Archive for February, 2012

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Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting, What is Jesus Saying?

February 29, 2012

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

What is Jesus trying to communicate in this passage?

There were three pillars of Jewish religious practice that Jesus addresses in the SoM.  Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting.  Fasting was a common part of life for faithful Jews.  The Pharisees fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.  Their practice was to “disfigure their faces and look dismal”, most likely they spread ashes on their beards in order to look pale and somber.[1]  They wanted to be noticed and to draw attention to the fact that they were fasting.  Jesus is directing this teaching to contrast with those who would act in such manner, to contrast with those who fasted primarily so that others would know that they were fasting.  Thus Jesus begins, “when you fast, do not look somber…”  Like with every element of the Sermon Jesus is drawing the hearer’s attention toward the condition of the heart.  What is the hearts motive for fasting?  Is it to seek God and deny oneself out of devotion to God or commemoration of His deeds?  Or is the motive of the heart to garner the praise and admiration of men?  Would we rather hear from men, “look how spiritual he is.” ? Or would we rather hear from our Father, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Giving to the poor, praying and fasting are all good endeavors and none of them is wrong in and of themselves.  But each can be perverted and used to steal glory that rightfully belongs to God.

“To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want…Fasting must forever center on God. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights—these must never replace God as the center of our fasting.”[2]  This is the key to what Jesus is saying.  Whether we give, whether we pray, or whether we fast, God must be our focus, so we do these things for the benefit of His eyes alone.  If we seek others approval we have made their approval, in essence, our god.

As with almsgiving and prayer, Jesus’ followers could and would practice fasting as an act of private piety. His main concern was their inner spirit with which fasting was performed. They were to be pure in motive as they fasted and not to fast as a means of gaining approval from others.

Ultimately Jesus is continuing to inform His followers of God’s preference for the affections of their heart rather than the public display of their worship.  Those who pursue God, do so effectively by having a pure heart that hungers for more than food and thirsts for more than attention.  The Christ-follower hungers and thirsts for righteousness and in the end gains a vision of God and the abundance of His Kingdom.

Read the Reasons Why We Fast… Here.
Read How Fasting informs our Past, Present and Future… Here…

[1] Dockery, Seeking the Kingdom. 82

[2] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the discipline of Fasting.

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Why Should We Fast?

February 28, 2012

While Jesus never commands that we fast and fasting is never commanded in the New Testament, Jesus assumes that those who truly follow God will on occasion forsake food to communicate their reliance upon Him.  Following His example, and baring witness that “man does not live by bread alone.”  This was the practice in NT Judaism, and the early church continued His instruction on fasting.  We fast not to lose weight, not to get others attention, not to earn favor with God, and not merely because others fast.  We fast individually order to privately communicate to God that we are setting our entire focus on Him, and that we are seeking Him above our own physical needs and relying on Him to supply our needs during the fast.  We fast corporately  to express the same to God as a group, that we as a church, a Sunday school class, a youth group, etc. are seeking God above our physical needs and relying on Him to sustain us during the time of our fast.  The end should always be greater than the means, that God will receive glory through our weakness and reliance upon Him.  That we might receive a vision of Him high and lifted up above our earthy needs, capable of sustaining us in lean times and times of plenty.

Ten reasons for why one should fast:[1]

A.  To strengthen prayer (Ezra 8:23; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:3; Joel 2:12-17; Acts 13:3)

B.  To seek God’s guidance (Judges 20:26-28; Acts 14:23)

C.  To express grief (Judges 20:26; 1 Sam. 31:11-13; 2 Sam. 1:11-12)

D.  To seek from God deliverance or protection (2 Chr. 20:34; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:6; Ps.109:21-26)

E.  To express repentance and the return to God (1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5-8)

F.  To humble oneself before God (1 Kings 21:27-29; Ps, 35:13)

G.  To express concern for the work of God (Neh. 1:3-11; Isa, 58:6-7; Dan, 9:3) Historically Christians       have fasted as they have sought the revival of the Church.

H.  To minister to the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-7)

I.  To overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God (Mt. 4:1-11)

J.  To express love and worship to God (Lk. 2:37)

 

Read How Fasting informs our Past, Present and Future… Here.


[1] Adapted from Chapter 9 in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Nav-Press) by Donald S. Whitney, 1991.

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How Fasting Informs our Past, Present and Future…

February 27, 2012

 

Fasting informs us about our past.

When we undergo a fast, we begin the process of denying our body something that we have always relied upon.  As the meal times pass, and the hours and days go on, we begin to experience hunger.  We soon realize how much we have focused on food/drink/technology (whatever you’re fasting from) in the past.  The countless snacks we used to sneak throughout the day, the large meals we used to enjoy, suddenly draw our attention to the amount of time, energy and money that we spend pursuing our own appetites.  No one can undergo this process without experiencing a little conviction about how much they have loved and sought food in the past; in comparison to how much they loved and sought after God.  Fasting exposes our appetites and makes us aware of past idols we may never have noticed.

Fasting informs us about our Present.

As our fast continues, we experience the weakness of our bodies and the fatigue of our denial.  As it should, fasting makes us turn toward God and rely heavily on Him.  We can no longer rely on food for strength, or the next meal to get us through the day.  We must seek God for the strength to carry on.  This reliance, brought about by fasting, exposes a need that we have everyday, we need God to make it through the day.  Too often this need is deafened under the sound of chewing and crunching and the energy produced by coffee and caffeine.  When we are tired, we drink espresso; when we are fatigued, we eat an energy bar.  Fasting removes all our crutches and forces us to lean on God to accomplish the most menial tasks.  In truth this should be our attitude everyday of our lives, for it is through Him that we live, move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)  This is true every present day, whether we are fasting or not.

Fasting informs us about our future.

As we near then end of our fast, our thoughts are drawn both to God’s work of sustaining power and the promised feast that awaits us.  We look forward to eating once again, and have a new-found appreciation for the gift of food which God provides.  The beauties and fragrances of our favorite foods seem all the more intense and desirable after a period of deprivation.  We have tasted food before, and now we look forward to the time when we shall again feast to the glory of God.  Fasting informs our future, in that it mirrors the intense desire we should have for the future presence of God.  We have had but a taste of Him now, but soon we will see Him face to face, and sit with Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  Fasting develops our reliance on God but is also builds anticipation for the time when our fasting shall cease, and our feasting shall begin.

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An Eye for an Eye: the Rules for Revenge…

February 9, 2012

In considering Sermon on the Mount, one is constantly confronted with statements that seem all to common though frequently misread.  It is amazing when you listen to popular culture, to hear the tell-tale signs of Biblical influence.  How often have we heard the statement “an eye for an eye” in regards to revenge or retribution.  Absent its Biblical context these phrases have very divergent meanings.  And absent the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s revelation regarding God’s Law, we are prone to misuse and mistake God’s Law for our license to sin.  In Matthew 38-42 Jesus defines the scope of Christian ethics in relation to other people.  He begins by challenging the assumptions of His listeners and confounding their tendencies.  Here we will ask and attempt to answer two questions; What was the original intent of the OT law regarding “an eye for an eye”? and Did Jesus contradict this law?

What was the original O.T. Intent in the law of an eye for an eye?

An eye for an eye – This is an exact quotation found in three OT passages (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) and reflects the principle of lex talionis a Latin phrase from, (lex = law and talionis = retaliation = literally the “law of retaliation”)  Mankind is prone to an excess of sin in every area of life, and in seeking justice there is no exception.  This principle serves to “rein in reckless blood vengeance,”[1] such as we find in Genesis 4:23-24, where Lamech boasts that he will return abundant vengeance on those who have done him wrong. If Cain is avenged 7 times, then Lamech 70 times.”  To prevent such excess this principle was instituted, to insure that the punishment would fit the crime.  This principle was meant to inform the law courts on the appropriate level of punishment needed for offense and to provide an end to unlimited blood-feuds between wronged parties. However, by the time of Jesus, this was being misused as a license to pursue vengeance.

The Old Testament “did not allow an individual to take the law into his own hands and apply it personally. Yet that is exactly what rabbinic tradition had done. Each man was permitted, in effect, to become his own judge, jury, and executioner. God’s law was turned to individual license (permit to act, freedom to take a specific course of action), and civil justice was perverted to personal vengeance. Instead of properly acknowledging the law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth as a limit on punishment, they conveniently used it as a mandate for vengeance-as it has often been wrongly viewed throughout history. What God gave as a restriction on civil courts, Jewish tradition had turned into personal license for revenge. In still another way, the self-centered and self-asserted “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees had made a shambles of God’s holy law.”[2]

We see this same perversion being addressed occurring earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, concerning divorce. (5:31-32 and Matt 19:8)  Where additions were made to God’s law not to alter His law, but because of the hardness of the human heart.  “God gives by concession a legal regulation as a dam against the river of violence which flows from man’s evil heart.”  Jesus here is addressing and focusing on the heart of His disciples, not the law of God.

Does Jesus contradict The OT Law?

No. Jesus did not come to end the law but to fulfill it.  To redeem the law, which did not exist to provide a license to sin through legalism, but to guard the hearts of Israel, expose sin, and provide for sins redemption through sacrifice.  “Jesus opposed the rabbinic interpretation of the Law, rather than the Law itself.”[3] In the Old Testament the principle of lex talionis  (the law of retaliation, “eye for an eye.”) was meant to be used and applied in the judiciary process, “this is not the sphere of application in Matthew.  Jesus does not overthrow the principle of equivalent compensation on an institutional level that question is just not addressed but declares it illegitimate for His followers to apply it to their private disputes.”[4]


[1] Dockery, David. Seeking the Kingdom: the Sermon on the mount for Today. Wheaton: Shaw Pub. 1992. 61

[2] MacArthur, John.  Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville: B&H pub. 2011. 146.

[4] Allison, Dale. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of the According to St. Matthew, Vol 1. T&T clark Pub. 2000.  542.

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The Turning of the Cheek… Was Jesus a Pacifist?

February 8, 2012

Matthew 5:38-42

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus teaching Pacifism?

No. Pacifism is defined as “opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes; or an attitude or policy of nonresistance.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)  This is not what Jesus is talking about.  He is not invalidating or even speaking to the ideas of international affairs, or wars, or the draft, or civil or criminal justice.  Jesus repeatedly in this sermon is trying to confront the common beliefs of His disciples and radically change their view of the world and how a kingdom citizen should act in the world.  Jesus here again, just like with murder, just like with adultery, is dealing with the heart.  His command is meant to “prohibit acts of retaliation and revenge inspired by anger and resentment.”[1]

Charles Quarles in his book,  Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, a couple very helpful qualifications for Jesus’ instruction not resist evil and to turn the other cheek:

a. Jesus’ message does not prohibit defensive action or evasive action necessary to protect oneself or others from serious harm.  “Jesus Himself, “turning the cheek” is to be understood as a figure for enduring abuse without seeking revenge.”  We see a prime example of this in John 18:22-23, Jesus is slapped by the guards and rather than suffering silently he protested the injustice of the beating, Jesus verbally defended himself and challenged the guards to provide evidence supporting their actions.  Scripture gives us several instances where Jesus withdrew from a situation to avoid injury: Mark 9:30-31; Luke 4:30; John 7:1,10; 10:39.

b. Jesus’ message does not prescribe that his disciples suffer fatal abuse without resistance.  The “slap” His disciples were to endure graciously, while painful and insulting, was not likely to cause permanent harm or be life threatening.  It is significant that He did not say “if anyone strikes your right cheek with a sword…” or ” if someone pummels your nose with his fist…”  So, for example, the believing wife who is in an abusive marriage should not simply “turn the other cheek” but should seek remedy through escape, legal recourse, and even physical resistance to protect herself and her family.  Likewise if someone breaks into your house, and attempts to steal from you, and harm you and your family, you are not bound to simply sit and let the violence be done.  “a person may do what is necessary to protect himself in the case of life-threatening or potentially dangerous attack.” Certainly we are to protect the innocent from evil, and defend the helpless, even if violence is called for in the endeavor.  Jesus is not addressing that.  He is addressing our tendency to be filled with anger and the desire for revenge when someone wrongs us.  Jesus is telling us, “wait, slow down, vengeance is mine, I will repay, do not respond in anger if someone insults you. Rather rise above it and display God’s love in the face of hostility, as I did.”

c. Jesus message does not preclude us from prosecuting those who have harmed someone if the legal action is against the one who assaulted them. “Victims of violent crimes should press charges against the one who assaulted them.  This is necessary for the public good in order to prevent others from being victimized.  Still the victim should purge his or her heart of malice, quenching the longing for revenge.”


[1] Quarles, 150.

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How to Love our Enemies…

February 7, 2012

Matthew 5:44, “pray for those who persecute you…”

Jesus models for us the actions we must take to display love to those who are our enemies.  The love here in this passage is the Greek word Agapaw or “Agapa’oh”.  This love is a self-sacrificing love; love that goes beyond feeling, but moves to action.  This is the same word we find in John 3:16.  The world was hostile to God, denying Him and choosing their own way (Romans 1) and yet he “loved” them so much that he sent His only Son. That is the love for “enemies” that is displayed before us.

How do we show enemies we love them?  Love for our enemies begins in our heart.  Jesus has already told us that we are to consider ourselves blessed when “others insult you and persecute you… because of me.”  Jesus makes clear that outward actions have their genesis in the heart, whether its murder, lust, adultery, anger, it begins with the condition of our heart.  Here He instructs us concerning love.  We are to display our love to our enemies through prayer.  We are to pray for them.  When we are reviled we don’t curse in kind, we pray.  When we are taunted we don’t take the bait, we pray.  When we are teased we don’t respond in anger, we pray.  It is difficult to pray for anyone you hate, and that is kind of the point.  Prayer softens our heart, orients it toward God, and focuses on Him and His love for us and others.  We are rarely more like Christ than when we pray for those who seek our harm.  “praying for an enemy and loving him proves mutually reinforcing, the more love, the more prayer, the more prayer the more love.”[1]

“When you pray for someone while they are persecuting you, you are assaulting the throne of God on their behalf: “God, help this person.” That is supernatural! If you do that, you are walking in the heavenlies with Jesus. One of the benefits of praying for our enemies is that it changes us. It is impossible to go on praying for another without loving him or her. Those for whom we truly pray will become objects of our conscious love.”[2]


[1] Carson, DA. The Gospel of Matthew. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1984. 158

[2] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books

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Who is our Enemy and Does it Matter?

February 6, 2012

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, and even throughout His ministry Jesus is constantly reorienting His listeners and directing His disciples.  In this Sermon, blessing is defined, the law is upheld, and the disciples are called to a new level of living.  Murder is no longer an outward act alone, but a condition of a fallen heart.  Likewise lust, adultery, hatred, and confessions become out-workings of a heart that is not pure, and as a result has not seen God.  In Matthew 5: 43-48 Jesus begins to confront the hearts of those who felt it appropriate to reserve love, and display it to a select few.

Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.”

For the Jews, the enemy was the one who was not your neighbor.  A neighbor was one who was part of the community, typically a fellow Jew, but even a foreigner sojourning through your community. (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev 19:18, 3334)  The enemies were those outside of these communities, the non-Jews.  The Jews of this time were known for their exclusion and hatred of non-Jews.  This is evidenced in the writings of the Roman Historians, Tacitus and Juvenal.[1]  The Old Testament never prescribes, outlines, or commands that Israel is to hate their enemies.  Rather, they were commanded in Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus here quotes, to “Love your neighbor.”

The “and hate your enemies” line seems to be referring to the traditional Rabbinic Teaching that grew up around the Law of God.  The Rabbi’s and Jewish religious establishment slowly added to God’s Law, distorting it and choking the life out of it, turning it into legalism devoid of God’s character.  Throughout His Sermon, Jesus is breaking down these man-made barriers, and revealing the Law we are meant to uphold.  One rooted in a heart reflecting the love of God, who “while we were still enemies, reconciled (us) to God through the death of His son.” (Romans 5:10)

For us, loving our enemies is not an easy task.  G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also love our enemies; probably because they are often the same people.”  There is a certain amount of wisdom in that saying, as we often have the greatest amount of strife with those who are close to us.  The word used here for enemy is the Greek word ekthros or Echthros, it is an adjective meaning hated, a man who is hostile toward others or toward God.  The common idea throughout the New Testament regarding the word enemy is one who stands in opposition.  They may be standing in opposition to God, or in opposition to you, or both if you are attempting to accomplish God’s work.  Your enemy may be real or perceived.  He or they may be actively opposing you, or simply passively displaying anger; inflicting pain, emotional damage, or financial hardship on you.  They may be family members, children, co-workers, or someone who happen to dislike.  They may be the drunk driver who accidentally killed your uncle in an accident.  They may be the boss who passed over you for promotion.  Obviously the list could go on and on.

It is much easier to identify your enemies than it is to show them God’s love, forgiveness and kindness.  Jesus is less concerned with the form your enemies take, and more concerned with the form of your attitude toward them.  For the Christian, an enemy should not be defined by the hatred in our heart or the vitriol from our lips, but rather our enemies should be marked as those who receive the outpouring of our kindness and love.  If they are hungry, we should feed them; if they are thirsty, we should give them something to drink. (Romans 12:20)

God Himself is kind to “ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35); He came among them, and though they did not receive Him, He died for them.  And as they were pounding nails into His flesh, to hang Him up to die on a cross, He cried out on their behalf.  His cry was not one of cursing, as we might do when someone cuts us off in traffic;  His cry was not for God’s wrath, as we might call on for the one who steals from us at work.  His cry was that they might be forgiven, that the Father who loved them, might forgive them this horrendous act. What wrong could be done to us that has not been felt and forgiven by God?  If we are His and have His love, how can we love less those who He loves so much. “If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for His enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice, or sloth could justify the silencing our ours.” – John Stott


[1] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville. B&H. 2011. 160.