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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.”

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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.

Salt and Light November 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:13-16.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • arrest the spread of corruption in the world
  • dispel the darkness in the world.

In this way, others will see that God has set them apart from the world.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder the difficulties that believers encounter when engaging with unbelievers. While we may desire to be “salt” and “light,” our words and deeds may not have the desired effect on unbelievers. For example, if your non-Christian friend has had a rough day at the office, it is unlikely that they will respond enthusiastically to your attempts to share the Gospel with them over dinner that evening. This example reinforces the importance of being sensitive to the feelings of others; in this way, we can determine when it is appropriate to discuss our worldview with them. When the timing is right, one can use current events as an entry point to a discussion along those lines. For example, your non-Christian friend may assert the futility of offering up thoughts and prayers in the wake of a mass shooting. This comment may allow you to discuss the meaning of prayer and why believers still view it as a critical part of their daily lives.

The Beatitudes November 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands on the side of a mountain and begins to teach His disciples. He states that those who exhibit the following traits are actually “lucky bums”:

  • they are conscious of the fact that they lack the ability to enter the kingdom of heaven
  • they passionately lament their sins
  • they entrust themselves to God – who judges justly
  • they long to be in a right relationship with God
  • they show compassion for those in need
  • they are sincere and honest in their motives
  • they actively pursue peace
  • they are persecuted as a natural consequence of longing to be in a right relationship with God.

This stems from the fact that God will reward them abundantly.

Thoughts: This is one of the most famous Bible passages, and so I eagerly anticipated my stroll through it. I should note that at my church, our pastors recently preached through the Beatitudes. My high-level viewpoint on this passage is that it displays the contrast between short-term thinking and long-term thinking. Here, Jesus asserts that those who follow Him will naturally incur short-term losses; for example, they will be persecuted for their faith. Yet He also asserts that long-term gains will naturally follow these short-term losses. Long-term thinking is unnatural for believers, as our sinful nature drives our short-term mindset; thus, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit – on a daily basis – in order to maintain our long-term focus on God.

In verses 10-12, Jesus asserts that those who are persecuted – for longing to be in a right relationship with Him – are actually “lucky bums.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

He means those who are laughed at, mocked, despised and badly treated because they endeavor to live as true Christians. Blessed are all such! They drink of the same cup which their Master drank. They are now confessing him before men, and he will confess them before His Father and the angels on the last day.

My impression is that in this age of relativism, nonbelievers – especially the conflict-averse – readily ignore Christianity. They often make no comment on a believer’s outward acts of faith, e.g. praying before a meal or describing a church activity when asked about their weekend. Now if a nonbeliever feels uncomfortable in those situations, they may respond with some combination of anger, sarcasm, etc. As believers, we should ponder the following questions:

  • How can we tell when we have mistreated an unbeliever?
  • How can we tactfully display our faith so that if nonbelievers oppose us, our consciences are clear before God?

These are difficult questions, and we need guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to navigate the choppy waters of this age of relativism.

Jesus Heals the Sick November 4, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:23-25.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels throughout Galilee, where he:

  • teaches in the Jewish synagogues
  • proclaims the Gospel message
  • heals those who are brought to Him for healing.

In the process, He accumulates many followers.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus healed everyone who was brought to Him for healing. This caused me to consider a tangential point: sometimes God places me in situations where I sense that He wants me to interact with someone whom my peer group would view as an outcast. As I am an introvert, these situations are discomforting, and I respond by attempting to extricate myself from that set of circumstances. Yet I also sense that God wants me to grow as a believer by stepping out of my comfort zone. Also, obedience in these situations – especially in the midst of discomfort – would enable me to see God at work in new ways. My prayer is that I would be able to respond with obedience in these situations and lift the spirits of those who are also made in the image of God.

The Calling of the First Disciples November 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus calls the following pairs of brothers as His first disciples:

  • Peter and Andrew
  • the sons of Zebedee – James and John.

These fishermen willingly abandon their livelihoods and follow Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter, Andrew, James and John all obey Jesus when He calls them to follow Him. This spurred me to consider how God calls modern-day believers to follow Him. Note that Scripture does provide general guidance along these lines, including:

  • Ephesians 4:1, which states that God has (generally) called all believers
  • Matthew 22:37-40, which states that believers should love God and love others
  • Matthew 28:19-20, which states that believers should spread the Gospel message.

Yet believers throughout the ages have had difficulty discerning their specific calling from God. While we sense that we have certain gifts and inclinations, if we are unaware of our specific calling, we may not know how to put them to good use. Now I should note that some of my friends have received a specific calling from God and responded by changing their careers and/or moving overseas. In general, they did not hear an audible voice from God; instead, they sensed that God was drawing them in a particular direction. For example, they saw Him at work when they:

  • were laid off from a cherished position
  • engaged in a deep conversation with a missionary on home assignment.

Over a period of several months – or even years – they prayed and sought the counsel of others before gradually arriving at the point where they could take a dramatic step in the direction of fulfilling a specific calling. Their experiences remind me that I should continue to pray that God would grant me wisdom and discernment. I pray that if/when He calls me in a new direction, I would be able to sense His calling and respond appropriately.