August 26, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:27-32

So today, we reach the topic of Adultery, Lust, and Divorce...easy! Let’s get started!

A couple of years ago I was teaching a class on Paul’s epistles. I started teaching on Corinthians and the setting of that city. The city of Corinth has a large plateau that rises above the city. On this plateau is the Temple of Aphrodite (Venus) which overshadows everything that goes on in the city. The temple housed over 1,000 temple prostitutes and encouraged sexual experimentation as a way of experiencing the divine presence.

As I talked, openly and bluntly, about what this city was like, how Paul addressed this in 1 & 2 Corinthians, and how it affects us as Christians today...I could see the eyes of these teenagers getting wider and wider and wider. They had never heard this stuff or sexuality talked about so openly. They had always heard “Don’t!,” and hadn’t heard it spoken of in the way we were discussing it. They began shifting around in their seats; getting rather uncomfortable. I think the open discussion was making a few of the adults in the room uncomfortable too.

I tried to break the tension by saying, “Welcome to Big Boy Church!” Today, we are having Big Boy Church. As we are working through the Sermon on the Mount, it is inevitable that we would have to talk about issues related to sex.

The openness with which we will be discussing this may make some people uncomfortable...don’t worry, it won’t be the last time we are uncomfortable. In the church we have shied away from talking about sexual things because, like a parent trying to talk to their teenager about the same issue...it makes us uncomfortable. So we reduce our message to a simple, “Don’t do it!” And leave the rest to chance.

But we can’t leave it to chance. There is too much at stake. But also the Bible is filled with discussions about sex and sexual things, and we have to skip large section of it if we refuse to talk about it. Sex was a real part of their life and our life, and the Bible, if it is going apply to real life, has to address it as well.

So we start, once again, by going back to Matthew 5:20.

“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.”

In order for our righteousness to surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law we must have a a righteousness that results in a permanent change in our heart and attitudes...that transforms us in the core of our being.

When we start discussing things like adultery, lust, and divorce...these are things that start from in here; in the deep inner parts of our being. And if we are ever going to live by the standards Jesus is setting in these passages we have to be transformed at the core of our being. We will never be able to obey them by following an external law.

And again we reiterate the power of God’s grace. Jesus is lifting up a morality that is extremely difficult to live up to. Anger and lust are powerful forces in our lives...we have all most likely been guilty of them in some form this past week. But God understands where we are in our walk with Him, and, though He challenges us to take that next step higher, He also offers grace and forgiveness when we don’t get it right.

So let’s read today’s passage...

Matthew 5:27-32
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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 stumble, 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.

“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 sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.


Matthew 5:27
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

As with murder, adultery is a given. Person’s who commit adultery were guilty of sin, and breaking the Law. And, in the early practice of Jewish Law, adultery was punishable by stoning the person to death. In fact, Leviticus 20:10 sentenced both parties in the adulterous act to death. But as with murder and anger, Jesus once again intensifies the requirement of the law by focusing on the root of the problem which is lust.

Craig Keener “If you do not break the letter of the other commandments, but you want to do so in your heart, you are guilty.”

Most of the religious teacher’s of Jesus day would have agreed with Him. They believed lust was a sin, and saw it as a form of coveting outlawed in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Jesus, just like the religious teachers of his day, connects the word He uses for “lust” to the word for coveting. By using a word that is also used of coveting...we understand He is talking about more than a quick glance or that twinge of attraction that happens between two people and is seemingly beyond our control. No, He is talking about something we enjoy, something we nurture and hold on to. Something we think about on a regular basis and allow to work in to the depths of who we are.

Since lust was a form of coveting it was outlawed...but Jesus is doing something different than the teachers of the Law. Jesus is making lust the responsibility of the person experiencing the lust and then equating it with breaking the faithfulness of the marital relationship.

Jewish writers placed the responsibility for preventing lust on the women. They were to wear head-coverings and the right clothing in order to keep others from lusting. If people were lusting after her, then it was her fault because she must have done something inappropriate. Now there is something to be said for those who attempt to provoke lust in others, but for now we are focusing on this passage and what it has to say...And Jesus’ focus is to place responsibility and blame on the person doing the lusting.

Applied to our culture and time, we know that both men and women are guilty of lust. And Jesus’ words apply to both of us equally...those who lust are guilty of sin.

Men and women experience lust in different ways, but both experience lust. For men lust most commonly takes the form of the physical. The female body has this weird power over a man’s ability to control his eyes. For the woman lust most commonly takes the form of romance and chivalry. They want the love relationship to be a certain way, and when it is not that caricature of romance and chivalry found in the movies or novels becomes something more desirable. A man will look at pornographic material and think, “Why can’t my wife be like that!” A woman will watch a romantic movie or read a romantic novel and think, “Why can’t my husband be like that!”

These are broad generalities, but they serve our purpose. When we are tempted to look for fulfillment outside of our marital relationship...we are lusting. When we are tempted to see our spouse as less by something be it pictures, movies, novels, whatever...we are being unfaithful to our marital vows according to Jesus’ words here in the Sermon on the Mount.

Lust is sin, and it is sin because it damages all those involved. At its core it is selfish, and seeks to use others to fulfill a passion or desire without them being a willing participant and often without them being present.

Lust also destroys the possibility of true love. It dehumanizes the person on the other side, and love is not possible if one person is not fully human in the relationship.

But more damaging is that it is an act of unfaithfulness to the primary relationship in our lives...our marriage. If Jesus’ call is to “love our neighbor as ourselves” how much more does that apply to the person who has joined us in marriage. And when one person begins to lust after someone other than their marital partner...they are breaking the trust of that relationship.

Jesus challenges us to find our ultimate fulfillment of the opposite sex in our spouse. His challenge is so strong that He uses an extreme example...

If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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 stumble, 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.

Is this hyperbole and overstatement on Jesus’ part? I think it is or else we would have a lot of blind and handless people walking around. But there is still an element of truth here.

While our hands and eyes are not the root location of sin...if we don’t have them we will not be able to do the sinful act. If we don’t have the means to fulfill certain temptations, then those temptations will go unfulfilled.

One of my seminary professors was talking about this passage in class, and wanted to make it very applicable to us. He had just read a statistic that indicated that pastors and Christians were as guilty of viewing Internet pornography as everyone else. He pointed out that if you have a problem with viewing Internet pornography you should do whatever it takes to get away from it. And if you take a sledgehammer and use it smash your computer into little bits...you will not be able to view Internet pornography any longer.

We accept this truth in other areas...for instance, we don’t send recovering alcoholics into bars when we do our acts of kindness in the community. Why? we understand that if we struggle with something, we make it easier on ourselves to avoid giving in to those temptations if we keep ourselves away from those things.

Jesus reminds us to do whatever it takes to get away from the things that create temptation. That movie, that website, that genre of book, that person, whatever it is that creates and nurtures the lustful thoughts in us...we should do whatever it takes to distance ourselves from it because it can have eternal consequences.

Jesus says, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Preservation of our future life with God may require depriving ourselves of something in this life. As Jesus’ followers, our actions have eternal significance. Our actions are building the person we will be in God’s Kingdom to come.

We go back to an earlier statement, “If Jesus’ call is to “love our neighbor as ourselves” how much more does that apply to the person who has joined us in marriage.” And our relationship with our marital partner has eternal significance. If we cannot be faithful to this person...how can we be faithful to God.

Lust is one way to break our vows of faithfulness to our spouse...and so is divorce.

“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 sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

This week I was talking to a friend of mine about preaching this passage. He is a young guy, unmarried, and, has never been on a date. He said, “I have never actually been on a date before, but I don’t really want to either. It seems like everyone starts out ok, but then it ends in divorce. I don’t want that.”

In the city of Huber Heights, stats show that about 60% of the residents are married couples living in the same household...But in Brianna’s class at school she is one of only 3 kids in her class to still be living with both original parents.

So divorce is a real issue, and the church has not always understood or applied the Bible’s teaching on it. It is a difficult subject to talk about with so many painful issues involved. The challenge is speaking about it a way that sets up God’s expected standard, but also fully comprehends God’s grace for those involved.

Jesus words here are meant to be an encouragement to married people. They are meant to set a standard of what it means to live in a biblical marriage...but we are guilty, like the Pharisees were, of turning these words into a weapon against the divorced.

Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. It is not a Scarlet Letter to be worn for the rest of a person’s life. Those who divorce and are divorced can and should be forgiven. God’s grace and the teaching of the Bible indicates this, but God’s ideal is that marriage is a lifelong covenant between two people.

To help us understand this passage, let’s first talk about the culture setting Jesus is addressing. At issue here was that a woman often didn’t desire the divorce...it was forced upon her, and she had very few options. Remarriage; which usually didn’t happen because she was now tainted. Returning to her father’s home; which would only last for awhile. Poverty; because she was unable to support herself in this culture. Prostitution; because this was the only means of support.

Also at issue here is that the vows were made before God. These two individuals had become one flesh, and that couldn’t be undone. While they may have made concessions allowing a man to divorce His wife, God was certainly not going to accept their actions. He calls them back, once again, to understand that faithfulness in this most intimate of personal relationships is an example of faithfulness to God.

If they were unable to be faithful and to maintain relationship with this person...how could they ever maintain a relationship with God? And for those who follow Christ, the expectation is that every possible means to rescue the marriage must be taken. Paul even indicates in 1 Corinthians that should a person be married to an unbeliever...they should not seek divorce.

But the Gospel of Matthew and 1 Corinthians include exceptions because for many divorce is not their choice. I received a message from a friend last week that stated his wife was leaving and he had tried everything possible to keep her from leaving...including trying to work through her infidelity. But she was divorcing him no matter what he wanted. I think God applauds him, and I don’t believe my friend is guilty of sinning. God doesn’t punish us for things we cannot control.

When exceptions are made in this passage and others in the Bible, they are not meant to give us an out in our marriages...they are meant to exonerate those who are victims of unwanted divorce.

And even when divorce is done without an exception being available...and we go along with it...we are still not outside of God’s grace and forgiveness.

But God’s ideal...his expectation of those who seek after him...is that we do everything possible to make our marriages work. The allowance of exceptions and the offer of grace and forgiveness do not excuse us from taking Jesus’ point seriously...protecting the sanctity of our marriage is the primary place where our relationship with God works itself out. If can’t love our spouse...we can’t love God. If we can’t be faithful to our spouse...we can’t love God.

These are tough and challenging words. The challenge is not to interpret Jesus’ words as another form of legalism and once again punish those who are divorced and refuse them grace and forgiveness. If we do that...we fail to really grasp the point Jesus is trying to make. But we can also fail if we condone inappropriate divorce and reject God’s challenge to live faithfully to the covenant of marriage. The challenge is to see the standard God’s sets here and strive from here on out to live up to it.

Conclusion

The marital relationship is God’s ultimate example of what it means to be in a relationship with him. It is the relationship that should be the most intimate of any relationship we have...one that fosters openness, transparency, and honesty so we can be truly ourselves before the other person...naked and without shame as Adam and Eve were in the Garden.

The marriage covenant was the primary metaphor used in the Old Testament for our relationship with God. In Malachi 2, God says, “I hate divorce!” He says this not because he hates divorced people or refuses them grace, but because He hates the pain it causes to everyone involved...and He hates what it says about our relationship with Him.

This morning we sit here as a mixed bag of people. Some have been divorced. Some have not. Some have been divorced and are now remarried. What I don’t want you to hear is a message that condemns those who are divorced, but neither do I want you to hear one that condones it either.

In fact, I think lust and divorce are the examples Jesus uses to call us to deeper levels of faithfulness. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and there is no closer relationship on this earth than the marital relationship. We are challenged in this passage to do whatever it takes to be faithful...faithful to God and faithful to loving our neighbor as found in the most intimate of our earthly relationships.

August 8, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:21-26

Before moving into today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, I want to revisit, quickly, something from last week.

Let’s start with verse 20, “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.”

Last week I said that this verse is the key to how we in the 21st Century are supposed to live out the law. With this verse, Jesus challenges us not to do more righteous activities than the Pharisees, but to have a righteousness that is deeper than the Pharisees possessed.

What is needed is a righteousness that results in a permanent change in our heart and attitudes...a righteousness that transforms us in the core of our being...that is the righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the pharisees...Not a righteousness enforced by a set or rules, regulations, and laws, but one that springs up from a transformed heart!
Jeremiah 31:33 says the purpose of the Messiah was to place the Law of God in our minds and on our hearts. It says, ““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.”
He will put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts...a law that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us...not mandated obedience to an external code of conduct. Obedience to an exterior law or set of moral conduct codes is not what He wants anyway. In order for this to be real...in order for this to be genuine...we have to live God’s law from here...out of a transformed character.

Last week, near the end of the sermon I said, “The sins you can’t see are often more dangerous to our spiritual lives than the sins you can see.” And with today’s message we begin looking at some of those deep, internal sins God wants to get rid of in our lives.

Let’s be very clear and honest right here at the beginning...God is setting the bar high....VERY high. So high that it may seem impossible! G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." No where is that more true than when we study the Sermon on the Mount and specifically the section we are begin today.

As we start this section, there a few things we must accept as a foundation...

God says we can live this out...so we can live this out. God does not call us to something He is unwilling or unable to help us reach. He doesn’t say it will be easy or immediate...but we are called to reach for these high standards.

God does not expect us to get it perfect...so we don’t give up. Many begin the journey of faith, see this level of morality, attempt to live it out, and discover that it is amazingly difficult and they fail...so they give up. Jesus is not preaching this sermon with no offer of grace...grace is a given. We fail, but we get back up and get moving again.

God gives us the tools to live this out...so we keep depending on Him. First He gives us the Holy Spirit who works to transform our hearts. Second, He gives us the spiritual disciplines (Scripture, prayer, fasting, serving, worship, community) to help us grow in our transformation.

We will only be able to obey because God transforms our hearts, and we do our part by resisting temptation, practicing the spiritual disciplines, and inviting the Holy Spirit’s presence into our lives.

So let’s look at today’s passage...

Matthew 5:21-26
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And 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 or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’”

This was a commonly understood law of the day. Of course you don’t murder. We have the same law. You don’t murder someone...seem easy enough.

But Jesus takes it a step further and says, “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Jesus moves beyond the letter of the law which brings judgment on the act of murder and says the emotion which, if left unchecked, leads to murder...yeah, that is wrong too, and brings God’s judgment. And not just anger...but words and names that degrade and insult the humanity of others...Raca...You Fool...that’s wrong as well and brings God judgment.

To help us understand this section let’s look at a few things...

In Greek, Jesus had several words for anger to choose from. He did not choose the word Thymos. This is an anger that flares up toward a person for something they have done, but fades and goes away.

Someone comes into the room, talking loudly while you are trying to hear something on television...the anger flares up and you yell “Shut up!” That is Thymos anger. It flares up, but you won’t hold on to it for long...usually.

Jesus is also not anger at a situation or injustice. You see something wrong around you and it makes you angry.

The anger Jesus is describing is relational in nature, but it’s a deep anger toward a person. Jesus uses a very specific word for anger that means a brooding, simmering anger. This is the anger we hold on to...nurture...feed and lovingly care for...because we want to be angry at the person.

Let me show you an example of this anger...Waterboy

Coach called it tackling fuel...but this was a brooding, simmering anger that is, at its core, the seed of murder.

And it is this anger that leads us to say “Raca” or “You fool!” to our brothers or sisters.

“anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

If you are like me you have never said, “Raca!” to anyone. I may have said “Don’t be foolish!” But I don’t recall ever calling someone a fool. These words of insult are really very foreign to our culture...but their root intention is not. These insults...Raca...You fool...are meant to malign the character of another person.

This isn’t about telling the truth about someone’s character or even disagreeing strongly with someone’s position on something. No, this is about the seed of anger that makes us willing to say things that put another person’s character in question. It is rooted in an anger so strong we are willing murder another person’s character with our words.

Need some modern-day examples of how to say “Raca” and “You fool!” to others? Watch partisan political discourse...both sides are willing to say just about anything about the other party and twist their words to make their listeners believe all kinds of things about their opponent. They will selectively use sound bites and rip quotes out of context to help their followers make an “informed” decision.

Read the comments section of any online article about religion. Exclude the ones made by atheists and others with a religious ax to grind, and just look at the ones made by Christians toward other commenters. They are full of this anger.

When we harbor this kind of anger affects our relationships with others, and therefore affects our relationship with God.

In our society, Christians are known more for what they are against than for who they love and who they serve. And I think it finds its root in this anger. Jesus understood that anger stands in the way of our relationships, and when we are not right with our fellow man...we can’t be right with God.

Jesus says, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

These are two very common examples from Jesus’ day. Someone worshipping at the altar and someone being taken to court for an unpaid debt in a time when people were imprisoned until they could pay. Both demonstrate how our relationships with others affect our relationship with God.

A person is offering their gift at the altar in Jerusalem, and remember that someone has something against them. That part stood out to me as I read this passage...it doesn’t say that you remember that you have something against someone else...you have to take care of that within yourself and with God...it says, “you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you...”

To the best of our ability, we have the responsibility to be reconciled with others. If our actions have caused this anger in someone else, we are to leave our gift at the altar, travel back to our homeland, and make amends to the best of our ability...then God will accept our offering.

For Jesus’ listeners this was crazy-talk; for a different reason than it is for us. Jesus is talking about a person who has made four day walking journey from Galilee to Jerusalem to make their offering in the Temple...they realize that someone has a just claim against them...they pack up and travel four days back...make amends...and then travel another four days back to Jerusalem to finally make their offering.

For us, the reason Jesus sounds crazy, is we are tempted to think, “If that person has a problem with me...that is their problem; not mine!” And while we can’t be concerned about every little action and how that makes others feel...we are responsible to make amends for any legitimate claim against us. This passage is clear that the person has a legitimate claim against the person trying to worship. If we have done things that have legitimately caused this anger in others...we are responsible to make amends with them before our offering is accepted.

Their objections as well as our is met with Jesus saying, “No expense is too great!” The time and expense of travel is more worshipful than their sacrifice if that expense heals an anger. Swallowing our pride and asking for forgiveness for an offense is worth it if it heals an anger in our brother or sister.

We often like to think of our relationship with God in strictly private terms. I am saved. I will ask for forgiveness. I need to get things right with God...But God continually reminds us that our relationship with Him is dependent on our relationship with others...especially where anger is involved.

1 John 4:20-21 says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

Conclusion

I had just started as the youth pastor at a church, and I discovered that one woman was going to give me problems. She had served as the interim youth leader between the previous youth pastor and me, and when I came, she was unwilling to give up the leadership of the group. She needed to be needed and teenagers love their youth pastors. So she received all the validation she could want. She didn’t like the hard work of planning and being responsible and being the bad guy...but she liked being liked and being everyone’s friend and hearing their problems. As interim youth leader she didn’t have to do any of the long-term hard work of being their pastor. And now that I was there...she loved that I took over the planning stuff and doing the hard part, but I became the enemy when the kids started talking to me about their problems instead of her. I was the one taking them away from her.

Things continued to simmer until I noticed they were simmering in me. I was angry with her. I despised seeing her at church. I wanted nothing to do with her. That’s when my pastor stepped in and gave me an assignment. My assignment was to pray for her...not for her to choke...I mean change, but to pray that God would bless her and her family. That He would be at work in her life for the good.

I don’t know if the prayers worked for her, but they certainly worked on me. I was soon loosing my grip on the anger that was inside of me, and realizing that while I may be right about the issues, I was wrong about my anger. Only then was I able to ask for God’s forgiveness, and only then was I able to live by this command we are talking about today. I couldn’t do it on my own. It was only through the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and practicing the spiritual disciplines as God gave them that I was able to work through this issue...that time.

Anger still crops up. I find myself having to let go of anger at others, but the more I practice letting it go...the more I am able to let it go.

If we allow this anger to take root and grow inside us it builds. We become not only angry at the original person, but also at others. The anger spreads, and we find ourselves angry at everyone and everything.

This morning, isn’t it time to let that anger go. It starts with acknowledging we have the anger, that it is wrong, and that we need to let it go. You may need someone else to tell you you are harboring the anger...isn’t it funny that we often don’t see it in ourselves...or at least we lie to ourselves and refuse to accept it...either way. We must address the issue of anger in our lives if our relationship with God is to be made whole.

Once we acknowledge the anger, we repent and God’s grace and forgiveness floods into our lives.

We may need to go back and make amends with someone.

And just because we confess it to God and ask forgiveness doesn’t mean the anger will leave immediately and we will be ok. We will need to spend time in prayer and in God’s Word allowing it to soak in and change us in order to be free from the anger that has had its claws in us for so long. This is part of the righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees.

August 4, 2011

An Act of Kindness

Check out this response from Crossroads Vineyard Church's $1 Car Wash Outreach...