Thursday, April 26, 2018

To Judge or Not to Judge

Matthew 7.1 is, perhaps, the most commonly quoted verse in the Bible today. But just because it is oft-quoted does not mean it is properly understood. Jesus does say not to judge, but then just a few sentences later says we are to judge. Is Jesus speaking out of both sides of His mouth? The answer is, "No"; rather, the truth is that we are to judge in an evaluative way, but not in a condemning way. True judgment comes from God, but we are to determine right from wrong which includes making a judgment on people (such as the false prophets in Matthew 7.15).

The challenge for us as humans is that we tend to judge based upon our emotions rather than on facts. However, for those occasions when we do have facts, we never have all of the facts. And furthermore, even if we did have all of the facts, we still have our own issues to deal with as well. 

That is the point of the first few verses in Matthew 7. Again, Jesus does say not to judge, but then He turns around and says that we should help another who has an issue (which requires us to judge that an issue is real). The challenge then is to deal with the issue, not the person.

Ultimately, these verses come down to two primary points. First, we must realize that the chapter break does us a great disservice. Matthew 6.33 is a command to seek God and His righteousness. Just a couple of sentences later (7.1) we get the command about judgment. That is issue number one. The second point is found in Matthew 7.5, just a couple of sentences after the command about judgment. In that verse, we are told to take the log out of our own eye and THEN help the other person. These two aspects fit very well with one another – especially as bookends to the central piece about judging others.

To elaborate, if we are seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness first, then we will realize our own issues before God and know we have an offense against Him to be reconciled (a log to remove from our eye). Once removed, we can see clearly – because we are seeing things from God’s perspective – which will allow us to help the other person deal with their issue. The key here is that we are to help, not crush the other person. And this is important because we seek the help (mercy) of God whom we offend with our sin far more than anyone could offend us with theirs. So, the idea here is about judging with perspective, or as verse 2 says, with the proper measure.

Several years ago, I developed the following guide to keep the measure proper. This guide may not be perfect, but I do find it helpful, and after a recent re-evaluation, I believe it is still quite proper. In preparing to judge another, first consider these four questions.

1) Have I come before God to make sure my vision is clear?

2) If I confront another person, am I seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness or my own?

3) Do I believe this person is a Christian?

   a) Yes. Ask God how to approach the situation.
   b) No. Ask God for His grace to be revealed in you so you are not seen as merely judgmental.

4) What does the Word of God say about the matter?

The guides takes into account the verses mentioned in this post (primarily Matthew 6.33 and 7.5). I hope it will help you as it has helped me. (I am not perfect by any means, but this process keeps me in check quite often.)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Right Idea, But Stronger Meaning

The passage for this week’s sermon was Matthew 6.33-34. Verse 33 is one of those hallmark verses for Christian thought. You might have memorized it and maybe even recite it sometimes. As a pastor and educator, I do mention the passage often, but misquote the verse often. Let me use me state it as I usually do here, and without looking it up for yourself (yet), see if you can see my error.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6.33

Now, let me say that the capitalization of “Kingdom” and “His” are my typing techniques related to God, so you may omit these two possibilities. Also, you may omit “to” and is “to you” instead of “unto you” because that is merely a difference in translation, but it does not impact the meaning. With those items removed, do you see my error? Perhaps, perhaps not. The error is that I left off the first word of the sentence – But.

In the original Greek, the word “de” which means “but” or “however” is actually the second word of the sentence, but that is because the Greek language places emphasis on words depending upon where they lie within the sentence (particularly a word being first or last within the sentence). In this verse, Matthew wrote the first word as “seek” (Greek, zeteite), so the emphasis of our action is to seek. However, that is not the main point. The main point is that Jesus is contrasting what He has just said with this statement. The statement could certainly stand alone, and if we quote the verse as I did above, we certainly get the right idea. However the meaning of Jesus words, with the inclusion of the “but” is much stronger because of the contrast He draws (thus, the title of this post).

Matthew 6 fits together so well. If this verse is the climax of the sermon (as I believe it is), then consider how well the rest of Matthew 6 fits. We should seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness instead of our own righteousness, which we often do by:
  • wanting others to know how much we give (verses 1-4).
  • speaking eloquently or not want to speak at all – when in public (verses 5-8).
  • bringing attention to our sacrifice as we fast (verses 16-18).
  • chasing what the world has to offer (verses 19-23).
  • serving our desires instead of God (verse 24).
  • being worried about what we do and don’t have (verses 25-32).

In the midst of these items is the prayer Jesus taught His disciples as an anchor for us to remember God and His provision throughout each of these aspects of our lives. And then, in verse 31, Jesus says that we do not need to worry about our food, drink, and clothing, because our Father, the one which is in heaven (v. 9), knows what we need (v. 32; cf. verse 8).

Therefore, when we seek God and His righteousness, we are seeking the things of heaven (v. 20). Again, these truths are well understood in the context with some study and the application of logic. But, we cannot forget the “but.” That “But” at the beginning of verse 33 is a staunch reminder to the truth that we DO often seek our own pleasures, our own kingdoms, and our own righteousness instead of seeking after what God desires for us. And, of course, a mature believer realizes that s/he does this to their own detriment, but we (yes, I include myself as guilty) struggle to let go of this world, and cling to everything of God. So, Jesus used this contrasting word to emphasize His point.

The question for you and I, as always, is how will we respond? Last week, the same basic question was in play about whether or not to worry (be anxious). Again, the two are very much related. If we are seeking God (and His Kingdom and righteousness), then our concerns are much different than if we are seeking our own. And, as I have mentioned countless times in this series (if not here, then in conversations, or on the church’s blog –, it is in seeking God’s righteousness that we will be satisfied (Matt. 5.6), not in seeking our own.

So, please heed the words of Jesus to “seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.” But to do so, you and I must first realize the importance of giving up more trivial concerns in order to truly focus on the concerns of God.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Commandment Against Being Anxious

The Sermon on the Mount contains many different commands from Jesus. As I have mentioned before and elsewhere, this makes sense as it is God speaking to His people through His servant (in this case, the Son) about matters of how He desires them to live. This harkens back perfectly to God speaking to His people through His servant (Moses) on the mountain in the Old Testament. We know that God gave many commands for the new nation of Israel and codified a few on two stone tablets – commands we call the Ten Commandments.

Jesus clarified these ten and other commandments within His sermon as recorded in Matthew 5-7. For example, do not murder was “enhanced” to include hatred against another (Matt 5.22). Jesus further clarified what true giving, true prayer, and true fasting were. But in my preparations this week, I came across a new command. It is a command I have read many times. It is a command I have said before. But until this past week, I had never included the thought with the severity of a command – and yet, it uses the same language as many of the Ten Commandments used. That is, Jesus began this command with “Do not...” Do not be anxious (Matthew 6.25, 31, 34).

Now, at first glance, you might object to this being a command. If so, you likely object because you, like me, had simply not thought about it in these terms before. But we cannot dispute that the phrase used is identical to “Do not murder,” “Do not lie,” “Do not commit adultery,” etc. The difference is that those earlier commandments have to do with action while Jesus command here about anxiety has to do with thought. Yet, isn’t that exactly what Jesus did in the latter half of Matthew 5? He took the actions of murder, adultery, lying, etc. and made it about our thoughts, not just the act. So, we cannot dispute that thought is paramount to kingdom-living. Of course, our actions are important, but we cannot fool God if we do the right actions even though we do not have the right thoughts.

This concept truly struck me this past week as I was preparing my sermon. Jesus’ words truly jump off the page as He says the same words three different times within just a few short sentences. And while we may still be hesitant to lump “Do not be anxious” with the Ten Commandments, the idea of our anxiety is rooted in not trusting God which can be like having another god before the one true God.

Jesus does not say that we cannot have concern. Jesus was concerned about what was before Him as He prayed in Gethsemane. But the question is: Does our concern go into overdrive? Being concerned about the past is foolish – nothing can be changed. However, we can learn from the past. Being concerned about the future can lead to making better decisions. But if we are concerned about the future, we really only have two viable options if we are to avoid becoming anxious. First, we must deduce if something can be done about the projected future. If we can affect the future (even potentially), then we should do it (this would include prayer). If our efforts (beyond prayer) cannot change anything, forget it. Let me restate this – if you cannot do anything about the future, then why worry about it? It is going to happen. Make plans for it, don’t worry about it.

As I type this, I realize the idea of not being anxious is much easier said (typed) than done. But the command not to be anxious does not come from me, it comes from the one who created the universe. He is in control. And that will not change.

I do realize that some are medically diagnosed with various disorders which are called anxiety. I am not suggesting medication cannot help or that it should not be used. Just at the heart can be helped with medication, so can the brain. (After all, both are organs, right?) But apart from that, most of us worry over a variety of matters which, truly, do not matter – especially, when we are busy seeking first (primarily) the kingdom of God and His righteousness (but that part will have to wait for next week’s post).

So, do not worry. Do not be anxious. Do not fret over what might happen. Either do something about it, or let it go. Whether or not you agree that His words represent a commandment on par with the Ten Commandments, your choice, and mine, is to follow these words or ignore them – just like every other command God has given. But, for those who claim to follow Jesus, to ignore His words is as impractical as it is unwise. Let us wisely choose to follow and, therefore, learn how to not be anxious about anything.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Because Jesus Is Alive

I am certain that some in our church were disappointed not to hear a complete message on the resurrection this past Sunday. But really, how many messages can be preached on the topic? I do not ask that to suggest that the answer is minimal, but the reality is that most people who attend church on the day the resurrection is remembered (celebrated!), already know the story – and know it well. Now, that doesn’t excuse not mentioning the resurrection because it is the proof for our faith in Jesus and some who come will not have heard the story or will not know its significance. (Yes, the blood sacrifice on the cross is critical but without the resurrection would we know that Jesus was any different than others who were crucified?)

My message this past Sunday was in continuation of Jesus’ message from the Sermon on the Mount. We looked at Matthew 6.19-24 and the comparison of two types of treasures, two types of eyes, and two distinct masters. As I outlined the series, I could only think of one better passage from Jesus’ sermon for Resurrection Day – Matthew 6.33 and seeking first the kingdom and the righteousness of God. But the dates didn’t work, so Matthew 6.19-24 were the choice. Why do I say it is such a good passage for the day?

Matthew 6.19-34 are all one unit and fit extraordinarily well with what precedes (it is as if Jesus knew what He was doing as a preacher!). In the preceding verses, Jesus has taught His disciples to pray to a Father who cares for them and their needs. In the verses for this week, Jesus says that His disciples must choose what is truly important to them. And then the chapter closes with the proof that the Father will supply what His children need if they trust Him. And that leads us back to the resurrection.

The choice of treasures is easy to make if we keep our focus on the resurrection over and against the offerings of the world. The choice of eyes to have is easy to make if we want the light of Jesus to be a part of our lives as opposed to living in darkness. And the choice of masters is easy to make if we realize that money (mammon, all possessions) cannot truly do anything for us and certainly doesn’t care for us like the Master (God) who sent His Son to die and rise again that we might choose to follow Him.

The problem is that far too many people want to celebrate the holiday known as Easter without allowing the truth of the resurrection affect their lives every other day of the year. But if we truly understand that Jesus did die for us (and He did), and now lives for us (and He does), then shouldn’t we also choose to live for Him? And by choosing to live for Jesus, then we should bring all of our decisions into line with the ideas presented within His great sermon recorded by Matthew.

Of course, if Jesus is not alive, then nothing He said matters. And, if Jesus is not alive, then, as Paul, said, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15.19, read 1 Cor. 15.12-28 for complete context). If Jesus is not alive, then I urge you to quit reading this blog because it is a waste of your time. In fact, I should stop writing it weekly, because it is a waste of mine. But I will not stop because I believe Jesus IS alive, and hope you will keep reading (whether you believe that or not) to find encouragement, to be challenged, or perhaps to one day realize that the same Savior who died and rose for me did the same for you and desires to have a relationship with you.

So, yes, this past Sunday’s sermon was a bit different. But my church realizes that I do things differently from time to time. However, my intent is to live my life because Jesus is alive and, therefore, to help others do the same. If that means that I use the day we celebrate the resurrection to talk about the choices we should make to live for Jesus, then maybe it is because we, as people of faith, as a church in Fairfax, or even as the global Church need to arise from our slumber to serve our Lord who rose from the dead. I know I need the reminder sometimes, and Sunday was a good day to remind many others as well.