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Judge not, that you be not judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Now Jesus turns our attention to relationships in His counter-cultural Kingdom. Having already addressed the Christian’s character, influence, righteousness, and aspirations He acknowledges that we do not live in a bubble but are engaged in various interactions and relations. Knowing that we live in community Jesus saw our relationships as being critical in importance and must be rightly managed as part of following Him. This passage first deals directly with being judgmental toward our brothers, or fellow believers.

The text presumes Jesus understands the sinfulness of humanity and that His followers will not be perfect in this life. He also recognizes that we often deal with the sin, poor decisions, flaws, and misbehavior of others in ways that do not honor Him and are contrary to Kingdom living. This passage does not prohibit discernment, insight, wisdom, or criticism of all sorts but forbids condescending, harsh, destructive, censorious, and hypocritical judgments against our bother’s faults. Our attitudes and motives are the issues here. There are times we must speak the truth with God’s word as our guide but this is to be done with grace and love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth but do it with a heartfelt compassion for the audience (Ephesians 4:15).

Jesus identifies that we tend to forget that we have a higher judge in Him that judges us all (including ourselves). He is the ultimate measuring stick and intentionally finding fault in others while ignoring our own problems and spiritual issues is wrong. In other words, we need to look first at our own lives, in comparison to a perfectly holy God, before we begin the process of nitpicking the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus infers that those most often guilty of condemning others are often the ones with the biggest issues. Such hypocrisy is a major stumbling block in our relationship with others and intimacy with our King. It also sets us up for a harsher judgment than the one we have inflicted. How differently would we treat fellow Christ-followers if we considered that we will be measured against the same standards that we hold others to? And that we are also held to God’s perfect standard.

When comparing ourselves to others it is, due to our fallen nature, easy to exaggerate their faults while minimizing our own. This is a means of exalting ourselves while disparaging others. When this is done to promote a false sense of self-righteousness it becomes hypocrisy (see Luke 18:9). Addressing to the issue of focusing on our own problems first, Paul writes in First Corinthians 11:31, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment”. Such is the attitude of those who desire not to be hypocritical but, instead, transparent before a holy and omniscient God.

On the other hand, in one of Jesus’ most challenging statement, we see that some elements of this lost world are so egregiously evil that they are to be avoided ( Matthew 7:6). Jesus used two dirty animals to portray those who live such filthy lives that what is sacred and eternally valuable is wasted upon them. This speaks to us being discerning but not judgmental. Who are those who are so calloused and degenerate that they are beyond receiving “the pearl of great value’ (see Matthew 14:36) which is the Kingdom of Heaven (salvation)? Although they may be those who have heard the precious gospel of the Kingdom, had ample opportunity to receive that truth, but steadfastly and belligerently refuse the free offer of grace I do not know for sure. There may be those who live in a place of incurable godlessness that God’s spirit no longer pursues them (Genesis 6:3) but I am not wise enough to identify them. This passage, I believe, calls us to try to reach all, but be prudent about whom we spend our time with as some will refuse to receive Jesus’ truth. I believe we see an example of this in the two vastly different ways that Jesus interacted with the two criminals that were crucified on each side of Him (Luke 23:32-43).

Although God’s word is clear that we should “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19) I believe Matthew 7:6 suggests that we should not allow the wicked to trample God’s sacred and infinitely valuable truth of Jesus and His grace by going on and on with those who belittle such precious things. After doing our best to exalt the King and His Kingdom, we are to leave this these types in the hands of a sovereign God while keeping them in our prayers. But first let’s make sure that we are doing our best to discerningly spread the good news to all and doing so without an attitude of judgmental hypocrisy.

“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:32-34).

No passage better summarizes the Sermon on the Mount and the essence of His Kingdom than these three verses. Jesus now speaks to what it means to be a true follower of the King and His Kingdom (and not  a pagan – there are only two options). He clearly communicates what we as His followers and servants are to aspire to and the life-transforming ramifications of selling out to the pursuit of His Kingdom and His righteousness. Herein is the basis of Kingdom living – not desiring to live like unbelievers, seeking after the things of Jesus, and living faithfully in the present with a hopeful eye on our glorious future. This causes us to seriously consider; what are our ambitions and aspirations? The things of this life and world, like the unregenerate, or the things of God and His spiritual Kingdom? The answers define our relationship to our King.

The Kingdom that we are to purse is primarily the one that has been placed within us (Luke 17:21). To seek first His kingdom means that we seek after His dominion and rule in our lives. This yielding to His invasion of our hearts impacts every aspect of who we are in our relationships, leisure, vocation, and church. For He is taking up residence and enthroning Himself as the Lord of every aspect of our lives. We become willfully and joyfully submissive to His reign in and over us. “Seeking first His Kingdom” means that our pursuit of His honor and glory dissects all of our attitudes, actions, and activities. This is the kind of surrender that our King requires and it differentiates us from a lost and spiritually dead world. And  this pursuit of surrender to Him is the foundation for God’s use of us to expand and enhance His Kingdom.

Seeking after His Kingdom includes our hunger and thirst for His righteousness (Matthew 5:6) and being persecuted for it (Matthew 5:10) as we have seen earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. This is logical, since His Kingdom is one permeated by His righteousness, but seeking it first and foremost challenges our flesh. And this is because all righteousness and any pursuit of it can only be found in Him, His sacrificial provision, and His empowerment in our labors to model holy living. How often have we (or anyone that we know) claimed that our ultimate endeavor is to demonstrate His Kingdom and pursue the righteousness of Christ? Yet Jesus declares that is what differentiates us from the pagan world. Jesus is not calling us to a balanced life (as we have often been taught is a healthy life) but one completely imbalanced and weighted on Him.

And what are we given in return?  “All of these things”. These things certainly refer to the previous passage concerning God’s provision of the necessities of life – food, clothing, and shelter (Matthew 6:25-31). But also, I believe, they refer all the way back to the Beatitudes at the beginning of the sermon (Matthew 5). There we find that His earnest followers are blessed (contented) by these unfathomable gifts – the Kingdom of Heaven within us (v.3), divine comfort (v.4), spiritual possession of the earth (v.5), divine satisfaction (v.6), God’s incomprehensible mercy (v.7), the ability to see and know God (v. 8)  and the privilege of being one of God’s children (v. 9). And what could be greater than “these things”? Nothing in this life can touch the immeasurable value of these gifts of grace.

And how do we begin to experience all of these things in the here and now? We stay in the present as we moment by moment seek to abide in Christ and saturate ourselves in Him. This magnifies and exalts His Kingdom rule in us. This is only done by forgetting the past, not being anxious about our future (which is already sealed for all of eternity), and being fixated on the Kingdom calling that is right in front of us. Our task is not to worry about the things of this life but to obsessively pursue heavenly things and store up for ourselves eternal treasure by living in and through Him while being faithful to His Kingdom in the present. Paul reiterates this principle when he tells the Colossian church, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

So, what do we pursue when we seek the Kingdom and His righteousness? Jesus himself and all of His “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8). Why? Because we have been raised with Him and our life is hidden in His. He is our power, hope, and purpose. When we seek His Kingdom we receive the greatest of all treasures – relationship with Him now and all of eternity in His presence. For He is our life – in Christ we have “all of these things” now and forevermore.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”(Mathew 6:25-31).

Jesus now points us back to the preceding section with the word “Therefore”. He is saying that not only are we to reject the pursuit of earthly treasures but we are to trust in Him for our physical needs. Yet, even when we are not obsessed with material possessions, do we not tend to worry about the necessities of life? By way of analogy Jesus uses some familiar examples to show that He how cares – birds, flowers, and grass. “Look”, Jesus basically says, “at my care for my creation and you will then begin to understand my care for my chosen people”. The simplicity of His teachings may stun us but it is extraordinarily effective in conveying His truth. The condensed message is, “Do not worry, for I am a loving, good and capable Father who cares for you”.

The essence of this passage is, If He is our King and He is so great then why do we worry about the necessities of life? Or even more broadly, why do we worry at all? Although it is human nature to worry, we indeed serve an omnipotent God. Here we see that worry is incompatible with faithful Kingdom living. In other words, we have but three explanations for our paralyzing worry – we are too focused on self and the things of this world, we have too little faith in Him, or He is not our King after all. Could it be that our vision of Him is so small that we do not perceive Him as loving or good or capable? Kingdom living requires that we see Him as all of that and more! Again, if we believe this, why are we so worried?

But such cares and concerns are typical of fallen humanity. Although, in a practical application, worry makes little sense – worry changes nothing – Jesus is cognizant and empathic towards that struggle over the necessities of living – food, clothing and shelter. Also, as the great Provider, He is concerned over our emotional needs as well. Although He commands us to not worry He also knows that we, as His followers, do encounter trials, tribulations, and troubles. That is why He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

But notice that he doesn’t say, “I will solve all of your problems”. Yes, He does provide for our necessities but that does not remove us from all of life’s challenges. But He does care for us!  As Peter states, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  Again, this does not infer that God is the panacea for all of this life’s physical, emotional, and financial ills. It states that He knows and is caring for us in the way that He sees fit – in a way that honors and glorifies Himself and His Kingdom. That is where faith comes in – trusting Him in a way that, in the context of His purposes, He will provide for us what He deems best. And He knows best and therefore our worry should be diminished.

Paul states it this way, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:6-8). Notice again that he doesn’t say He will answer all of our requests. He just says that Jesus will give us “the peace of God which transcends all understanding”. And he says that our hearts and minds will be “guarded in Christ Jesus”. Paul also teaches us the method of finding this peace and lessening out anxiety and worry – focus on the goodness of God (“think about such things”). We do that when our minds are fixed upon Jesus our King, our beneficent provider and the one who has already blessed us so abundantly.

“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die:  Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

This is not the kind of prayer that we often hear in contemporary Christianity. It is simple, sacrificial and comes from a servant’s heart. It is God-focused and demonstrates a longing to honor Him. It is divinely refreshing. This prayer only has two main requests of God. The speaker asks to be without deceit and to be provided for only on a day to day basis. Let us consider this provocative prayer as we ponder today’s Christian culture.

First, I’m struck by this petition’s reverence and humility. Agur, the oracle of this prayer, displays his posture before God by stating, “I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man’s understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One” (Proverbs 30:2-3). He sees his own unrighteousness and the arrogant, deceived and violent depravity of the world around him (Proverbs 30:11-14) in sharp contrast to God’s absolute holiness. He does recognize that we can come to God confidently with our requests but also understands that we must be cognizant of our sin and utter dependence before a holy God. That’s where his humility and reverence comes from. The writer of Hebrews recognizes that our graciously bestowed access to God should reflect these attitudes – “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

On that basis what was his first request? Integrity! In light of our sinfulness and God’s holiness Agur believed that his total honesty was his just obedience. How true. Doesn’t our integrity define our character and affect every aspect of our lives. Honesty with God, ourselves, and others is paramount in the pursuit of finding, knowing and serving a righteous God.  This is why Peter said, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind… Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us… To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:1, 12, 21-22). In other words, there was no deceit in Jesus and reflecting His integrity brings Him glory.

Agur’s second request has to do with God’s provision for his daily needs. His petition is couched in his awareness of the insatiable self-indulgence that often accompanies our lifestyles and our petitions to God. He alludes to this human tendency in verses 15 and 16 – “The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’” In other words, people, by nature, never have enough and want more and more. So, deviating from this destructive and empty pursuit for more and more, Agur seeks only for the minimum that he needed to survive and serve God.

Reminding us of the Israelite’s daily provision of manna (which was good for only one day) and Jesus’ direction to pray daily for our daily bread, Agur asks only for today’s supply and no more. In essence he is requesting that God cause him to live “paycheck to paycheck”. How strange to us that he wanted no savings account, Social Security, 401K, pension, or rainy day fund. He believed that having more than “enough” would cause him to ignore God. Doesn’t that ring true to us as well? Isn’t it our tendency to become self-reliant and arrogant towards God when we are materially prosperous? In balance, he also realized that abject poverty might incline him to dishonest behavior. However, very few Christians in America today are faced with the type of poverty we often hear about in the other countries. So his desire was only for just enough.

So what prompted such a radical yet simple prayer?  Agur has a lofty and exalted view of an immeasurably powerful Creator – “Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know! Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:4-5). That’s why he called Him Lord. That’s why Agur wanted to be pure before this mighty God and ask for only what he needed as opposed to what he wanted. What was the overarching reason? He perceived God as his personal shield and refuge. Agur understood that in God we are promised all that we need and that the integrity of our lives should reflect that truth.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:19-24).

Jesus’ Kingdom has a very contrarian view on material possessions and money. The bumper sticker mentality of “He who has the most toys at the end of the game wins” is not to exist in those that serve King Jesus. This is because that earthly “treasure” is not durable while spiritual “treasure” is. Jesus admonishes us to seek after His treasure – treasure that is real, satisfying, and lasting. His recognition that our paradigm of material possessions and money is directly related to the condition of our heart and our desire to trust our Lord should incline us to pause and give serious consideration as to what we treasure most of all.

This teaching is not a prohibition against the having any material possessions, demonstrating good stewardship through planning and saving, nor the enjoyment that God allows us in His gifts to us (see Proverbs 6:6, I Timothy 4:3-4; 5:8; 6:17). Recognizing that God is the true source of these things and not selfishly accumulating is the issue here. Jesus said “not to store up for yourselves” earthly treasures for the purpose of self-centered consumption while ignoring the Giver and the needs of others. This passage is condemning the pursuit of luxury and extravagance instead of pursuing the things of God (see Matthew 6:33). Jesus underscores that Kingdom living is not to be about the pursuit of things when he said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Unfortunately, the deception that possessions bring about abundant living and spiritual benefits is rampant today even within the church. However, coveting more and more of this world’s trinkets eventually leads to emptiness and destruction because they do not provide lasting satisfaction (see Philippians 3:18-19). Jesus realized that consumption and accumulation leads to a never ending and never satisfying hunger for more. Instead He is to be our satisfaction and not gradually decomposing man-made “treasures”. Gaining possessions for their own sake is a very poor facsimile of the fullness and satisfaction found in Him and His righteousness. Fixing our hearts on earthly and material things eventually leads us into great spiritual darkness, pain, and destruction.

The inference here is that our lives are to be centered on giving not gaining. Elsewhere the Sermon on the Mount makes reference to Jesus’ followers as givers not accumulators of material possessions (Matthew 5:40-42; 6:3). Reminding us of a previous section in this great sermon (Matthew 6:2-4) He is teaching that what we gain in this life should be with the purpose of giving in mind in order to honor Him and receive a eternal reward from Him (see also Mark 10:21). Unfortunately, accumulating with the motive to give to others and expand His Kingdom is viable but is altogether too scarce. Therefore, Jesus delineates our two very clear choices. We can love and pursue (serve) money and the possessions they bring or we can love and pursue (serve) the things of God. We will do one or the other and there is no gray area. The question then becomes, what is our passion and therefore our God? What do we desire most – the things of this earth or King Jesus and His spiritual and eternal bounty?  Or, in a practical sense, which of these do we think about the most? Our answers determine our faithfulness to the royal rule of our King in our hearts.

Later in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus connects our perspective on possessions and the value we put on His Kingdom. In a staggering passage Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a treasure and is of greater worth than all of our earthly possessions: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44). I pray that we see that real and lasting joy will be found only in the unfathomable treasure that is the King and His Kingdom. Therein lies our great reward and its worth is infinitely more valuable than anything this world has to offer us. Let us realize that we will serve one or the other – money or Him – one fades and eventually disintegrates and the other the other joyfully lasts forever. This is why Jesus will soon say, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-6).                                               

Jesus now returns to the theme of Kingdom character. He has already spoken of our righteousness, our purity, our commitment, and our influence earlier in this great polemic. He now speaks to the importance of genuineness and the absence of hypocrisy. Having addressed our internal and spiritual morality Jesus turns to the nature of our religious exercises. His call is clear – they must be real and authentic without show or self-promotion. In other words, this passage exhorts us to purity in both the public and private spheres of our practicing faith. Jesus states unequivocally that going through the motions to look good or for personal gain and glory is not what Kingdom living is about. Essentially, ostentatious religion is unacceptable. 

Jesus mentions three traditional and prominent practices of most all religions – giving (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-6), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In and of themselves, these are all good and commended practices. But if our motives in doing them are wrong they can be meaningless and empty actions without spiritual substance or eternal reward. The issue at hand is whether we do these types of things to be seen of men or to glorify God. This is the same symptom of sinfulness and lack of true subservience to Christ identified when Paul says to the church at Galatia, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). An honest inward journey reveals to all of us this tendency – to seek approval in the tangible here and now as opposed to the spiritual and eternal. In other words, we often view man’s opinion as more important than God’s omniscient knowledge of who we truly are. 

This outward show versus inward, heartfelt motivation and our program to impress men more than to be genuine before God is the essence of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not failing to live up to God’s standards (for we all do that) but portraying ourselves to be something that we are not. It is acting (hypokrites in the Greek) and not really being selflessly faithful to our King at the very core of our being. Hypocrisy is outward activity devoid of inward reality. It is, again, a lack of heart-righteousness that is replaced with empty practices. It may look good on the outside to men (Jesus referred to the Pharisees as cups that were “clean on the outside but dirty on the inside” and “whitewashed tombs that were filled with dead men’s bones”) but not to Him. However, according to Jesus, deeds done with a sincere desire to honor God and not exalt man are never really anonymous – the worthy God that we serve sees and rewards. 

The desire to be recognized in this world is typically driven by pride – a major issue with the Pharisees – which is a critical barrier between God and man. It is fuelled by man-centeredness as opposed to an orientation toward God and His perception of who we really are. We do not experience God with such an attitude as Jesus demonstrates in His parable of the two prayers – one of the Pharisee and other the prayer of the tax collector -found in Luke 18:9-14. It was the broken “sinner”, contrite and transparent is his pleadings before God that Jesus said “went home justified before God” (verse 14a). Why? Jesus answers, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14b). 

So what is our reward; the one distributed for our secret but sincere service (Matthew 6:6)? Recognition from God. He knows – so it is not necessary for man to know. For man can not recognize and reward in the same manner that our King does. His Kingdom is filled with authentically faithful servants doing His work in secret knowing that He will reveal and eternally reward their good deeds. As Paul explains it, “[our] work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward” (1 Corinthians 3:13-14). Our works will survive and be rewarded if they are done for His glory and not our own, if we are promoting His beauty and not ourselves.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48). 

We have been told that it is acceptable to despise our enemies. The same was true is Jesus’ day. But He says otherwise. Jesus says that our love to others should be unbiased and assertive just like His is. This is a litmus test in our faithfulness to His Kingdom principles. This is not our natural tendency. We wish to hate those that hate us and love those that love us. Beyond that, “our neighbor”, Jesus suggests, is everyone. Our King calls us to a sweeping and selfless goodness that differentiates us from the lost world. We are to resist a narrow and selfish scope of love that makes us no different than those who refuse to surrender to His dominion in their lives. Any hatred we find in scripture is God’s vengeance upon His enemies and sin and not a license for us to usurp His rightful place as the only holy judge. 

Not desiring to love all, the Pharisee’s chose to modify the definition of neighbor as “one of our own”, or Jews. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) further points to Christ’s teaching that our love should transcend our own race, religion, or rank. Despite numerous Old Testament passages that refer to the way they were to treat all people (see Exodus 23:4-5, Proverbs 25:21) they demonstrated the natural and human tendency to return good with good and evil with evil and they felt justified to be condescending to whomever they chose (including Jesus). Unfortunately, if we are to reflect honestly upon our own hearts we will find the very same inclinations. 

How then are we to love all mankind? Viewing a parallel passage in Luke we see that we should care for others in our actions, our words, and through our prayers for them. (6:27, 35). Jesus is stating that our love is not to be just a feeling but involves practical service to all that is both sacrificial and humble. The love He describes actually costs us something – time, energy, resources, etc. Since we are often unable to directly care for all (and even all of our enemies) then the medium of prayer becomes our primary vehicle for loving others (Matthew 5:44). Hated and eventually martyred by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonheoffer said that through prayer “we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God”. Such indiscriminate love projects the nature of our loving King and His love saturated Kingdom and demonstrates that He is our Father and we His children. When was the last time we prayed for our enemies?

Paul describes this unorthodox type of love with these familiar words: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:4-8).  Loving this way is an indication of our striving for the perfection of God’s love. Our indwelling sin nature keeps such perfection from being attained in this life but our efforts show our loyalty to His ways. Our pursuit of a lifestyle of God-like love shows the radical difference created in those transformed by a love-extending and cross-bearing Savior. This is the kind of spiritual metamorphosis that the pagans can not understand yet are made curious by and, sometimes, magnetically drawn to. 

Why? Because such a contrarian type of love points them to the cross – the lightening rod of God’s rich love and glory. There they can see the impetus behind our unbiased and selfless love for others – a crucified Savior driven to His death by the will of an infinitely loving God. We are called to image forth the kind of God-like (agape) love that is the root and foundation of His eternal Kingdom and an attribute of those that serve Him. This is best captured by the Apostle John: 

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:7-12).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

In the next to last antithetical statement (and one that directly relates to His previous teaching on our persecution for righteousness’ sake) in His manifesto on the Kingdom of God, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. It seems as if the Scribes and Pharisees had taken the Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21) from the court system to personal relationships. They wanted to take upon themselves the privilege of punishing those that had offended them where God had determined that practice should be performed by judges. God did allow for the Himself and the judicial system to determine the punishment for wrongdoing but the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had decided to usurp that authority.

Jesus here is defining the personal relationships in His new Kingdom to be based upon love and not justice. After all, aren’t we glad He doesn’t operate on the basis of justice with us? None of us want that since we would all stand before Him condemned in our sin and worthy of eternal punishment. But grace and mercy prevail in this new Kingdom and vengeance (or justice) is God’s alone to determine. Paul says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:9). Therefore we have no right to retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to “turn the other cheek” and “pray for those who persecute you”.

In other words, Jesus is not prohibiting the concept of justice but is calling us to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into our own hands. Our lives in His Kingdom are to be marked by an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Our response should be to commit the issue to God as a good and righteous judge and respond with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, we are to overcome evil with good. We are not to be governed by a heart that desires to do harm (even though we may think it justifiable) but by one that seeks after the highest spiritual good.

Beyond passive non-retaliation Jesus speaks to a giving spirit as an attribute in those who follow after Him and His Kingdom. There is no qualifier in this passage at to who should receive our gifts but a mindset of giving as opposed to meting out punishment or even taking for our own personal gain. This passage reeks with a paradigm of other-centeredness which is so uncommon in our world. In other words, it is about not doling out vengeance to those who, we think, may deserve it but, instead, giving without reservation to those that may not seem to be worthy of our gift.

But before we retort that this is unrealistic let’s consider what the scriptures say about Jesus, our King, Himself: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).  It was prophesied that He would be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter, before His accusers and abusers. The gospel of Mark tells us:

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him” (Mark 15:15-20).  And what was Jesus response to His undeserved abuse? First silence and then forgiveness: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Let us then project the beauty of our King and resonate the message and lifestyle of His Kingdom by not resisting the evil done to us but return evil with good. As Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10). For Jesus is the ultimate judge and avenger of His righteousness – so let us, while doing good to all, leave such matters in His hands knowing that by doing so we will reap a greater reward in the Kingdom to come.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:60-69). 

When it comes to God’s Word we are not called to understand or like it all but we are called to believe and live it! 

God’s word, and Jesus’ teaching in particular, often times will disturb our flesh and pride. We do not want to accept it but desire to rationalize and explain it to our own liking. Jesus knew this. Even those who lived with Him for nearly three years, saw His miracles, and observed the perfection of His life wanted to reject His teaching because they didn’t understand it or it made them feel uncomfortable. The same is true today with each of us. Let’s see what this passage says about these challenging Biblical instructions. 

  • Some of God’s teachings are hard to accept and we can find ourselves offended by them (vss. 60-62). These difficult precepts permeate scripture from beginning to end and include the utter sinfulness of man, the absolute authority, holiness and glory of God, the “foolishness’ of His plan of salvation, and a myriad of seemingly unrealistic demands in following Him with all of our heart (for example see Matthew 5-7).
  • Such teachings can only be understood through the Holy Spirit and will be rejected by our natural, fleshly nature (v. 63). I have often said that I can teach the truth but only the Holy Spirit can impart it. God’s word is often offensive (v. 61) and so is the cross (Galatians 5:11) yet it is the wholly reliable. As someone has said, “It may hurt, but it is the truth”. 
  • Some will choose not to accept the hard teachings of Jesus and Christianity from the beginning (v. 64). These are folks that reject Christ outright – they are atheists, agnostics, and followers of other, easier to follow religions. They are unwilling to accept Christ’s claims and surrender their lives to Him due to their selfish unwillingness to yield to such a sacrificial, spiritual, and God-centered ideology.  
  • God Himself is the enabler of those who will believe and accept His word (v. 65). Jesus had just stated that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44). The word for draw could be translated “to drag” and indicates our utter dependence upon God to both understand His gospel and come to Him. 
  • Some will abandon their faith due to an unwillingness to accept the entire counsel of God (vss. 66, 67). Some may be attracted to what Jesus offers but are later repelled by what He requires. Taking up a cross and denying themselves (Mark 8:34) is just too much to ask. Other teachings seem just as overbearing and exaggerated and more than those on the fringe of the faith can tolerate. This includes those who profess to be Christians yet so water down, rationalize, or liberalize God’s word that it hardly resembles the true gospel.
  • In the end, He is the Holy one of God and His words are the word of eternal life (vss. 68, 69). Peter got it right. Where else can we go to know God? Jesus has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God. He is worthy of our trust and obedience as He and His words are our only hope…no matter how challenging they may be. 

Let us all be warned that following His teaching is not for the weak or the faint of heart. It requires both faith and surrender. His words are truth and life. He is who He says He is and what He says is worth staking our eternal destiny on. Whether we “feel” like accepting or living it is not the issue. It is about believing Him in all that we don’t understand or our flesh would prefer to reject about His Word while still living it by faith. This is the kind of trust and yielding that demonstrates that God has truly drawn us to His truth and His Spirit has given us His life.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37). 

Jesus now addresses the veracity of our speech as Kingdom-livers. Again contradicting the religious teaching of His day He says that the common practice of swearing, or the confirmation of someone’s word by the taking of an oath, was not in line with the character of those that we a part of His new Kingdom. Jesus says not to swear (or, as we would say today, “promise”) in order to try to authenticate our words but simply let our verbal commitments to so be trustworthy they can stand on their own without further confirmation. 

First, let’s understand that Jesus is not speaking against the taking of all vows (i.e. in a court of law, on a legal form, or at a wedding ceremony). There is scripture that indicates that God Himself “swore” to emphasize His decrees (Genesis 22:16) even though His absolute honesty is an inherent part of His character (see James 5:12). We believe that Paul might have been “sworn in” before he was allowed to speak to Roman authorities. The issue here, again, is not external, but internal and spiritual. The question Jesus is raising is why, if you are absolutely trustworthy in your speech, would we have to, in normal daily life, confirm what you are saying to be true? Is this not, in and of itself, something of an indictment of one’s lack of credibility? 

“My word is my vow” is a principle that had been lost in Jesus time much as it has been in contemporary culture. In those days, people were often required to swear in order to validate their word. Apparently it had become so commonplace for people to say one thing and do another that vows of sincerity were added to verbal agreements. I believe that when Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, He was saying that His followers should have such integrity that an added validation of sincerity is unnecessary. In other words, if we say it then we mean it and if we claim we’ll take care of something then we will do it. A person of integrity speaks with such honesty that “yes” means just that. 

Modern Christians have trivialized the critical concept of honesty to a rudimentary restatement of one of the 10 commandments “Do not lie” (Exodus 20:16). And we want to believe that pertains only to “big lies”. I believe, however, that not telling a blatant untruth is but a piece of what it means to be trustworthy in our words. Let me give an example. A person commits to doing something (even something as small as agreeing to be some place at a certain time) and then fails to do it. When the agreed upon time rolls around, they fail to show (the exception being they were providentially hindered). The promise-breaker apologizes for failing to keep his or her commitment, but the damage is done. One might call such an oversight or just “a white lie” but integrity has been breached. People of integrity should not give false statements; believers should live out what they say. This expands upon the concept bearing false witness found in the Decalogue. 

Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).  You see, Christ saw our unwillingness to keep even the smallest commitments as a lack of trustworthiness and honesty. He knew that people would never esteem our character when we display dishonesty through our words and that includes even the “smallest” of statements. Why would they care to listen to us extol the virtue and beauty of our sin-forgiving Savior when we don’t bother to do what we promise to do? One cynic, after being witnessed to by a habitual commitment breaker, said, “Is Jesus late for every appointment, too?” 

Jesus clearly indicates that His Kingship demands that His followers demonstrate integrity when we speak. Our hope is built upon the veracity of who He is and what He has said. We trust His words, don’t we? Yes!  In fact, we stake our eternal destiny upon them. So let’s make sure that our “yes” truly means yes and our “no” really means no!  Living in His Kingdom requires it. In Ephesians 4:25 we find this admonition: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. And Paul emphasizes this by saying, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). 

In other words, our utterances should be so reliable that others will trust in us so that they can see the trustworthy nature of the One that we trust with all that we are.

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