Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Hermeneutic of Love

One of the most important principles in hermeneutics (proper interpretation) is to seek to understand what the message originally meant. Although the principles of the Bible are timeless, the actual stories happened to real people and the words were recorded so real people could remember them. The same is true with the various New Testament letters. They were written to real people making up real churches dealing with real problems. And the same is true with the various teachings of the Bible, including Jesus sermon in Matthew 5-7. His teaching was not random; rather, it was very purposeful. He was teaching those who were with Him near the very beginning of His ministry to know what life was like from a Kingdom perspective.

Over the past several weeks, I have been preaching through this magnificent sermon and reflecting on some thoughts here in this blog. The ultimate idea is that Jesus wants His followers to think in terms of “on earth as it is in heaven” and thus is teaching those listening (and now reading) what living in the Kingdom of God is like. In the first part of this sermon, Jesus began by sharing about the blessings of being a true followers (the Beatitudes), then said that true righteousness must be greater than those who parade themselves around as righteous people (the Pharisees), and finally gave His commentary on several commands that had been tainted over the years. Then, at the conclusion of what we call Matthew 5, Jesus said that those listening (“you”) must be perfect because our Father is perfect.

Everything Jesus has said to this point in His sermon has one single theme – love. The first verses point to a God who loves us, and then Jesus turns to how our love for God and others should be lived out in our daily lives. Of course, living in this manner is difficult, but a part of that is due to perspective.

In preaching this series, I have been especially focused on trying to get to how the people listening to Jesus that day may have considered His words. Again, the words were originally said to people living in a context that was 2000 years ago. Certainly, Jesus’ words are timeless, but He said them to the people then, and thus we must realize that He said particular words and used particular examples for a reason. (I often use the analogy of baseball here. If someone were to describe the game of baseball they might talk about hitting a ball with a bat. But the context matters. For instance, telling a similar story 200 years ago would cause the listener to think something very different for bats would only be known as the flying mammal.) Thus, as we begin to understand what the words meant then, we can better relate the words to what they mean now and how we should live accordingly. The challenge is that records of the past are much more difficult to find and so sometimes assumptions must be made.

However, all of the teaching Jesus did in this first part of this sermon (Matthew 5) leads to the unmistakable purpose to love. In fact, the last of the commands Jesus mentions is that we should love even our enemies and we do so because our Father does so. Thus, Jesus ends this portion by saying that we should be perfect because our Father is perfect. Contextually, Jesus is speaking about being perfect in love, not in action. Of course, neither is possible. We have sinned and will continue to do so until we are made complete on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1.6). But our nature can be perfect because Christ’s righteousness becomes our own when we place our faith in Him. Thus, we may not live perfectly, but we may be considered perfect by our Father because of our faith in the Son. As such, we must grow in our capacity to love – even as Jesus showed us what it means to love others, including our enemies.

I am the first to admit that this is not easy. I fail miserably sometimes. But if Jesus said we should do so, then I cannot dismiss my need to do so if I truly want to be a follower. I thank God for giving me a demeanor that is not hateful or spiteful. But to actively love requires intentionality, and sometimes I am not as intentional as I need to be. This series has reminded me that I must focus more on loving in all aspects of my life. As Paul wrote, we may do many things excellently, but if we do not do it with love, then we miss out on the real purpose of life. Jesus knew this. Jesus taught this. Jesus lived this. And we should too. 

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