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Fasting December 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:16-18.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus notes that the Pharisees fast in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men.

In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to shun the applause of men when they fast.

Thoughts: I rarely practice this spiritual discipline; in fact, I can only recall fasting on one occasion – in response to a small group challenge regarding fasting. That experience showed me that fasting should be accompanied by prayer, as fasting in and of itself does not necessarily draw one closer to God. That being said, I struggle with the notion of fully submitting to God in my prayers during fasting. I am tempted to employ fasting as a means of manipulating God and compelling Him to act as a genie. Thus, if I am to fast, I need the assistance of the Holy Spirit to approach this discipline with the proper motives. That would allow me to grow in my relationship with Him and my comprehension of His will.

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Prayer December 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:5-15.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus notes that the:

  • Pharisees pray in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men
  • Gentiles pray mindlessly.

In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • shun the applause of men in their prayers
  • know the Person to whom they are praying.

He then instructs them to pray that:

  • the attributes of God would be glorified
  • the kingdom of God would be established at His Second Coming
  • all mankind would perfectly submit to the laws of God
  • God would supply their daily necessities
  • God would be merciful to them
  • God would enable them to be merciful to others
  • God would not allow them to run into sin
  • God would preserve them from the power of evil.

He concludes by restating the importance of mercy – as a repentant heart naturally expresses itself via acts of mercy.

Thoughts: In verse 10, we see that we should earnestly desire the Second Coming of Christ. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This is the time when sin, sorrow and Satan will be driven out of the world. It is…a time that is to be desired more than anything. It therefore fills a foremost place in the Lord’s Prayer.

I can say that when I am in a good mood, I rarely pause and ponder the kingdom of God. It is only when God jolts me out of my complacency – e.g. when I am reminded of the evil and suffering that plague this world – that I pray that He would swiftly establish His kingdom in this world. Indeed, accounts of evil and suffering constantly remind us – as believers – that this world is imperfect and that we should long for the complete realization of the kingdom of God. One thought is that we can display this longing to unbelievers by persisting in our acts of service.

In verse 12, we see that we should ask God to forgive us – as we have forgiven those who have offended us. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Its object is to remind us that we must not expect our prayers for forgiveness to be heard if we pray with malice and spite in our hearts towards others. To pray in such a frame of mind is mere formality and hypocrisy…Our prayers are nothing without love. We must not expect to be forgiven if we cannot forgive.

This section of the Sermon on the Mount continues to challenge me, as it exposes the obstacles that plague my walk with God. Lately I have pondered God’s ability to forgive us in light of our propensity to sin. One thought is that His ability to forgive stems from His understanding of His identity. When He forgives us, His glory is not diminished – even if we fail to accept His forgiveness and/or continue to offend Him. Perhaps my inability to forgive others reflects my lack of understanding of my identity in Him. If so, then I need to grow in that understanding – on a daily basis – in order to extend forgiveness to others.

Giving to the Needy December 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by warning His disciples that if they emulate the Pharisees by performing religious acts in order to be seen by men, then they will only be seen by men – not God Himself..

For example, the Pharisees give to the poor in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men. In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to shun the applause of men in giving to the poor.

Thoughts: After mulling over this passage, I determined that believers at the churches that I have attended have not emulated the Pharisees in this regard. In fact, I cannot recall the last time that I heard another believer discussing their charitable donations. I have witnessed believers seeking attention in other ways – e.g. while leading a worship team – but this particular issue does not seem to be an issue in the modern church. If any readers would like to disabuse me of this notion, though, feel free to leave a comment.

Love for Enemies December 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:43-48.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting the Pharisees’ interpretation of Leviticus 19:18. He then contradicts that interpretation, asserting that believers should seek the best interests of their enemies. This stems from the fact that God seeks the best interests of all people; thus, believers should emulate Him through their words and deeds. He concludes by asking several questions that are designed to spur believers to display selfless love to their enemies.

Thoughts: This is a difficult passage, as I know that I harbor a grudge against several people. I do not merely view them as acquaintances – I strongly dislike them, as I believe that they have offended me. Thus, this passage confronts me with the following questions: do I have the strength to obey it by seeking their best interests? Instead of merely treating them politely if I happen to interact with them, can I actually care about them? Frankly speaking, I believe that I lack the strength at this point to overcome my negative perception of them by displaying selfless love to them. Thus, I need the Holy Spirit to transform me in this regard – enabling me to live as a genuine follower of Christ.

An Eye for an Eye December 2, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:38-42.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting the principle of exact retribution – as stated in Exodus 21:22-25 and Deuteronomy 19:15-21. He then interprets that principle, asserting that believers should not retaliate against those who wrong them. He provides four practical applications of this principle; these examples illustrate the importance of forbearance, even to the point of allowing the offender to double the injustice that they have committed.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder why we naturally resist those who attempt to wrong us. One thought is that evolution favored this response, in that:

  • early humans who failed to defend themselves against aggressive neighbors effectively surrendered territory – and food – to them
  • early humans who did defend themselves against aggressive neighbors were able to protect their territory – and food – from them.

If this (admittedly speculative) theory has a kernel of truth, then it would help explain the difficulties that we experience in attempting to obey Jesus’ command in this passage. Rejecting a response that could be hardwired into our DNA would be difficult – if not impossible. Thus, we need assistance from the Holy Spirit when we sense that God has called us to display forbearance in a particular situation.

Oaths November 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:33-37.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting a general principle from the Old Testament forbidding perjury (note that specific injunctions in this regard can be found in passages such as Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:21). He then interprets that principle, asserting that:

  • when making a vow, we necessarily refer to God
  • thus, all vows must be kept.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to reflect on the promises that I have made. I strive to honor the promises that I make in the workplace, as my ability to keep them has a non-negligible impact on my career progression. As for the promises that I make outside of the workplace, though, my track record is a mixed bag. For example, I find that I fail to honor simple promises such as, “see you at 1:30 p.m.” – especially when I am five minutes late. Thus, I plan to respond to this passage by making a greater effort to honor the promises that I make outside of the workplace. Moreover, if I find that I cannot honor these promises, then I should either offer a reasonable explanation of my failure or “underpromise and overdeliver.”

Divorce November 22, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:31-32.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1. He then interprets that commandment, asserting that (as evidenced by the more detailed account in Matthew 19:1-11):

  • God has designed marriage as a monogamous, intimate and enduring relationship
  • God conceded to human weakness in giving that commandment
  • remarriage after divorce is tantamount to adultery; an exception can be made for sexual sin, though.

Thoughts: Since I am not especially qualified to address this subject, I will simply make two general observations:

  • maintaining a marriage relationship is difficult
  • Jesus’ teaching in this passage is intended to provide a married couple with a long-term perspective on their relationship.

Adultery November 20, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:27-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by quoting from Exodus 20:14. He then interprets that commandment, asserting that God wants husbands to be inwardly faithful to their wives. He provides two practical applications of this principle – stressing that husbands need to be ruthless in denying themselves.

Thoughts: I must admit that this sin has plagued me for many years, and I am certain that it will plague me until the next life. Given this sobering reality, I attempt to deny myself on a daily basis. One observation is that the simple act of turning off my computer has been helpful in this regard. This simple step prevents me from viewing content that I am tempted to discover; I also derive satisfaction from the fact that I have struck a blow against a formidable opponent – Satan. Another observation is that ennui causes me to be more susceptible to temptations, so I attempt to guard against it by engaging in productive activities – including blogging.

Murder November 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:21-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by quoting from Exodus 20:13. He then interprets that commandment, asserting that God wants us to deal with the intent of our hearts towards those whom we dislike and resent. He provides two practical applications of this principle – stressing that if we have wronged another, we need to immediately right that wrong.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus emphasizes the need to immediately address our offenses. This reminds me of a situation from several years ago where I made a mistake while composing an e-mail and offended a friend in the process. Initially, I did not know that I had offended him. After he noted my mistake, I was deeply embarrassed, and I swiftly apologized for my mistake. That experience – coupled with other situations where either I offended another or they offended me, and the offense in question was not immediately addressed – continues to motivate me to heed Jesus’ command in this regard. Indeed, allowing wounds from offenses to fester can hamper one’s relationship with God.

The Fulfillment of the Law November 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:17-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that He has not come to do away with the Old Testament; instead, He has come to:

  • obey it
  • explain its true interpretation.

Indeed, His followers will always be subject to the authority of the Old Testament. Those who are in the kingdom of heaven accept this truth; they rest on His finished work and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the authority of the Old Testament. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

First, let us beware of despising the Old Testament, for whatever reason. Let us never listen to those who tell us to throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud; the New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.

I believe that many Christians refrain from studying the Old Testament for a variety of reasons, including:

  • the God of the Old Testament appears to be relatively forbidding compared to the God of the New Testament
  • since many believers are not ethnically Jewish, they have difficulty understanding the context of the Old Testament
  • along these lines, many of the Old Testament laws have been rendered obsolete by the finished work of Jesus.

Indeed, it is difficult to view the Old Testament and the New Testament as essential components of a unified text. Perhaps it would be good to ponder the following questions:

  • How does our belief that God is unchanging enable us to resolve the apparent incompatibilities between the Old and New Testaments?
  • How can we improve our understanding of the context of the Old Testament?
  • How can the Old Testament spur us to make progress in our relationship with God?

On this last point, I am grateful that I completed my recent strolls through Jeremiah and Lamentations; those experiences allowed me to deepen my relationship with God – the One who keeps His promises.