Archive for the ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ Category

Matthew 5 – Part 20 – YOU THINK YOU’RE SO PERFECT!

Jesus says “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What is that supposed to mean? Like, that’s impossible, right?

In fact there are a number of contradictions in this section of the Bible, until you look further. For instance, Jesus speaks of loving your enemies. I’ve always thought that to be contradiction because if you love someone they are no longer your enemy, but of course, He is saying that although you may love them, they still don’t love you. The enemy bit is theirs not ours.

Then He shocks us again! He says that when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we do it “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven”. So does that mean that if I don’t love my enemies, I can’t be a child of God anymore? No, I don’t think that’s what He’s trying to get across. What He is saying is that God loved me when I was His enemy, and so if I am a true child of God, then I’ll behave in the same way. I am to be my Father’s Son. I am to see things the way God sees things. When I do that I am doing all that God calls me to do.

But then Jesus goes on to say something ludicrous to me. Or at least at first glance it is ludicrous. Lord, you go on to say “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. That’s going TOO FAR! I’M NOT PERFECT, Lord. You know that I fall short of this. So what are you trying to say? Your standard is way too high for me.

But then when I think about it, God couldn’t have very well said to me, “Just do your best, and I’ll accept that.” A perfect God doesn’t give me an imperfect standard to live by. HE DOESN’T LOWER HIS STANDARDS JUST TO ACCOMMODATE ME.

I guess when I love my enemies, then I participate in something that is part of God’s perfect character. I do something perfect in His strength, but I still don’t get to that kind of standard in the everyday part of my life. I still get it wrong at times.

 “PERFECTION” in the original Greek has the idea of COMPLETE” ie “capable of doing everything that God calls us to do”

Colossians 2:10 (NLT) says “So you also are COMPLETE (or “perfect”) through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” 

PERFECT (teleios from télos = goal, purpose) means “one who has accomplished the intended goal (telos).” If something accomplishes what it is designed to do, it is said to be perfect (teleios). A child is imperfect in the sense that they have not yet grown to full maturity. So telios is often translated as mature”. When something is fully developed then it is said to be perfect. So Telios has the idea of being complete.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT) says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.:”  

When I trust in what Jesus did for me on the Cross, then I am complete. God sees me as righteous, ie in right relationship with Him, as perfect and complete, as forgiven of all my sins. Instead of seeing me, He sees what Jesus did for me, and so I stand before Him AS PERFECT.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to be perfect in my everyday relationships. I’m never going to be perfect in that way. I get it wrong all the time. But as the Lord works through me, I live out the kind of life He wants me to live. I am complete. I am doing all that God has called me to do, and in that sense it is PERFECT and I live in a way that is HOLY AND ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. It is a journey of perfection that I am taking. I need to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” Ephesians 5:18) in order to do this.

Romans 12:1-2 (NLT) spells it out better than I can. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” 

1 Peter 1:14-16 (NLT) says “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 

Philippians 3:12-16 (NLT) explains it further,

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.” 

The Bible is my perfect standard for life and faith, and as I live it out then I display glimpses of the perfection of God in my life. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT) says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” The Kings James Version says “That the man of God may be PERFECT, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”  

God bless you Church as you live a perfect life (ie complete everything God has called you to do).

Pastor Ross

 

Matthew 5 – Part 18 – SO WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IS THAT GOD CAN’T MAKE UP HIS MIND?

Occasionally I meet Christians who say “God is telling me to go and do this or that” and then the next minute God seems to have changed His mind. I remember one guy who made God look like He didn’t know how to make up His mind at all! One day it was “God wants me to do this.” and the next day it was something totally different. That’s not the unchangeable God I know and read about in the Bible.

So what I really want to talk about is OATHS AND SWEARING!

Jesus chooses to teach some radical principles to His disciples up on the mountain. Who can question that He knew what He was doing. And so far, I’ve got to admit, it is all applicable to me as a Christian leader. Jesus spoke about Oaths and Swearing. He says in Matthew 5:33-37 (NLT) “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is His footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”

He says don’t go making promises and assurances that you may not be able to keep or being profane in your language by bringing God’s name into it. Just let your yes be yes.

So let me get this straight – Don’t make promises but keep them anyway. Have the character to do the right thing anyway and speak in a way that is straightforward.

I guess Jesus is thinking of the 3rd commandment as He teaches this principle. Exodus 20:7 (NLT) says, “You must not misuse the Name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse His Name.” Leviticus 19:12 (NLT) makes this even clearer – “Do not bring shame on the Name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.”

Now these passages from the Old Testament don’t say “DON’T MAKE AN OATH” but they do encourage us not to make an oath and not keep it. Numbers 30:2 (NLT) says “A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.” but Jesus says “DON’T MAKE OATHS AT ALL!” What, doesn’t Jesus trust us? What happens if I go to court and have to swear on the Bible to tell the whole truth? Somehow I think Jesus knows that I am capable of stretching the truth, of exaggerating and just plain lying at times.

Annanias and Sapphira dropped dead after lying to God about giving all their land to the Church. In Acts 5:4 (NLT) Peter says to them “The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”

Jesus says vows and swearing aren’t necessary. He simplifies the law to the basics.

God is the only one who is really capable of keeping an oath. Hebrews 6:17 (NLT) says “God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind.”

Lord, thankyou that I can trust in You to come through with what You have promised. Help me to honour Your Name in the way I speak.

God bless you Church as you “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 (NIV))

Pastor Ross

Matthew 5 – Part 17 – WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH SWEARING? EVERYONE DOES IT!

Why is the F*** word and the Sh** word used so freely today? Jesus doesn’t directly include this in what He says about oaths in Matthew 5 but it is there by way of application and other passages enlarge on this. Is it a sin to curse (now there’s a quaint, old-fashioned word)? So I am taking a detour.

The spirit of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:33-37 is “watch how you speak. Don’t use God’s name as a swearword. Why? It is unnecessary and it is so dishonouring to God. In fact, speak and act with integrity.”

My mother speaks of times when her mother would wash her mouth out with soap in an effort to get across the filthiness of the way her children cursed. Imagine the uproar today if a mother “judged” her child in such a way today! I was listening to a group of School-aged children speaking with each other a couple of days ago. They would once have been recipients for a cleaner mouth.

What does the Bible say? Romans 3:10-18 (NLT) says, “As the Scriptures say,…“Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. … “Snake venom drips from their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” … “They have no fear of God at all.””

People who constantly say “Oh my God” still make me cringe as they bring God into the conversation amidst a series of expletives, and “Christ” is just a swearword or curse or slang word. I so find that difficult to listen to. It’s like smoking in the room with non-smokers, only worse. It shows a lack of respect for Christ or for anyone who might be a follower of Christ in the same vicinity.

That’s not to say that followers of Christ are not just as crass as those who are not at times. I personally find it difficult to be in the conversation when someone is using language that speaks about the privacy of the sexual act in a such a common way and often in a way that downgrades the status of a woman to an object. I am equally revolted by those who speak about excrement in the foulest of ways. What is the fascination with Sh**! How gross is such language in the midst of a conversation or a movie and I can’t see why it is necessary for everyday speech?

We’ve all heard the old saying that if you took away the swearwords, I wonder what kind of vocabulary would be left. Would some people find it difficult to talk at all? I don’t know but I would like to think that some might find that they can speak more fluently and expressively without their encumbrance.

Of course, you can dismiss this as the ravings of an old man but I would like to think that a value we all hold would be to show consideration to others. And even to consider, if you are a follower of Christ, that your cursing (yes, I’ve used that word again) shows that you may well have a real problem with simply being led by our culture rather than by what is acceptable to God.

Perhaps a question that might be helpful is “Am I being thoughtless, insensitive and selfish to others by the way I speak? Am I unwilling to stand up and be counted when I am called to live as Salt and Light (Jesus speaks about the concept. You might be interested in following it up)? Do I really want to be part of the crowd and blend in with a culture of crude talk?

Does my crass language reveal something about my heart is towards God and am I disregarding what He wants for my life? Is it foolishness and an indication of depraved thinking (especially regarding my attitude to women) that has no place in my life? Am I worth more than this? Cursing (OK – Swearing) certainly doesn’t appear to be a habit that the Bible encourages! Jesus was pretty direct at times but never stooped to speaking about people in sexually explicit ways or refer to them as excrement. He encourages us to be Salt that has not lost its taste. Swearing seems to be more an indication of salt mixed with dirt that has lost all usefulness to God and a good conversation.

Those who have developed a habit of swearing may well write off what I am trying to say as being judgmental! I offer it more as a point of view! I also care enough to say the tough things worthy of consideration even if culturally unacceptable.

James 3:8-9 (NLT) says “but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.”

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me!” I think perhaps we underestimate the power of words to damage our own lives, let alone the lives of others. “Familiarity breeds contempt!” Perhaps that’s more to the point. Husbands and wives can do a lot of damage to a marriage by the way they speak. James is right, “Who can tame the tongue?” For a follower of Christ, the answer to that is that Jesus can tame the tongue, as we respect what He says and live our lives in tune with Him. It might even help to take the invitation that Colossians 4:6 gives us – “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The invitation is to assess what kind of seasoning we use in the way we speak. Let me know what you think.

Pastor Ross

See related Article of stats in workplace swearing between generations at Wrike. Swearing in the Workplace: Announcing Part 1 of Wrike’s 2016 Work Management Survey https://www.wrike.com/blog/swearing-workplace-announcing-part-1-wrikes-2016-work-management-survey/ via @Wrike

Matthew 5 – Part 16 – GOD WANTS US TO BE HAPPY, SO WHY DON’T WE GET DIVORCED?

Years ago, Julie and I began to have difficulty in our marriage. I was spending all my time pastoring a small Church and our relationship was being neglected. It suffered to the point where I needed to take time out of ministry and we needed to do some repair work. That was a major decision and we know what it’s like to go through the difficult process, the road less travelled, of restoring that which has been lost, and for me, of learning what it means to be a better husband. It’s horrible at first, but when we made that choice, at the end of the day we are still married and I have an even better relationship with Julie than I had before. God is so good!

I am always disturbed when Christians take the dreadful step of divorce. If Christians can’t make their marriages work, who can? My heart breaks for them because they have usually left it too late before they come for counselling. Christians like to hide the fact that their marriages aren’t working, especially at Church. By the time they do come, they simply want to justify their decision. They tell me things like “God would not want me to live the rest of my life with someone I don’t love, would He?” or “God wouldn’t want me to be so unhappy?” I tell them as best I can that there is more to a marriage than an emotion of self centred well-being, but that doesn’t always go down that well!

Now I know it’s not simply a matter of, as one person put it, “being married but not engaged”. That’s worse still! But when a couple divorces, it is heartbreaking to see the aftermath of hurt and devastation which touches the lives of their children for years to come, and the legal and emotional battles that are fought to break that covenant. By the time you are divorced, you have had to violate a number of very binding promises you have made before God and eachother. That alone has devastating and lasting consequences for us emotionally, socially and spiritually – in every way. It is no wonder that God says “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, … “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,…so guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16 (NLT))

In Matthew 5, Jesus is teaching His disciples some leadership principles on the mountain, preparing them for ministry and all of a sudden He comes up with radical new ways of interpreting the topic of DIVORCE. It is so radical that even many Christians today ignore it! Jesus makes the outrageous claim that “a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32).

Are we to take Him literally? YES!!!

Now notice that Jesus has just finished speaking about ADULTERY and now he speaks about DIVORCE. The two things are so often related. He says Adultery is more than the actual sexual act. He is more concerned about the thought life that gives rise to Adultery and says that lust is already an act of adultery. Then He speaks about the real meaning of divorce.

The horrible thing about adultery is that it breaks the connection between husband and wife. The covenant relationship along with faithfulness, hopes for the future, love for eachother, and trust are all broken. If you are Christians, then the physical, emotional, AND SPIRITUAL connections are broken (Matthew 19:5-6).

So what do we get from all this? First of all God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) Divorce is permitted when Adultery has taken place, but the reason it is permitted is for the protection of the innocent party due to the sin of the other party. Sin always gets in the way of enjoying what God wants for us. Divorce is only permitted because of sin and is not a part of God’s original plan for our marriages.

Jesus said in Matthew 19:8, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended”

Unless there is unfaithfulness in the marriage, as a Christian, God expects that you will have the same attitude toward divorce as He does, and you will see it as a violation of His expressed purpose for your marriage.

Divorce in the case of adultery means that the innocent party no longer has to remain trapped in a hopeless and intolerable situation. Remarriage is permitted for the innocent person, and I use the term “innocent” as referring to the one who has not committed adultery. Jesus may permit divorce in these limited circumstances but never commands divorce. God shows clearly in Hosea 1-3 that a wife who has committed adultery can be forgiven and restored. I presume this applies to a husband as well.

Where a divorce is not because of adultery or because an unbeliever initiates the divorce, the Bible says there can be, and we are to seek, reconciliation, or else remain unmarried. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 says, “A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.” When you get a divorce where no adultery took place, then in God’s eyes you are still married. Marrying someone else means that you place yourself in a position of committing adultery, because God doesn’t recognise the validity of the divorce unless adultery took place. That’s how specific the Bible is about marriage and divorce.

Now, let’s get rid of the legal side and speak about hope for marriages.

When someone receives Christ as their Lord and Saviour, it means you begin a new life. According to John 3 you are born again and in 2 Corinthians 5:17, a genuine Christian has become a “new creature”. It means that it is not only possible but necessary to live out what God has revealed about marriage and divorce from the point of his or her relationship with Christ. Marriage, after all is a beautiful picture of the relationship of Christ and His Church.

 “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Someone said “This does not mean that Christ immediately erases painful memories, bad habits or the underlying causes for past marital problems, but that He begins a process of transformation through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. A sign of becoming a Christian will be a willingness to obey what Christ has revealed about marriage and divorce through the Word of God.”

What am I saying in all this?

Seek to honour Christ in your life and in all your relationships and mostly in your marriage. I read somewhere that we need to be careful what you let into our senses–what we see, what we hear, and where we go. Whatever we allow in our minds is going to have a great impact on us. Pray for purity. Avoid potentially tempting situations, like travelling alone, or going to places alone where you will be vulnerable. Stay accountable to your spouse and build your marriage.

God bless you Church as you treasure the marriages you have and as you take the road less travelled to find the answers you need to have a great marriage.

Pastor Ross

Too often when Julie and I watch a movie, I am forced to turn it off or over because of the coarse nature of the movie, particularly relating to the sex scenes. It is taken for granted that sex is a necessary part of most movies. I disagree! I don’t need to watch simulated sex between two people in my living room! I notice that although I make an active choice to turn the channel over or turn the movie off, that there is something inside me that would like to entertain watching a little bit longer. I know it would be wrong, but the desire is there. Jesus is not afraid to confront the big issues of men’s lives, like sex and our thought lives. He verbalizes what we know to be true…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28 (NASB))

I notice when Jesus confronts me, He goes for the heart. He addresses the core issues that I face in my thought life.

All around me I see that adultery causes such devastation and hurt in a marriage, and so often leads to the end of a marriage, and as a Christian man I agree that I don’t want to be involved in adultery, yet I am amazed at what I am capable of tolerating in my life unless I actively choose to deal with it. I need to be vigilant in this important area.

Jesus tells His disciples at the outset of ministry that purity is essential. He uses language that is forceful and exaggerated to get his point across to a group of fishermen who may well have been used to coarse jokes and lack of boundaries concerning women. He says in Matthew 5:29-30 (NASB) “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

OK, so how gross is this picture? Sure, He’s not being literal but don’t water this down! This is important! Decide ahead of time not to feed lust! Jesus is saying that what we focus on determines our actions. Jokes, movies, and magazines can give our senses permission to feed lust.

Jesus is using what we call graphic hyperbole (obvious and intentional exaggeration) to get His point across. Obviously, Jesus is not advocating self mutilation to deal with lust. That would not actually solve the problem of a man’s thoughts anyway. So what is He saying to me and you? He is saying “Deal with the cause! Focus your attention on other things that don’t feed lust. Take whatever action is necessary so that you don’t stumble in this area. Don’t indulge sinful patterns of thinking. Such thinking inevitably chooses inappropriate behaviour which can lead to the devastating consequences of adultery.

So does this mean if I think of a woman in the wrong way, then I’ll go to hell? Jesus is associating such behaviour and thinking as sin and all sin is deserving of hell and continuing to feed lust is behaviour that belongs to someone who does not have a personal relationship with Christ in the first place.

Jesus isn’t saying sex is sinful or wrong. The Bible speaks about marriage from the beginning and encourages Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” so God invites them to have sex. How do I commit adultery? I mean I know how, but what I’m getting at is that our definition is too restricted. According to Jesus it happens as I look at a woman with lust in my heart, not just the act having sex with someone elses wife. Sex outside marriage is obviously wrong and lustful thoughts, according to Jesus, are already tainted by the sin of adultery!

James 1:14-15 (NASB) says “… each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”  

So how do I win the battle over lust? I do whatever is necessary! It might mean staying away from certain places, or certain people. It might mean refusing certain social functions where I know the conversations will be suggestive. It might mean excusing myself and showing others by example that I don’t approve of suggestive jokes and conversations that lead to lust.

It will be determined by what I focus on. Philippians 4:8 (NASB) says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  

2 Cor. 10:5 says “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,”

Jesus says what the heart focuses on determines how I will live.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 (NASB) makes God’s perspective crystal clear.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.”  

One final thing – I need to admit to God what happens in my heart when I go wrong, and repent when I find myself drawn into the area of lust.

God bless you Church as you put Galatians 5:16 (NIV) into practise and as you “… live by the Spirit, … you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”