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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eighteen – The Rewards of Selfless Service

“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).

Throughout Matthew 5 Jesus spoke on righteousness and the importance of a believer’s purity, devotion, and influence. As a new chapter opens, Christ encourages genuineness and the absence of hypocrisy, further expanding listeners’ understanding of kingdom character. He turns first to the nature of religious exercises, calling people to serve God authentically and insisting that they do so without show or self-promotion. Kingdom living requires that we stop going through the motions of giving, serving, and worshipping. Ostentatious religion proves unacceptable: the Lord desires that we live in sincerity, carefully honoring Him instead of elevating ourselves.

To understand the context of this passage, consider Luke 18:9-14. With a gloating attitude of self-righteousness, a Pharisee stood and prayed about himself! Bragging on his piety, moral superiority, and “good works,” he likely filled the temple with his voice, drowning out the soft but sincere cries of those—like the despised tax collector—who sought God’s attention and not the spotlight. This parable illustrates the dichotomy between those seeking to serve God out of a pure heart and those doing so for personal gain. One is accepted (justified) by God, and the other has received all the reward they will ever get; the praise of men.

In the first verses of Matthew 6, Jesus mentions three traditional and prominent practices commonly held by many religions: giving (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-6), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In general, all are good and commended. If, however, the motives behind them are wrong, they morph into meaningless and empty activities void of spiritual substance or eternal reward. Why? Because when we do these things for attention or to make ourselves feel spiritual, we fail to glorify God.

To the church at Galatia, Paul posed this question: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” (Galatians 1:10). Within this query he acknowledged the natural tendency all believers face. We generally seek approval in the tangible here and now as opposed to the spiritual and eternal. Should we succumb to temptation, we’ll soon exalt man’s opinion and our self-image over God.

I recall a painful lesson I learned during my early ministry. Soon after seminary I pastored a fairly large church that provided a deceptive ego boost for a young preacher in his twenties. With my appointment came the insidious growth of spiritual pride. I quickly began to operate as more of a professional pastor than a servant leader: I soaked up and began to believe the adulation and prestige that came with my new position. Thinking I’d arrived, I began to trust in my own abilities and education instead of depending on God to do His work through me. The church grew numerically, but my intimacy with God gradually declined. It didn’t take long before my arrogant house of cards toppled; “my” church was gone. God shook me out of my pretense, humbled me, and reminded me that “a haughty spirit goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

Outward religious show versus God-centeredness defines the essence of hypocrisy. Even the most dedicated believer will sometimes fail to live up to God’s standards, but when we portray ourselves as something untrue, we deserve the label “hypocrite.” The term comes from the Greek word, hypokrites, and refers to acting. When we begin to replace heart-righteousness with empty practices, we fail to love the Lord. While our outward displays of piety—tossing an envelope of pocket change in the offering plate, singing in the choir after a night of arguing with family members, or serving on the hospitality committee though we complain about it for hours afterward— may look good to observers, God stands unimpressed. Jesus, addressing this tendency, referred to the Pharisees as cups “clean on the outside but dirty on the inside” (Luke 11:39). He saw them as “white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). Should we perform deeds meant to exalt ourselves and not to honor God, we’ll earn the same harsh comparisons.

Attitude and focus count! Only deeds done out of a sincere desire to honor God prove worthy of reward. Anything we do to gain points with onlookers will fail to honor Him. The Lord wants us to let go of our pride, that critical barrier between God and man. Since humanity disobeyed in the garden, we’ve struggled against self-centeredness, often opposing God and ignoring His perception of who we really are. But believers must remember Christ’s lesson in Luke 18: Only the broken “sinner,” who felt contrite and transparent in his pleadings before God “went home justified before God” (v. 14). Why? Jesus answers, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v.14).

In First Corinthians 3:13-14 Paul explained, “[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.” One day each believer will stand before God. Those who’ve served with authentic faith and a desire to honor Him will receive the ultimate honor. From His mouth we’ll hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Apply It.

Read and mediate on First Timothy 6:18-19. List your good deeds and assess your motives. Are they selfless and propelled by your love of God and others? Do you think they deserve God’s “well done”? Pray that God would compel you to live in a way that seeks His eternal rewards and not earthly ones.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Seventeen – Loving All People

“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).

I find it easy to love certain people: My son, Samuel, my family, and my gracious, Christ-like next door neighbors for example. Loving other folks doesn’t come so easily. One particular fellow, who some describe as “our office jerk” sometimes comes across as so irritating as to border on downright repulsive. His actions? Caustic. His work ethic? Unreliable. He’s a shameless self-promoter. I know that Jesus calls me to love this man with the same kind of agape love that I show to my son and my respectful neighbors. And while doing so often seems much more difficult, it liberates me, glorifies God, and may help transform his heart.

By resisting a narrow and selfish scope of love, we acknowledge God’s rightful place in our lives and point others to Him. Matthew 5:43-48 provides a litmus test gauging our faithfulness to Christ’s kingdom principles. While people naturally tend to hate those who hate them and to love those who love them in return, Christ taught that His followers should demonstrate unbiased and assertive love to all. The King calls us to a sweeping and selfless goodness that differentiates us from the lost world.

Despite numerous Old Testament passages regarding equality and fairness in their treatment of people, the teachers of the law exhibited the natural and  human tendency to return good with good and evil with evil. Should a man show them honor or pay them homage, they would extend him favor. Should another man fail to show such subservience, however, they were disinclined to help him. The Pharisees felt justified to condescend on whomever they chose—including Jesus. Interestingly, they also approached life with the idea that only those of Jewish descent were “of their own” and therefore worth their time and investment. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well and when He shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught that the love of God transcends race, religion, and rank (Luke 10:29-37). Every individual is created and shown love by the Lord. He expects His followers to memorialize that truth through their actions.

Indiscriminate love projects the nature of our loving King and demonstrates that He is our Father and we are His royal children (Luke 6:27, 35). Dietrich Bonheoffer said that through prayer “we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”[i] Truly, to show love to all humanity—including our enemies—we must care for others in our actions, our words, and through our prayers. The love God desires to see in us should supersede our feelings and involve practical service, both sacrificial and humble. Loving of this nature costs us time, energy, and resources, but it also demonstrates the authenticity of our devotion to Christ.

In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes the unorthodox loving that should define a disciple of Christ’s interactions: “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.” As we commit to interacting with others in accordance with these principles, we’ll project the perfection of God’s love. We’ll show the radical difference in those transformed by a love-extending and cross-bearing Savior. People who don’t know Jesus can’t understand this kind of spiritual metamorphosis, but it arouses their curiosity and serves as a magnet to draw them nearer to relationship with God.

Kindness in action points people to the cross: the lightening rod of God’s rich love and glory. Out of His extreme love for His creation and His own glory, God sacrificed Jesus so that He could restore His chosen sons and daughters. As we grow in Christ, we are called to image forth God-like (agape) love.

“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. Dear 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).

Apply It.

Read John 8:1-11. What does Jesus’ interaction with this woman teach you about extending love to those who seem unlovable? Ask God to give you insight into how to show Christ-like love to a difficult person in your life. Don’t forget to act on it!


[i] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship (SCM, 1959), 134.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Sixteen – Love Instead of Retaliation

“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 a statement directly related to His earlier teaching on persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. Interestingly, His words stood against a practice adopted by the scribes and Pharisees: they routinely applied Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution within the court system to personal relationships (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21). In doing so, they claimed the power to personally punish those who offended them—completely ignoring the idea that only God and appointed judges could apply justice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day decided to usurp authority, demanding by their actions that true authority rested in their hands.

God allows the courts as well as parents a measure of authority in maintaining order. Outside of these contexts, however, judgment and the assignment of punishment erect barriers between people. Take the holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian you knew before you were born again. Did you see the love of God in that person’s attitude? Were you drawn to the gospel’s grace and forgiveness by observing his condescending treatment of those around him? Probably not. Jesus said our love for others shows the world that we are His disciples and points them to Him (see John 13:34-35).

Personal relationships in Christ’s new kingdom are based on love, not justice. After all, the Lord died on the cross to spare us the punishment our sins deserved. Grace and mercy prevail in this new kingdom, and vengeance or the determination of justice is up to God. Paul, who well understood the grace given him said, “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 12:19). Since our Creator willingly forgives the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance, we must do the same. We must lay down the “right” to  retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to turn the other cheek and “pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus called individuals to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into their own hands. Therefore, the lives of those in His kingdom should exhibit an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Forgiveness should summarize our response to those who hurt us. We must remember that we can commit every issue and every offense to God. A good and righteous judge who responds with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He will see justice served. In the meantime—and as counter-intuitive as it may seem—we must try to overcome evil with good. We should not allow angry hearts to rule our responses; God wants us to seek after the highest spiritual good.

I love that Jesus encouraged listeners to go two miles with someone who pressed them to go one. In the time of Christ’s sermon, Roman soldiers sometimes demanded average citizens to carry their gear for the course of a mile. Doing so proved an incredible hassle for the conscripted person who would’ve had to cover twice the distance as he returned home. Imagine the shock a soldier might have expressed should a man not only happily agree to his selfish demands, but offer to go above and beyond them! Jesus desires a giving spirit in those who follow after Him and pursue His kingdom. We must embrace other-centeredness that gives without reservation, whether or not the receiver proves worthy of our gift. As we do, people will glimpse the love, selflessness, and mercy that Christ poured into our hearts and desires to add to theirs.

Before His accusers and abusers, Jesus allowed Himself to be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah tells us He did so willingly: “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). Mark’s gospel further describes the debasement Jesus endured:

“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).

Without retaliation, without a word in His own defense, Jesus laid down His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By reacting to the evil done to us with good and calm acceptance, we bear witness to the grace and mercy of our King. 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” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. As we acknowledge His power through humbly forgiving and helping others, we’ll reap great reward in His kingdom to come.

Apply It.

Read the story of Saul and David in First Samuel 19. A jealous and enraged Saul sought to kill David, but David refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity (see 1 Samuel 24:1-6). When did someone extend mercy to you? How did that affect your view of God? Ask God to show you how to extend grace and mercy to someone in your circle.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Fifteen – The Reliability of  Our Words

“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).

The principle of “my word is my vow” has largely lost its power in contemporary culture; the same was true during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Middle Eastern peoples of the time were often required to swear in order to validate their word. Unfortunately, saying one thing and doing another was so commonplace that vows of sincerity were added to verbal agreements. When Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, He encouraged listeners to live as people of integrity. In short, believers should not say it unless we mean it; we should not claim to take care of something unless we plan to see it to completion. A person of integrity speaks with such honesty that “yes” means just that. An added validation of sincerity proves unnecessary.

Jesus taught that the common practice of swearing—confirming one’s word by the taking of an oath—does not align with the character He desires to see in His new kingdom’s dwellers. He said that we should not swear or promise anything in order to authenticate our words; instead, we should prove our verbal  commitments through action.

Understand that Jesus spoke not against the taking of all vows, such as those required in a court of law, on a legal document, or at a wedding ceremony; Paul, for instance, was likely “sworn in” before he was allowed to speak to Roman authorities. Instead, Jesus taught that adding “I swear on this or that” serves as an indictment on one’s credibility. The issue regards a person’s internal and spiritual state. Why, Jesus’ teachings prompt us to ask, would anyone need to insist his words are true if he can just as easily prove himself trustworthy?

Modern Christians trivialize the critical concept of honesty to a rudimentary restatement of one of the Ten Commandments: “Do not lie” (Exodus 20:16).  Worse, we tell ourselves that God concerns Himself only with the “big lies” we tell—as if a sliding scale provides an appropriate measure for truth. I believe, however, that God desires that His followers show integrity in every word and action.

Consider this example. Jack, a disciple of Jesus who faithfully shares his testimony with anyone who’ll listen, promised his boss that he’d complete a company project by start of business on Friday. On Wednesday, the boss checks in to make sure Jack’s on target to complete the task. “I swear,” Jack says, “I’ll have it done before I leave Thursday afternoon.” Friday’s lunchtime rolls around before Jack turns in his assignment. Though he apologizes for failing to keep his commitment, the damage is done. Jack’s boss no longer trusts his word. One might call Jack’s oversight a mistake but his integrity has been breached. He gave a false statement; he failed to live out what he claimed. His late action expands upon the Decalogue’s concept of bearing false witness.

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). Christ saw our unwillingness to keep small commitments as a lack of trustworthiness and honesty. He knew that people’s perception of our character would suffer as we choose to display dishonesty through our words. Why, for instance, would Jack’s boss care to listen to him extol the virtue and beauty of our sin-forgiving Savior when Jack doesn’t bother to do what he promised? The boss might wonder if the Jesus his employee claims to serve proves as untrustworthy as His follower.

The Lord rightly demands that His followers demonstrate integrity. Our hope is built upon the veracity of who Christ is and what He has said. We trust His words and stake our eternal destiny on them, but if we want others to do the same, we must project honesty and uprightness in all we do. Paul taught, “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” (Titus 2:7-8). We’ve got to help people understand that One exists who will always keep His word. We must serve as illustrations to this truth.

Let’s make sure that our “yes” truly means yes and that our “no” really means no! Living in Christ’s kingdom requires careful honesty. Ephesians 4:25 admonishes: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Our utterances must prove completely reliable so that others will see the steadfast nature of the One we trust.

Apply It.

Read and contemplate Numbers 23:19 and Hebrews 6:18-20. Does God’s inability to lie give you hope and a sense of security? How should God’s absolute integrity alter the way you use your words? Pray that others might see the integrity and promise-keeping nature of God in you.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010.

The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Fourteen- God Values Marriage

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Surely a few faces turned red and several took defensive stances when Jesus began speaking out against divorce. By the time Rome ruled over Israel, the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, were more concerned with how to acceptably justify divorce than they were inclined to stand against it. The Lord’s primary concern in covering this topic was to uphold the sanctity of marriage. While many of His day invented rational excuses to dispose of a partner, Jesus gave scriptural evidence supporting the idea that God intended marriage a life-long pact:

“Some Pharisees … asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries nother woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3-9).

In the Old Testament, divorce was allowed in extreme cases of marital unfaithfulness—making provision for those who suffered adultery or abandonment. The Pharisees, however, twisted Moses’ word regarding marriage into a command that allowed marital annulment for any and every reason (Matthew 19:7). For example, a man could forever dismiss his wife if she merely burned his dinner. Should the husband one day consider his wife less-than-attractive, he could send her packing. Even if the wife lived blamelessly, he could set her aside to follow his attraction for another woman. These liberal interpretations completely
ignored God’s commands and plans for matrimony. They reduced marriage’s perceived value.

Divorce proves just as controversial today as in Jesus’ time, and our culture also believes marriage disposable for virtually any selfish cause. Within the church, in fact, divorces are considered an acceptable out whether abuse is involved, neglect is to blame, or just because one person grows tired of the other or finds someone else more appealing. In light of this, modern believers need a revised understanding of why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). We need to recognize that He intended marriage to last a lifetime. A divinely created, exclusive covenant relationship between a man and woman, marriage provides a picture of the loving, selfless relationship God creates between Christ and His church. When we enter the sacred bond before God, He expects us to remain committed. We must not trivialize this God-ordained institution.

As the victim of divorce, I’m keenly aware of the painful ramifications it brings. I learned firsthand that because of humanity’s fallen condition, marriages do sometimes dissolve; in some cases, a marriage will fall apart in spite of a husband or wife’s best efforts to stay. But out of my experience comes a new appreciation for why Jesus placed such emphasis on a married couple continuing on together. He knew the shockwave that inevitably follows a breakup, and He recognized that if both partners would just forgive each other, faithfully loving in spite of faults, they could thrive with His help.

Christ’s theme of heart-righteousness continues throughout this passage of the Sermon on the Mount. According to Jesus, the hardness of our hearts proves
the fundamental cause of divorce. I think it safe to say that in every divorce one or both parties suffer from hardness of heart. The root causes of selfishness and a lack of willingness to forgive are the primary reasons that so few seek reconciliation, choosing instead to rationalize their choice to part. Our tendency to divorce reveals a deep and sad spiritual issue: we often choose to do what we want instead of living in submission to God’s purpose for marriage.

The Lord designed the marital bond to be both good and lasting. Kingdom living is about submitting to His ways, serving, and following Him. We need to
recognize that a flippant view of marriage indicates sinfulness and should remind us of our desperate need of a Savior. Jesus promises so much more than
an eternity with Him: He wants to redeem and restore our families. A merciful and gracious Savior stands ready to forgive our marital failures and to lead us
to repent of any attitudes that fail to align with God’s plans for marriage. No matter our backgrounds and stories, may we learn to treat the beautiful
institution of marriage with the respect God intended.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 13:4. Consider the strength of your regard for marriage. If you are married, list intentional steps you might take to protect the sanctity of
your relationship with your spouse. If you are divorced, seek God’s wisdom and comfort in dealing with the hurt. In either situation, ask God to show you how the marriage union demonstrates Christ’s love for His bride, the church.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Thirteen – Guarding Our Thoughts

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell ou that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus continues to explain that our thoughts and motives—not just our physical actions—reveal the purity of our hearts. Christ spoke against lust in a time when the accepted religious stance on the subject was something like this: “if you don’t commit the act, you commit no sin.” This
idea, however, found no support in the Lord’s sermon. Jesus taught that a person who considers having sexual contact with another stands equally as
guilty as one who engages in the act. Morality, then, is weighed not in whether a person sleeps with his or her neighbor’s spouse, but in whether or not he or
she considers it!

Throughout the course of my ministry I’ve been shocked by how many professing Christians fall into the pitfalls that accompany lust. Through the media, fueled by the moral decline of our so-called progressive culture and the advance of technology, we are bombarded with sexually explicit images and messages. No one is immune to this danger. I have counseled many folks, male and female, including a disproportionate number of ordained ministers, who have fallen victim to this world’s sexual lure. Given what these experiences taught me about the serious and lingering consequences of succumbing to sexual temptation, we dare not consider these things harmless. The opportunity to fall is ever present. Once we surrender to the “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16), the potential damage is immeasurable.

Some argue that allowing an inappropriate gaze to linger on a person of the opposite sex proves innocent, but Christ warns that we must control our physical urges and give up fleshly desires to follow Him. This is not a declaration against the natural process of attraction between men and women. Passion within a marriage relationship is God’s gift—part of the beautiful way He wired us; furthermore, the Bible offers no prohibition against attractiveness or appreciating beauty. We should, however, stand in constant vigil against misdirected desires and intentional seduction outside covenant relationship. Why? Because just as we can murder with our words and attitudes, we can commit adultery with our thoughts. Indeed, roving eyes lead us astray.

Righteousness requires more than external obedience. Kingdom living requires a purity of life that transcends perfunctory duty. Believers must constantly weigh themselves against God’s Word, seeking the conviction and guidance of His Spirit. God wants us to protect our purity by guarding our hearts: Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” We need the Lord’s power to control our sinful human nature, to guard ourselves as He desires.

Some scoff at Jesus’ advice to overcome lust: the suggestion of self-injury sounds unappealing and perhaps even life-threatening. But we must understand that this radical saying reflects hyperbole, a scholarly tool that exaggerates in order to make a point. In Matthew 5 Jesus calls not for literal maiming or physical mutilation but for decisive action that will lead to the cleansing of our hearts. He asks us to practice spiritual modification, a process often referred to as spiritual mortification.

The doctrine of the mortification of sin is found in numerous New Testament writings (see Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). It refers to the intentional practice of refusing to do things that displease God or put us in jeopardy of impurity. It amplifies Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) and promotes a lifestyle of purposeful self-denial. Galatians 5:24 restates the idea this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” As both Christ and Paul taught, we must do whatever it takes to avoid sin and to embrace God’s ways.

Jesus explained that if we know that the things we view will tempt us to sin, we shouldn’t look! Similarly, if doing something puts us at risk of a spiritual fall, we should stop! All of this may sound rather rudimentary, but this type of godly discipline is rarely promoted. Both hearing and practicing these principles may at first feel uncomfortable, but they will help guard our hearts against Satan’s devices and protect us from sins that cause broken fellowship with our righteous Savior. We cannot enjoy rich, intimate fellowship with Jesus when our minds are in the gutter! This is why we are commanded to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Kingdom living requires us to look beyond the external and focus on the attitudes of our hearts and minds. This proves important not only in avoiding sexual immorality but in sidestepping any worldly craving or desire that fails to honor God (see 1 John 2:16).We must diligently and practically distance ourselves from those things that would dishonor our King! Those who desire to live under the dominion and lordship of Jesus are called to deny fleshly urges. As Oswald Chambers said, “The only right Christians have is the right to give up our rights!”[i] Amazingly, when we give up our “rights” and submit to Christ’s rule over us we experience the fullness and richness of life that only He can bring. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “How much more should we submit to the Father  of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9).

Apply It.

Read Matthew 18:8-9. Here Jesus explains that if our feet cause us to sin, we should go without: we must avoid going anywhere that might lead us to sin. Consider temptations you face. What should you stop viewing, what might you cease doing, or where should you stop going to protect your relationship with
God?


[i] Chambers, Oswald. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Discovery House Publishers, 1995), 32.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twelve – The Dangerous Consequences of Anger

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with
your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you
over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”
(Matthew 5:21-26).

In Matthew 5:21 Jesus begins to systematically contradict secular wisdom with godly wisdom. Six times throughout the chapter He uses the preface, “you have heard that it was said … but…,” to introduce the new laws of His kingdom, laws revised to show the transforming power of the work He accomplished. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, believers receive not just the promise of Heaven but the ability to live abundantly and to love fully. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ raises the bar on good behavior, showing us that we are responsible not for just our actions and words but for the thoughts
and motivations behind them.

I find it interesting that Christ chooses to first focus on the subject of anger. While Ephesians 4:26 suggests that anger alone is not a sin and the fact that Christ was sometimes angry supports the idea, wrath and its fallout encompass an all too common problem in our world. Even professing believers struggle with anger towards others. A friend, Tina, was eaten up by anger. She had endured numerous disappointing relationships with close friends, her ex-husband, co-workers, and even her parents. “My anger is killing me,” she admitted with tears in her eyes. Over the years her animosity festered until it affected every aspect of her life. She grew depressed, detached, and physically ill. After years of suppressed rage, she ended her own life. Each time Tina’s face comes to mind, I remember the importance of dealing with anger quickly and completely.

Jesus blessed those who promote peace, but He knew that conflict and persecution would come to those who follow Him. While Christ calls us to pursue
righteousness in a world filled with anger and even murder, the injustices heaped on us and those we love may tempt us to follow suit. But we must understand that while righteous indignation has a place, retaliation does not. The Bible does not prohibit killing of every kind: capital punishment, war, and self-defense are allowable. Murder, however, is never acceptable. From Christ’s perspective, anger nursed into unforgiveness equals murder.

Jesus took exception too with one tendency that often goes hand-in-hand with anger: casting doubt on someone’s value or inherent worth. The word raca, or “fool” often meant “empty.” It conveys the idea that someone is so worthless that they should get off the planet. Perhaps we understand this best through the modern phrase, “go to hell.” Taking this approach suggests that we desire an individual dead. Such an attitude, Christ taught, actually puts us in danger of the very thing we think they should face: the fire of hell. Hateful thoughts, attitudes, and insults put us in grave danger. Not just saying cruel, demeaning things but also thinking them puts us in jeopardy. God sees the attitude behind anger as tantamount to murder!

Out of control anger reflects a spiritual issue and a matter of the heart. Jesus indicates that it can create barriers between us and God as well as between us and others. These barriers pack severe consequences. For this reason, Jesus taught that anger should be resolved proactively and quickly. For example, issues with a brother must be settled before we worship and before they lead to unfortunate fallout. As we “settle matters quickly,” we remove the attitude behind anger and drain it of power. A believer must neither let anger dominate nor allow it room to damage relationships.

So often we allow anger towards others to smolder, shrinking and even killing our spiritual vitality. We often fail to heed Jesus’ cry for immediate action—an order that could restore relationships and put us in a better standing before God and man. Our great enemy in seeking to follow His will on the subject is pride. Kingdom living requires that we demonstrate character traits diametrically opposed to pride. Christ’s model of humility compels us to deal with our anger and to resolve lingering conflicts. We serve a righteous judge. He does not want us overly concerned with who is right or wrong in a matter; instead, He wants us to choose to do the right thing in every situation.

Unresolved animosity carries a steep price tag. The angry heart suffers more than the object of its fury. I have never met an angry person who I would consider “blessed” or content; in truth, living with a wrathful attitude proves its own kind of judgment and prison. We do not experience the fullness of God’s kingdom in us or live out the pure and profound principles of His kingdom with a heart filled with enmity. We must deal with anger quickly and completely through humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Only then will we find ourselves restored to a greater sense of favor with both our fellow man and our King.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 12:15. Think about a time that your anger turned into bitterness. Journal about how you moved passed it to embrace the freedom Christ offers. If you currently struggle with anger, meditate on First Peter 5:6-11. Ask God to take away negative thoughts and feelings. Pray that He lifts you up and gives you the grace to cope.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I  have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke  of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and  teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,  but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the  kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the  kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

When faced with the awesome and noble task of living as salt and light, I  can easily fall into the trap of thinking I’ve arrived. That I’m a better Christian than so-in-so. That I no longer need improvement. In truth, however,  I along with every other believer travel a journey towards perfection: we’ll not achieve it until we breathe our last. Anything good in me—anything good in any Christ-follower—comes not through our righteousness, but the Lord’s. Our best efforts, no matter how sincere, are always as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The unvarnished truth? No one is righteous. Nothing about us and nothing generated on our own merit is good (Romans 3:10-11). Though the Pharisees and
devout people of Christ’s day sought holiness through ritual and ceremony and adherence to laws, Christ taught that their efforts were worthless. “Unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” But since righteousness proves a foundational need in participating in God’s kingdom and honoring His kingship, we must understand how one achieves it. We must grasp that the righteousness of Christ provides our only hope in satisfying the demands of holy God.

The writer of Hebrews sheds light on Christ’s role:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Before Christ came to earth in human form, mankind had only one avenue toward pleasing God: keeping the Old Covenant law given by God to the nation of
Israel. This set of rules, which included much more than the Ten Commandments, served as the yardstick by which God measured the love and obedience of His people. James 2:10 clarifies that in order to live as holy a life as God required people must keep all of the law. Not surprisingly, this standard proved too high and the people failed. No religious rituals could bring them acceptance before God who demanded perfect obedience; they desperately needed a Messiah, or a Savior from their sins (see Hebrews 10:1-9).

When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He completely fulfilled the perfect law that humans prove incapable of keeping. While God might have chosen to do away with His righteous demands regarding idol worship, lying, murdering, and committing adultery, He chose not to abolish them. Instead, He had Jesus fulfill the holy dictates; in doing so, God accomplished the obedience necessary to satisfy His own demands and plans. In a sense, God modified the original law, making it richer and deeper and giving it a new and enhanced meaning. In a real and profound sense, Jesus became the New Covenant law of God. Through the person, teaching, and finished work of Christ, we see the completion of all the Old Testament’s revealed teaching, ethical precepts, and prophecy. In Jesus we see the implementation of a New Covenant between God and humanity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all who believe in Him can embrace the good news. The unchanging law of God was fulfilled in Christ. Those who believe in and receive Him by faith are declared righteous. This is our salvation!

Unlike the showy ways that the Pharisees and teachers of the law chose to obey the Old Covenant, obedience from the heart proves a requirement in keeping
the new one. Living out kingdom principles projects a different kind of personal obedience. The outward and shallow form of righteousness found in ritualistic religion doesn’t work. God requires inwardly prompted righteousness of mind and motive compelled by a transformed heart. This kind of obedience surpasses the religion of the Pharisees and typifies those who belong to God’s kingdom. Astonishingly, the Old Testament prophets predicted this new type of obedience long before Christ’s birth: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And in Ezekiel 36:27, people were given a clue as to how this would happen, “[God] will put [his] Spirit in you and move you to follow [his] decrees and be careful to keep [his] laws.”

Jesus calls us not only to obedience but to a deeper heart-righteousness that has external manifestations. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Truly, we cannot achieve true righteousness without first surrendering to Christ. After that, we receive indwelling power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Kingdom living necessitates a radical righteousness that comes only through the God Himself. In order to see the righteous demands of God’s kingdom fulfilled in us, we must look to Jesus and rely on His Holy Spirit.

Apply It.

Meditate on Second Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29. Righteousness comes only from Christ. Consider why you obey God’s Word. Do you do so to justify yourself before God or to show loving and thankful acknowledgement that He is worthy of your submission? Ask God to reveal any self-righteousness and to give you an obedient heart.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Ten- Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Ever meet a useless Christian? Not a person lacking any value. All have that. I’m talking about the kind of professing Christ-follower who doesn’t positively influence the world around him. I’m reminded of a friend’s coworker, Jim, who one might describe as “anything but salty and bright.” Though a faithful church attendee and an admitted follower of Jesus, Jim comes across as a typically glum, negative, irritable, and sometimes even surly guy. Sadly, unbelievers who come in contact with him might never see the power of the gospel in his life because of this disposition.

After years of observing my fellow Christ-followers and knowing well my own habits and tendencies, I smile every time I get to Matthew 5:13. Here Jesus moves from explaining the character qualities kingdom-livers should exemplify to reminding them of the powerful influence they potentially wield. Jesus says
that believers must positively touch a world that often finds our pursuit of righteousness ridiculous and even offensive. Even when surrounded by a culture
that despises us, we are to respond with “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). For many Christians, however, the idea of positively affecting our world sounds
either impossible or not worth the effort. How, some wonder, could a rather docile follower of Christ, one whose life reflects poverty of spirit, meekness, and a  love for peace manage to leave any lasting mark?

Jesus taught that the power of His kingdom within us creates—even demands—that we take every opportunity to influence our world for His glory. This obligation, in fact, encompasses much of life’s purpose. In choosing to ignore it, we disobey and miss out on tremendous blessing. In thinking ourselves too ineffective or too busy to try it, we ignore the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives (see Romans 8:13-16). And when we choose to live as part of our culture without exerting Christ-empowered influence, we trivialize the eternal destinies of those in our circles.

Christ used two metaphors to describe the nature of and power behind a believer’s influence. He chose to first compare us to salt. This preservative was used extensively in New Testament times for nutrition, for flavor, and for its ability to hinder the natural decay process of both food and the dead. Salt’s domestic uses point to a vital spiritual truth. Our immoral, decadent, condemned, and lost culture writhes in the process of rapid decay. Although we often hear that humanity’s evolving, the moral and ethical challenges we face suggest that mankind is more likely de-evolving than growing more perfect. (Consider, for example, the emphasis on technology and entertainment and politics. Why is so little energy given to overcoming some of the deepest issues humanity faces: war, poverty, and hunger?)

In the winds of immorality and rage against God’s standards, the world spins out of control. Total annihilation will come (see 2 Peter 3:10-12). Only true servants of Christ serve as a restraint against absolute chaos and anarchy, and the day will come when the planet will lose our influence and God’s compassionate protection (see 2 Thessalonians 2). In the meantime, the moral fiber and stand for kingdom truth that disciples of Jesus should extend can
bring compassion, help, and hope to people desperate for peace. The gospel message, when shared boldly in the midst of evil, serves to offset the tide of
deterioration that proves eternally devastating. By opposing rebelliousness towards God and demonstrating a life of Christ’s truth, Jesus’ disciples preserve and flavor our culture with a dash of hope.

Jesus called God’s followers the “light of the world.” Light, with all of its practical uses, symbolizes right and good. It contrasts with the Bible’s description of the lost, people who live “in darkness” (Luke 12:46). In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hints that our light shines through good works, actions, and outreaches intended to point people to God. As we shine as lights, we stand for God’s truth and in opposition to the world’s dim philosophies and blind spiritual ignorance. As we courageously proclaim God’s Word and demonstrate its transforming power, we labor in the trenches of our dark and lost society. Little flames of hope in a cave of despair.

As servants of Christ boldly proclaim and live God’s truth, people see Jesus—the true light of the world (John 8:12). John the Baptist was the first to do this as he took the truth of God to a people in darkness, pointing them to the divine light of Christ (see John 5:35-36). As a result of his ministry, the hearts of many were poised to accept Jesus. I think this helps us understand Christ’s reference that lamps belong on stands. When believers courageously and publicly allow their lives to shine for the honor of God, they help guide other people to Jesus. As more men and women come to know Him, their lights ignite too. As we combine our influence for Christ’s glory, a bigger, lighted city on a hill glows brightly against the world’s darkness.

Apply It.

Sometimes salt irritates and light exposes unpleasant truths. At times the world won’t appreciate that Christ-followers are salt and light. What can you do—in spite of resistance—to stand for the Truth and live worthy of your calling? List practical ways you can busily shine so that they may “praise [our] Father in heaven.” The Holy Spirit and the supernatural leadership of our King will strengthen you

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Nine – Great Reward for the Persecuted

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

The Prince of Peace follows His counsel on peacemaking with both an acceptance of persecution and the incredible idea that believers should “rejoice and be glad” when faced with it. In Matthew 10, Christ offers clues regarding suffering’s significance: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. … A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:22, 24-25). Persecution, then, should surface in the lives of those who follow the Lord. It highlights authenticity. The world took exception to Jesus; as we seek to model Him in our attitudes and behaviors, we should expect similar treatment.

Jesus Christ suffered and died to erase the sins of all who would acknowledge their unrighteousness and embrace Him as the only way out. In light of Christ’s extreme sacrifice, I believe it makes perfect sense that His followers sometimes face a measure of rejection and ridicule. Martin Luther considered persecution and suffering marks of the true church: if Christ’s church displays God’s radical love and constantly points out the truths behind heaven and hell, “someone will surely take offense.”[i] Dietrich Bonheoffer, who coined the phrase “cheap grace” and was cruelly martyred by the Nazis in 1945, said, “Suffering is the badge of true discipleship.”[ii] I couldn’t agree more.

Consider Kim’s story. A competent, loyal, and productive worker, Kim avoided off-color conversations and office gossip, preferring to mind her business and
do her job. She consistently rebuffed invitations to join her co-workers for happy hour, choosing instead to minster at a nursing home and the local rescue
mission. Though she was always pleasant to those at the office, they soon left her out of all invites, replacing their offers with pranks and labels like “prude”
and “Jesus freak.” Over time hurtful notes mysteriously appeared on Kim’s desk, but she persevered in following her convictions and even added additional
service opportunities to fill her evenings and weekends. As the ridicule intensified, Kim looked to Jesus for strength and comfort.

Following the narrow way of Christ leads to life, but it forces a person to swim against the broad tide of evil that leads to eternal destruction. Though Christ’s followers are taught to pursue a lifestyle of harmony with others, they will sometimes suffer for their beliefs. Jesus said to expect the same type of rejection and persecution that He endured (see John 15:20). He understood that as we seek after Him and His righteousness, a barrier rises between those who enjoy freedom and acceptance in Christ and those who don’t. For some, the very idea of following Jesus and worse—letting one’s faith dictate decisions—is distasteful. It may even engender opposition and hatred. Christ’s followers live through a value system opposed to the world’s: the two approaches to life will inevitably clash.

When faced with faith-related conflict, we naturally tend to react defensively—maybe even with a superior attitude or harsh words. We do well in such instances to instead choose humility and a posture of forgiveness. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus captures the contrarian essence of kingdom living: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He further emphasizes this idea in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat
you.” When Christ’s disciples follow this counsel, they show a marked respect for the life-purpose assigned to every believer: hold out the gospel and live
to please the Lord. As we pray for enemies, and those who mistreat us due to our pursuit of Christ, we bear the marks of His royal children. Encountering
adversaries to our faith proves a blessing.

A life of persecution hardly represents the type of existence the flesh yearns for or this world encourages, but Jesus says to rejoice and be glad when we encounter travail. When reviled because of Him or for His sake, we serve as reminders that God’s people have always faced persecution. The faith greats of
old, prophets like Isaiah, Samuel, and Micah laid out incredible testimonies for Christ and showed themselves God’s most committed warriors as they shared His plans with the world. Remembering this, the apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41)!  Righteous suffering allows believers to exemplify Jesus, the Suffering Servant—a man acquainted with grief and sorrow (see Isaiah 53). As we do, we become more like Christ. When we lay down our pride, our comfort, and our pleasures, we get a taste of what He gave up in order to pave our way home.

Apply It.

Starvation and physical mistreatment do not always define persecution. Read James 1:2-4. Any time you feel belittled or left out due to following the convictions of your faith in Christ, spiritual maturity can ensue. Can you recall being mistreated due to your commitment to following Jesus? If so, rejoice! Trials indicate your obedience and make you more useful to Jesus. Ask God to strengthen your faith when persecution comes your way.


[i]
Luther, Martin The Sermon on the Mount  ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Concordia, 1956), 102.

[ii]
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship  (SCM, 1959), 80-81.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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