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“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.” Matthew 6:1-4
Jesus’ brother, James, tells us that pure and faultless religion in God’s eyes is, looking after widows and orphans in their distress [James 1:27]. In other words, giving to the needy is an act of righteousness.
But let’s look at the idea of religion first. Religion is either belief in God [one or many] or it is a system of practices that stems from this belief. And the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many people believe there is a God and do nothing to demonstrate this belief. While many others doubt or don’t fully understand their own beliefs and yet religiously do many habitual activities in honor of their half-hearted faith.
To be religious is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes by any means. It’s not even equivalent to being Christian or Godly. To this end, the world often views the church as hypocritical. If we say we believe in God, then we should live like we believe in God. End of story. Otherwise, hypocrites.
But with sinful human beings, even saved ones, it’s not always that easy.
Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders of His earthly day. They kept the Law. Taught the Law. Disciplined and punished others who broke the Law. But their commitment to the Law was only skin deep. All was for show, so that people would consider them religious, or maybe even righteous.
But God looks on the heart [1 Samuel 16:7]. And He saw the Jewish religious leaders as whitewashed tombs [Matthew 23:27-28]–pristinely manicured in appearance, but rotting spiritual corpses at heart. One of the reasons for this comment was the fact that they only gave to the needy if it garnered them some attention.
Announcing with trumpets in the streets then would be like posting our good deeds all over social media now–Hey, look what I just did everybody! Aren’t I wonderful? Jesus is very clear. This type of worldly attention seeking is empty, meaningless. How many people today post things to social media just to feel rejected because they didn’t get a like [or a million likes]? The world’s attention, the fame in this life, none of it can satisfy because it only lasts a nano-moment in the scheme of eternity.
But doing things for Christ will last [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Colossians 3:23-24]. And that means doing things out of a sincere heart to help others and not for the temporary recognition from other human beings.
Are you religious or righteous–living God’s way purely out of love for God?
“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 children 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 unrighteousness. 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 own people, 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
Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.
Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.
We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.
The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?
Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.
But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.
So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.
You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.
We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.
But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.
Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?
“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. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
Remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.
In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.
A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.
In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.
And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.
But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.
1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].
2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.
After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.
God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.
And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.
Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.
Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?
“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.” Matthew 5:23-24
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Remember that the seeds of self-superiority, bitterness and anger can grow into full-blown murder if not repented of and removed from the heart.
But also, when we don’t forgive others the sins or wrongs they have committed against us, God doesn’t forgive our sins [Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:16].
More important than fulfilling religious rituals–like giving offerings, taking communion or even regular church attendance–is that we love God and love our fellow human beings.
So when it doesn’t seem like our prayers are being answered, when we feel far from God, when our worship seems to bounce back at us from brass heavens, when the Holy Spirit convicts us and we remember that we’ve done something to upset someone else, then we need to go make things right with that person before trying to get ourselves right with God again.
Here we see that it is not just the responsibility of the offended to freely give forgiveness, but it is up to us to know when we’ve done something to offend someone. To be self-aware of our words and deeds and how they effect others’. God’s grace isn’t a license to walk around willfully or even inadvertently offending others.
We are responsible for making sure that we live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us [Romans 12:18]. And we are also responsible not to put stumbling blocks–like thought seeds that can lead to murder–in other people’s lives [Romans 14:13].
When we do our part, no matter how others respond, then God’s blessings will flow freely, unhindered, in our lives. Because God’s kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit [Romans 14:16].
Have you offended someone? Can you think of anyone who holds something against you? Have you done everything you can to bring peace and forgiveness to the matter? Have you yourself forgiven the offended person?
“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 5:19-20
There are so many questions concerning sin and the ten commandments and salvation through faith in Christ alone. Like–is breaking one of the ten commandments a sin today? Does the Old Testament really matter if we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus? If we are saved by God’s grace, and our sins are forgiven, is it ok if we still sin unknowingly? What about knowingly? Can’t we just ask forgiveness for our new sins? And many others.
When we accept Christ as Lord of our lives, it’s true that grace is ours. We are no longer under the Law which brought condemnation. So when we sin–whether knowingly or unknowingly–we have forgiveness in Christ. But that’s not license to keep on sinning [Romans 6:1]. Our old selves have been made new [2 Corinthians 5:17], so that we can hold the new wine of Jesus’ power in our lives [Matthew 9:17].
Jesus tells us that forgiven lawbreakers will be in heaven. But those who continue to disobey God’s commands and teach others to do it too, those people will be known as the least in heaven. While those who keep and teach God’s commands will be considered great in heaven.
While God is completely transcendent–above and outside of any such continuum–heavenly rewards will vary depending on the lives that we live [1 Kings 8:32; Matthew 5:12 & 6:19-24; Luke 6:23].
So yes, breaking a ten commandment–and any of God’s other commands–is still a sin today. Because disobeying God is sin. Yes, the Old Testament absolutely still matters because Jesus came to fulfill all that was written in the Old Testament, not to expunge it. Through the Old Testament we understand the heart of the greatest commandments and recognize our sinful state. Yes, if we are under grace our sins are forgiven whether continually committed knowingly or unknowingly. But no, we should not be ok with willfully continuing to sin.
We should daily be taking up our cross and wearing Christ like a robe, so that as we are being renewed in the renovation of our minds, we can be salt and light to this world.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law knew and kept the law to the letter, but they missed the point. Their hearts didn’t grow closer to God but more full of themselves. They didn’t love their fellow human being but instead despised them as unholy and unworthy.
If God’s Word doesn’t change us anymore than it did the religious leaders of His day, Jesus warns us that we will not enter heaven [Matthew 5:20].
What reward will you receive for the life you live? Are you pressing on in faith to attain the prize? Or are you habitually going through religious motions without letting the truth penetrate your heart and make you new?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:8-9
Purity of heart. Not exactly easy to accomplish, considering that sin makes, every inclination of the human heart…only evil all the time [Genesis 6:5b]. Precisely why King David acknowledged the need to, hide [God’s] word in [his] heart so that [he] might not sin against [God] [Psalm 119:11] and why God prayed for the steadfastness of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29].
You see, the word of God is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12] which only God can see [1 Samuel 16:7]. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23]. So it is only by God’s grace, through our faith in Him that we can be made righteous through Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]. We can be being made pure in heart.
Seeking God in His Word, seeking His purity in our heart, will truly bless us. No greater joy will we know than knowing our Lord.
One fruit of the pure heart is peacemaking. As Christians, we should be so filled with peace that we can speak peace into those around us–even without using our words! And when others know us as as peacable, then they will also know us as God’s own children. What an amazing testimony!
So seeking to purify our hearts through God’s Word will bring us great joy and renew God’s peacemaking image in us, which will, again, bring us more joy. It’s an up-spiral. A positive progression instead of the world’s downward spiraling depression.
Start a new cycle. Reverse the sin feedback loop.
Which way do your emotions spiral? Earthward? Or heavenward?
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3
Jesus was not looking for the notoriety of the crowds. On the contrary, he knew that small group instruction was more effective. So before he speaks here, he goes up on a mountain–which create a natural amplification for his voice–and teaches his personal disciples. His attention was focused on them, though his words were not kept from the nearby crowds.
It is important to note here that the gospel writers didn’t use quotation marks in their original texts. Nor does any claim that they are quoting Jesus verbatim–or word for word. Rather, they are like a student recalling a class lecture that has preserved all of the integrity of the message substance.
Jesus opens the well known Sermon on the Mount with a series of nine somewhat contradictory admonitions known as the Beatitudes. Beatitude simply means extremely blessed or joyful. And clearly, just as today, many were longing for blessings and joyfulness in their lives.
So how do we live a life of blessing according to the Son of God?
We start with recognizing the poverty of our spirit. We are all sinners [Romans 3:23]. Therefore, we all need–not just any savior but–Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to redeem us from our sins.
The devout Jewish leaders had become so filled with their own self-righteousness that they were blind to the truth of their eternal station. Later, Jesus called them whitewashed tombs–all spiffed up on the outside but dead souls on the inside [Matthew 23:27]. They kept the Law of Moses to the letter but they missed the point. They didn’t recognize the transcendence of the Almighty God or the fact that none of their deeds–no matter how earthly law abiding–attained to the glory of God.
But for those who weren’t so spiritually self-absorbed, they would find it much easier to come to the truth of their sin and repent. These so-called poor in spirit will find the gates of heaven open wide because they have accepted the riches of God’s grace on their behalf instead of trying to do the impossible work–to earn their own way in.
Do you desire a life of blessings and genuine joy? Live in contradiction with the world’s wisdom. Let the Holy Spirit examine your spirit and show you where you are wanting–because only God is perfect. Recognize the poverty of your own spirit man. And be made eternally rich.