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Hypocrisy–Part 1: Religious or Righteous?

“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

man rock music crowd concert singer band audience live show microphone micro musician smile clapping sing stage tour orchestra sound event song artists mood applause success managed satisfied successful viewers occurs piece of musicJesus’ 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?

KCS

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The Mercy Flow

“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

Image result for heart water flow

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?

KCS

Mile 2: Settling Scores with Love

“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

Image result for 2 mile markerRemember 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].

And,

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?

KCS

The Empty Bat Signal

“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

Image result for bat signalJesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.

Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.

Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.

But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.

Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].

In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.

Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.

Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].

The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.

When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].

Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?

KCS

Loophole Adultery

“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

Woman And Man Wearing Brown Jackets Standing Near TreeEven though it seems like the topic has switched to marriage and divorce, Jesus is still addressing the command not to commit adultery. In addressing each of the commandments, He gives multiple levels of information, because He knows the human heart and our tendency to ask, But what if…? scenarios.

The sin of adultery starts with lustful eyes. It continues with the hands and the rest of the physical body following suit. And the struggle with this unchecked sin continues through the rest of adult life.

There were those who wanted to walk the spiritual line. They wanted God’s blessing, or at least not not to be punished by Him, so they tried to cover their adultering ways within legal limits.

Marriage and divorce.

If they were married to the woman they lusted after, then their actions weren’t breaking the law. And, if they were free to divorce the woman whenever they felt like it and marry someone else–and repeat the process over and over again–then they would never be considered adulterers in human terms because they were keeping the law.

But Jesus lets them know that no such loophole existed. God still saw this practice as full-fledged adultery. In fact, the divorce certificate was never God’s idea to begin with. Moses allowed the people to divorce because their hearts were too hard to accept God’s design of one man and one woman for life [Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8].

So why the harsh warnings about the divorced woman being labelled an adulteress and becoming off-limits? Aren’t both the man and the woman who divorce in the wrong?

Absolutely.

But the woman didn’t have any say in this cultural climate. The men made all the decisions–except, of course, if the wife herself was the one who chose to be unfaithful to the marriage. So Jesus is bringing marriage back to the foundation that it was always meant to be built on–love.

Number one: no one should marry unless they can commit to live with their chosen spouse for the rest of their lives.

Number two: no one should divorce, because they should so love God and each other as human beings that they don’t want any harm to come to the other person [Malachi 2:16; Matthew 1:19].

As it was, men were running around marrying for sport, and women were being treated like legal prostitutes. And Jesus told them to stop. God saw their hearts. He knew their sinful ways. And now He was trying to tighten their understanding of the intent of the law so that people would stop sinning against one another through the holy covenant of marriage.

Our world today doesn’t even bat an eye at marriage of all kinds and divorce for any reason. But God’s Word never changes [Numbers 23:10; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:8; 1 Peter 1:25; James 1:17]. It’s still just as wrong today as it was from the beginning.

As Christians, we need to steel our marital resolve with the commitment to love for life. A commitment that starts with guarding our eyes, minds and dating practices right now.

Are you committed to love one spouse for life? Are you praying for this future-someone even now? Are you guarding yourself out of your love and respect for the man or woman that God has for you?

KCS

Eternal Regrets

“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 5:29-30

Image result for eye bandagesJesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.

In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.

Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.

So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.

Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.

God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].

You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.

Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.

We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?

KCS

Seed Sins: Lust and Pornography

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

Ten commandment number two in the Sermon on the Mount: Do not commit adultery [Exodus 20:14]. Again Jesus cautions against the seed sin–lust.

Adultery is what we would call an affair in our culture. When someone who is married is intimately involved with someone other than their own spouse. And the Bible forbids it.

But Jesus recognizes that the practice of adultery starts long before the physical action. Adultery roots in our hearts when we look at someone with strong desire or attraction. And our American culture likes to exploit this human weakness in advertisement and other media for their own financial gain.

Meaning, commercials sell attraction and promote the development of lustful eyes. So does TV, movies, social media, magazines and the like. From a young age, we are bombarded with seductive images of people that we are not married to, that we are supposed to desire to either be like or to be with.

Everywhere we look, our society is offering us the seed sin of adultery.

And these images lodge themselves in our minds. They replay themselves in our idle moments. And eventually, we might find that we replay the thoughts on purpose, deepening our imaginary love for or fantasizing about a relationship with these people that we have never even met. And the Bible forbids it.

So how can we combat this social perversion that literally surrounds us?

  1. We become aware of what the Bible says about lust, pornography and the immorality that it leads to.
  2. We avoid inappropriate images and written descriptions whenever possible. Turn the channel, filter web searches, x out of search pages that bring up unbiblical results, don’t buy the magazine or book, stop reading, research movie ratings and reasons before choosing to go watch them, listen to Christian music instead of worldly music, etc.
  3. We take captive every thought in our mind and bring it under obedience to Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5], rather than lingering and reveling in empty, lustful imaginations.

And why does it matter when we are not married if we look at an attractive person with desire?

The Bible tells us that the heart of a wayward person is a deep pit rooted in the grave and leading to death [Proverbs 5:1-23 & 23:27]. The habits of the eyes and mind that we develop in our youth are the habits that will be deeply rooted in our hearts and driving our adult pursuits.

It’s not easy to turn off lustful eyes. If you start the habit as a young person, it will continue with you into adulthood, and it won’t limit itself to your spouse. It’s not easy to turn off a fantasizing mind. If you start indulging in pleasurable imaginations now, they will continue to seduce you in adulthood.

Lust that leads to adultery is the only sin that we commit in our own body [1 Corinthians 6:18]. But it is also a sin against our spouse–whether present or future–against the person we lust after and against God.

Is there a person or people that you fantasize romantically about? Whether as seemingly innocent as hand-holding or a first kiss, don’t give the devil a foothold in your heart and mind. Are you attracted to internet and magazine images? Flee the temptations. Get an accountability partner and ask God to replace this lust with a growing love and respect for Him and for your future spouse.

KCS

Image: By Japanexperterna.se from Japan – Person looking at smartphone in the dark, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47395025