “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Even the Gentile living in Israel was to be shown love. The Law also said that if you came across your enemy’s ox or ass wandering astray, you were to catch him and return him to your enemy. If you saw that your enemy’s ox or ass had fallen down while trying to carry a big load, you were to stop and help. Deuteronomy gives almost exactly the same commands in relation to the ox or ass of a brother, so it’s very telling that here the same command is given specifically in regard to an enemy. Of course the book of Proverbs also tells us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21). That was God’s standard. It’s a hard standard, and so in typical fashion, the Pharisees lightened the load of the Law. They twisted it until it fit with what the natural sinful man does naturally: he loves his friends and hates his enemies. But you see, that’s just it. Sinful humanity is only capable of the low standard that the Pharisees set. It’s vitally important that we get this: the standard of love that Jesus sets out for us here is a standard that only God can meet. Notice in verse 45 Jesus gives us the “why.” He tells us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us, but why? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus wants our character and our conduct to be like God’s. The love of God is completely without discrimination. He shows his love to the just and the unjust, and for that reason so should we. Because it results in action, our love is to express itself in action. Our calling as sons of the Father is to love those who are, by every human standard, our enemies. The fact that what Jesus describes here is a divine standard and not a human one is really underscored by the word that St. Matthew chose to use. The Greeks had four different words for love. St. Matthew doesn’t use the words that refer to sexual love, familial love, or even brotherly love. He specifically uses the word that describes divine love. You’ve probably heard it before: agape. It’s the same word that Jesus used when he asked St. Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Agape is a love that loves without any variation or compromise. It loves even when the object of that love is totally unlovable by human standards. It’s love that loves even when no love is given in return or when hate is given back to the lover. It is godlike love. Agape is a love that loves even when there’s no hope of love in return. It’s God’s love. And yet Christ calls us to live it in our own lives. The question then is: Where do we find it and how do we learn what it is? And I’ll tell you, the only place we can truly find it is in Jesus Christ and in his ministry for us at the Cross. Here’s an interesting, but very, very important fact that I’ve discovered – one I hope you’ll take with you and always remember: almost every time the New Testament tells us about the love of God, it also tells us about the Cross of Christ. Whenever the New Testament writers tell us about real and divine love, they link it to the Cross. They understood that the Cross is the place where we see the outpouring of agape, of God’s love. Here are a few examples. You all are probably familiar with these verses, you may even have memorised them, but maybe this will help you think of them and remember them in a new way. John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 1 John 4:10: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV) Romans 5:8: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Notice how in each case, whether it’s Jesus, St. John, or St. Paul speaking, the cross is made the measure of God’s love. But it’s not just Christ’s death on the Cross that makes God’s love such an amazing thing. It’s that Christ died for sinners. The Creator of the Universe loving created each of us, and each one of us has rebelled against him – each one of us is guilty of cosmic treason against our Creator every time we sin. By any human standard, God has no business loving us. We are his enemies. And yet he has chosen to love us – and to die so that we can be reconciled to him. Think of the story of the Sleeping Beauty. The brave Prince Charming charges to the castle, fighting his way through the magic brambles and thorns and past the giant dragon so that he can rescue the Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. It’s an enchanting story of love. Or is it? What if you changed the story and replaced the Sleeping Beauty with the Sleeping Ugly? What if instead of a young and beautiful girl, the woman asleep in the castle was a hideous, wart-covered, old hag. Every guy wants to be Prince Charming charging in to rescue the Beauty and win her love and affection, but would you charge in to rescue the Sleeping ugly and win her love? We might all be willing to risk our lives for someone lovely, but imagine the most contemptible person you know. Would you risk your life for that man or woman? That’s the question that shows us our own lack of agape – our lack of divine love. It’s the question that ought to make us realise what Christ did for you and me. St. Paul tells us in Romans 5: 7-8, “It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” (TEV). We were the Sleeping Uglies. We were the contemptible ones. We were the ones hideous to God because of our sin against him, and yet he loved us and died for our sins. He took our place. These same verses that tell us that Jesus Christ died for us while we were still sinners, also tell us that he died for us while we were helpless and without any strength – while we were deadin our sins. There was no possible way that any of us could ever have helped ourselves out of our condition. We weren’t merely sick, we weren’t mostly dead, but still partly alive – we were dead. We were in the spiritual morgue. It’s important that we grasp this, because you see, there are a lot of people out there that think that they can do something on their own initiative to find spiritual life. But that’s not what Holy Scripture teaches us. The Bible tells us that without God’s saving work through Jesus Christ, the natural and fallen man can’t even understand the teachings of Jesus – they’re foolishness. Jesus asked people like the scribes and Pharisees why his teachings weren’t clear to them, and he explained why: “It is because you cannot bear to listen to my message” (John 8:43). We all have ears, but it’s only those in whom the Holy Spirit is doing his work of regeneration that understanding is possible. Is it any wonder that so many reject or misunderstand and misapply these teachings of Jesus? Jesus also warns us that the natural man or woman cannot receive the Holy Spirit. He told his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him” (John 14:16-17). No one can be saved by receiving the Spirit as an act of his own will. But our problem is even worse than that. Scripture tells us that natural and unredeemed men and women can’t even submit themselves to God’s Law. In fact, St. Paul tells us that even though our wills are free, because of our fallen and sinful nature, we are unable to choose the good and are compelled to be rebels against God. In Romans 8:7 he writes, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Finally, lest we still somehow think that we can be even a little bit self-righteous. The Apostle Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The unredeemed and unregenerate cannot understand the truths of God. St. Peter writes that apart from Christ, every one of us has “eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin” (2 Peter 2:14). The Bible doesn’t paint a pretty picture of us. If you feel personally unedified by that image, if it makes you feel bad, if it makes you feel icky, and if it makes you feel terrible, good! That’s the point. God’s love has be measured by the fact that while we were sinners and were unable to hear his word, receive his Holy Spirit, submit to his Law, understand his teachings, or even to stop sinning, Christ died for us. That is the love of God! If we are ever to truly understand the depth of love that God has for us and has shown to us, we have to set aside every last vestige of self-righteousness and every false picture we have of ourselves as somehow meriting God’s favour – even if it’s only a little bit. This is God’s love for us and it’s this love that we’re called as God’s children to show to others – not just our friends, but to our enemies too. If you think on any level and to any degree that you can somehow merit God’s love, you will never fully understand and appreciate the full depth of God’s love for you – and if you can’t understand it and appreciate it, you’ll never be able to fully share it with others. Is it possible? Can we do it? No, we can’t – at least not in and of ourselves. This kind of love is only possible if the Lord Jesus is working in you. If you’re not a Christian – if you’re still trusting in yourself, even just a little bit – to get to heaven – you have to start by putting your faith and trust in Jesus to do it all for you and then by asking him to create that love in you. If you are a Christian, but are far from God, you have to draw near and ask him to work out his love in you. Maybe you are a Christian and you are trying to walk closely with God, but this still seems impossible to you. I know that we all struggle with this sometimes. Let me make this distinction: loving is not necessarily liking. Now listen, because I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying here. Liking someone means having emotional feelings towards them, but we can’t always control our emotions. It’s not always possible to have those feelings toward some people. Love, on the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, is not about feelings – it’s a matter of the will. And so because love is about the will and not about our feelings, that makes it always possible to show love. You see, if Christ is in you, you can do that – even if you don’t feel like it. It wouldn’t make much sense for Jesus to say, “Love your enemies” if he was talking about something that was based only on our feelings. We could never do it. But if love is a matter of the will, and if our wills are surrendered to Christ, we can do it. We can love our enemies. We can bless those who curse us. We can do good to those who hate us. We can pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. So o not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity.’ The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.” If you just can’t seem to love your enemies, start here. Don’t worry if the feelings aren’t there; act like they were and see how God will lead you into a fuller experience of his great love. As the Church we have to “get” this. We have to have a full understanding of God’s love. As long was we still trust in ourselves for our salvation, even if only a little bit and thinking that we’re not as vile and ugly as we really are to God, we can never know the true depth of God’s love. And how can we share the depth of God’s love with others if we don’t understand it ourselves. That’s why, I think, we often try to evangelise people as a “project.” We’re still trying to earn brownie points with God. We pretend to show love to someone unlovable, but when they still fail to receive the Gospel we drop them and move onto someone else. That’s not showing God’s love – that’s just us trying to merit God’s love on our own. Someone once said that there are actually five Gospels. There’s the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Gospel according to St. Mark, the Gospel according to St. Luke, the Gospel according to St. John, and the Gospel according to “St. You.” How do men and women come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? They come to know him as they see him in Holy Scripture and in your holy living – in you as you show and live divine love. You are the closest that many people will ever come to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel! If they don’t see Christ’s love in you, they will never see it. In one of his books Henry Ironside paints a wonderful picture of living divine love. He writes of visiting a missionary hospital in Arizona where an elderly Navajo woman was being nursed back to health by a Christian doctor and some Navajo nurses. Her own people had cast her out because she was old and dying. She was found and taken to the hospital after several days of being exposed to the elements. After more than two months in the hospital, she started wondering about the care she was getting and asked one of the nurses, “I can’t understand it. Why did the doctor do all that for me? He is a white man, and I am an Indian. I never heard of anything like this before.” The Navajo nurse, who was a Christian, said, “You know, it is the love of Christ that made him do that. She said, “Who is this Christ? Tell me more about him.” The nurse called a missionary to explain the gospel. The staff started to pray. After a few weeks they asked the old woman, “Can you trust this Saviour, turn from the idols you have worshiped, and trust him as the Son of the Living God?” She thought about her answer, and as she was doing that the doctor walked into the room. Her face lit up and she said, “If Jesus is anything like the doctor, I can trust him forever.” She came to the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted him as her Saviour. What reached her? It was love. But it wasn’t man’s love. It was God’s love that she saw in a man. God’s divine love! That’s what Jesus is telling us that you and I are meant to show to an ungodly and rebellious world, and we are to do it as the sons and daughters of our Father so that others may come to faith in his redeeming Son. Please pray with me: Loving Father, we give you thanks and praise for loving us when we were so unlovely. By the power of your Spirit, work in us so that we can understand the depth of your love and help us show that love to others in word and deed that others might see your Son at work in us and be drawn to your saving grace. We ask this through his Name. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Worldliness Respectable Sins: Sermon Seventeen by William Klock Tonight I want to wrap up our series on respectable sins by talking with you about the sin of worldliness. It’s something that we sometimes have trouble defining. For the Amish worldliness means electricity and cars. In some churches worldliness means movies or playing cards. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to look at two Scripture passages that define worldliness from a Biblical perspective. The first is 1 John 2:15-16: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. The other passage is 1 Corinthians 7:31: …those who deal in material goods, as though they were not fully occupied with them. For this world, as it is now, will not last much longer. (TEV) I particularly like the way the Good News Bible paraphrases that last verse, because it makes it clear what St. Paul was getting at: we all live in the world and we have to deal with material things –with things of the world – but we shouldn’t be “fully occupied” with them. The things of the world shouldn’t be our preoccupation, because as Christians we know that they won’t last. Worldliness is what happens when we become too attached to the things of this world – when we become engrossed or preoccupied with them. That doesn’t mean that worldly things are sinful in and of themselves – the problem is often simply what we do with them or how we value them. St. Paul also says in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Jesus tells us, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). The things we value most should be the things that are “above” – the things of the spirit that draw us closer to God: the Bible (and time spent with it), prayer, the Gospel itself, obedience to God, fulfilling his Great Commission – and, well, God himself! It’s on these things that we should have our focus. Here’s were the distraction comes from. The world doesn’t focus on things from above. Our unbelieving friends and neighbours have their focus only on worldly things. And yet if we look at those people, their outward lives aren’t really that different from our own. Their houses are pretty much like ours. They take care of their gardens. They go to work. They go to school. They pay their taxes. They usually avoid the same scandalous sins (the “biggies”) that we do. That’s why living next to them makes worldliness look so acceptable to us. You see, that’s the other side of worldliness: Worldliness means accepting the values and practices of our nice, but unbelieving, society around us, without discerning whether or not those values and practices are biblical. Worldliness, especially in our day and place, is just going along with the culture around us as long as we don’t see anything obviously sinful about it. Now, we could go on for hours and hours looking at all the different ways we can be worldly, but since the purpose of these sermons has been to draw our attention to what has become respectable or acceptable to us, and since we have limited time, I want to look at three places where we can be very worldly: money, immorality, and idolatry. First: money. We live in one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Even poor people in Canada are well off by comparison to those in Africa, South America, or parts of Asia. I looked up the statistics and found that in 2006 the average household income in Canada, after taxes, was $67,000. But the average credit card debt of each of those households is over $9,000 and the average household charitable giving, whether monetary or gifts in kind, totalled a whopping $259 per household each year. Now those numbers are based on the entire population. Surely Christians do better than that. They do, but not much. In 2003 a survey was made of eight evangelical denominations. It showed that members of those churches gave 4.4 percent of their income to God’s work. This as down from 6.2 percent in 1968 in those same churches. We’re becoming less generous toward God with our money. And so are the churches themselves – maybe because they have less money to operate with. In 1920 churches gave 10 percent of their income to missions. Now we give only 3 percent on average. We’re one of the richest nations in history, and yet we’re gradually giving less and less to God and to the furtherance of the Gospel. At the same time our credit card debt has increased. So what are we doing with our money? We’re not saving it. The average household only saves about 2 percent. In too many cases, we’re spending our money on the things of this life: houses, cars, clothes, holidays, and electronics, just to name a few things. Where we spend shows where we’ve set our minds. In our culture, Christians show that they’ve tended to set their minds on the things of the world, not on the things of God. We’ve become worldly in our use of money. In contrast, Scripture sets the minimum standard of the tithe: by definition, 10 percent. And while the New Testament doesn’t specifically mention tithing, neither does it do way with it. In fact, in both epistles to the Corinthians, St. Paul commends the idea of proportionate giving. Under the tithe, the person who earns $10,000 gives $1000. The person who earns $100,000 gives $10,000. Both give proportionately as God has prospered them. And yet not many Christians tithe anymore. Instead we’ve taken a worldly attitude with our money and have become stingy toward God. We may not like that word. Nobody wants to be thought of as stingy to other people, but when we give less than half of what the Old Testament Jews gave to God, isn’t that being stingy? Does it please God when we give half of what the Jews gave, especially when he described their failure to give their tithes as robbery of him (Malachi 3:8)? Jesus tells us that we can’t serve both God and money. We serve one or the other. And if we choose to serve money, it’s not God who loses – it’s us! God may use our money, but he doesn’t need it. If we choose to use our money on worldly pursuits, we’re the ones who become spiritual paupers. Some people will say, “Well, but I can’t afford to tithe.” If that’s your perspective, then what you’re really saying is that God’s a liar – that he won’t make good on his promises to care for us. When I was in elementary school my family was dirt poor. My parents decided to attend a Bible school that had some unscrupulous men in leadership. When we sold our house, those men convinced my parents to give half of the sale price to the school. That meant that when we couldn’t afford to buy another house, and since my parents were both students, we had to live off the money left over from the sale – which wasn’t much. My dad kept finding jobs, but they never lasted very long. We didn’t have money for new clothes. We hardly had money for food. And yet God consistently provided, whether it was a grocery bag of food brought by a neighbour or brand new Converse All-Star hightops (which were all the rage at the time for boys my age) that my mom found at a thrift store for $2. In 1 Kings 17 we read the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. She has on the verge of starvation, with only enough flower and oil for one more small loaf of bread. She was going to make one last meal for herself and her son before they died. And yet the prophet Elijah came to her and asked for her to make that bread for himself. He was saying, “Feed me first and God will provide for you.” She did what he said and God miraculously kept her flour jar and pot of oil full through the famine. I’ve seen God provide miraculously and have carried that with me my whole life. We need to remember that everything we have comes from God. Giving back a minimum of 10 percent is our way of giving him the recognition and thanking him for it. It’s also a tangible way for us to tell him that we trust him to provide. Second: immorality. To clarify: when I say immorality I’m obviously not talking about gross immorality; we’re talking about what’s become acceptable in the Church. What I want to talk about is what one person calls vicarious immorality. We may not engage in gross sins, but we get enjoyment and entertainment value from other people doing it. Do you get enjoyment reading the stories in the paper about people engaged in sin? Do you sneak a look at the trashy tabloids at the check-out in the grocery store – wanting to know all about the sinful exploits of famous and openly immoral people. That’s vicarious immorality. Or do you watch TV shows and movies knowing that sexually explicit scenes will be in them (the same goes for books too). That’s vicarious immorality. We know the world likes these things or the tabloids and Hollywood would be out of business. This is one instance of values and practices accepted by society around us that are clearly contrary to Scripture, and to the whatever extent we follow along, we’re being worldly. The other area that comes to mind is immodest dress. This issue applies to both men and women, but is especially a problem for women when they dress. Fashions keep tending toward what is obviously intended to attract the lustful eyes of men. I can’t count how many times I find that I have to remind myself to look away on any given visit to the mall. I feel especially sorry for young Christian guys on school or college campuses. There are two areas under this subject in which we can be worldly. First, many Christian women, especially young women, simply go along with the styles of the unbelieving world. It’s amazing to me what’s acceptable in school, let alone what I’ve seen some girls wear to church. And yet 1 Timothy 2:9 tells us that Christian women are to dress respectably and modestly, using self-control. Anything less is to cave into the pressures of the world. But we men have problems too in terms of how we respond to the women dressing immodestly and the temptation to look lustfully. We don’t have to project that look into actual images of immorality. Even to linger with the eyes and enjoy what some women deliberately show off is sin. One of my Christian friends in University could always be found between classes sitting on a bench on the campus mall. He’d sit and check out the girls as they walked by and his usual line was that the Bible said not to take a second look at a woman – so he was making sure the first look counted. Now he wasn’t the only one making sure the first look counted – lots of other non-Christian guys did the same thing. But that’s just it. We do what all the other nice and decent guys around us are doing – and that’s being worldly. For men, the problem isn’t going to go away. We need to prepare for the assault on our eyes by memorising verses like Proverbs 27:20: “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” My old Scout Master told me about that verse. He knew I was a Christian and he warned me not to look at the pornographic magazines that a lot of the other guys brought along on campouts. He said, and I think he knew from personal experience, that looking never satisfies – it just stokes the fires and makes you want more, which is why “soft-core” pornography usually leads inevitably to “hard-core” and then to all sorts of other sins. St. Paul writes in Romans 6:21, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” You need to ask yourself what benefit you get from indulging your eyes in a lustful looks. There’s nothing more there than the fleeting pleasure of sin. And Paul warns that after the fleeting pleasure, all that’s left are the shame and regret. The third thing I want to look at is idolatry. I don’t think any of us is guilty of carving false gods from wood or stone, but we are often guilty of taking the things of this world and elevating them to the spot God should have in our lives. Our careers or vocations can easily become idols as we obsess with advancement and getting to the top. Jerry Bridges talks about a car salesman he knows. This man told him, “After I became a Christian, I stopped trying to sell cars and started helping people buy cars.” His vocation didn’t change, but his focus did. Instead of worrying about how much money he would make, he started focusing on serving people and helping them find the car that would best suit them and their financial situation. He changed his career from an idol to a service to God through genuine service to people. All of us have jobs that we can either see as money-makers or as opportunities for serving God. I think another issue where we can be guilty of idolatry is in political and cultural issues. It’s important that Christians be aware of what’s going on in the world around us and in our government. It’s wrong for us to just drop out of the world entirely and not take advantage of the ways God has given us to influence the world, but it’s also possible for us to make an idol out of our involvement in political and cultural issues. Things like abortion or homosexuality are issues that we need to address as Christians, but we have to remember that our first priority is to the Church and to the Great Commission. So we need to work to save the unborn or to preserve marriage, but at the same time our highest priority needs to be rescuing men and women from the clutches of Satan and bringing them into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Finally, and this may be so obvious that I don’t really need to mention it: sports. Sports have, without doubt, become an idol in our culture. There are places, especially in the States and in the South, where football is even spoken of as a religion and where high school coaches get paid more than their school principals. We may not be quite that extreme with our sports in Canada, but we can be pretty extreme. I learned that the hard way by interrupting Hockey Night in Canada one time… We need to be careful. We need to remember that it’s only a game and that God isn’t glorified just because our team won. When it really comes down to it, winning only panders to and feeds our pride. We can root for our favourite team, but we need to keep it in perspective. In conclusion, let’s review what worldliness is. First, it’s a preoccupation with the things of this world – the things of this temporal life. Second, it’s accepting and going along with the values and practices of society around us without discerning if they are biblical or not. The key to our tendencies toward worldliness really lies in those two words: going along. Our problem is that we simply go along with and accept the values and practices of the world around us without thought as to whether or not those values are biblical. That’s why Christian girls will wear immodest clothes. They just go along with the styles everyone else is wearing without stopping to think if those styles please God. There’s nothing sinful in sports themselves, but if we simply go along with the people around us, we can end up making an idol out of our favourite team. We all have to work for a living, but if we go along with the values of our culture, we may make an idol out of our career. The answer to our problem of worldliness isn’t just being determined not to be worldly. We have to have a standard to judge it the world against. We need to become more godly. We need to grow in our fellowship with God and start looking at every aspect of life through the lens of his glory. Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister in the 19th Century preached a sermon titled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” That’s exactly what we need. We need an increased affection for God that will expel from our hearts all of our affections for the things of this world. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we ask your forgiveness for the time when we place the things of this world above the things of your kingdom. We ask that you would give us the grace to draw closer to you, and that our growing affection for you and for the things of your kingdom will expel all of our affections for the things of this life. We ask this through the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:38-42 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Selfishness in the Heart St. Matthew 5:38-42 by William Klock As we continue on in the Sermon on the Mount we come, today, to another hard and challenging passage. I want to look today at Matthew 5:38-42. In these verses we read the fifth of Jesus’ practical, real-world examples of what it means for us to live in such a way that we fulfil the Law of God. I think that as we go through these examples, they get increasingly challenging, and because of that increasingly convict us of our own sin. Jesus picked his examples carefully, knowing full well that they would prick the consciences of those people listening to him. And his examples might be taken from Jewish society 2000 years ago, but they still prick our consciences too. The fact is that man’s basic condition, his basic problem, hasn’t change. We’re all sinners. We all put ourselves first. We’re all proud. And for that reason, even as Christians, we have a tendency to default back to our natural fallen state; to look for a way to God and to look for a way to heaven that allows us to get there on our own. We don’t like to admit that we’re sinners. We don’t like to admit that all of our good works merit us nothing in the eyes of God. That was the Pharisees’ problem. They knew God’s Law, but rather than allowing it to convict them of sin and rather than turning to the Redeemer to find redemption, they twisted and distorted God’s Law so that they could lower its standard of perfection and turn it into a list of do’s and don’ts that they could feel good about keeping. We tend to do the same thing. And here Jesus pulls that all down. He shows us how we tend to put ourselves first, instead of God and others. He shows us how, when the Law tells us something is a sin, we start looking for loopholes and looking for ways to justify our sin. Even after he gives us these examples of what it means to fulfil the Law and truly live as Kingdom people, we then take his examples and turn them into legalistic rules. Last week we looked at his teaching on being impeccably honest and I mentioned how there are those who turn his teaching into a simple prohibition against taking oaths. As we look at his teaching on selflessness this week, we’ll see his examples here – which have been taken by many and turned into a legalistic set of rules: “Jesus says that if you’re compelled to go one mile, go two – but not an inch further.” “Jesus says that if a man sues you for your tunic, give him your cloak – but nothing else.” If that’s what we do with Jesus’ teaching, we’ve missed the point – we’re being just like the Pharisees. Look with me at Matthew 5:38-42: You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Jesus says, “The Pharisees have told you that if someone knocks out your eye or your tooth, you have not only the right, but the duty to exact revenge, so take his eye or take his tooth.” That’s how the Law had been twisted. And to the natural man that sounds pretty good. Just like the people in Jesus’ day, we’re concerned about our rights. We live in what’s supposed to be a free country that was founded on the principle that we all have inherent rights. Do we not have the right to this or to that? If someone injuries me, do I not have the right to compensation? We, here, might ask, “What are my rights – as a Christian?” As Christians do we have the right to be successful, to be wealthy, to a home or to a family, to a good name? And here in these verses Jesus confronts these questions head-on and in a way that we may find difficult, because here he answers our questions and says that there are no rights for the Christian. Jesus teaches us here that his followers have no right to retaliation, no right to “things,” no right to our own time, and not right to our money. The bottom line for us needs to be the understanding that everything we have, all of our time, our money, our possessions, even our reputation, are held in trust from God, and that we have an obligation to use them as Jesus did, to help others and to build the Kingdom. You see, when the Law talked about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” the whole point was to curb just the kind of vigilante justice that the Pharisees wanted. Before the Law was given, one man might punch another and knock out his tooth, and the other would then respond with a club or a knife and kill the first. Family feuds would start, like the one we see in Jacob’s own family. His daughter, Dinah, was raped by the prince of a nearby town, so her brothers tricked the men of the town into being circumcised, and while they were all convalescing, they sneaked in and killed all of the men there. That’s the kind of thing the Law was meant to put an end to. God put justice in the hands of judges and who were to make restitution reasonable and proportionate. If a man knocked out your tooth, you weren’t then entitled to kill him, or if a man killed one of your sheep, you weren’t then entitled to kill his entire flock. There’s an old book, long out of print, that was written by a woman who was formerly with the China Inland Mission. Its called, Have We No Right,” and it’s full of stories that illustrate just what Jesus is talking about here – that it’s hard for most Christians to give up their rights in the service of Christ. There is a story by another missionary who was with the China Inland Mission in which he tells how he learned this lesson the hard way. He says, “You know, there’s a great deal of difference between eating bitterness [which is a Chinese colloquialism for “suffering hardship”] and eating loss [another Chinese colloquialism for “suffering the infringement of one’s rights”]. ‘Eating bitterness’ is easy enough. To go out with the preaching band, walk twenty or thirty miles to the place where you are to work, help set up the tent, placard the town, and spend several weeks in a strenuous campaign of meetings and visitation—why, that’s a thrill! Your bed may be made of a couple of planks laid on sawhorses, and you may have to eat boiled rice, greens, and bean-curd three times a day. But that’s just the beauty of it! Why, it’s good for anyone to go back to the simple life! A little healthy ‘bitterness’ is good for anybody! “When it came to China,” he goes on, “I was all ready to ‘eat bitterness’ and like it…. It takes a little while to get your palate and your digestion used to Chinese food, of course, but that was not harder than I had expected. Another thing, however”—and he paused significantly—“another thing that I had never thought about came up to make trouble. I had to ‘eat loss’! I found that I couldn’t stand up for my rights—that I couldn’t even have any rights. I found that I had to give them up, every one, and that was the hardest thing of all.” This is what Jesus is talking about. I think every missionary probably understands this principle, but it’s not just for people who go to preach the Gospel in the interior of China – it’s for every Christian who is called to live out the Gospel in his daily life and work. St. Paul sums this up well in writing to the Corinthian Church: Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?.... If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. … For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Corinthians 9:4-6, 12, 19) Just as Christ who didnt count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself to become one of us, the Apostle Paul was willing to set aside his rights for the sake of spreading that message of what Jesus had done. Every one of us is called to do the same! Jesus gives four examples of how we are to give up our rights. And in the first one he tells us that as his people we no longer have the right to retaliate. “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In Jesus’ day this kind of slap was intended more than anything else as an insult, but even so, whether someone injures you physically or insults you, our natural response is to strike back – to give the other guy what he “deserves.” But Jesus says, no, that’s not what the Christian is supposed to do. Instead of insisting on our rights, we are called to give them up, in order that the preaching of the Gospel not be hindered. He warned us back in the Beatitudes that just as he was persecuted, we would be also. So that he could fulfil his mission of redemption, Jesus chose not to retaliate. And so that his mission of redemption can be proclaimed to the world, he calls us not to retaliate either. St. Paul writes: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21) As much as we might be tempted to say, “That’s too hard! I could never do that.” The history of the Church is full of stories of people who came to Christ as the result of the witness of another in just this kind of situation. This past week I was reading about Hudson Taylor, one of the early missionaries to China. He comments on this passage and tells about a time when he had summoned a ferry so he could cross a river. As the ferry was docking, another man came along and shoved him into the mud and rushed to get on the ferry himself. The ferryman, having seen what happened, refused to let the other man on the ferry, but Hudson Taylor got up and treated the man with kindness and invited him to join him on the ferry. He could have retaliated. By the rule of “an eye for an eye” he could have pushed the man into the mud, hopped on the boat, and waved sarcastically at the man. But he chose not to and instead had the opportunity to share the Gospel with this man and lead him to Christ. The man was impressed by Taylor’s Christlike attitude. So don’t say that this is too hard. If you are a Christian, you can do it. Christ lives in you, he expects you to live to his standard, and he himself will enable you to do it. Jesus gets a little less abstract with his second example. In verse 40 he tells us, “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Jesus was drawing on the Jewish law that limited what you could be sued for. A man could be sued for just about anything he wore, but he could never be sued for his cloak or outer coat. It was sacrosanct. It was not only what kept him warm, but for many – especially the poor or for working men – it also served as their bedding. Even if it were taken as a pledge, the law said it had to be returned by nightfall. Jesus is making the same point: “If you find yourself being wronged or persecuted, don’t stand on your rights. When the sin of others abounds, our obligation is to show an even greater measure of grace. Again, we need to be like our master. He didn’t worry about his rights. He was God incarnate. He didn’t deserve any kind of punishment let alone violent treatment, and yet he gave up his own life. In verses 41 Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” The “anyone” Jesus has in mind would be a Roman soldier. It was a common thing in the ancient world for a conquering people to force their new subjects to submit to their authority and serve them. The Romans wanted everyone to know who the bosses were. And so they had a law that said that locals could be conscripted by the army to help carry their baggage and gear. This is what happened to Simon of Cyrene when he was pulled from the crowd and compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. There wasn’t much that was worse for the Jews than being forced to see their own defeat and subjugation this way. This was probably a pretty common occurrence and you can imagine the attitude that a Jew would have had if forced to carry a Roman soldier’s baggage for a mile. And yet Jesus says, if you’re compelled to go one mile, when you’ve done so – carry the soldier’s gear another mile. Do what it takes to show him that you don’t resent him – that you’ve forgiven the insult. Do what he asks and do it cheerfully. Give him a reason to ask why you’re different. Show him what it means – or better, what it looks like – to be a follower of Christ. Jesus came to earth as one of us and died carrying the baggage of our sins against him. Our time is not our own. And neither is our money. That’s Jesus fourth example, and it happens to be the one that struck me this week. He says, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” We signed the paperwork for our house this week and had to hand over a very big cheque to pay for it. And in paying for he house we paid enough between GST and the provincial Land Transfer Tax that we easily could have bought a really nice, new car with that money. Veronica and I both did quite a bit of grumbling over that. And yet here Jesus reminds us that we have no claim on either our possessions or our money. For that reason, when we see someone in legitimate need, we’re not to grab our wallets closer with a “what’s mine is mine” attitude. We’re to give freely. St. John gives us this same instruction when he writes, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). Jesus knew that there’s nothing better to show where our heart is than what we do with our money. Are we willing to let God have control of it? Are we willing to loosen our grip and let him have it? As I said before, this is a hard teaching of Jesus. We really do tend to get hung up on our “rights.” Each of us needs to ask, “Am I stuck on my rights, or have I learned to live the kind of life that was lived for me by the Lord Jesus?” Watchman Nee sums up Jesus’ teaching here very well. In conclusion let me read a bit to you from one of his books. “Since the day that Adam took the fruit of the tree of knowledge, man has been engaged in deciding what is good and what is evil. The natural man has worked out his own standards of right and wrong, justice and injustice, and striven to live by them. Of course, as Christians we are different. Yes, but in what way are we different? Since we were converted a new sense of righteousness has been developed in us, with the result that we too are, quite rightly, occupied with the question of good and evil. But have we realised that for us the starting point is a different one? Christ is for us the Tree of Life. We do not begin from the matter of ethical right and wrong. We do not start from that other tree. We begin from him; and the whole question for us in one of Life. “Nothing has done greater damage to our Christian testimony than our trying to be right and demanding right of others. We become preoccupied with what is and what is not right. We ask ourselves, have we been justly or unjustly treated? And we think thus to vindicate our actions. But that is not our standard. The whole question for us is one of cross-bearing. You ask me, ‘Is it right for someone to strike my cheek?’ I reply, ‘Of course not!’ But the question is, Do you only want to be right? As Christians our standard of living can never be ‘right or wrong,’ but the Cross. The principle of the Cross is our principle of conduct…. ‘Right or wrong’ is the principle of the Gentiles and tax gatherers. My life is to be governed by the principle of the Cross and of the perfection of the Father.” Do we learn anything from the lesson of the Way of the Cross? If we’ve learned anything at all, it’s the understanding that Jesus’ followers do not stand on their rights. The second mile is only typical of the third and the fourth. The cloak is only typical of all of our other possessions. Neither our time nor our money is our own. When Jesus died on the cross as the penalty for sin, he didn’t do it to defend either our right or his. It was grace that took him there. As his followers, as sons and daughters of God, we are called to live as Jesus did – to live as examples and witnesses of his self-sacrifice. Please pray with me: Our Father, we give you thanks that in your great mercy you sent your Son to become one of us, to live perfectly, and to die, taking the penalty for our sins on himself. And yet still he harp about our “rights.” We assert our rights when instead we should assert the gospel of grace. Forgive us, Father, and put he cross of Christ always before us to remind us to show others the same grace, mercy, and love that we have been shown. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Sins of the Tongue Respectable Sins: Sermon Sixteen by William Klock It’s interesting that the first person to whom I mentioned this series of sermons back in April when I was planning it had this response: “Oh, respectable sins – you mean like gossip.” I’ve had more than one comment along those same lines. It’s telling that that’s what we think of when someone talks about the sins we tolerate in the Church. What’s really interesting is that Jerry Bridges, whose book Respectable Sins is the basis for this sermon series, shares exactlythe same thing in his chapter on “Sins of the Tongue.” He writes: “In the months that I have been working on this book, I have often been asked in social settings, ‘What are you working on now?’ When I mention the ‘respectable’ or ‘acceptable’ sins we tolerate, invariably someone will roll his or her eyes and say, ‘Oh, you mean like gossip.’ Apparently, this is the first of the Christian sins that comes to mind, so it must be quite prevalent among us and is something we continue to tolerate in our lives.” He’s right. Gossip is something that many of us do all the time, but it’s not the only “sin of the tongue” that we’re guilty of. This morning we talked about oath taking and the need for the Christian to be honest in all he says and does, so in a sense you can take tonight’s sermon as “Part II.” We may be guilty of gossip, but were also guilty of lying (whether blatantly, by being deliberately misleading, or by stretching or embellishing the truth). We’re also guilty of slander, harsh words, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh speech – which may be true, but is still spoken harshly and unlovingly. The bottom line is that any speech, whether true or false, that’s spoken for the purpose of tearing someone down, is sinful speech. The pages of Holy Scripture are filled with warnings against just these kinds of sins of the tongue. There are more than sixty warnings against these sins in the book of Proverbs alone. Jesus gives us some sobering words in Matthew 12:36, where he says: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. We may speak carelessly, but we shouldn’t. St. James also warns us in his epistle: We all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:2-12) We think our sins of the tongue are acceptable – no big deal – and yet St. James tells that they’re like the spark in the wilderness that sets the whole forest ablaze. He reminds us of all the wild animals in nature that man has tamed, and yet the tongue, he says, is restless, untameable, and full of poison – a wild thing that stains our entire body. I think the most succinct passage on the subject in the New Testament is Ephesians 4:29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Notice the contrast: “let no corrupt talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up…” This is St. Paul’s “put off / put on” principle that he describes as part of the sanctification process – as part of the way we become holy and Christlike. He lays that out a few verses earlier: Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt throughdeceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Do you remember Jesus talking about casting out demons? It’s not enough to cast out the demon – if that’s all you do it’ll just come back. You have to sweep the house, put it in order, and let God’s Spirit fill it – then the demon can’t come back. You see sin is like that. World and flesh are just as much – probably even more so – sources of temptation. When you deal with sin in your life – when you’ve recognised the sin – it isn’t enough to just stop the sinful behaviour; you have to replace it with righteous behaviour. Sinful behaviour patterns always have to be replaced by righteous ones. It’s not enough to just put off the old man – you have to put on the new one in his place. This is one of the most important principles we can learn when it comes to our sanctification. Don’t just put off sin; you have to replace it with something righteous. So St. Paul says, “Don’t let any corrupt talk come out of your mouth.” How do we define “corrupt talk.” It’s not just profanity or vulgar things we speak – in fact, those things are a lot less serious than what Paul really has in find. Corrupt talk includes things like lying, slander, harsh words, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh speech. And notice that Paul gives us an absolute: No corrupt talk. No gossip. No sarcasm. No critical or harsh speech. No insults. Anything that has even a little bit of a tendency to tear others down is to be put off – to be removed from our speech. Think about what the Church would be like if all of that stuff was gone. We think these things are acceptable, but take some time to think about all the damage they do – even within the Body of Christ. If we’re going to look at specifics, I think we need to look at gossip first. What is gossip? Gossip is the spreading of bad or unfavourable information about someone else. Sometimes the information may even be true, but that doesn’t stop it from being gossip. More often than not, gossip seems to be based on rumour, which makes it even more sinful – it’s not significantly better than spreading lies. Why do we gossip? I think that in most cases we do it to feed our sinful egos. We gossip to cut someone else down – maybe because we see them as a rival (remember last week’s sermon?). We gossip about someone else’s sin, because it makes us feel more righteous by comparison. Often we gossip and spread rumours just to make ourselves seem more important. When it comes to Christians, we’ve become very adept at disguising our gossip, we say things like, “I want to share something with you so that you can pray about it.” If you know something bad about someone else, by all means pray about it, but don’t spread the word under the guise of a prayer request when you know that all it’s really going to do is result in people thinking less of that individual. When we do that the subtle message is often: “Mary’s a sinner – we need to pray for her; but look how righteous I am because I’m willing to pray for her.” That’s one of the kinds of speech that St. Paul warns us to “put off,” but he doesn’t stop there. He also tells us what kind of speech to “put on.” We’re to put on such speech that builds others up and gives grace to those who hear it. So if you’re tempted to gossip, you need to ask yourself, “Will what I’m about to say tear down or build up the person I’m about to talk about?” Gossip’s closest cousin is slander. Slander is making untrue statements about someone else that defame or damage their reputation. When someone says “slander” the first thing most of us probably think of is political campaigns, where candidates sling mud back and forth at each other. One candidate makes accusations against the other, usually based on comments taken out of context or based on only half the information available. The whole point is to create a negative false impression so that people will think less of that person. So do Christians slander? Yes, we do – we’re probably just more subtle about it or we’ve learned to disguise it as something that sounds righteous. We slander when we attribute wrong motives to people, even though we have no way to see into their hearts or discern what their motives really are. We may be guilty of slander when we accuse another believer of being “uncommitted” when he or she doesn’t practice the same spiritual disciplines we do or engage in the same kinds of Christian activities as us. We slander when we misrepresent another person’s position on a subject without first finding out for ourselves what that persons position actually is. We slander when we blow another person’s sin out of proportion and make them out to be more sinful than they really are. Why do we do it? Well, typically for the Christian it’s to justify our own lack of righteousness, our own lack of holiness. We want to look good to everyone else, so we either compare ourselves to others who may be struggling in their Christian walk or we tear down those whom we think are standing a few rungs above us and showing us up. That’s just it. In the business world they call it “climbing the ladder” and if you have to step on a few fingers or toes or grab the foot of the guy above you and drag him down, that’s what’s often expected. I think most Christians think of that sort of thing as being unacceptable in the business world, but we yet we somehow find it acceptable in the Church. We want people to think better of us or we want to be in a higher position or a place with greater authority, and so we disparage someone else in the hopes that we’ll win everyone over to our side. As I talked about this morning, Christians need to be committed to Truth. Slander is ultimately lying – it’s deception, it’s dishonest. But even if you tend to guard against outright lies in your speech, most of us are often guilty of dishonesty as a result of exaggeration or a failure to tell the whole truth – sometimes we lie, but we justify it saying, “It was just a little white lie” – a lie, but a lie we can justify as having little or no consequences. But whatever form it takes, the lie expresses an intent to deceive. So in stamping out corrupt talk from our speech, another thing we ought to ask ourselves is, “Is what I’m about to say true?” Critical speech is simply negative comments we make about others. Sometimes they may even be true, but we need to ask ourselves: “Do they need to be said?” Things like, “So-and-so is a bad cook.” “So-and-so picks his nose.” “So-and-so watches too much TV.” Before we make these kinds of comments we need to ask things like, “Is it any of my business if So-and-so watches TV a lot or picks his nose?” “What’s my purpose in telling someone else about So-and-so? If it really isn’t my business and if it really doesn’t matter, why am I ‘sharing’ this about them?” “Is what I’m sharing kind?” You see, more often than not, we’re sharing these kinds of things so that others will come to think more highly of us because we’re leading them to think more lowly of another. But we sin in our speech not only when we talk about other people – we also sin when we talk to others. Things like harsh words, sarcasm, insults, and ridicule are also forms of sinful speech. In every case their intent is to put someone down, to humiliate them, or to hurt them. Sometimes other sins are what lead to this kind of sinful speech – often we’re already guilty of being angry or impatient and sinful speech just follows naturally. Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What does that mean? It means that even though we may be talking about “sins of the tongue” what lies behind it is a sinful heart. Behind our gossip, our slander, our critical speech, our insults, and our sarcasm is a sinful heart. The tongue only says what the heart directs it to. And that ties into what we’ve been studying on Sunday mornings in the Sermon on the Mount. We need to apply Ephesians 4:29 – St. Paul’s warning about corrupt talk – we need to apply this verse to our lives. We need to memorise it so that it will pop to the front of our minds when we’re about to say something unkind about or to someone else. But we need to deal with our hearts too. There have been times when St. Paul’s warning pulled me up short before I said something about someone else, but later I found the Spirit convicting me. I may not have said it, but I thought it in my heart – I wanted to say it, even if I didn’t. We need to not only guard our tongues – we need to guard our hearts. We need to worry not only about the keeping the letter of the Law – we need to make sure we obey the spirit when it comes to our motives. David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart by acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). David was concerned with not only the words he spoke, but more importantly with the thoughts that were in his heart. Even if a verse like Ephesians 4:29 keeps me from speaking sinfully, I still need to make David’s prayer my own – I need to apply Paul’s warning to both my tongue and my heart. I need to desire that what both do be acceptable to God. What exists in our hearts ought to build others up as well. That’s the real key. If your heart is full of corrupt thoughts, it’s hard to keep them from being spoken by your tongue. The same is true if your heart is full of loving and righteous thoughts. Each of us needs to be close to God. The closer we get to him, the more time we spend in his Word and the more time we spend with him in prayer – and the more time we spend conforming to the image of Christ – the more not only our actions will be like Jesus’, but the more our hearts will be like his. Please pray with me: Our Father, we confess to you that our speech is often corrupt. Tame our tongues, we ask you, by filling our hearts with your grace. You have loved us, even when we were unlovely. Let that love fill our hearts, that our tongues will be moved to speak only that which builds up. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen
Bible Text: Matthew 5:33-37 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Dishonesty in the Heart St. Matthew 5:33-37 by William Klock As we continue on in our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we come this week to Our Lord’s fourth practical example that shows the relationship between his teaching and the teaching of God’s Law. So far we’ve looked at Jesus’ examples that teach us to overcome anger, to be sexually pure, and to be faithful in marriage. Three more follow and they will teach us that if we are obedient to Christ, we will live honestly and in truth, we will be selfless in our actions, and that we will love our neighbours. This week we come to verses 33 through 37, where Jesus makes some very strong statements about truth – about honesty and dishonesty. Open your Bibles to Matthew 5:33-37 and follow along with me as I read there: Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, butshall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” Again, as he does in each of these six examples, We see this, “You have heard it said…” In each case the source of the “You have heard it said” phrase is a little different. In this instance he does sum up an Old Testament principle, but he doesn’t quote the Old Testament – he gives the Pharisees’ summary of what the Law says bout oath-taking. There are quite a few passages in the Law that address oaths and our being faithful to them. Deuteronomy 6:13 says, “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” Leviticus 19:12 warns, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” The scribes and Pharisees were right in their understanding that making an oath was a serious thing and so they drew on verses like these to put together their own teaching that prohibited false swearing of oaths. But again, we’ll see that they took a legalistic approach to the Law that undermined the spirit of it. Jesus shows us what the real meaning and intent of the Law is – the intent of the Law that he came not to abolish, but to fulfil – the Law that is still binding on us as Christians as we seek to give honour and glory to God. So the first thing we need to look at in order to understand Jesus is the Law itself. The Law was given in the first place to show God’s standard of absolute holiness. The Israelites were no different than the rest of the fallen human race when it came to struggling to live up to that standard, especially when it came lying and dishonestly. That is, after all, why we need a Redeemer! But think about it. How many of us had to teach our kids to lie? For that matter, how many of us had parents that had to teach us how to lie? We do it naturally and I think that dishonesty is one of our most prevalent sins. And yet you can’t have a civil society if dishonesty is rampant – we’re seeing that today! And so the purpose of the Law was to check that sin. The other side of the Law was to stress that oath taking needs to be done only in serious situations. Think about the first thing that’s likely to happen when people are dishonest all the time. Yep. If nobody can be believed, then they’re always swearing. “Honest, it’s true, I swear on a stack of Bibles!” “No, seriously, I swear to God!” Or what about, “Well, to be perfectly honest with you…” Does that mean that other times you’re not being perfectly honest with me? Taking these kinds of frivolous oaths is the direct result of our dishonest character. The Law stressed that oath taking was a solemn thing and should only be done in serious situations that require it. The Law was a reminder to the Israelites of the seriousness of life and of their relationship to God. It stressed just how much everything they did was done in the sight of God, that God was over all, and that every part of their life needed to be lived as unto him. I don’t think I can emphasise this enough. As we look at each of these examples Jesus gives to explain the Law, we need to keep in mind what God tells his people: “I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). We need to remember that we are God’s people and that everything we do, say, or think happens under his watchful eyes. We need to remember that we are called to be salt and light – to be an example to the world of holiness. Through Christ’s sacrifice God has forgiven our unrighteousness – our inability to live up the standard of the Law – while at the same time filling us with his grace and his Spirit so that we can live up to his standards and be witnesses to his great gift. So what did the scribes and Pharisees do with all this? Well, as usual, they twisted it to fit their legalistic approach to religion. They did whatever they could to twist and bend the Law to obscure the spirit of it and leave only the letter. They wanted something they could feel good about keeping. They had long since forgotten the concept of a Redeemer; their goal was to be self-righteous – to merit God’s favour all on their own. They reduced the Law to the mere letter. So as long as they weren’t guilty of the physical act of murder, or of adultery they were happy. They did the same thing here. They looked at the commandments having to do with oaths and saw them as nothing more than commandments against perjury. They didn’t look at it in terms of truth or of honesty – just the blatant act of perjury – of breaking an oath. Before we let ourselves feel to smug, we need to remember that Jesus speaks to us as much as he speaks to the scribes and Pharisees. We can be just as legalistic. We reduce worldliness and holiness to a set of do’s and don’ts. Some of my relatives have been involved in the “Two-by-Two” cult for several generations. They’re very big on humility. They show their piety with an outward show of plain dress and plain speech. The women wear no makeup, long plain dresses, and wear their hair in a bun. Whenever they talk about anything spiritual they’re obliged to look at their shoes. They get these things from Scripture and say that it’s their way of being unworldly – and yet for all their plainness, most of them seem to drive around in flashy cars and have very fancy homes – but, you see, the Bible doesn’t address cars and houses. There are churches where worldliness is reduced to drinking, smoking, dancing, playing cards, and watching R-rated movies (actually, decades ago it was watching any movies at all, but that was gradually compromised and relaxed). And yet many such people somehow seem to miss the fact that things like pride and greed, the lust of the eyes or the lust of the flesh are even more worldly in many cases. Too much of the time we narrow our definition of sin to just one thing – and as long as we’re not guilty of that one thing we think we’re okay. Or maybe instead of just one thing we make a list of things, but the problem is the same. Either way, when we do that, we’re being just like the Pharisees – we’re lowering God’s standard so that we can be self-righteous, forgetting that only the righteousness of Christ can make us acceptable to God. Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of making a list of do’s and don’ts, but the way we rationalise our sins away. It’s amazing how hard we’ll sometimes work to come up with goofy ways to explain our sins away and make them something other than the sins that they are. Here’s where the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were really guilty when it came to this issue of honesty and oath taking. They had developed a complicated system – really a list – of all the different types of oaths you could take and which of them were binding and which weren’t. In the Mishnah – the rabbinic commentary on the Law – there’s an entire lengthy tractate that spells out this sort of thing: if you were to swear by Jerusalem, then your oath wasn’t binding, but if were to swear towards Jerusalem, then it was. They came up with lists of distinctions like that, never mind that either way, you had made an oath. It’s not like the person to whom you made the oath was going to say, “Oh, okay, you swore by not towards Jerusalem, so I’ll just forget you told me you’d do such and such for me next week.” Or, “Okay, so I guess because you swore by the altar, not the showbread on the altar we’ll ask the jury to disregard your testimony against the defendant.” You see, the Pharisee honestly thought that he could make a promise to someone or give him his word that something was true, but that he could justly lie through his teeth as long as he swore by the right thing. If the other person later called him on it, he could justify himself saying, “No, you can’t hold me to it; I swore by the Temple Mount, not by the Temple. Your loss if you don’t know the difference or if you weren’t paying attention.” It’s no different than making a promise while crossing your fingers behind your back. Why would an honest person do that? An oath is an oath. There is no set of rules that justifies dishonesty. So we’ve looked at the actual teaching of the Old Testament and then how the scribes and Pharisees twisted it. What does Jesus have to say? Look at verses 34-37: But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. So does that mean that even if called to testify in court, taking an oath is wrong? Well, there are groups today, like the Quakers, that would argue for this kind of literal interpretation. Some have taken this as an absolute and complete ban on taking oaths under any circumstances. But the danger of focusing only on the act of oath taking itself, runs the risk of forgetting that the issue isn’t oath taking so much as it is honesty. The letter of the Law says, “Don’t get hung up on oath taking,” but the reason – the motive and spirit behind that is that we need to be impeccably honest. If our yes is yes and our no is no, then we don’t need to take an oath. It’s impossible to reconcile a complete ban on oath taking with the rest of Scripture. Think about the great saints of the Old Testament. When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac, he made his servant swear an oath to him. Jacob – Israel himself – took an oath from his son Joseph, and Joseph in turn took an oath from his brothers. Jonathan took an oath from David. You might say, well, those men were great saints, but they were still sinners and made other mistakes. How about God the Father himself? Think of Genesis 15 – my favourite chapter in all of the Bible. God had made his promise to Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky, and Abram confessed his faith in that promise, but still asked, “Lord, how will I know that this will really be my inheritance?” And in response, God had Abram sacrifice a cow, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon, cutting them in half, and laying the halves on the ground side-by-side. As night came, Abram fell asleep and God gave him a vision. In the vision God came in the symbols of a smoking pot and a torch that moved between the pieces. God made an oath to Abram using what was the common means for doing so in that day. Men would sacrifice an animal – literally cutting and letting the blood from the animal – saying, “If I break my word, let this be done to me.” God made his promise to Abram and made his way between those cut up animals saying the same thing: “Abram, you know I will keep my promises – may what has been done to these animals happen to me if I break my oath.” In that chapter God shows us his great faithfulness, but we see that he is faithful because he embodies faithfulness and truth in his very being. For him to be untruthful, for him to be unfaithful would be for him to violate his very nature as God. God’s yes is always yes and his no is always no, and yet he made an oath to Abram to make the point. And look at Jesus’ example. In Matthew 26 we’re told that when he was on trial before the high priest he was silent until the priest put him under oath. Jesus didn’t say, “You’re not supposed to do that.” No, he acknowledged its legitimacy and answered the priest’s question. So what was Jesus saying about oaths? Look at Matthew 23:16-22 with me. Jesus addresses the same problem there, but in a little more detail. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.’ Jesus really hits us where we’re weak here. He says, “You can’t compartmentalise your life, thinking that God is present in one place, but not in another. God is present in everything we do. No matter how much we may compartmentalise our lives, God is there with us in every compartment. Your friend might not know that your fingers were crossed behind your back, but God does. Truth is important always and everywhere – it’s just as applicable in one situation as another.” So the issue isn’t the oath taking – it’s the dishonesty in our hearts that makes the oath taking necessary. I’ve met a few impeccably honest people in my life – and I’ve never heard them tell me something and say, “I swear it’s true!” They don’t need to, because people trust that what they speak is true. This struck me one day when I was on the phone talking to a customer about the repairs needed on his computer. I started a sentence saying, “Well, I’ll be honest with you…” And the man on the other end stopped me and said, “Does that mean that the last time you repaired my computer and charged me $400 you weren’t being honest?” Now that’s not at all what I meant – it’s just a manner of speaking when we want to say something the other person might not want to hear – but it struck me that there have been many, many times when I’ve stretched the truth, been deliberately misleading, or outright lied to someone. We do things like that a lot – and when we do, we’re being like the Pharisees. Someone asks us a question and rather than tell the truth, we deliberately mislead them. We may not have actually told the lie with our mouths, but by not speaking we allowed the same untruth to be believed by that person and we’re just as guilty as if we had lied. Sometimes we stretch the truth and justify it saying, “I didn’t actually lie.” And yet the result is the same. Jesus tells us, “I am the Truth. If you are to follow me you need to value that Truth – you need to follow my lead.” Have you ever wondered why it’s wrong to tell a lie? It’s not so much because God tells us not to – that’s doesn’t really tell us why. Lying is a sin because it violates God’s character – if he embodies perfect Truth, then we as his followers must have a devotion to and love for Truth – anything less is unholy and ungodly. How often do you tell something to someone only to have them doubt your word? And so you tell them, “I swear on a stack of Bibles” or “Honest, really. Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a need in my eye!” How often do we start our conversation saying, “Well, to be perfectly honest with you…” You see, Jesus tells us here that the very fact that we have to persuade others with our oaths is a pathetic confession of our own dishonesty. In conclusion, let me say: Jesus tells us that we shouldn’t have to swear anything at all. As Christians the truth should be sacred to us – we should honour it – and for that reason we need to let our yes by yes and our no be no. We have been redeemed, our sins have been paid for by Jesus Christ, who is the Truth Incarnate. If we are to be witnesses to the world of his redemption, we need to value Truth and we need to live honestly. No dishonesty. No tricks. No crossed fingers. No word games. No exceptions. Anything less comes from evil (or depending on your translation, “the evil one,” who is aptly described in St. John’s gospel as the father of lies.” To grab a current slang phrase, “Who’s your daddy?” God is Truth. Satan is the father of lies. We need to be witnesses to God’s truth, and as we witness to his truth, letting our yes be yes and our no be no, there’s no need to invoke God to be our witness, because we know God is already watching and is present as we speak, knowing what’s in our heart. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we thank you that we have been redeemed by the one who came as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us value the very nature of Christ which is implanted in us by your Holy Spirit. Let us be witnesses to his Way and his Life by living in the Truth. Give us the grace to stamp out dishonesty in our lives. You have clothed us with Christ’s righteousness; give us grace to live out that righteousness as witnesses to what he has done for us. We ask this in his holy name. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Envy, Jealousy, and Realted Sins Respectable Sins: Sermon Fifteen by William Klock One of the most frustrating aspects of my secular work during the last twelve years had to do with the fact that I always seemed to be the low man on the totem pole regardless of where I worked and how hard I worked. I worked for two different companies in that time and did the same work as an Apple Computer repair tech. In the first company I was one of three techs. The other two had been there fore a long time. One of them was lazy and surly. The other always seemed to work hard, but he never seemed to get anything done, and on top of that, he was always breaking things. By the time I left that shop after three years, I was doing 85% of the in-house repairs, yet my salary was the lowest of all three. In my second job as a repair tech, I only worked with one other person. The work was split pretty much fifty-fifty between us, but my colleague’s salary was about 30% higher than mine. Yet I was the one who would stay late – sometimes working several 14 or 16 hours days back to back without compensation when we fell behind, simply because I knew that the work had to get done to keep the customers happy. I was the one that ended up doing all the difficult or time-consuming repairs. The boss in both instances was always happy to thank me for my work, but it was always the other guy who got the public recognition or who was called on when some really important thing came up. Apple wanted to write new certification exams. I was all studied up. I had more experience. And yet the boss would send one of the other guys to the testing evaluation seminars in California. I was often tempted to be envious of my colleagues. Envy is the painful and oftentimes resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else. Sometimes it leads to the sin of covetousness when we want the same advantage as that other person. Sometimes we just harbour resentment because they have something that we don’t. I think we can see the envy in our lives better when we understand the two conditions that are typically present when we fall into envy: First, we’re more prone to envying people with whom we identify. And second, we tend to envy them in the areas we value the most. Both of those things were present in my work situations. The guys I was tempted to envy did the same job I did. We were all at the same competence level and had the same job descriptions. I could identify with them as technicians of pretty much equal ability as myself. I became envious because in each case they had an advantage that I didn’t have myself: greater recognition, a bigger salary, and in my first job, they were Apple Certified and had certificates on the wall at the service counter. That one really got to me. I was doing 80% of the work, but the company wouldn’t pay to send me to the official training centre. My name wasn’t on the wall for the customers to see. When I called them about their computers, theyd frequently ask, “Who are you? I didn’t see a plaque with your name on it? Are you qualified?” When an important client called up and needed a field service call, nobody ever asked me to go. Because of our close proximity to Vancouver, we had a lot of celebrity customers, but it was rare that I ever got to meet or work with any of them. The irony is that I didn’t need a bigger salary at the time, I didn’t like having to take time out of my schedule to deal with training and certification seminars for stuff I already knew inside and out, and most of all, I resented not being asked to make the outside service calls, yet I hated that sort of work anyway. In all, the thing that tempted me to envy wasn’t the work I was missing out on, it was the recognition that came with it. See how subtle envy can be? I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been envious of a great politician, a sports star, a musician, or an actor. I might admire some of them, but I’ve never been tempted to envy them. What they do is so totally different from what I do and what my talents are, it just isn’t an issue. Someone once asked me, do you get envious of the big name pastors out there that go on speaking tours and have gigantic churches. No, I don’t. That’s not me. They might be fellow labourers in the “pray trade,” but their jobs are totally different from mine. They’re not people with whom I compare myself. I’m far more tempted to envy colleagues in my own denomination with churches that started at the same time as my own, but have grown twice the size. (Now I don’t have a reason, because I’m in one of those growing churches!) A salesman might envy the guy in the cubicle across the hall who’s on the rise, making more sales, and heading toward management. A minor league ball player might be envious of one of his teammates who’s being eyed by the majors. Parents might envy other parents with children who are better at school or sports. We might envy our friend with the fancier car or house. The possibilities are as endless as the different things that we all esteem. The issue is that whenever we start to compare ourselves to someone who seems better off than we are, we court temptation to fall into envy. Sometimes we may not even want what that other person has – we just resent their having it. So when we are tempted to envy, we need to remember that no matter how seemingly small and acceptable it might seem to us, it’s listed with all the other really vile sins that St. Paul catalogues in both Romans 1:29 and Galatians 5:21. Closely related to envy is jealousy. They’re so similar that we often confuse them. The subtle difference is that jealousy is usually defined as intolerance of rivalry. Instead of just wanting what someone else has, we actually want them to stop having it. Now there are some cases where jealousy is good. If someone is trying to win your husband or wife away from you, jealousy is a good thing. God himself declares that he is jealous and that he will not tolerate the worship of anything but himself. Sinful jealousy is what happens when we’re afraid that someone might become our equal or our superior. One of the best examples of jealousy in Scripture is the story of Saul and David. After David killed Goliath, the women of Israel sang, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Saul got really angry. Here he was, God’s anointed – he thought he was a big shot just because God had chosen him. But then along came David. God anointed him too and suddenly he was getting more honour than Saul, and from that time on, Saul saw David as his rival and became jealous – even to the point of trying to murder David. It’s easy for us to become jealous if God has blessed us in some aspect of life or ministry and then someone new comes along who does it all better than we do. Think of a car salesman who’s been top in his company for years. Suddenly a new guy is hired and quickly outdoes the first and starts receiving all the recognition that the other guy used to receive. The first salesman will probably be tempted to become very jealous. So how do we deal with the temptation to become envious or jealous? The first thing we need to do is remember the sovereignty of God. We need to recognise that God is sovereign over our talents, our abilities, and our spiritual gifts. If we’re going to successfully overcome temptation here, we have to bring God into the picture. We have to remind ourselves that he determines not only what abilities we have, but also the degree to which he has given them to us. It’s pretty obvious if you look around that some people are better selling things than others. Some are better at pastoring than others. Some are better working with their hands. Some people are more mechanically inclined than others. Not only that, but God has blessed us with a wide diversity of spiritual gifts. We aren’t to be jealous that God gave one person a gift that he chose not to give to us or that he has given two of us the same gift, even when the other person has greater ability and aptitude with it. And for that reason, just because an individual has a gift that you don’t, doesn’t mean that person is any closer to God than you are. All these gifts come from God, who makes poor and makes rich, who brings low and exalts. We have to recognise that to be envious or jealous of someone is either eliminating God from the picture or else accusing him of being unfair in his distribution of gifts and talents. As we combat envy and jealousy, we also need to remember that all of us who are believers are “one body in Christ and individually members one of another,” or as the NIV translates it, “Each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). This is why St. Paul says, “Outdo one another in showing honour” (12:10). Instead of being envious of those with some advantage over us, we really should be honouring and applauding them. God has given them that gift precisely because it is needed in the Body – we are all one. Third, we ought to remember that if we spend our emotional energy on envy and jealousy, we lose sight of what God might do uniquely in our lives. God has given us all different gifts and abilities for a reason. He has a place and an assignment for everyone – and his great desire is for us to step up to that job he’s got for us. Even if some receive more earthly recognition, all are important in God’s ultimate plan. Another potentially sinful attitude that’s related to envy and jealousy is competitiveness – the urge to always win or to always be on top in whatever your field of endeavour is. We can all be like this and it starts early as we play tick-tack-toe or checkers with our brothers and sisters and get upset when we lose. But it’s not just little kids. I’ve seen grown men throw bigger tantrums when their team – or their son’s team – lost a ball game. Competitiveness is basically an expression of selfishness. It’s the urge to win at someone else’s expense. It’s the opposite of loving our neighbours as ourselves. Now that’s not to say that friendly rivalries are a bad thing and a certain amount of competition can push us to do our best. The problem is that as a society, we’ve gone way beyond this. You see, a competitive spirit is not a Christian virtue. 2 Timothy 2:15 stresses not competition, but that each of us ought to do our best at what we do. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians that in our work, we ought to work heartily – we ought to do our best. We just have to remember that our “best” isn’t the same as another’s “best.” God has gifted each of us uniquely. But because he has gifted us, we ought to be motivated to do our best by a desire to glorify God using what he has given us – not to win recognition for ourselves. We may well get the recognition, but that should never be our motivation. The salesman in my earlier example should concentrate on doing his best to sell his product in a way that honours God. If his best makes him the top salesman, great. He should not be proud of his ability, but grateful to God for giving it to him. But if his best makes him number three or number four (or whatever), he can take comfort in knowing he did his best and can still give thanks to God. Now envy, jealousy, and competitiveness all fall under the subject of rivalry. Instead of seeing others as fellow members of the Body of Christ, we can slip into thinking that their rivals whom we need to beat and outperform. But there’s a more subtle sin that also falls into this category. This is the sin of seeking to control others to our advantage or to get what we want. People come for counselling for all sorts of problems, but this underlies a lot of them, whether married people or friends. If two people are in a relationship and have strong personalities, they can often butt heads with each other – especially if they’re married to each other. One or the other always wants his or her own way and won’t back down, no matter what. In most of our relationships, one person is usually more dominant than the other, and if the dominant person isn’t careful, he or she can control the relationship. It happens with husbands and wives, but it happens just as often with kids on the playground. One person wants his own way and he steamrolls over anyone who stands in that way. This is the sort of sin that tears churches apart. A church I attended for a short time while in university was torn apart when the long-time music director refused to bow to the demands of a new pastor, who was forced out the job. The end result was a church split. The campus ministry of which I was a part was virtually taken over during my final year by a woman graduate student who became angry when the group leadership refused to nominate her as president of the ministry. She claimed God had called her to head the ministry, despite the fact that the group held to the biblical principle of male headship. When she wasn’t elected she started trying to dominate every aspect of the group. The controller tries to get his way using various methods. One way is to completely dominate a relationship by sheer force of willpower so that the other person (or persons) always gives in and lets him have his way. Another is to get angry when his decisions are questioned or his desires are not readily granted. Frequently, I’ve seen, the controller-type person, when he doesn’t get his way, resorts to manipulation to get what he wants. He might make people feel guilty or incompetent. The controlling husband might say something like, “Why is dinner never on time?” when, in fact, dinner is almost always on time. The manipulative wife might say, You are just like my father” (because her father wouldn’t always let her get her way). In the instance of the music director who didn’t get his way, he resort to tearing down the new pastor by means of character assassination. The controller wants his own way. But in Ephesians 5:21, St. Paul tells us that we are supposed to submit to each other. Biblically speaking, if there’s a conflict, it should be the opposite: “Let’s do what you want.” “No, let’s do what you want.” “No, really, let’s do what you want…” Always wanting to be in control is a sign of selfishness. The really hard thing in addressing this sin is that if we’re the controller, we’re almost always the last one to recognise it and see it in our life. This is a place where we really need to power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to show us our blind spots. The help of others who can see our sin when we can’t is also critical. So I urge you, as I have before, to ask God for help here and ask the people around you to help you see your tendencies toward envy, jealousy, competitiveness, or being controlling of others. Ask the people closest to you to be honest with you about it. And remember that if you are this kind of person – especially if you’re a controller, others may be reluctant to tell you because of your history. So you need to approach them with real humility. Then instead of being defensive – or using it against them – when they are honest with you, wisely accept what they say and take ask God for help in overcoming these sins. Remember that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Don’t put yourself in the position of being opposed by God. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we confess to you that in our pride, we often desire to take the credit for our achievements ourselves, instead of acknowledging that you are responsible for who we are and the gifts we have. We have no business taking the credit for ourselves and we have no business becoming jealous or envious when you choose to give to others what you have not given to us. Give us grace, Father, that we may always be satisfied with the blessings you have seen fit to give us, and let us rejoice with others in the blessing that you give to them. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
Bible Text: Matthew 5:31-32 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Infidelity in the Heart St. Matthew 5:31-32 by William Klock Today I want to look with you at the thirty-first and thirty-second verses of the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. These are confrontational verses. I’m not sure that there’s any other subject that the modern preacher would want to avoid more than divorce. It’s not a fun thing to preach on, not just because divorce is a bad thing, but because it’s a subject that touches our emotions at such a deep level. It’s a subject that, these days, sadly touches almost everyone, even in the church. There aren’t very many things as sad as an unhappy marriage foundering on the rocks. There’s hardly a tragedy as great as the degeneration of what God meant for love and fulfilment and which starts so happily, into a non-relationship of bitterness, discord, and often despair. It’s not fun to have to hear about and it’s not a fun subject to preach about either. But the job of the preacher is to systematically preach the Word of God, not ignoring the parts we don’t like, but allowing its light to shine into our sinful hearts and turn us to God. This subject was important enough for Jesus to address and important enough for the Holy Spirit to cause to be recorded in Holy Scripture. And so if God thinks it’s important, we have an obligation to listen – and not just to listen, but to obey when he speaks. I’ll tell you up-front that I believe very firmly, based on Holy Scripture, that God’s way in every case for two Christians is not divorce. That said, I want to do my best to preach compassionately. I know the pain that many Christians suffer because of unhappy marriages and because of divorce and my desire is not to add that to that pain. Remember, though, that God’s desire for us is the good – and if you understand Jesus’ teaching here, I think you’ll see that, so look with me at Matthew 5:31-32 where we read: It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. By now Jesus’ pattern should be familiar. Here again he says, “It was also said…, but I say to you…” He takes the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees that twisted and distorted God’s Law and compares it to what God really intended. In this case I think it helps if we look at another exchange that Jesus had with the Pharisees on the same subject. Flip over to Matthew 19:3-9: And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” You see in Jesus’ day there was a debate raging between the schools of two different rabbis when it came to just causes for divorce. Both sides of the debate were appealing to Deuteronomy 24:1, where it talks about a man divorcing his wife for something “unseemly” or “indecent.” One school – the unpopular one and the minority – taught that the offence had to be something really significant. The other, and more popular school with the Pharisees, held that a man could divorce his wife for any shortcoming. She could burn dinner and he had a right to divorce her. He could find a younger and prettier woman and choose to divorce his wife. And so the question the Pharisees ask in Matthew 19:3 was intended to find out which side of the debate Jesus was on. It really illustrates well Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount. I want to focus on his answer to the question in Chapter 19, because it fills out what he said earlier in the Sermon. His answer has three parts that I want to look at. Notice how in each case, Jesus directs the attention of the Pharisees away from their focus on the letter of the Law and to the spirit, reason, and motives behind it. First, the very nature of the question shows the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus. They were preoccupied with the grounds for divorce. Jesus was preoccupied with marriage as instituted by God. They essentially asked Jesus, “Can a man divorce his wife for only one reason – like adultery – or can he divorce her for any reason?” Jesus’ response ignores their actual question. He asks them a question instead: “Haven’t you read what God decreed when he made Adam and Eve and brought them together? Didn’t he say, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus is saying, “You guys don’t get it. You aren’t even asking the right question! Before you start asking about divorce you have to understand marriage.” So he goes back to the first two chapters of Genesis and makes two main points from that passage: that marriage is both exclusive and permanent. They ask when it’s okay to divorce your wife and Jesus responds by telling them that marriage is a divine institution that God uses to permanently make one two people who have decided to leave their parents in order to form a new family unit and “become one flesh.” Jesus doesn’t answer their question, because their question shows that from the start, the Pharisees are utterly on the wrong foundation. They ask, “Under what circumstances can I leave my wife?” And Jesus answers essentially, “You aren’t supposed to want to leave your wife in the first place!” If you’re asking that question, you’ve missed out on the very nature of what marriage is. Now the Pharisees got Jesus’ point. So they asked him another question: “If marriage is exclusive and permanent, why did Moses command a man to give a certificate of divorce and to put his wife away?” This is exactly what Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” You see, just as they did with the commandments about murder and adultery, here the Pharisees again garbled the Law. They took a portion of the Law that allowed a man to divorce his wife and twisted it into a command. They called Deuteronomy 24:1-4 a command, and Jesus says, “No. It’s not a command. God introduced marriage in the beginning as a permanent state. Man is the one who introduced divorce because of his sinfulness and God allowed this one provision because of your hardness of heart. Under a specific and very limited condition God allows divorce – but he never commands it!” Turn back in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and follow along with me – and notice the “if’s” and the “then.” When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance. The point of the verse is to prohibit the remarriage of one’s own divorced spouse if she or he has gone on to marry someone else who has then either died or divorced him or her. When God spoke through Moses he was trying to curb precisely what the Pharisees taught: Man had introduced divorce and was going hog-wild with it. In most middle-eastern cultures all you had to do was say to your wife, “I divorce you,” and throw her out the door. That was it. And so God said to the Israelites, “No. If you divorce your wife for something “indecent,” you have to go through the legal process of drafting up a divorce certificate, you have to have witnesses sign it, you have to deliver it to her in person, and you have to pack up her things and put her out of your house.” God did away with easy divorce and spur of the moment decisions made out of anger. We need to note that the only command in the entire passage is this prohibition against the man taking his wife back after she had been married to another. There is no command for a husband to divorce his wife and nothing that would encourage him to do so. The passage just outlines the process that needs to happen if there is to be a divorce. At the very most the Law implies reluctant permission and tolerates a practice that man, not God, introduced. And that’s how Jesus explains the passage to the Pharisees. He says that God gave this regulation through Moses because of the hardness of men’s hearts. He doesn’t deny that the regulation came from God, but he also makes it clear that there’s no divine command for divorce here – only a divine concession to human weakness and sinfulness. He says that it was for this reason that “Moses allowed you to divorce…” But then he immediately says, “but from the beginning it was not so.” Divorce is always tied to sin. There are a very few exceptions where divorce itself is not sinful, but in every case divorce is the result of human sin. God makes a concession to us because of our sin, but Jesus also makes it clear that even that concession is inconsistent with the divine institution of marriage. The third part of Jesus response to the Pharisees contrasts just how lightly they took divorce and just how seriously Jesus takes it. In fact, Jesus takes it so seriously that with only one exception, divorce always sets you up for adultery should you remarry. In the Sermon on the Mount, in verse 32, he says: But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. And in 19:9 he says: Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. Why is remarriage after divorce adulterous? Here’s the problem. Divorce ends a marriage. Period. Just like death does. There are those that might say that a divorced couple might be separated in the eyes of the law, but are still married in the sight of God. That’s not biblical. If you examine the Scriptures that deal with divorce, it’s clear that God sees divorce as putting an end to a marriage. The reason why Jesus equates remarriage with adultery is that God alwaysrequires us to reconcile. Remember Jesus’ first example about murder in the heart? If you come to the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, go and reconcile with him first, then come back to the altar. When we talk about human relationships, marital or otherwise, God’s desire – his expectation and his command – is always for reconciliation. A divorced couple may have sinfully put an end to their marriage vows, but they still have an obligation before God to reconcile, make up, and renew the vows that they sinfully terminated. If one or both then go on to marry another, they commit themselves to their new spouse and make it impossible to reconcile with the first, thus disobeying God and violating one of the most foundational principles of our faith. God loved us enough to sacrifice his own Son so that he could reconcile us to himself. If we claim to follow Christ we can do no less than seek reconciliation. St. John gives us some sobering words in his First Epistle: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother [or his sister or his wife], he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). If we are unwilling to forgive the wrongs done to us, if we are unwilling to love, and if we are unwilling to reconcile, our very love of God is called into question – we are not bearing the fruit of the Spirit! For this reason the idea of “separation” is dangerous. Many people today take a very Pharisaical stance and choose to live apart while not actually divorcing. My grandparents were “separated” for almost forty years. They believed divorce was a sin so they didn’t go there – they just “separated.” Lots of Christians do this, but it’s profoundly unbiblical and is even worse than divorce in some ways. When a relationship breaks down, God’s will is for those involved to be reconciled and be restored to each other. All a separation does is split up two people and make reconciliation all the more difficult. It’s awfully hard to put together what has been taken apart. The modern practice of separation is the easy way out. It may temporarily solve the immediate problem. Everyone feels better because the conflict is gone. But all it does is leave loose ends – and God never leaves loose ends. At the very least, a divorce granted on biblical grounds of infidelity provides closure for both the man and woman and allows the offended spouse a fresh start. Separation leaves an unresolved mess that typically only makes it more difficult to follow God’s principles. Jesus only gives one exception to the rule: divorce is permissible on the grounds of adultery. The Greek word used is porneia which should sound familiar. It’s where we get our word pornography. It’s a word that originally had to do with prostitution, but came to cover pretty much every kind of sexual immorality. Jesus uses it here in connection with his reminder to the Pharisees that a husband and wife are “one flesh.” Adulterous sexual immorality breaks that “one flesh” relationship, because one party has become “one flesh” with someone outside of the marriage. So I’ll summarise what Jesus teaches here. He says, “You’ve heard it said by the teachers of the Law that Deuteronomy 24:1 allows a husband to freely divorce his wife at his pleasure. All he has to do is provide her with a certificate of divorce. But I say to you, that this kind of irresponsible behaviour on the part of a husband will lead him, his wife, and their second partners into unions that are ultimately adulterous. There’s only one exception. The only situation in which divorce and remarriage are possible without breaking the Seventh Commandment is when it has already been broken by some serious sexual sin.” St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians extrapolates one further situation in which it is okay to divorce and remarry: if your husband or wife is not a Christian you are called to witness your faith to them. It’s an opportunity for evangelism like no other, but Paul says that if your unbelieving spouse desires a divorce you aren’t to dispute it and that you are then free to remarry. But we have to be careful not to just leave the discussion there. An awful lot of people seem to look at this as a blanket “okay” to divorce their wife or husband for sexual immorality. But think about the principles behind all of this. Jesus’ one exception has to be seen for what it is: just like Moses’ exception, it’s an accommodation for the hardness of our sinful and fallen hearts. We need to understand it within the context of Jesus’ statement on the permanence of marriage in God’s purpose and also in the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount (and for that matter all of Holy Scripture which proclaims a gospel of reconciliation). Is it not of significance that God, the Divine Lover, was willing to woo back even his adulterous wife, Israel? Jesus point is that if we start our discussion off on this subject by asking about the legitimacy of divorce, we’re being like the Pharisees – we’re concerned about the letter of the Law, not the spirit. Jesus’ whole emphasis in debating with the rabbis was positive. It focused on God’s original institution of marriage as an exclusive and permanent relationship – he focused on God’s “yoking” of two people into a union that man must never break. He also focused on his call to his followers – to us – to love and forgive one another, and to be peacemakers in everysituation of strife and discord. I like what St. John Chrysostom, one of the great preachers of the Early Church, had to say. He links this directly to the Beatitudes and says, “For he that is meek, and a peacemaker, and poor in spirit, and merciful, how shall he cast out his wife? He that is used to reconcile others, how shall he be at variance with her that is his own?” Divorce is just plain incompatible with the people Jesus calls us to be, even in the worst of marital situations. In conclusion I want to tell you what this means to me as your pastor – as a man who is called to shepherd God’s flock. It is my rule never to talk to anybody about divorce until I’ve first talked with them about two other subjects: marriage and reconciliation. You see, that’s what a good shepherd does. God calls us to care for the sheep and caring for the sheep means guiding them in the way that God has commanded. Sometimes that means standing up here Sunday after Sunday, preaching and applying God’s Word and sometimes it means meeting with individuals or with couples and apply God’s Word to a specific situation or problem. Either way, that’s the chief calling and duty of the pastor. And so if a person or a couple comes to me and wants to talk about divorce, my job is to talk instead about marriage and reconciliation – about the very nature of what it means to be a Christian – how we are called to live out precisely what God had done for us. Our expectation should be, that as redeemed people who have received the grace of God and who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, reconciliation is always not only just a possibility, but should be seen as the norm. Remember that Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” If God has joined two Christian people together, he has given them everything they need to stay together and his promise is that even when things get tough, he will give whatever it takes not only for them to reconcile and love each other again, but his promise is that if his ways are followed, he will make the marriage even better than it was before. That’s what grace is all about. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, again we are reminded that we are called to lives of humility, peacemaking, and love. In the person of Jesus Christ, you humbled yourself, you loved us, and you made peace with us through his death. That peace was not something we deserved, but you loved us enough to make it possible. Remind us always that we are called to share that love and peace with everyone around us, be it our husband, wife, parents, children, friends, co-workers, or neighbours. Remind us that your call is for us to be salt and light and that we do that by being humble, loving, and peacemaking in every aspect of life. Put the image of Christ ever before our eye to be our example. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:27-30 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Adultery in the Heart St. Matthew 5:27-30 by William Klock Last week started our look at Jesus six practical, real-world examples that show us what it means, what it looks like, to follow his lead. He had told the people that he came not to abolish, but to fulfil God’s Law. Jesus tells us, if you are going to be my follower, you will delight in keeping God’s Law too. And yet everything he was teaching was in opposition to what the current teachers of the Law, the scribes and Pharisees, taught about it. The rest of Chapter Five is Jesus’ explanation of how the scribes and Pharisees missed the point – how they had come to the point where the letter of the Law was all that mattered and that the spirit of it – the heart and motivation behind it – didn’t matter anymore. Last week we looked at murder – something we should now see we’re all guilt of in our hearts. He picks another one for us today – one that is at least just as apt for us as the first one was. If you have your Bibles, look at Matthew 5:27-28. Jesus says: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you thateveryone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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. Do you see Jesus repeating the pattern here? “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” Yes, the Seventh Commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus is talking about what the Pharisees taught about that commandment. Last week we looked at what they taught about murder. They asked the natural question, “What constitutes murder?” But then they took the literal dictionary definition and narrowed the commandment down to that alone. It was okay to hate, to insult, and to destroy a man with words – just so long as you didn’t kill him. Well they did the same thing here. They asked, “What constitutes adultery?” and they narrowed the commandment down to dictionary definition – to the act itself. The Pharisees’ problem was that they picked the Law apart. When they first started out after the Maccabean revolt, the Pharisees came up with their own set of rules, but the point was that they studied God’s Law and then developed a system to assist them in keeping it. But by Jesus’ time, that man-made system had replaced the Law itself. They were more concerned with their own rules than with the Law. They were so focused on the individual trees, if you will, that they couldn’t see the forest anymore. And that’s exactly what’s going on here. Jesus’ first example about murder was somewhat subtle. The Pharisees were right in focusing on the command not to murder, but they missed God’s commands throughout the rest of the Old Testament that tell us to love our neighbour. In his second example, Jesus shows us just how blind the Pharisees are. They read the Seventh Commandment literally and rightly concluded that the physical act of adultery is wrong, but they completely miss the Tenth Commandment just a few words down the page: “Thou shalt not covet.” They were so focused on the one tree that they couldn’t se the one right next to it! This was the same mistake that St. Paul confesses to having made. Think about it. Where does adultery start? It starts when you covet a man or a woman who isn’t yours to have. If you start with stamping out the sin of covetousness, adultery won’t be a problem. For that matter, if you stamp out the sin of hate, murder won’t be a problem either. The Pharisees were so focused on the Law as actions, that they forgot the subtle sins of the heart that bring about those actions. The Pharisees’ problem is just as much our problem too. Every time we forget that we are sinners saved by grace through faith, we default back to our fallen natural inclination and we try to please God, we try to earn our salvation, by doing good works. We reduce the faith to a set of rules, to a set of do’s and don’ts, and think we can set ourselves right in God’s eyes. We look at the people around us and say, “I’m keeping the rules better than they are.” And so Jesus says to us here the same thing he said to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). We’re inclined to think, “As long as I don’t commit the physical act of adultery I’ve kept the Law.” But Jesus says, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus stresses to us the exceeding sinfulness of sin. The whole purpose of the Law, St. Paul tells us, is to show just how sinful sin is. But like the Pharisees, we misunderstand the Law and effectively nullify its message. I’m not sure that we have anywhere such a plain exposure of what sin really is than Jesus gives us here. Think about it this way. Leviticus 20:10 tells us the penalty for adultery: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” “Wheh! I’ve never done that, so I’m okay,” we might say to ourselves. But Jesus says that we’ve committed the sin of adultery in our heart if we even look at another person lustfully. Just as we’re all guilty of murder in our hearts, we’re all guilty of adultery in our hearts. Just like murder in the heart, adultery in the heart is a serious thing – it’s not something we can blow off as no big deal. Part of our problem is that our culture doesn’t make obedience to God easy. In fact, it tends to desensitise us to this kind of sin. Ad agencies seem to sell virtually everything with sex. Books and magazines are filled with the salacious and perverted. Most of the secular music on the radio focuses on relationships between men and women, usually in terms of satisfying sexual and physical desires. Movies, TV shows, and video games celebrate infidelity and every sort of sexual immorality. And of course the other big one: now you can access every sort of immorality on the Internet completely anonymously and in the privacy of your own home. We’re bombarded with sex every day of our lives. Sometimes there’s not much we can do to avoid it, but all too often we allow it into our lives by what we read, what we watch, what we buy, and what we do on our computers. The influence is subtle and slow. Have you ever been watching a movie where a man is torn between his wife and another woman and you find yourself rooting for him to ditch his wife? It happens and, I think, that illustrates just how much our culture has desensitised us. We think, “It’s not real. It’s just a book or a movie.” And yet the plots of the books and movies subtly form what and how we think about sex and marriage. Fashions that would have been a scandal twenty years ago become common, and before long Christians adopt them uncritically. And so when we’re tempted to think it’s no big deal, we need to remember what Jesus’ says to us, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And the opposite applies as much to women as it does to men. Jesus reminds us that God’s Law demands purity and integrity in our hearts and in our thoughts about others. I’m sure this has always been a problem, but it seems to be more so for us in the present because our culture is so sex-obsessed. I think that evangelicals think that we’re somehow insulated from the culture around us, but that simply isn’t true. Surveys show that more than half of men in evangelical churches regularly look at pornography – and that many of them are clearly addicted. Pastors aren’t completely free from that statistic either. I’ve said before that our tendency, even as Christians, is to live in outward conformity to Gods commands, but that if we can get away with something in secret, we often will do so. Thanks to things like the Internet, it’s all too easy to get away with sin in secret. More than ever before, sinful sexual relations (whether in the mind or acted out in real life) have become the door through which Christians walk to their own destruction. God did make men and women to be attracted to each other, to need each other, and to be in relationships with each other that are physical and spiritual. God has given us the gift of being able to make more human beings in the context of the closest imaginable human relationship that is both physical and spiritual. God’s gift of sexuality is unequivocally good. But the primary reason that God gave us this gift is for companionship. The purpose of marriage isn’t children, it isn’t sex, it isn’t self-fulfilment – it’s companionship. God put Adam to sleep and created Eve from his rib, then brought her to Adam as his wife. Why? He says himself, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It’s within that bond of committed fellowship that family life is to be established, and our sexual instincts are to find their fulfilment. That starts with a life-long commitment to being “one flesh.” The writer of Genesis tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). We breach this commitment at our own peril! Adultery violates the holy thing that God himself has established. It not only violates the Seventh Commandment, it involves disobedience of the Lord we are to love and worship. It involves theft of another person’s companion as a result of our covetousness. The movies portray it as an exciting lifestyle, but in fact its pleasure is that of theft and idolatry. It’s ugly to the core and we’d see it that way, whether we do it in reality or in our hearts and minds, if only the scales that blind us and the foolishness that desensitises us could be cleansed from our hearts. If those scales would fall off our eyes, we’d be able to see why adultery is so serious a thing. It shatters lives, it disrupts and even destroys families, and it despises God. God wanted to make it clear just how serious it is, so in Leviticus he commanded the death penalty for it. The question for us is, how can we live in our culture and keep ourselves faithful to what God commands? Jesus gets to the heart of it when he warns that we need, first and foremost, to guard our hearts. We have to appreciate the gift God has given. There’s nothing wrong with looks, and gifts, and graces. Jesus isn’t forbidding looking. He’s forbidding lusting looks. Cloistering ourselves away from the world so that we won’t be tempted by the sight of the opposite sex isn’t the answer. Every time we try to remove ourselves from the world to avoid one source of temptation, we simply introduce another of a different kind. Jesus is telling us that we have to commit ourselves to living within the boundaries God has placed around us. If we’re men, we need to say with Job, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1 NIV). Women need to make a similar covenant with God. We won’t play with our own emotions and we won’t play with the emotions of others. We need to commit to treating our Christian brothers and sisters as just that: brothers and sisters in complete purity. Only within the context of marriage will we share our sexuality. How can we keep ourselves pure? Let me suggest four things: First, realise where your yielding to sinful lusts will lead you. Jesus says, “For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” Hell is the direction in which sin leads us. I’m not sure we remember this as often as we should. We don’t talk about Hell very much and I think, for most of us, even evangelicals, while we may believe that Hell exists, it might as well not for all that we talk about it. And maybe that’s why we lack the commitment we should have to Christ. We don’t realise what it is that he has saved us from. The wrath of God is a horrible thing, but we focus on it so little that we forget the horrors that would await us were it not for Christ. So first, remember exactly where your sin leads and fix that in your mind. Second, deal with the real cause of your sin. Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, or if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Jesus isn’t telling us to literally gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands. If you gouged out your right eye, it wouldn’t stop you from sinning with your left, and if you gouged them both out, you could just as easily sin with your imagination. His point is to deal with the real cause of your sin. Sin is a drastic thing, so we have to take drastic measures. Don’t pamper your sin. Don’t flirt with it. I had a roommate in university who was convicted of his addiction to pornographic magazines, so he cancelled his subscriptions to them, but promptly went to the mall and picked up catalogues from the local lingerie and swimsuit stores – and for all intents and purposes they might just as well have been pornographic. He was being very much a Pharisee. He was living up to the dictionary definition of pornography, but what he wasn’t dealing with his sin of looking at women lustfully. You see, we tend to rationalise our sin or we draw arbitrary lines between what constitutes sin and what doesn’t – we ask, “How close can I get without actually sinning.” And when we do that we’re looking only at the letter, not at the spirit. We like to nibble around the edges of our sin. Stop! Don’t pamper your sin. Don’t flirt with it. Hate it. Crush it. Stamp it out! St. Paul told the Colossians, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). And don’t offer substitutes to God. Don’t offer to give up one sin that isn’t that big of a deal to you so that you can keep the one that is. And don’t try to substitute good works to somehow make up for you sin. Don’t bargain or negotiate with God. Don’t say, “God, I’ll read my Bible twice every day to make up for my sin. God, I’ll pray for everything on the church prayer list three times a day to make up for my sin. God, I’ll tithe 15% to make up for my sin.” We’ll do anything to get out of giving up our right eye. But Jesus’ point is that you can’t sacrifice something else – you have to sacrifice your sin. Failure to gouge out the source of sin can’t be remedied by substitute offerings or obedience or sacrifice. Third, you know the source and cause of your sin and you know you have to get rid of it. Do it now! No matter how painful it is, gouge it out or cut it off immediately. Jesus’ example of an eye or a hand is nasty to think about, but it makes the point. Other writers in the New Testament refer to this as mortification – it is mortifying, literally. The fact is that getting rid of the source of our favourite sins can be almost as bad as gouging out your right eye. You’ll probably have to deal with withdrawl symptoms and it might mean making a major change in your life. The consequences might seem unbearable, but the drastic nature of the cure tells us something about the radical danger of sin. Sin is nothing over which we can negotiate. Obedience can’t be negotiated and neither can heaven or hell. Let me give you an example of what this means. One man told me that years before he had had an affair with a co-worker. When he came to his senses, he realised that the only remedy was to quit his job – to put her out of his life. After he confessed his sin to his wife, he burned everything associated with the other woman, he went with his wife to see his priest and handed over the woman’s apartment key for the priest to dispose of, and the next day he quit his job. Not only was cutting off the sinful relationship terribly painful, but the man, in removing the source of the temptation, put his very livelihood on the line – but God took care of him. In contrast, cutting off an Internet connection or cable TV, cancelling a subscription, or taking a different route home from work to avoid temptation are relatively minor things. But again, do whatever you have to do to remove sin’s source from your life. Finally, remember that your lust doesn’t define your life. The man in my last example struggled for a long time because so much of his identity was tied up in the affair he’d been having for years. He just couldn’t imagine cutting it off. What it took was for him to realise that the affair wasn’t the end-all-be-all of his existence. He had forgotten all the things he had given up in order to have the affair in the first place – not least of which was his closeness to God. Jesus says, “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” You see, the world, the flesh, and the devil have a tendency to blackmail us when we’re caught up in a specific sin. We think, or Satan says, “Sure it’s sinful, but if you deal with that sin the way Jesus tells you to, what will you have left? Think about the long road to spiritual recovery. Think of the humiliation if you have to tell other people or if you need accountability. Think of what you’ll lose if you say no to the sin.” We become so attached to our sin that it becomes all-consuming. It demands all we can give. And yet all we can give is what is demanded by God. And so Jesus gives us hope. He gives us a new perspective on the problem. He says, “Gouge out the eye that causes you to sin, but in doing so you save your life.” Yes, that sin may forever be burned into your memory, even after God has forgiven it. But as you deal with the source of that sin, you take steps toward life and steps away from the doorway to death. Jesus tells us, “Don’t be deceived into a hopeless abandonment to sin.” St. Paul gives us some encouraging words in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Please pray with me: Our Father, you created us for purity, but in our rebellion against you we have allowed what is impure into our hearts and minds – and often into our actions. We thank you that through Jesus Christ we can find forgiveness of our sins. Give us the grace to put our sins behind us, no matter how difficult or trying it may be. Assist us with your Spirit to clothe ourselves with purity that we might be ever more and more like your Son, Jesus Christ. We ask this in his Name. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:21-26 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Murder in the Heart St. Matthew 5:21-26 by William Klock I want you to open your Bibles this morning to Matthew 7:28-29. That’s the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And there at the end St. Matthew tells us about the response that the people had to his sermon. He says they “were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (NIV). Jesus not only condemned the self-righteousness and self-satisfaction of the scribes and Pharisees – the teachers of the Law – but what he taught himself was completely different from what they taught. What was amazing to the people who heard him preach was not only how different his message was, but the great authority with which he spoke it. Anyone who was there and who took Jesus seriously had to be reeling with the realisation that if all of this was true, they’d been on the wrong track their whole lives. It ought to do the same for us. If you can listen to the Sermon on the Mount and just sit there and say, “Oh, isn’t that nice,” you’re not getting the gravity of Jesus’ message. Just like us, the people who lived in Judea two thousand years ago were concerned mostly about external righteousness or goodness. And now in stark contrast to that, Jesus teaches them that the only righteousness that God accepts is a divine righteousness that ultimately brings about a full transformation of the person – not just as outward show, but inwardly too. Jesus explained real Christian character in the Beatitudes, but now he gives us some practical examples of how that sort of character looks in real life – and it’s very different from what these people knew. You see, for a couple of centuries the scribes and Pharisees had been teaching the people what it meant to keep the Law. Jesus singles out a few examples of their teachings to show just how different his teaching his. The Pharisees were worried about externals, but Jesus says, “If you really want to keep God’s commandments, you need to worry more about the internals.” The scribes and Pharisees taught that it was easy to avoid murder: just keep the sixth commandment. And yet Jesus says that we break the commandment not to commit murder every time we become angry with another person or call someone a fool. The scribes and Pharisees taught that it was easy to avoid adultery: just don’t sleep with another man’s wife or another woman’s husband. But Jesus says that we violate the seventh commandment even if adultery exists as a thought in our heart. He tells us that our word has to be kept in spirit, not just in letter. He tells us that charity has to go beyond just the call of duty. He tells us that it’s not enough to love our friends and neighbours – we have to love our enemies too! The rest of Chapter 5 is a series of six examples that Jesus gives us to show us how to keep the Law according to his standard. Jesus’ examples show us in general terms that God is less concerned with our externals, than with the internals of our religion – that anyone can keep the letter of the Law – he wants us to keep the spirit of it. You see, the Pharisees were hung up on the letter of the Law – on the externals. They looked at the Law as, “What am I required to do.” Jesus says, “No, it’s what can I do? In what ways do I have the privilege of serving God?” That’s what inner righteous is about. If you’re concerned with the spirit, you’ll understand that conformity to God’s Law isn’t just about your actions – it’s about your desires and motives. You’ll understand that the point of keeping the Law isn’t just to do or not do this thing or that thing – it’s ultimately to grow closer to God. The Pharisees said, “Harbour the most murderous grudge you want, just don’t actually kill your enemy.” Jesus says, “No. Not only refrain from actual murder, but love your enemy and be restored to right relationship with him.” The Pharisee said, “Feel free to take a second or third look, just don’t sleep with her.” Jesus says, “If you even lust after her at the first look, you’re guilty of adultery.” In each of these six examples Jesus begins his statement with something like, “You have heard it said to those of old…buy I say to you….” Some people have said that in these verses Jesus is deliberately contradicting the Law – what had been taught before – despite the fact that he’s already told us that his teaching isn’t new. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “It is written…, but I say to you…” That would be the formula he’d use – and he uses it elsewhere – if he were talking about the Law. No, when he says, “You have heard it said…” he’s talking about what men have taught – how they’ve added to or twisted what God caused to be written as Scripture. Jesus is actually taking the people back to Scripture – back to what God had caused to be written. And so Jesus starts with a very profound example. He says, You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22) The sixth commandment (“Thou shalt do no murder.”) had been around since God gave it through Moses. The scribes and Pharisees wanted to know what that meant, so asked, “What constitutes murder?” and they did this: [open dictionary and read] “n. the unlawful premeditated killing of a human being by another…. v.tr. kill (a human being) unlawfully, esp. wickedly or inhumanely.” Now for the Pharisees the dictionary definition came from Numbers 35:30, which demands death for anyone who unlawfully takes innocent life. The bottom line was that they concluded that the sixth commandment referred to nothing more or less than this act. So Jesus weighs in here and asks, “Is that all murder is – the act itself? Is there no guilt for the man who attempts a murder, but fails or is interrupted in the act? Is there no guilt for the man who sincerely desires to kill another, but doesn’t do it because he’s too much of a coward?” When it comes to the coward, lots of people might actually say, “Good for him. Because of his cowardliness, he’s not guilty of doing anything wrong.” But Jesus warns us: “God is concerned with what’s in our heart; he’s just as concerned with our anger as he is with the actual shedding of blood. And, Jesus says, it’s not just our anger that God forbids, but also our insults. In the first example, some of your Bibles might say, “Anyone who says to his brother, “raca.” That literally means “empty.” Jesus is talking about when we call someone an idiot or a bonehead. In the second case he’s talking about calling someone a fool, which is an insult against someone’s moral reputation. If you do either of these things, you’re guilty of murder by God’s standard. So, have you ever committed murder? By Jesus definition, we’re all guilty. We lose our temper. We harbour grudges. We gossip. We kill by neglect, spite, and jealousy. If only we could see our hearts as God sees them, we’d see even worse than all that, I’m sure. Think about our own language; we talk about things like “character assassination” and destroying a person by words. It’s literally true and we do it all too often. We are all murderers and Jesus says that Christians are not to be like that. So what do we do about it? Jesus gives us the solution starting in verse 23: So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24) The first step is to see, to recognise, and to acknowledge where we’re guilty of this anger – or for that matter any sin that separates us from a brother or sister. You’d think that this would be easy, but isn’t. We rationalise so often and so much that we no longer see our actions as sin, but as things that we had to do. One of the best examples I can think is a gangster known as “Two Gun” Crowley. He was arrested in 1931 and had been the most dangerous criminal New York had ever seen. He killed at the drop of a hat. He got his nickname when he shot a policeman through the door of his car, then as the officer lay on the ground dying, he took the man’s own gun and shot him fatally again. He was eventually captured at his girlfriend’s apartment, after an hours-long gun battle involving hundreds of police. The police found a bloody note in which Crowley had written, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.” When he was taken to the electric chair, he didn’t say, “This is what I get for killing policemen.” No, he said, “This is what I get for defending myself.” In the end he didn’t blame himself for anything. He didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. And if “Two Gun” Crowley could commit multiple murders and feel no guilt, how much more can we commit murder in our hearts and fool ourselves into thinking we’ve done nothing wrong? The first step is to acknowledge our sin. If we can’t see it ourselves, we need to ask God to work in us by his Spirit to open our eyes to our sin. The second step in overcoming our anger is to correct the injustice we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what caused the anger. When relationships break down it’s almost never just one person’s fault. Every one of us needs to take responsibility when a relationship falls apart. Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Why do we need to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters before coming to God? Think about King David. He was a man redeemed by faith in the promise of the Messiah, but when he wrote about his daily relationship with God and of his sin he wrote, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Do you feel hesitant to come before God in prayer? When you do come before God in prayer, do you feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling – that they’re going nowhere? That’s what David’s talking about. Sin separates us from God. Before we come to him, we need to deal with our sin, and when our sin involves another person, you cannot expect to come to God with it until you have first made it right with that other person. As long you harbour anger, resentment, or bitterness against your brother or sister in your heart, your relationship with God will stagnate and wither. This is a big problem for us. Our natural tendency is to try to take the easy way out. Instead of dealing with our sins and making it right with our brother or sister, we substitute a pure heart with externals. We sin against someone else and ignore it, while coming to Church, making our tithes and offerings, singing, and praying, all in the hope that God will just forgive us. All our sins are forgiven through Christ, right? Yes, they are. If you fail to reconcile with your brother or sister, you husband or wife, God isn’t going to lock you out of heaven. That’s not the issue. But how can we fail to forgive and reconcile with someone else if we have any understanding of the forgiveness and mercy God has shown us. Yes, God forgives, but he also requires us to right our wrongs as much as it is within our power to do so. A refusal to right your wrongs or to forgive and reconcile with those who have wronged you is the evidence that you might not actually be the Christian you claim to be. At the very least it shows that you have no concept of just how great an offence your sin is against God, and no concept of the great price that God has paid to cover your sin by sending his Son to die in your place. King Saul went out at God’s command to fight the Amalekites. God had told him that every person was to be put to the sword and everything and every animal destroyed. God didn’t want his people contaminated with paganism. But Saul didn’t destroy everything and everyone – he kept some of the livestock. When Samuel, the priest, came Saul happily told him, “I’ve done everything the Lord commanded.” But Samuel heard the animals bleating and asked, “If you’ve done everything the Lord commanded, what’s with the animals I hear.” And Saul, I think backpedalling, said, “Oh, well we destroyed everything else, but we kept the best of the sheep and oxen…um…to sacrifice to God.” Saul hadn’t kept God’s clear command, and it’s here that we read Samuel’s well-known words, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). We do the same thing today. It’s easier to substitute ceremonial – the externals of religion – for the demands of a clear conscience before God. The externals are right in and of themselves. We should do them. But God tells us that they are worthless in his sight as long as there is unconfessed sin in our lives and failure on our part to make that sin right. First John 3:18, 20 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” We have an obligation to confess our sins against our brothers and sisters and to make them right to every extent that we can. The third step in Jesus’ cure for anger is to do whatever it takes to make things right and to do it immediately. This is the point of verses 25 and 26: Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:25-26) In Jesus’ day a man could be sent to debtor’s prison if he couldn’t or wouldn’t pay his debts. That’s the point here. Jesus is saying, “If you owe a debt and are being taken to court over it. Settle it. Now! If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the consequences – probably for the rest of your life.” You see, if you went to debtor’s prison, you were stuck there until your debt was paid in full. And since you couldn’t earn any money there, the only way to pay the debt was to get your family members to do it for you – and that didn’t happen often. So Jesus is warning us of the immediacy of our need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters. Not only does a lack of reconciliation hinder the growth of our relationship with God – it can also lead to other consequences. St. Paul tells us, “Be angry, but sin not. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” In saying that he makes the same point. If we don’t reconcile with a brother or sister now, the problem will only fester and grow. Deal with it before it blows up. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to deal with it. A friendship might be lost, a marriage might eventually break up, a family might be torn apart, and it’s not unheard of for these interpersonal problems to explode into the Body of Christ and tear churches apart. Animosity between brothers and sisters is like a time bomb. You don’t know when it’s going to blow, so you need to deal with it quickly, before the consequences of bitterness and resentment grow out of control. The fact is that most of our relationships that end up destroyed could have been saved if action had been taken at the right time. Jesus says that the right time is right now – as soon as you’re conscious that you are at enmity with your brother or sister. It’s no small thing. Even the Prayer Book addresses this in the instructions it gives me as your minister. It instructs that the bread and wine are not to be given to, as it says, “any…open and notorious evil liver” or to anyone who has done “any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed, so that the Congregation be thereby offended.” It also says: “The same order shall the Minister use with those, betwixt whom he perceiveth malice and hatred to reign; not suffering them to be partakers of the Lord’s Table, until he know them to be reconciled.” You see, it’s not enough just to not murder someone. Jesus’ standard – and the real standard of God’s Law – is that we actually seek the opposite. It’s not enough to just hold back on acting out your hatred and anger. Forgive and put the anger behind you, then seek reconciliation with your brother or sister. You might ask, “But I can’t forgive so-and-so!” or “You don’t know what so-and-so did to me!” If that’s the case, then you need to remember the sin that you have committed against the holiness and glory of Almighty God. No sin between human beings can compare with the gravity of even the slightest offence against God. And we can take comfort in the fact that he promises, by his grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate our hearts and renew our minds. Remember that if you are truly following Christ, the evidence is a love for his commandments – which means a love for others. St. Paul says in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That’s often a hard statement for us to accept. Really, it’s an impossible statement, if your heart isn’t being regenerated by God. But God will change your heart if you also surrender your life to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Please pray with me: Our Father, we are so often guilty of trying to cover what is in our hearts by showing a false external piety. Forgive us, we ask, and so renew our hearts and minds that we will have an overwhelming desire to please you in heart and mind – in deed and in motive. Cleanse our hearts, we pray, that what is inside will motivate what we do on the outside – and let both be pleasing to you. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Judgmentalism Respectable Sins: Sermon Fourteen by William Klock One of the ways in which we can best see the shift that has taken place in our culture over the last few decades is by looking at what the culture knows of the Bible. It used to be that the most often quoted and best known Bible verse – both inside and outside the Church – was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” But that’s not the case anymore. Now it’s Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” And what’s interesting is that it’s probably quoted most often by non-Christians when they confront us. Part of the reason for this is that quote often the world misunderstands what it means to judge better than we do. Judgmentalism has become such a respectable sin for us that we no longer see it for what it is. And in doing that we’ve damaged our witness to the world. Jerry Bridges gives the best definition of judgmentalism that I’ve seen in a long time. He writes: “The sin of jugmentalism…is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right. It’s obvious that within our conservative evangelical circles there are myriads of opinions on everything from theology to conduct to lifestyle and politics. Not only are there multiple opinions, but we usually assume our opinion is correct. That’s where our trouble with judgmentalism begins. We equate our opinions with truth.” But it’s not just conservative Christians. That’s the ironic thing. The non-Christian who tells us, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” is usually being very judgmental. My former coworker who belong to Earth First! and who firebombed forest service trucks and sabotaged an 80 foot tall electrical transmission tower in the Oregon Cascades was acting out his judgmentalism. The “Jesus wouldn’t drive and SUV” folks or the “Fur is dead” crowd are being judgmental, not necessarily because Jesus would drive in SUV or because wearing fur is okay (that’s not the point), but because those folks are making a dogmatic and judgmental statement based on nothing more than their person opinion. Let me put in terms that those of us here are probably more likely to understand. A lot of us grew up in time when men wore suits to church and women wore nice dresses. A few decades ago that all changed. First the suit-coat disappeared, then the ties, and eventually the slacks were lost in favour of jeans or even shorts. Women started wearing pants. Especially in the case of women, it wasn’t just the change to pants, but skirts started getting a lot shorter and necklines a lot lower (Yes, as a priest, I’m frequently and inadvertently subjected to rather awkward and explicit shows when administering the Communion.) I was pretty young at the time and I remember being told by my parents, as they pointed to some of the older kids whose parents let them dress in the new fashions, “You’ll never go to church looking like that. Would you dress like that if you were invited to have an audience with the Queen?” Well, that all made sense to me. But you know what? There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us what style of clothes we have to wear to Church. Really the only things that apply are the other statements that have to do with modesty and discretion – but those verses don’t tell that we can’t wear jeans and t-shirts, just that we shouldn’t be dressing in a way that might cause someone else to stumble. The fact is that culture changes. What the Elizabethans wore to church is not at all what I grew up wearing to Church. Twenty years ago most people would have dressed up to meet the President, but that’s not the case anymore. This was really driven home a couple of years ago. A girls’ volleyball team was invited to meet George Bush and he posed for a photo with them. Many people thought it was scandalous that most of the girls were wearing shorts and flip-flops. “How disrespectful!” they said. And yet those girls weren’t trying to be disrespectful. The culture has changed. They didn’t know better. And the real question is: Did they need to know better? Think about how we sing in church. Most of us probably grew up singing hymns to the accompaniment of an organ. There’s something majestic about that. For me that’s what reverent worship is all about. And yet today most of that’s been replaced by a band and much simpler songs. Some people are very judgmental about that: “How can they call that worship?” (And you know, that question comes from both sides of the spectrum!) But the fact is that the New Testament doesn’t tell us what instruments to use in worship or what to sing. It just tells us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Well, that about covers everything. I still prefer the grand music, the theological depth, and the variety of the old hymns – but that’s my preference – and not necessarily a Bible-based conviction. There are a lot of shallow and man-centred praise choruses, but there are also a lot of very popular hymns with terrible theology (try looking over the Christmas section of the hymnal sometime!) This is an area where we need to avoid being judgmental. Or what about things like drinking, smoking, playing cards, watching movies, or dancing? Veronica and I were at a Family Life marriage conference about ten years ago. On one night of the conference you’re supposed to go out with your spouse for a date: a romantic dinner and all that. We went to the nice restaurant at the hotel and were seated one table away from a couple we’d seen at the conference. We ordered some wine. We looked over to see this other couple sneering at us. When the waiter asked them what they’d like to drink they made sure we heard them telling him they wanted MILK to drink, event though milk wasn’t on the menu, while looking at us and shaking their heads and send the poor waiter on a goose-chase to find the milk that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise ordered anyway. Sometimes we can be judgmental and hypocritical. I remember growing up in a church where “cards” were considered evil, yet when people got together they played games like Rook and Uno. It’s not like anyone was gambling, even if they had been playing “real” card games, but there was a strong judgmental attitude about cards being wrong – so people came up with substitutes that were no different. St. Paul confronted this issue with the Roman Church where there were two problems: one was an issue surrounding vegetarians in the congregation; some people insisted on eating only vegetables, while others ate whatever they wanted. The other had to do with the observance of holy days. As Paul says, “One person esteems one day better than another, while another esteems all days alike” (Romans 14:5). We don’t have the specifics, but what we can glean from the passage is that there were those who ate only vegetables and were judgmental toward those who ate meat, while the people who ate meat were contemptuous of the vegetarians. Both sides were being judgmental. The vegetarians thought they had the moral high ground, so they looked down on those who ate meat. Those who ate meat thought they had superior knowledge. They knew that what they ate didn’t make a difference to God so long as it was received with thanksgiving as described in the 1 letter to Timothy. But they were really just being judgmental in a different way. We still do the same thing in the Church. The people into contemporary music disdain the traditionalists as old-fashioned and out of touch. The traditionalists scorn the contemporary folks for having no sense of reverence. Some of those who see thing like alcohol, tobacco, cards, movies, or dancing as issues covered by our Christian liberty really do look down their noses at “those poor and simple-minded” people that practice abstinence. So it really doesn’t matter so much which side of an issue you’re on. We can very easily become judgmental toward anyone whose opinions are different from our own. The sad thing is that we then hide our judgmentalism under the cloak of Christian convictions. St. Paul told the Romans, “Stop judging one another regardless of which position you take.” And then he added, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another. It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). He told them, “Stop trying to play God towards your brothers and sisters in Christ. God is their judge, not you!” That’s really the sin inherent in judgmentalism: taking God’s role as judge on ourselves. Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” There are a lot of times when the log in our own eye is the sin of being judgmental – the sin of taking God’s role on ourselves. We saw Jesus use hyperbole last week when he talked about the ten thousand talent debt of the kings servant – an impossible debt to rack up and even more impossible to pay off. Well, it’s impossible to have a log in your eye, but just as the gazillion dollar debt of that servant represents the weight or our sin against God, the long in one’s own eye can very well represent God’s verdict on our sin of judgmentalism. If this really is the case, then the seriousness of our sin in being judgmental isn’t so much that we judge a brother or sister, but that in doing so we assume the role of God. Now this doesn’t mean that we should never pass judgment on the practices or beliefs of others. When someone’s conduct or beliefs are in clear contradiction to what Holy Scripture teaches, then we are right – we even have an obligation – to point out their sin. There are a lot of practices that the Bible clearly says are sin. They’re throughout Scripture, but some of the best examples are the lists in Romans 1, Galatians 5, and 2 Timothy 3. They make it clear that things like idolatry, sexual immorality, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, rage, rivalry, dissension, envy, drunkenness, slander, lack of self-control, and the like are all clearly sinful. When we declare them to be the sins that they are, we are not judging so much as agreeing with God’s Word. God is judging through Scripture, not we ourselves. That said, we still have to be careful. We can rightly judge in accordance with Scripture, but still sin if our attitude is one of self-righteousness. We sin when we condemn the obvious and gross sin of others while failing to acknowledge that we too are sinners. We’ve been talking so far about things we do, but we can also fall into judgmentalism in addressing beliefs; let’s call it doctrinal judgmentalism. This is probably becoming less and less of an issue these days, but not for good reason. Increasingly evangelicals are coming to see doctrine as unimportant. One year we celebrated Reformation Sunday at our church in Portland and one individual was very upset about it. “Why are be celebrating a bunch of men and their movement that created a huge division in the Church?” she asked me, and then said, “Jesus is all that matters, why dispute other things?” Well, the fact is that doctrine is important and we have to take it seriously. But because we are (or should be) devoted to God’s truth, we can easily fall into the sin of judgmentalism. The doctrine of the Trinity as defined by the councils of the Church, the person of Christ as being both fully God and fully man, his substitutionary atonement for our sins and the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and the inspiration and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. These are all critical doctrines and in each case they are places where we have to draw a line in the sand. There is no compromise on these issues. These are doctrines on which the church stands or falls. If we see them compromised or downplayed we have an obligation to take a stand, whether it’s the liberals on one side or the “word of faith” teachers and “oneness” Pentecostals on the other. In ever case they are compromising the very Gospel itself. But in doing so we have to be careful not to fall into the sin of judgmentalism. We may disagree so strongly that we demonise them. Because we believe so strongly in the importance of sound doctrine, we can very easily become hypercritical of those with whom we disagree. We have an obligation to express our disagreements, but we need to do so in a way that doesn’t degenerate into other sinful ways of expressing ourselves. Finally, I want to end by talking about what happens when we make a habit of being judgmental – we develop a critical spirit as a way of life – looking for and finding fault with anything and everything. It doesn’t matter what the topic of conversation is – a person, a church, a thing, whatever – you find something negative to say about it. We all know people like this. Veronica pointed out to me at one point that our daughter was starting to be like this, not because she developed the habit on her own, but because she was imitating me. I was in the habit of making note of lots of little things that I saw around me: hey, that kids not wearing a bike helmet; hey, that guy didn’t use his turn signal; argh, Superstore never has anything in the same place twice – stuff like that. I mean it wasn’t extreme, but I realised that I often focus on stuff that may be legitimate problems, but they usually aren’t worth noting, aren’t my business, and harping on them doesn’t show much grace. I think, that like so many other of our “acceptable” sins, critical spirits show themselves up in our families. A husband or a wife is constantly looking for their spouse’s faults and shortcomings or they constantly point out their children’s flaws and mistakes and rarely praise them for doing well. Bridges points out the example of a friend who was raised in a Christian home with a father who was hypercritical of his middle-daughter. As she got older she developed into a person who never seemed to be able to do anything right – at least you’d think that to hear her dad berate her. The more he criticised her posture, the more she slumped. The more he pointed out her lack of eye contact, the more her eyes became fixed on the floor. If his repeatedly putting her down “for her own good” (as he saw it) has one result, it was a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. She felt her dad’s pattern of criticism as rejection, and she came to see herself as a reject. As an adult her one priority in life was to seek out people who would accept her, but as those people got to know her they saw her as someone whom they could take advantage of. On his deathbed, her father realised his sinfulness and tearfully repented of his critical spirit towards his daughter. But by then it was too late. By then she had secretly become promiscuous and a crack addict. This is an extreme example of the destructive nature of being critical and judgmental, but it’s something that happens – and all too often. There’s plenty of evidence around us of the sinfulness of this sin. They say it takes seven compliments to undo the effects of one criticism. So we need to look at ourselves, or better yet, we ought to subject ourselves to the examination of others. Do we have a critical spirit? Are we judgmental? Do we constantly find fault with others? Instead of being critical and judgmental, we need to be like St. Paul. When it came to the divisive issues in the Roman Church – and this may come as a shock to some of us – he didn’t try to change anyone’s convictions in regard to what they ate or which days they considered special. Instead he said, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). I have to admit that I struggle with that statement. I think that may be true of most of us. As Christians we don’t like ambiguity. It’s hard to accept that someone else may have a different opinion than ours and that we can both be acceptable to God. It doesn’t mean that there’s not right or wrong, and for that reason we need to study God’s Word all the more so that we can come to the point of being “convinced,” as Paul says, of what is right and what is wrong. Our convictions need to be based on the absolute truth of Scripture. But again, Paul says it – right from the mouth of the Apostle: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” He didn’t try to fix one party or the other – to straighten them out. And so we need to take St. Paul seriously: hold to our convictions, but do so in humility. If we do that, we’ll be much less likely to fall into the sin of judgmentalism. Please pray with me: Our Father, we confess that in our pride and in our mistaken desire to compare ourselves to others, we often become judgmental. We confess that we take your role of Judge Supreme for ourselves when we should know better. Forgive us for our judgmentalism and for being overly critical. Remind us of the great grace that you have shown us, so that we can show it to others. We ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:20 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Real Righteousness St. Matthew 5:20 by William Klock Last week we looked at Matthew 5:17-19. Jesus tells us there that he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it – in fact, he says, “Whoever relaxes even the smallest part of the Law and teaches other to do the same, will be least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” This little paragraph that runs from verses 17 to 20 is one of the most important passages in all of the New Testament, because here Jesus explains the nature of his ministry. As I said last week, some of the people listening to him would have been confused. He came with authority and performed miracles, yet he hadn’t trained under the great rabbis, he wasn’t part of the school of the Pharisees – and what he did was often opposed to the rules and norms setup by the Pharisees. In fact, he frequently criticises the teaching and interpretation of the Law that was taught by the authorised teachers of the day. He went out of his way to spend time with tax collectors and prostitutes – the dregs of society. And on top of all that he talked about “grace.” What he was preaching was different from anything the people had heard before. They thought he came to start a new religion and to throw out what they knew. And so Jesus corrects them, and here at the beginning he lays down two important principles of his ministry: First, that what he is teaching is in no way inconsistent with the teaching of the Law and Prophets; but, secondly, that his teaching is also very different from the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. He says, I have come to fulfil the Law, but he also says that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees isn’t enough – it won’t get you into the Kingdom. If the Law was important to Jesus, it ought to be important to us. No, Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil its righteous requirements himself and to enable us to follow it too. We have an obligation to keep all God’s commandments, both the big ones and the small ones. We have to do and teach it all. Jesus came not to relax the standard that the people knew, but to make it even more stringent. And so Jesus now turns our attention to the scribes and Pharisees. If the Law is really that important and if the whole purpose of God’s grace is to give us the ability to keep the Law, then we have to understand what the Law is and what it demands from us. Holiness is not a feeling or experience we have. Holiness is keeping and fulfilling God’s Law. Holiness is something we do, something we practice as we live our lives each day. It’s the honouring and keeping of God’s Law each day as we follow Jesus’ example. It’s being like him. That’s what holiness is. So you see, holiness is tied to the Law. You can’t separate them. This is where the scribes and Pharisees come into the picture, because in Jesus’ day, they were the embodiment of holiness – at least that’s how people saw them and that’s how they saw themselves. But instead of pointing to them as an example of true holiness, Jesus says: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20) Those are scary words, because in Jesus’ day you just couldn’t get any more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes were the men who spent their days studying, teaching, and copying the Law. They were the ones you went to if you had a question about the Law. They studied it day and night and they knew it backwards and forwards. They were men who devoted their entire lives to the Law. The Pharisees were a religious party and they were known for the great zeal with which they sought to live the Law. The name itself means “separatist.” They were men who set themselves apart from the rest of the world so that they could live out their code of ceremonial acts. They knew that holiness was to follow the Law, so they had studied the Law and written out their own code of rules – a code, that if kept, would supposedly keep them from breaking the Law. In doing that, they went way beyond the requirements of the Law – because they wanted to be on the safe side. Theirs was a code that, to the average Jew, looked impossible to keep. And so everyone looked up to the Pharisees, they were the ones wholly devoted to the Law and to living holy lives – no question about it: they were wholly devoted to righteousness. And yet Jesus says to those people listening to him, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Yikes! So we have to ask ourselves: What is true holiness? What is true sanctification? What does it mean to be “religious”? The Pharisees worked harder at it than anyone, and yet Jesus says that the righteousness of even the least, the smallest, the spiritually wimpiest Christian is greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees. To understand Jesus’ point we need to look at the religion of the Pharisees, and one of the best places to look is in Jesus’ own parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. These two men went up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee went up to the front, to a prominent place where he could be seen, and loudly thanked God that he wasn’t like other men: that he wasn’t like this lowly tax collector. He thanked God loudly that he wasn’t an extortioner, that he wasn’t unjust, that he wasn’t an adulterer, that he wasn’t like that tax collecting dirtbag. That’s all well and good. Jesus grants that the Pharisees were righteous in these ways. They fasted twice a week when the Law only said to fast once a year. They were sticklers with their tithes. If they grew a field full of wheat and a sprig of mint or anise grew up in the wheat field, they’d not only tithe 10% of the wheat crop, but they’d also tithe ten percent of the mint of the anise. If a Pharisee found a dime on the sidewalk, he’d be sure to tithe a penny of it. They were careful to observe every aspect of the ceremonial Law: making all the right sacrifices and doing all the right things. They would put most of us to shame. And yet throughout the Gospels Jesus condemns these men, and here he tells us that unless our righteousness is greater than theirs, we won’t be a part of his Kingdom. So, if they were so great, what was their problem? Well, Jesus repeatedly calls them hypocrites. Their problem was that all of their righteousness was external. Their religion was for show – it had nothing to do with the condition of their hearts. In Luke 16:15, Jesus says, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Another time the Pharisees condemned Jesus’ disciples because they saw them sit down to eat without washing their hands. And Jesus responded to them saying, “You Pharisees are so very careful to clean the outside of the cup before drinking from it, but you forget the inside of it. It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out! It’s out of the heart that come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immorality, thefts, and lies.” In that same passage Jesus calls the Pharisees white-washed tombs. They look fine on the outside, but inside there’s nothing but death. Think of the Taj Mahal. It’s arguably one of the most architecturally perfect buildings on earth, and yet the building is a mausoleum for the wife of an emperor. All that grace and beauty on the outside, but on the inside is nothing more than a decomposed corpse. But we have no right to feel smug when Jesus condemns the Pharisees. How often do we come to Church and drop a tithe cheque into the plate every Sunday, month after month and year after year, yet inside our hearts are black with all sorts of evil. We’re prone to doing the right thing when everyone is watching, but if we can get away with sin, all too often we’ll do it. And so Jesus says, that unless our righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, we won’t make it into his Kingdom. You see, the Kingdom of God is concerned with the heart. The externals of religion ought to be there too, but it’s the heart that really counts. It’s said that the best definition of religion is this: “Religion is what you do when no one is watching.” If you want to know who and what you really are, you need to look at what you do and what you think about when you’re alone. Jesus also condemned the Pharisees because they were more concerned with the ceremonial than with the moral. That’s what naturally happens if you’re more concerned with the outside than the inside. They made all the right sacrifices, they were careful to make sure that they weren’t rendered ceremonially unclean, but they didn’t give a rip about the moral aspects of the Law. We still live with this same danger. It’s not just the person who is more concerned with the fine points of the liturgy than the fine points of holiness. It’s the person who thinks that he’s taken care of an obligation when he comes to church on Sunday morning so that he can spend the rest of his Sunday (or the rest of the week) as he pleases. That’s the problem of the Pharisees. The person concerned with real righteousness asks himself what he can do on the Lord’s Day so that it really is the Lord’s day, instead of thinking only about some external duty. The Pharisee asks, “What do I have to do?” The truly righteous person asks, “What canI do?” You see, when it came to caring for God and man, the Pharisees didn’t really care for either – they cared about themselves. The Pharisee didn’t really care about glorifying God – he just wanted to glorify himself. Think again of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee wasn’t there to worship God. He was there to proclaim his righteousness before men. He stepped up to the most prominent place and instead of going there humbly and first confessing his sin to God, he loudly proclaimed his lack of sin. The ironic thing was that he was full of sin – if nothing else the sin of pride and full of lies and self-deception. But you see that’s what happens when we choose to follow our religion based on our own ideas of what’s important – when we set our own agenda for holiness instead of following God’s. We make a list of all the do’s and don’ts that we think are important and we compare ourselves to others – and then we’re satisfied because we’re doing better at keeping our list then someone else is. But in doing that we forget bout the importance of our relationship with God. I’ve seen some real Pharisees in the church. I’ve known men struggling to keep their heads above water in dealing with the sin of homosexuality, who when they went to a church, were treated like dirt. I’ve seen men stand like the Pharisee before God saying, “Thank God that I’m not like this poor gay! I’ve never had a gay thought in my life!” I’ve seen women who have left behind lives of promiscuity or prostitution come to the Church and been treated the same way. And yet it’s the men and women struggling with sin, daily fighting to keep their heads above water, that understand their need to daily commit themselves to God’s care and who are spending time in prayer and in the Word – growing close to God – while those condemning them barely crack their Bibles open during the week and pray – if they pray – only when they’re in desperate trouble or have some need – and then their prayers are just “Gimme, gimme, gimme, God!” You see, that’s the other thing that condemned the Pharisee: the total absence of the Beatitudes in his life. This is the difference between him and the Christian. The Christian lives the Beatitudes. He’s poor in spirit, he’s meek, he’s merciful, he’s a peacemaker. He’s not satisfied that he’s done one righteous thing today. No, he hungers and thirsts for righteousness. His one great desire is to be just like Jesus. Where the Pharisee was self-satisfied, the Christian is never satisfied, because with each step he takes toward Christ-likeness the more he realises just how many steps there are between him and his goal. That’s how we have to judge ourselves. In the end, Jesus condemns the Pharisees, not because they kept the Law in part, but because they didn’t really keep it at all. They tithed from the tiny mint plant that grew up in the wheat field and they fasted twice a week, but they forgot the main point of the Law: love of God and love of man! That’s the core of true religion. Loving God and loving our neighbour is the true worship that God wants from us. If we aren’t doing that, the rest is pointless. In fact if we aren’t loving God and our neighbour, any other offering we bring to God is unacceptable. That’s why Jesus says that if you come to the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, go and make amends first, then come back and make your offering. You should come to Church every week. You should be tithing. But those things don’t make you holy. The true test of holiness is your relationship with God, your attitude toward him, your desire to keep his commandments out of gratitude for what he’s done for you. The externals of religion grow out of the internals. If you’re doing the externals without the internals you’re a Pharisee – you’re a whitewashed tomb full of dead men’s bones. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “To be holy does not just mean the mere avoidance of certain things, or even not thinking certain things; it means the ultimate attitude of the heart of man towards that holy, loving God, and, secondly, our attitude towards our fellow men and women.” Too often we focus on the details instead of the principles – on our actions instead of our motives – on doing instead of being. In the next few verses we’ll look at Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees when he says, “You guys are proud of yourselves because you don’t commit adultery; but you’ve already committed adultery when you let your eyes linger too long on a woman who isn’t your wife.” He’s saying that it’s what’s in the heart that really counts. You don’t become a Christian by doing some things and not doing others. You become a Christian by entering into a relationship with God, and by making your supreme desire to know and to love him better and better. That’s not something that happens just because you come to church on Sundays. It happens when you devote yourself to knowing God. When you give him all of your attention. As I said before, there aren’t any shortcuts to knowing God or to becoming more like Christ. You do it by spending time with him: in prayer and in the study of his Word. Jesus calls us to be his disciples and that’s what discipleship is all about. The Twelve weren’t called disciples because Jesus said, “Follow me,” and they said, “No thanks, but we’ll be sure to read about you in the newspaper.” No, they were disciples because they followed him, and because they came to know him. They went where he went and walked where he walked. We can do no less! We have to be careful here too. Is Jesus teaching salvation by works? Is he saying that we have to be better than the Pharisees to get into the Kingdom? No. St. Paul reminds us, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Every one of us stands condemned by God’s Law. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus didn’t come to teach that we can save ourselves by being righteous. But neither did he come to do it all for us so that we don’t have to do anything. Remember that Jesus’ requirement of a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees comes right after his statement that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19). Jesus’ point is to show us how we are to keep the Law. If not an iota or a dot is to pass away, if we are condemned for relaxing even the smallest part of the Law, then how are we to keep it? Jesus is saying here that righteousness is the living proof of our having received the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the point that St. James makes when he tells us about faith and works. Some people say it’s all about works and other’s say it’s all about faith. Jesus (and James) are saying, “No, both of those statements are wrong. The evidence of the true Christian’s faith is his works. St. Paul says, “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Jesus says, “When you get to heaven, you can’t just cry out ‘Lord, Lord,’ unless you do the things that I command you.” Doing is the evidence of believing! We need to be very careful. Before you claim that you’re covered by the grace of God in Jesus Christ you need to ask yourself if your life is holy, because to receive God’s grace means not only that he has forgiven your sins through the death of Jesus Christ, but also that you’ve been given a new nature. It means that a new work is being done in you by the Holy Spirit, working to make you more like Christ. The man or woman who has been born again and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit is by definition a man or woman who is righteous and whose righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. That person is no longer living for himself. He’s not self-satisfied and he’s not self-righteous. As his heart is purified, he grows to love God more and more and his great desire is to honour God and to give him glory – and Jesus tells us that we do that be keeping his commandments. In John 14:21 he says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” In conclusion let me say: If your heart has been regenerated. If your mind has been renewed, you will have a love for God’s commandments – your greatest desire is for holiness – not just external, but an inner holiness that produces holy externals. So you need to ask yourself: Do you know God? Do you love God? Is your greatest desire in life to glorify him no matter what the cost? Does this come first in your life – before your husband or wife, before your kids, before your job, before hobbies or sports – not so that you can be better than other people, but so that you can honour and glorify and love God, who sent his only-begotten Son to die for you so that you could be restored to fellowship with him? Please pray with me: Our Father, we give you thanks that you sent your only-begotten Son to be the righteousness that we can never attain and that he died in our place. Draw us to yourself by the working of your Holy Spirit, we ask, that we may desire a closeness to the one who has redeemed us and that we may have a great love of your Law – a desire to be holy as Christ is holy. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins The Weeds of Anger Respectable Sins: Sermon Thirteen by William Klock Last week we looked at the sin of anger, but we can’t just leave things there – we need to look at the unruly weeds that find fertile soil in our anger. You see, we’re prone to thinking of our anger in terms of episodes. We get angry and then we get over it. Sometimes we might apologise to the person whom we were angry at, but sometimes we don’t. Either way, both parties typically manage to “get over it” and get on with life. The relationship has been scarred, but not broken. It’s not the best way to live with each other, but we tolerate it. That really seems to be the way many Christians view the sin of anger – they just accept it as part of life. Holy Scripture takes a different approach. It tells us to “put away” our anger and it associates what we might think of as no big deal with other really ugly sins, like bitterness, clamour, wrath, slander, malice, and obscene talk. Anger doesn’t keep good company. In Ephesians 4:26, St. Paul writes his familiar words, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Paul’s not saying that it’s okay to be angry – he’s saying just the opposite: don’t sin in your anger. If you’re angry, deal with it. Don’t hold onto it. Nip it in bud. Don’t go to sleep on it – deal with it before the sun goes down. At best anger is sin, and at worst it leads to even greater sins. Tonight I want to look at some of those long-term sins that grow from the fertile soil of our anger. If we don’t deal with these sins, they will poison our minds – and worse, they usually end up poisoning the minds of the people around us. First: resentment. Resentment is what happens when we don’t let go of our anger. It’s what happens when we internalise or “stuff” our anger. It’s what happens when you’re treated badly, but don’t feel like you’re in a position to do anything about it. Think of our examples last week – of the employee with the boss who screams and swears first, then asks questions later; or the wife with the overbearing husband who jumps on everything she does wrong. We need to deal with resentment, because it tends to become entrenched. It’s the result of nursing our wounds in an unhealthy and sinful way that leads us to dwell on our anger. Second: Bitterness. Bitterness is the next step. It’s what happens when our resentfulness grows into feelings of hatred and animosity. Resentment might dissipate given enough time, but bitterness just continues to grow and fester. The longer we let it go the worse it gets. It’s usually the long-term reaction to a real or perceived wrong when our initial anger isn’t dealt with. I think we’ve all experienced this, at least in other people, who have held onto a past wrong or hurt. People will say, “I forgave her, but I haven’t forgotten.” Obviously, if that’s our attitude, we haven’t really forgiven! This sort of thing often seems to happen in our families or even in our church family. Someone feels they haven’t been treated right or fairly, but instead of trying to resolve the issue, they allow the hurt to fester and grow into bitterness. But regardless of the hurt or the unfairness, bitterness is never a biblical option. We can be hurt, and we can acknowledge the hurt, but we are never allowed to become bitter. Third: Enmity. Enmity (or maybe it would better to say hostility) describes our ill will or our animosity when it’s taken to the next level. We can be bitter, but still treat the object of our bitterness politely and civily, enmity or hostility is usually expressed openly. We might cut another person down with our speech, make fun of him, or gossip about him just to make sure others esteem him as lowly as we do. And that’s the real problem with enmity. Where bitterness is usually something we keep to ourselves, enmity tends to spread to the people around us – we want to make sure everyone knows that so-and-so did us wrong and shares the same level of enmity that we do. Fourth: grudge. This occurs five times in Scripture and it’s telling that two of those times are translated as “hate” by many modern translations: Esau hated Jacob and planned to kill him (Gen 27:41) and Joseph’s brothers were afraid he would hate them and pay them back for all the evil they had done to him (Gen. 50:15). So we go from resentment, to bitterness, to enmity, to hate – to the point where plans for murder come into play. Granted, it’s not likely that any of us would hold a grudge and actually carry out a plot to kill the object of that grudge, but do we get perverse enjoyment from thinking over in our minds what form our revenge might take on the object of our wrath? Do we take pleasure in dwelling on those fantasies? St. Paul says in Romans 12:19-21, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Finally: Strife. Strife is what happens when a conflict boils over and it almost always seems to involve groups or parties – it doesn’t stay between just two people. That’s why we talk about “church fights” or “family feuds.” It’s always an ugly thing that goes way beyond the bounds of “respectable” sins. It’s certainly not subtle, but I think we need to address it because it’s a sin that we tolerate. Strife often happens between self-righteous Christians who never consider that their own attitudes or heated words might contribute to the conflict. In their minds, it’s always the fault of the other guy. I think these five sins really make the point that anger tends to escalate if we don’t deal with it. If left alone it festers into bitterness, resentment, enmity, and grudges, so it’s no wonder that St. Paul strongly warns us, “Don’t let the sun set on your anger!” But if we need to deal with our anger, what are the steps we should take. Well, I think there are three basic directions. First, as I said last week, we need to remember the sovereignty of God. God doesn’t cause people to sin, but he does allow it – and always with a purpose. He wants us to grow in Christ-likeness and he can use any and every situation in our lives to do it. Think about Joseph. His bothers threw him in a pit, sold him to slavers, and he ended up in prison. He didn’t become bitter. He didn’t hold a grudge. No, instead he could say to his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:8). I’ve found that firmly believing in the sovereignty of God is my number one first line of defence against the temptation to allow anger to linger in my mind and emotions. If I’m really struggling with the temptation, I bring to mind the specific things that caused my anger and remember that they are under God’s sovereign control. Though those actions may be sinful, just as with Joseph, God intends them for my good and for my growth. Sometimes that good might be to grow to be more like Christ. But sometimes God has other ends in mind – maybe to prepare us in some way for greater usefulness in the Kingdom. Sometimes we may never be able to figure out what God intended when we were tempted by anger, but it should be enough for us to know God’s promise is always to use all things for our good and for his glory in our lives. Actively reflecting on this great truth of God’s sovereignty is the first step to defusing anger. Second, we need to pray that God will help us to grow in love. In his first epistle, St. Peter urges us to pursue holiness even when the going is tough. Throughout his epistle he stresses the importance of brotherly love – the love we ought to have toward fellow believers. He writes in 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Sometimes the offence against us may be so great that we need to deal with it by confronting the person who sinned against us – and if he refuses to confess and repent of it –we need to take the issue before the Church. But St. Peter tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins” as well. The love put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit should be able to overlook the occasional snub, embarrassment, or inconvenience. When the strong-willed husband comes home and sees the house is still a mess, the kids are dirty, and dinner isn’t ready, he can allow love to cover the situation. In fact, if he really does let love cover it, he’ll not only overlook the temptation to get angry, but he might get the kids in the tub, get out the vacuum cleaner, or put some dinner in the microwave to help out his wife. If he does that, he’s following the example of Jesus, who in full awareness of his deity performed the lowliest of tasks, like washing his disciples dirty and dusty feet. If the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we should be more prone to respond with love than with anger. That’s really the bottom line. In 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul tells us that “Love is not easily angered.” We really need to think about that. Are you easily angered? Do little things set you off? Or are you able to let love cover those little things. St. Paul also tells us in that same chapter that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Do you keep a scorecard for each of the people in your life. If someone asks, can you recite the last twenty things your husband or your wife did to tick you off? The last fifty? More? One wife came to counselling with 420 typed pages of her husband’s wrongs against her. That’s not love! That’s the road to bitterness, resentment, enmity, and strife! To keep no record of wrongs means that we cease to bring up the wrong to ourselves or the other party. We can’t erase the hurt (that’s God’s job), but we can choose not to feed the anger. Finally, we need to learn to forgive as God has forgiven us. I think that the most helpful passage of Scripture here is the familiar parable of the unforgiving servant. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” In the parable Jesus describes a servant who owed his master, the king, an outrageous debt: ten thousand talents. Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. We’d say that the servant owed his master a gazillion dollars. And so the servant, who could never pay the debt back to the king begged for patience and leniency and the king took pity on him and forgave the debt. So the servant left the king’s palace, but as he was walking down the street, he ran into a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii. Again, that’s no small sum – about 1/3 of a year’s wages – but by comparison to the first man’s debt it was practically nothing. The second servant pleaded with patience, but the servant who had just been forgiven his gazillion dollar debt refused and had him thrown into prison. The message of the parable turns on the huge difference between the two debts: a gazillion dollars and, say, $10,000-$15,000. Even the smaller sum is nothing to sniff at, but it’s still significant. The gazillion dollars represents our moral and spiritual debt to God. If it’s a gazillion, it might as well be an infinite amount. It’s a debt we can never repay no matter how hard we try, no matter how moral or spiritual we are – the debt of our sin is enormous. The damage to God’s glory by our sin is determined not by the severity of our sin, but by the value of God’s glory. Think of it this way. If I spill ink on the dirty mat by your front door, that’s bad. But if I spill ink on the white, wool, designer carpet in your living room, that’s really bad. Either way, my act is the same, but he value of the two rugs is vastly different. The extent of the damage is determined not by the size of the ink stain on the two rugs, but by the value of each of those rugs. That’s how we need to see our sin against God. Every sin we commit, regardless of how insignificant it might be to us, is an assault on the infinite glory and holiness of God. And the value of the expensive rug, even if it’s in the millions, is nothing compared to God’s glory. So we’re all in the same predicament as the first servant with the unpayable debt. So what happened to the gazillion dollars the first servant owed. Could the king just forget it? Were there no financial consequences? No, it wasn’t that easy. The moment the king forgave the debt, his net worth went down by ten thousand talents, by that gazillion dollars. It cost him a lot to forgive the debt. And just so when God forgives us. It cost him the death of his Son. No price can be put on that death, but God paid it anyway, so that he could forgive each of us the giant spiritual debt we owed to him. So the message should be clear: The moral debt of wrongdoing, of sinful words and acts against us, is virtually nothing compared to our debt to God. My point isn’t to minimise the seriousness of anyone’s hurts or damages. Even in the parable, the second servants debt wasn’t just chump-change and neither are the wrongs others have committed against you – but in comparison to the hurt each of us has caused God, those other hurts are no comparison So the basis for our forgiving one another, then, is the enormity of God’s forgiveness of us. We are called to forgive precisely because we have been forgiven so much. Until we acknowledge that we are the ten-thousand talent, the gazillion dollar debtor to God, we will continue to struggle with forgiving people who have wronged us in significant ways or people who continue to wrong us. Once we embrace the reality that we truly are such debtors to God because of our continual sin against him, we can say when others wrong us, “God, that was a terrible wrong against me, but I m the ten-thousand-talent debtor. His sin against me was northing in comparison to my sin against you, and because you have forgiven me, I, from my heart, forgive that person. Amen.”
Bible Text: Matthew 5:17-19 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Fulfilling the Law St. Matthew 5:17-19 by William Klock So far in our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we’ve covered his introduction. In the Beatitudes he described the essential characteristics of the people who follow him – of Kingdom people. Then he told us what our role is in the world. If we are characterised by the Beatitudes, if we conform ourselves to his image, acting and behaving like he does, we will have an impact on the world. He warned us: people will persecute you for your righteousness – but don’t stop. If you follow me – if you live like me – you will be salt and light. You’ll be a preserving influence in a rotting world. You will flavour the world with the salt of God’s grace, giving people a taste of the Kingdom. You will be a light shining into the darkness, exposing sin for what it is, but also lightening the darkness and pointing the way to the Saviour, to Jesus Christ, who is the true light. In the Beatitudes and as he tells us that we are salt and light, Jesus gives us the principles of Kingdom life. The rest of his sermon is the practical how-to part: how to really be poor in spirit, how to really be a peacemaker, how to really be salt and light. And to show us the practical side of things Jesus takes right to Scripture – to the Old Testament. And going to the Old Testament is important. You see, as Jesus talked about people who are poor in spirit and persecuted for righteousness’ sake being the ones who make up the Kingdom of Heaven, and many of the people gathered there to listen to him on that day would have been confused and perplexed. Here was a guy who came to them claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah. He was a great teacher. He spoke with great authority. And yet he wasn’t a Sadducee. He wasn’t a Pharisee. He hadn’t studied under any of the big-name rabbis of the day. And what he taught flew in the face of everything that those religious parties and those big-name rabbis were teaching in their schools. What Jesus was teaching was, in many ways, all new to those people listening to him. Some of them were no doubt sitting there thinking that Jesus had come to start a new religion – to do away with everything that had gone before. Maybe there were even some Pharisees there in the crowd, fuming in rage over what Jesus was describing as the way into the Kingdom of God – he was doing away with everything they held dear. And so Jesus stops and makes one of the most significant, one of the most important statements in all of the New Testament. Look at Matthew 5:17-18 with me. Jesus anticipates their questions, or maybe someone actually asked him how what he was saying jibes with the Scriptures they knew. He says: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Jesus says definitively: “I’m not here to start a new religion. I’m not here to abolish the Law or the Prophets. In fact, I’m here because of them. I have come as the fullness of the Law and the Prophets. I’m here to teach you what the Law and the Prophets mean and to ensure that they are perpetuated and followed by God’s people for all time.” The people were thinking that Jesus was teaching them something new, and Jesus tells them, “No, I’m teaching you something old – something you should and would have already known had your teachers not mucked it up for you!” Misunderstanding Jesus here isn’t a new problem. One of the oldest and most tenacious heresies in the Church has been this idea that Jesus somehow did away with the Old Testament. In the Second Century, the heretic Marcion removed the entire Old Testament from his Bible and edited out any and all references to it in the New. He wasn’t the last and people still do it today. We may not be so bold as Marcion in the modern Church, consciously toss the Old Testament out, but the way we ignore and the way we interpret it often speak to the lack of esteem we have for it. You guys have all seen one of these before [hold up pocket New Testament]. These things really tick me off. No not the New Testament itself, but the fact that in the modern Church we’ve taken to printing and distributing these little New Testaments as if they’re the Bible. Little books like this may come in handy at times, but this is not the Bible! In fact, if this is what we’re distributing to non-Christians, we’re misrepresenting our faith. The Bible contains both the New and the Old Testaments. What’s ironic is that inside the front cover of this one in particular are printed the words of Joshua 1:8, which begins: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth…” But there is no Law in this abbreviated book! This was driven home to me by my Old Testament and Hebrew professor in seminary. He started work on a doctorate in New Testament studies and quit. He discovered that you can’t really understand the New Testament until you understand the Old. So first he did a doctorate in Old Testament and Hebrew, then he did another one in New Testament! That’s pretty extreme, but it illustrates Jesus’ point in verses 17-18: you cannot divorce his teaching, or the rest of the New Testament from the Old Testament. Jesus says, I haven’t come to do away with the Law and Prophets, I’ve come in fulfilment of them – in fact, until the end of time, not one iota, not one dot will pass away. Jesus would have used the Hebrew terms “yod” and “tittle.” The first being the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet – barely more than an apostrophe, and the second being a tiny stroke used when writing certain letters – in some cases that little stroke is all that distinguishes similar letters from one another. It would be like Jesus saying, not one cross on a “t” or one dot on an “i” will pass away. He’s saying emphatically, “I’ve come not to do away with it, but to show you how much it all applies more than you ever imagined! Now I don’t think we have a lot of trouble understanding the idea of Jesus coming in fulfilment of the Prophets – the writers who foretold his coming. We can understand the way in which Jesus fulfils God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, when he says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” We can understand how Jesus fulfils the words of Psalm 22 where we see a vivid and accurate portrayal of Roman crucifixion written almost a thousand years before the practice began. We read the words of Isaiah 53 and see their fulfilment in Christ: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The New Testament writers help us out when it comes to predictive prophecy. We have words like those used throughout St. Matthew’s Gospel, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” No, the “prophets” aren’t where we have a problem seeing Christ. But what about the Law? In some cases it’s obvious that we’re called to keep it. No one would suggest that Jesus did away with the Ten Commandments: thou shalt not worship other gods, thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, and all that. But when it comes to other aspects of the Law, we sometimes miss what Jesus is saying. There is a sense in which Jesus acts like a prism, but instead of separating light into all its colours, through him we can see the Law in all its component parts. We can see the ceremonial, the judicial, and the moral parts of the Law in a way that the ancient Jews could not. To them it was just “The Law.” But we have to be careful. When we make these distinctions between the different aspects of the Law we run the risk of disagreeing with Jesus himself when it comes to this statement about not one iota or dot of the Law passing away. We hear Christians say things like, “Well, the moral commandments are still in effect, but Jesus did away with the others.” If that’s how we look at it, we’re guilty of throwing out way more than an iota or a dot. What’s the right answer? Well, to have the right perspective we need to understand that the Law itself is prophetic. The entire Law – all those rules and regulations in the Old Testament that often seem so boring and irrelevant – all of the Law was given to point the people of God to Christ. No part of that Law has been abolished. It’s all still in full force – the issue is that Christ has fulfilled it all. If we simply say part of the Law was done away with, we miss the very point of the work of Christ on the cross and we miss the very point of the Holy Spirit’s work in creating the Church. Without the Law, all that’s left of the cross on which our Saviour died is a sad and pathetic picture of a dead man nailed to a piece of wood. If we don’t understand the Law, we can never understand what it is that Christ did for us when he was nailed to the cross and died. We can’t understand what he did for us until we first understand that the Law was given to point God’s people to Christ. Through the Law God taught his people what true holiness really is. He taught his people the sinfulness of sin. And through the Law God taught them that the wages of sin is death – and by the sacrifices of innocent animals, he conditioned his people for the coming of Jesus Christ, the true and spotless Lamb, who made the once for all sacrifice. Turn over to Romans 8 and look with me at verses 2-4: For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. St. Paul describes how Christ fulfils the Law in us by his Holy Spirit. The Law was given to shine a spotlight on our sin – to show it up, and in doing so to condemn us. But in Christ the penalty of the Law was paid. Christ, the perfect innocent sacrifice who had obeyed the law in every part, who was perfectly holy, died in our place. And after he rose and ascended he gave us the gift of his Spirit, who lives in us that we may now walk in obedience to the Law. In verse 7 St. Paul describes the carnal man saying, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” But through the death and resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we have been changed. Again, in verse 4, he says that we have been given new life “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Through the Holy Spirit, Christ has transformed men and women who were condemned by and hated God’s divine standard given in the Law – now we love it. Now we hunger and thirst for the righteousness it sets before us. We can now honestly say with David, as we read in today’s Psalm: If your law had not been my delight: I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts: for by them you have given me life. (Psalm 119:92-93) Jesus hasn’t abolished the ceremonial Law – he is the ceremonial Law. As I said before, he is for us the altar, the priest, the sacrifice, and the laver. The ancient Jew fulfilled the Law in part as he made his sacrifices in the knowledge that that whole system would come into its fullness in the person of the Messiah. His salvation was found in exactly the same way ours is: through faith in Jesus Christ. His was a faith that looked forward to Christ’s work in the future. Our faith looks back to the work of Christ. But both the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints are redeemed the same way – by faith in Christ. When Christ cried out, “It is finished” and the veil in the Temple was torn in two he might as well have said, “It is fulfilled,” because that was precisely what happened. At that point Jesus took over the role of the Law’s types and shadows. He didn’t do away with them but they have been fulfilled in him. The tearing of the veil and the opening of the Holy of Holies was Gods not-so-subtle sign that Jesus had fulfilled the Law, but most of the Jews didn’t get it. God was patient with them. He gave them another generation in which they continued to ignore Christ’s fulfilment of the Law and continued to take make their imperfect sacrifices at the Temple. As the final sign God wiped it all out in AD 70 – not just the Temple but he dispersed the people from Israel itself, making Christ’s fulfilment of the Law emphatic. It was God’s way of saying, “You didn’t get it when I tore the veil in the Temple, so I’m going to take the Temple away and even more so I’m going to disperse you so far from the land of the Temple that you wont even be able to think of returning to the types and shadows. No more imperfect sacrifices people! Christ has done it. It has all been fulfilled in him. Turn to him! He has finished it!” We are no longer to bring our imperfect sacrifices to an imperfect earthly temple where we come before God only through the imperfect mediation of imperfect human priests. No. Through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have a perfect high priest who acts as the perfect mediator between man and God, and by making him our sacrifice we ourselves are made the perfect Temple in which God dwells. Many Jews have since turned to see the fulfilment of the Law in Christ, but many more still await the rebuilding of the Temple so that they can crawl back to the types and shadows and continue to deny the fulfilment of them in Christ, to continue to live in darkness. Even more sad are all the Christians looking for and even working to rebuild the Temple and its order of priests for a future restoration. Now how blasphemous is that?!? They’re denying the very work of Christ on the cross that fulfils the Law! Now what about the judicial or civil parts of the Law – the parts that lay out punishments for crimes or laws for a civil society? In the same way Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial, he fulfils the civil aspects of the Law too. Jesus condemned the chief priest and the Pharisees when he said, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matt. 21:43). The civil Law applied to the theocratic nation of Israel, which ceased to exist at the same time that the Temple did. The nation of Israel was to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, but in fulfilling the Law Christ opened the Old Testament church to the Gentiles. He came as the light that Israel had failed to be. No longer was the church simply an ethnic and earthly kingdom, but found its fullness in a spiritual kingdom made up of all peoples and tongues as symbolised at Pentecost, and which was to be no longer just a Jewish light to the Gentiles, but a fuller, brighter, and multi-ethnic light to the entire world. St. Peter tells us: But you [that’s us, the Church] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10) Just like the imperfect types and shadows of the ceremonial Law are fulfilled in Christ, so are the civil laws of the imperfect and earthly nation of Israel. No longer is God talking merely about a place on a map or a single ethnic group when he says, “My people,” now he’s talking about his people – he’s talking about those who are part of what Jesus in St. Matthew’s Gospel calls the “kingdom of heaven.” In creating a spiritual kingdom Christ has given his Holy Spirit to his people and in the power of the Spirit we are the fullness of the Kingdom. The nation Israel was the shadow. We, the Body of Christ, are the real thing – the fulfilment through Jesus Christ. So if Jesus hasn’t fulfilled the entire Law rather than abolishing it, then naturally we still have some kind of obligation to it. Look at 5:19 where he says: Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. You see, the man or woman who has been redeemed by Christ and who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, will have a desire to live his or her life in accordance with the Law. This is the kind of righteousness that the prophet Jeremiah foretold when he wrote: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). That’s the work of the Holy Spirit – the same work that Ezekiel foretold would take place when he wrote: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27). This is the work of the Spirit in us that conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. This is the great work of grace, the fruit of which is a growth in holiness on our part. You see, you can’t separate Law and grace. They go together. Without the Law, grace can’t be comprehended. The venerable Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this very good point that I can’t express any better: “[Grace] is that marvellous gift of God which, having delivered a man from the curse of the law, enables him to keep it and to be righteous as Christ was righteous, for he kept the law perfectly. Grace is that which brings me to love God; and if I love God, I long to keep his commandments. ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them,’ Christ said, ‘he it is that loveth me.’” Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:21 saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” What is the will of the Father? To do the Law. St. Paul wrote to St. Titus saying that we await the coming of Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” If we love our Saviour, let us show it by doing our Father’s will, by being zealous for good works in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Please pray with me: Our Father, these are hard principles for us to grasp, but they are so important to a right understanding of what your Son has done for us. You have promised us your Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. Father, remind us that the evidence of your truth in our minds is the presence of that truth in our hearts, motivating us to good works. That is the perfect fulfilment of your Law. And so we pray through your Son, that we would be moved to true faith, and that your love for us would be reflected back to you in our own loving service to your Kingdom. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Anger Respectable Sins: Sermon Twelve by William Klock Nobody really likes anger, but the fact is that we all experience it. We all get angry and we’ve all experienced being the brunt of someone else’s anger. In his book Uprooting Anger – which I highly recommend – Robert Jones writes this, “Anger is a universal problem, prevalent in every culture, experienced by every generation. No one is isolated from its presence or immune from its poison. It permeates each person and spoils our most intimate relationships. Anger is a given part of our fallen human fabric.” What he adds is very true, when he writes, “Sadly, this is true even in our Christian homes and churches.” Jones is right. The most blatant displays of anger tend to be aimed not at the people we work with or interact with on a daily basis in the world, but at the people we love the most: at our husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters – and not just our biological brothers and sisters, but our brothers and sisters in Christ too. I remember the pastor of one of the churches I attended as a kid talking about anger. He said that when he was a young kid, about ten years old, his dad came home with a big surprise. He’d been given a raise that day at work, and so to celebrate, he’d gone by the Chevy dealership on the way home and traded in the old family car on a brand-new 1955 Chevy. He said that when his dad got home you could see just how happy, excited, and proud he was as he pulled into the driveway in that new car and shouted to the family to come and take a look. Our pastor said he’d been riding his bike and was excited too. He rode into the driveway on his bike, jumped off it, and ran to give his dad a big hug, but before he got to his dad, all the excitement came to a sudden end as the look on his dad’s face changed. He turned to see what his dad was looking at and saw, almost in slow motion, his bike tip over. The handlebar hit the side of the new car and as it fell to the ground the end of the handlebar made a loud screech as it scraped a two-foot long scratch in the side of the car. In an instant his dad’s joy turned into anger as he flew into an angry rage and berated him, going on for fifteen minutes about his carelessness – anger totally out of proportion to the infraction. Our pastor said that his dad usually kept his cars for a long time, but they only kept that car for a couple of years and he said that its sale was the happiest moment his family had with that car. I think everyone here has had a moment like that at some point in life – you’ve either been on the giving or receiving end of it. We’re often hardest on our kids, as in that story. Think about how we parents often respond in ways that are out of proportion to what our kids do. Little pre-schooler Susie is playing outside while Mom’s mopping the floor. She picks some flower and excitedly runs inside to give them to her Mom and doesn’t realise that she’s tracking mud all over the clean floor, and Mom blows up at her. It’s totally out of proportion to the infraction. (And, as an aside, if you couple that with the fact that Susie sometimes does things that are really deserving of serious discipline and Mom choose to ignore them, it’s no wonder when our kids grow up to be disobedient and flaunt authority.) So what is anger? I think a lot of us would say, “I can’t really define it in words, but I sure know when I see it, especially if it’s directed towards me!” Well, obviously at its most basic, it’s an emotion – a strong feeling of displeasure with something or someone. In that sense, like all emotion, it’s God-given. God has designed us to experience anger – it gives us energy and then that energy can be directed at solving the problem that’s caused the anger in the first place. Our problem is that we may experience anger over things we have no business being angry over – or, maybe more commonly, we take the energy that anger gives and direct it at something other than the real problem or we use it in ways that make the problem worse instead of better. Remember that St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Be angry, but sin not.” Anger’s a big and complicated issue and it’s not really something we can deal with in one sermon. So since this series of sermons is about helping us to confront the sins we tolerate in our lives, I want to focus tonight on the aspect of anger that we’re prone to treating as an “acceptable” sin. Now to do that I think we need to be clear about righteous anger. Some people will justify their anger as being “righteous.” They think they have a right to be angry about a given situation. So how do you know if your anger is righteous or not? Well, let me remind you of what I said before: anger is a God-given emotion. And so, if our anger arises from an accurate perception of true evil – if it’s provoked by a violation of God’s moral Law or if we see God’s Truth being profaned – our anger is probably righteous. Righteous anger is focused on God and on his will, not on me or my will. That said, righteous anger is also always self-controlled. Righteous anger doesn’t result in the loss of one’s temper and it doesn’t provoke us take revenge or retaliate in some kind of vengeful way. The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about righteous anger. The really great example we have is that of Christ driving the money-changers out of the Temple. There are a few other similar examples, but Scripture mostly focuses on sinful anger – on the way in which we’re prone to misuse the God-given emotion and the ways we tend to misdirect the energy it gives us. Sometimes we may be reacting to the real sin of another person, but if we’re more concerned with the negative impact of that sin on us than we are that it’s a violation of God’s Law, then our anger is sinful. It’s completely just and righteous for us to be angry and outraged when we see leaders in the Church teaching false doctrine and undermining the Gospel itself. In situations like that our anger ought to motivate us to stand up for the truth. The problem is that in the current crisis in the Church a lot of people, instead of taking a stand for truth, are attacking those teaching bad doctrine and attacking them in ways that are clearly sinful. That doesn’t solve the problem. If you our goal is to bring those people to faith and repentance, calling them names and making threats isn’t going to get us to that goal – it’s only going to make the problem worse. When we become sinfully angry we need to realise that the cause is in us – not in another person or in the situation. You might get angry because someone mistreated you. Maybe they gossiped or told lies about you and when you heard about it you got angry. More often than not the anger isn’t the result of that person having sinned, it’s the result of them having sinned against you. You’re angry because your pride was hurt. Maybe you get angry when you don’t get your way. We see this in our kids on a regular basis, but it’s just as true of us adults. Some of us have stronger personalities than others. Sometimes we can angrily clash with each other. Other times the stronger tend run roughshod over the weaker. When someone in our family doesn’t get his or her way, they tend to become angry. The same thing can happen in the Church too. But ultimately the cause of the anger is selfishness – “I want it my way!” Often our anger is a response to someone else’s. A husband comes home from a long and tiring day at work expecting a clean house and kids and dinner on the table, and when the house and kids are dirty and dinner isn’t even on the stove he loses his cool and says something hurtful. Then the wife gets angry in response and says something nasty back – or maybe instead of blowing up in return, she internalises her anger and seethes on the inside. Her anger is just as sinful as her husband’s. Maybe your boss chews you out at work. I used to have a boss like that: yell, scream, and swear first; ask questions later. Retaliating in kind will usually get you fired, so like the wife in my last example, you stuff it and seethe with resentment. We can choose how we deal with anger, whether it’s a husband, a wife, a boss, or an employee. Consider St. Peter’s words to slaves in the apostolic Church. They often served under harsh and cruel masters and by our modern thinking would have been justified in fighting back, but that’s not what Peter tells them to do. He writes, Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:18-20) None of us is a slave, but the broader Scriptural principle applies to all of us: We are to respond to any unjust treatment as “mindful of God.” What does that mean? To be mindful of God means to think of God’s will and God’s glory. You need to ask yourself how God would react in your situation? Ask yourself how God is best glorified by your response. God is sovereign over all things, but we tend to forget that and live as if he’s not in control. We need to remember that in all things he is in control and that in his infinite wisdom and goodness he’s using the hard things in our lives to conform us more and more to the image of Christ. In the heat of the moment it’s not always easy to remember these things: that God’s in control, that he’s working for our good and his glory. If we forget and act out sinfully, when the heat dies down, we quickly need to acknowledge the sin, confess it to God and to the person we’ve wrong and ask for their forgiveness. But better yet, memorise Scriptures like Romans 8:28, that teach us that God works all things for the good of those whom he loves and are called according to his purpose. The more you dwell on God’s truths, the more you’ll come to live by them – the more they’ll become a part of what motivates you and drives your responses. It helps to memorise Scriptures that remind us how we’re supposed to act in the first place. Think of Ephesians 4:32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Or Colossians 3:13 …bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. But more importantly, we need to hand over to God the occasion of our anger. This is even more true when we find ourselves the object of someone else’s anger or when we’re treated unjustly by a boss or an overbearing spouse – or anyone who treats us unfairly. To dissolve our sinful responses we need to acknowledge that God is sovereign in every aspect of our lives (not just what we perceive as the “good,” but also what we perceive as the “bad”) and that all the words and actions of other people that tempt us to anger are somehow included in God’s wise and good purposes to make us more like Christ. We need to remember that any situation that tempts us to sinful anger can either drive us to sinful anger of our own or to Christ and his sanctifying power. There’s another aspect of anger that I think it’s important to touch on while we’re on the subject of anger and that’s anger towards God. As a minister this is something I’ve heard an awful lot of people talk about – they’re mad at God. They think that somehow God has let them down. Some say they think that God is against them – that he’s out to get them. Some people beat around the bush to express their anger at God, but I’ve talked to some people who are happy to say it outright: I’m angry with God – even, I hate God because of the bad things in my life. What do you say to someone like that? What do you do if that’s how you’re feeling toward God? Is it okay to be angry towards God? I’ve heard a lot of modern psychologists say that it’s okay. I’ve even heard pastors and popular Christian writers say that it’s okay. A pastor I once knew told my friend, “It’s okay to be angry at God. He’s God. He’s a big guy. He can take it.” And quite frankly I’ll tell you, that’s blasphemy. I can’t say this loudly and clearly enough: It is never okay to be angry with God. When we get angry with God, we’re making a moral judgement that says, “God has done me wrong.” Think that statement through. If you’re accusing God of having wronged you, what your really accusing God of is sinning against you. You’re saying that God hasn’t treated you fairly or that he hasn’t give you a fair shake – that he should be treating you better than he is or that he owes you something. You’re putting God in the defendant’s seat and acting as judge over him. Jerry Bridges writes about a man who, as his mother was dying of cancer said, “After all she’s done for God, this is the thanks she gets.” Okay, so never mind the untold suffering and agony that Jesus Christ experienced to pay for her sins so that she wouldn’t have to spend an eternity in hell. This man thought that on top of sending his own Son to die for his mother’s eternal salvation, he also owed her a better life on this earth. We’re probably all prone to momentary feelings of anger toward God, but when that happens we need to be quick to recognise it for the sin it is and repent right then and there. But how do you deal with the temptation to be angry with God? We might be prone to “stuffing it” just as we “stuff” our feelings of anger toward other people, but if we do that then our fellowship with God is going to suffer. Stuffing it is no better than blowing up – both are sinful ways of dealing with anger – and in this case anger with God, which is never justified. The biblical answer lies in a well-grounded trust in the sovereignty, wisdom, and love of God. Instead of getting angry with God, we need to bring our confusion and perplexity to him in a humble and trusting way. We can pray something like this: “Father, I know that you love me. I know that your ways are often above and beyond my understanding. I come to you now admitting my own confusion, because I am unable to see the evidence of your love towards me. Open my eyes, Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit and show me the way to put my trust in you instead of giving in to the temptation to become angry with you.” Remember that our God is a forgiving God. Jesus didn’t die for some sins and not for others. God will forgive our anger against him just as he forgives our other sins when we repent of them. Jesus’ death on the cross has already paid for it all. So if you have anger in your heart, I urge you to come to God in repentance and experience the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, which was shed for you. A lot of Christians live in denial of their anger. They knowingly experience flare-ups and blow-ups in their thoughts and emotions towards others who somehow displease them, but they don’t identify it as anger, and especially not as sinful anger. Instead of looking at themselves, they focus on the other person as the cause and justify their own reaction. They don’t see their sin. As a result their anger has become an “acceptable” sin. If this is you, you need to deal with it. And for all of us, whether our anger is frequent or only flares up every once in while, we need to recognise it as the sin that it is and take appropriate action to put an end to it. Please pray with me: Father, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We acknowledge that our emotions – even the angry ones – are part of your design. We confess that all too often we misuse and misapply the gifts you have given in sinful ways. Give us your grace and show us how to put your gifts to Godly use. We ask in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.